- Day 01 – Your favorite song
- Day 02 – Your least favorite song
- Day 03 – A song that makes you happy
- Day 04 – A song that makes you sad
- Day 05 – A song that reminds you of someone
- Day 06 – A song that reminds you of somewhere
- Day 07 – A song that reminds you of a certain event
- Day 08 – A song that you know all the words to
- Day 09 – A song that you can dance to
- Day 10 – A song that makes you fall asleep…
It got me thinking about music, which I usually think about a lot, but haven’t been doing as much of lately. Usually I’m the type of person who considers it like a hobby to find new music to listen to and collect and share (mostly for free because I’m poor). I enjoy reading music criticism and just going on random Internet searches for new stuff. Me and my sister have an unofficial competition to find new bands before the other does. She might even be more intense about it than I am.
She’s a snob. It’s adorable.
THE POINT THAT I AM GETTING AT IN A ROUNDABOUT WAY IS: I think music is hella important to a writer’s life and career. I think if you ask most writers about their writing process, it is probably going to include music somewhere along the line. I know people who listen to jazz when they write, people who listen to movie soundtracks, people who listen to folk. Some people use songs as jumping off points or inspiration for their writing. For example, the first real poem I ever wrote was about Joni Mitchell’s “River” (I think I’ve mentioned that on here before and I thought about posting it but I just now read it again and realized that it SUUUUUUCKS).
But more importantly, I think we should acknowledge musicians as storytellers. Well, some musicians more than others. I think there’s characterization and story in almost every song if you look for it, and obviously someone had to write it.
So today I thought I’d compile a list (“We get it, Lora, you like lists”) of musicians who blur the lines between writer and musician. It’ll probably be a short list, but we’ll see.
Shocking, I know, but Joni is a songwriting master. She is one of the few people who has written songs that make me bawl like a baby. I remember when I first came up to Ball State, I would walk around campus and listen to “California,” and when the lyrics, “Oh, it gets so lonely/when you’re walkin’/and the streets are full of strangers” came on, I would be thankful I was wearing sunglasses because I would totally be tearing up. It’s so simple, yet so pretty. Besides her lyrical and emotional beauty, she is a legitimate storyteller. “The Last Time I Saw Richard” is basically a short story set to song. And like almost all writers, she writes what she knows. Her songs are about hippies and friends and warm California days and bumming around Europe and skating on rivers. She has made a world in which her songs and the people in them live.
The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats (particularly frontman John Darnielle) specialize in character-driven songs. They’ve been an embarrassingly volatile couple (“No Children”), a bunch of dudes in a death metal band (“The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton”), sailors (“Sax Rohmer #1”), a kid listening to a record player to escape family problems (“Dance Music”), and countless others. Plus, they write some astounding lyrics that are just packed with subtext, characterization, and story. The opening verse of “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” goes, “the best ever death metal band out of Denton were a couple of guys, who’d been friends since grade school. One was named Cyrus, and the other was Jeff, and they practiced twice a week in Jeff’s bedroom.” It’s so simple, but says so much. The vitriol they infuse the unhappy couple in “No Children” with is so raw, it almost makes the song hard to listen to. “In my life, I hope I lie/and tell everyone you were a good wife/I hope you die/I hope we both die.” Ouch.
Bet you never thought you’d hear Jay-Z compared to Joni Mitchell, but here goes: like Joni, Jay-Z’s music takes place in a very specific world. His lyrics are personal and seething. They’re about people struggling against the system, struggling to make something of their lives, struggling against oppression and prejudice and racial and class differences. His music can be angry, and it has every right to be. He details his own journey, literally from rags to riches, and in songs like “99 Problems,” examines just how similar and how startlingly different those two worlds are. I just really enjoy the honesty of Jay-Z’s rhymes. If I had to characterize his music as a writing style, I’d say it’s a great example of creative non-fiction. That’s not even addressing the lyrical complexity and aesthetics of his rhymes. That’s like poetry. He’s a master of words, the rhythm and flow of them. However, I would still like to know where he found that 54 mph speed limit.
Bon Iver (which sounds like a band name, but it’s really just Justin Vernon, by himself) is the musical equivalent of Henry David Thoreau. Not because of lyrical style, per se, but because they both secluded themselves in cabins in the woods and created masterpieces. Thoreau’s was “Walden,” Vernon’s was “For Emma, Forever Ago.” I personally am in awe of Vernon’s lyrics, and see no difference between them and some highly lyrical poetry one might see in almost any lit journal nowadays. Take “Flume,” for example:
I am my mother’s only one
I wear my garment so it shows
Now you know
Only love is all maroon
Gluey feathers on a flume
Sky is womb and she’s the moon
Seriously, what is the difference? It’s all very strange, but in a beautiful way. Also, like many of the other artists on this list, Bon Iver’s music is deeply emotional, especially on “For Emma,” which he recorded alone after he broke up with his band and his girlfriend. So not only do his lyrics indicate that he’s a writer, his creative process does, too. Holing yourself up, alone, in a cabin, to create? What writer hasn’t wanted to do that, honestly?
This wouldn’t be a Lora Blog Production without some Broadway. Sondheim is both the master composer and lyricist of Broadway. He is a master storyteller, and he just gets character. If he were a non-musical writer, he’d be king of persona fiction. He can be a murderous barber, a remorseful witch, an aging actress, artist Georges Seurat, and a litany of successful and unsuccessful Presidential assassins. There are few lyrical frills, just simple and beautiful, emotional and honest words.
So that’s all I’ve got for now. Sure, there are more, like Carole King (“Smackwater Jack” is another short story song), various other Broadway lyricists, and even Kanye West (yeah, I said it. Kanye is adept at lyrical voice). But I’ll give you an opportunity to speak. Who are the musicians you think all writers should listen to? Who are the musicians who could easily be masters of the written word, sans music? Who are the musicians you could see published in a lit journal? Who are the musicians who simply inspire you as an author? Let’s get some comments, yo. And maybe this list of “26 songs that are just as good as short stories” will get you going.