Friday, November 2, 2012

A brace of rifles bristled in the wind

I don’t have a favourite sort of music, not really. I’ll listen to anything at least once, whatever the genre. For me, it’s not just about the music — it’s about the words. This is probably because I don’t have the proper frames of reference to talk about music — I don’t know how to describe the anatomy of a piece of music, but I do understand words.

When I was a kid, I was drawn to narrative songs that told me a story. Stuff like Eleanor Rigby, or Puff the Magic Dragon, or Abba’s Fernando. Even Johnny Cash’s I’m Being Swallowed By a Boa Constrictor.

(Okay, I’m going to stop this list right there. Not just because it’s really uncool, but because soon I’ll be tempted to Google the lyrics to that Slim Dusty song Rusty, It’s Goodbye.

Childhood trauma right there. My dad used to think it was funny to play that song on car trips and make me cry. Because the dog didn’t know that his master was dead! And he waited! HE WAITED!!! 

Excuse me while my inner child has a breakdown.)

I love songs that are narrative, evocative, and with language that is as lyrical as the music that underpins it. This is from E. Watson by The Decemberists:

Til I’m dust I’ll never know why he came ashore,
With all those killers gathered on the shoreline.
Kicking holes in ugly mud with trigger fingers pinched,
A brace of rifles bristled in the wind.
And we towed his body northbound and buried him all face down
With a good view into Hell.

That’s poetry even before you add in the music.

You can listen to E. Watson here: 

I think of songs like these as fuel for my Muse. They aren't the soundtrack to my life -- those are the commercial songs that are played everywhere, and you learn to associate with specific events or periods in your life -- they're the songs I've hunted down and chosen for myself. They're the soundtrack to my writing life; the songs that spark images and ideas every time I hear them, and never fail to draw me in. 

Tell me why you love the songs you love. 


  1. Dang, that's a good lyric. It's like Stevenson and Springsteen wrote it together.

    Why I love the songs I love would take a blog post of its own, but just last night I had to look up the lyrics to this song.

  2. Love the Decemberists :)

    And thanks for the link to Girl in the War - what a beautiful song!

  3. It's funny, I was sort of drawn to the same songs as a kid, the ones that told a story. Especially Eleanor Rigby. It was so vivid in my mind! That's one reason I like Sting's music so much, too. He likes to tell a story with his lyrics. I've often thought he'd make a good novelist, if he ever wanted to change jobs.

    1. Eleanor Rigby was definitely a favourite. For some reason the imagery just caught me and refused to let go. And yeah, Sting sure knows how to pen a lyric.

      I am totally in awe of great lyricists/musicians. It's like they were handed out two fantastic talents when the rest of us were obviously mucking around and not paying attention in the back of the queue.



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