Home > Uncategorized > I ain’t no fortunate son

I ain’t no fortunate son


A few days ago, Glenn Reynolds posted an inline YouTube video (Remember when those were new and shiny? Me neither.) of an Aimee Mann music video, citing its simplicity as a virtue: “it proves you don’t have to spend a lot of money to produce a memorable video.”

But what really struck me about the video was the lyrics, a sort of quietly powerful look at growing up:

I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
But it’s not, and I don’t know where to turn

And it’s simple, easy-to-relate to topics like that which form the basis of a decent song. Heck, “Livin’ on a Prayer” is, thematically only a stone’s throw away — although some might say that’s memorable for a different reason. It’s also the kind of thing that makes you slap your forehead and wonder why you didn’t think of something like that to write a song about.

I actually had just such an experience watching the video, wondering why anyone would write songs about anything else.

After all, lyrical topics are something I’ve struggled with in my limited tenure as a “musician”. Probably chief among my problems is the fact that I love words. That’s why I often find that the greatest flaw in these blog posts (aside from lazy copy-editing) is the over-verbosity of some of my soliloquies. The trick is, with writing prose, if you want to use more words to make sure your meaning gets across, you just do and don’t worry about meter or syllables.

That’s why most of my attempts at stringing together words into some lyrical composition usually takes on the rhythm of hip-hop, which tends to allow for a much greater word density:

(From Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”)
I got the rap patrol on the gat patrol
Foes that wanna make sure my casket’s closed
Rap critics they say he’s “Money Cash Hoes”
I’m from the hood stupid, what type of facts are those
If you grew up with holes in ya zapatos
You’d be celebrating the minute you was havin’ dough

It also has occurred to me that perhaps my tendency towards rap-style lyrics is the result of some kind of influence from owning the first two Linkin Park albums, records from the vanguard of rap-metal (also called “nu-metal”):

With these non-stop lyrics of life living
Not to be forgotten but still unforgiven
But in the meantime there are those who wanna talk this and that
So I suppose that it gets to a point where feelings gotta get hurt
And get dirty with the people spreading the dirt

The words may vary between self-loathing and meaninglessness, but the style has an enduring grip on me.

And if you think that’s bad, you should be glad that I’m not writing this from home where I have my collection of aborted “songs” to share with you what I mean. Believe me, it’s dicey.

But I’m coming to terms with that. Even if I had some lyrics to put to music, I’d need someone to sing ’em. And that sure as hell isn’t gonna be me.

Now, that might sound bad, but I actually take great comfort in it: as much as I would like to do everything well, I realize that if I ever get around to making “real music” (of the type that involves more than just a single guitar), I won’t be doing it alone. Ideally, I’ll have someone who can cover my flaws to collaborate with.

But that doesn’t resolve the problem of trying to figure out what to do with these scraps of paper with a chorus and half a verse that’ll (hopefully) never see the light of day.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Bob
    August 27, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I’ll admit to being biased (violently) against hip-hop, which means (necessarily) that I don’t really know much about it. But certainly other forms of music can be wordy.

    Exhibit A: Elvis Costello. Check out some of his music and pay attention to the lyrics, and you’ll see a songwriter who has such a severe case of logorrhea that sometimes I think he’s just showing off.

    And if you want to see an example of sheer “lyrical density,” as you put it, just try to learn “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M. Heck, just the *title* is longer than some whole songs.

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