I love music. I mean really love it. I’m not so good at playing it (although I attempt to sing), but there is nothing like cranking up an excellent song, rolling down the windows, and rocking out. The thing that amazes me about music is the story an artist is able to tell in such a short space. In two or three verses, you can tell an entire story, catch a feeling, set the mood and scene, and relate to others. Wow. I’ve tried songwriting before, and quite frankly, I suck at it. Of course, most of these attempts were between the ages of 11 and 14, so they were full of childish rhyming and teenage angst.
A few examples of what I’m talking about. Whether you like the songs or not, look at the story in the lyrics. I played with the formatting a bit to make them flow:
“All I wanna do is have a little fun before I die,” says the man next to me out of nowhere
It’s apropos of nothing. He says his name’s Will but I’m sure he’s Bill or Billy or Mac or Buddy. And he’s plain ugly to me. And I wonder if he’s ever had a day of fun in his whole life. We are drinking beer at noon on Tuesday in a bar that faces a giant car wash. The good people of the world are washing their cars on their lunch break, hosing and scrubbing as best they can in skirts in suits. They drive their shiny Datsuns and Buicks back to the phone company, the record store too. Well, they’re nothing like Billy and me, ’cause all I wanna do is have some fun. I got a feeling I’m not the only one. All I wanna do is have some fun until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard
I like a good beer buzz early in the morning and Billy likes to peel the labels from his bottles of Bud. He shreds them on the bar then he lights every match in an oversized pack letting each one burn down to his thick fingers before blowing and cursing them out. And he’s watching the bottles of Bud as they spin on the floor. And a happy couple enters the bar dangerously close to one another The bartender looks up from his want ads, but all I wanna do is have some fun. I gotta feeling I’m not the only one. All I wanna do is have some fun until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard.
Otherwise the bar is ours. The day and the night and the car wash too. The matches and the Buds and the clean and dirty cars. The sun and the moon”
– “All I Wanna Do”- Sheryl Crow
You can definitely catch the feeling. At least I can. I imagine an empty bar, the sun filtering in through dirty windows. Dust motes dancing in the light.
Here’s another that captures a completely different mood:
“I never thought I’d die alone. I laughed the loudest who’d have known? I trace the cord back to the wall. No wonder, it was never plugged in at all. I took my time, I hurried up. The choice was mine. I didn’t think enough. I’m too depressed to go on. You’ll be sorry when I’m gone.
I never conquered, rarely came. 16 just held such better days. Days when I still felt alive. We couldn’t wait to get outside. The world was wide, too late to try. The tour was over we’d survived. I couldn’t wait till I got home to pass the time in my room alone.
I never thought I’d die alone. Another six months I’ll be unknown. Give all my things to all my friends. You’ll never step foot in my room again. You’ll close it off, board it up. Remember the time that I spilled the cup of apple juice in the hall? Please tell mom this is not her fault.
I never conquered, rarely came, but tomorrow holds such better days. Days when I can still feel alive. When I can’t wait to get outside. The world is wide, the time goes by. The tour is over, I’ve survived. I can’t wait till I get home. To pass the time in my room alone.”
-“Adam’s Song” -Blink 182
I can see the boy sitting in his dark room, tears spreading the ink as he writes his suicide note.
And one more:
“I can’t remember anything. Can’t tell if this is true or dream. Deep down inside I feel the scream. This terrible silence stops with me. Now that the war is through with me I’m waking up, I cannot see that there’s not much left of me. Nothing is real but pain now.
Hold my breath as I wish for death. Oh please God, wake me.
Back in the womb it’s much too real. In pumps life that I must feel, but can’t look forward to reveal. Look to the time when I’ll live. Fed through the tube that sticks in me, just like a wartime novelty. Tied to machines that make me be, cut this life off from me.
Now the world is gone I’m just one. Oh God help me. Hold my breath as I wish for death. Oh please God, help me. Darkness imprisoning me. All that I see, absolute horror. I cannot live. I cannot die. Trapped in myself. Body my holding cell.
Landmine has taken my sight. Taken my speech. Taken my hearing. Taken my arms. Taken my legs. Taken my soul. Left me with life in hell.”
Can’t you see him? Lying there in a hospital bed alone. Pretty much a vegetable, but his mind still works. Still knows.
Really, these bands/artists have done nothing more than write stories. They created characters and told us about them. Songs like these inspire me, and also put me in awe. It takes me so many words, so many pages, to write a story and build characters that people can connect with, and here these musicians did exactly that in such a short space. I didn’t do the flash fiction challenge this week, but I think it would be fun to expand on these songs and finish writing the story.
What do you think? Do songs that tell stories inspire you as a writer? If you haven’t really paid attention to the words of the songs you’re jamming out to on your daily commute, I challenge you to really listen and think about the story.