It’s been awhile, but welcome to a belated Music Monday! (If you’re new to Music Mondays, welcome! It’s where I talk about music from a writing perspective.)
Before I hit the age of musical self-discovery (circa. middle school), I listened to whatever my parents listened to. We listened to a lot of easily-appreciable classical music at this time: Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven. Opera not being the most comforting to our ears, we preferred the symphonies, concertos, and solo piano works.
Growing up to lyric-less music, melody was what charmed my ears. When I finally started hunting for music on my own, I fell deeply in love with Japanese pop music. Japanese pop music is very lyrical, with ear-catching, almost Mozartean melodies that are easy to grasp. The melodies of Japanese pop/rock bands (L’Arc~en~Ciel, Do As Infinity, and of course anime soundtracks) captured me instantly, despite my not understanding a word of Japanese. Later on, when I fell hard for rock, the power ballads of X Japan got my fist pumping and my vocal cords soaring along with syllables I had no sense of.
Onto Lyrics and Listening as a Writer
Thus I went to the music of my native tongue.
You know how you can read as a reader or read as a writer? Well, I’ve found you can listen to music as a listener or you can listen to music as a writer as well. You can approach an art form as an audience member or you can approach an art form as a fellow creator. Because I don’t consider myself a songwriter or a composer, listening to music as a writer is a little different because you naturally hear for techniques and nuances used in lyric writing that can be transposed into plain prose.
The Sound of Words
At one point I was heavily inspired by the conceptual lyrics of Andrew Bird (click for a YouTube link to “Anonanimal” live). As you can see, the sound of the words (consonance, assonance, alliteration) is a major part of Andrew Bird’s writing.
Verse 1 See a sea anemone, the enemy see a sea anemone And that’ll be the end of me, that’ll be the end of me While the vicious fish was caught unawares In the tenderest of tendrils. – Andrew Bird, “Anonanimal.” From SongLyrics.com.
The lyrics are strong enough to stand alone, but when paired with the violins’ yawning vibrato and plucky pizzicato, the effect of these words is amplified.
Recently I’ve been deeply invested in the works of Patti Smith (click here for the album Horses), a poet-musician-rocker-chick of the 70s known for her fusion of punk rock badassery and introspective poetry. From the scalding opening lines of “Gloria” (“Jesus died for somebody’s sins by not mine/Melting in a pot of thieves wild card up my sleeve/Thick heart of stone my sins my own/They belong to me. Me”) sung in a menacing drawl to the pensive narrative that opens up “Birdland”:
His father died and left him a little farm in New England. All the long black funeral cars left the scene. And the boy was just standing there alone, Looking at the shiny red tractor Him and his daddy used to sit inside And circle the blue fields and grease the night. – Patti Smith, “Birdland.” From Patti Smith Complete: Lyrics, Reflections & Notes for the Future (1998).
In a totally different vein, I’m an enormous fan of Stevie Nicks (vocalist and songwriter of Fleetwood Mac). Although I wouldn’t characterize the more straightforward, even commercial, lyrical direction of Nicks as poetry per se, I enjoy her use of imagery, especially nature imagery. My favourite Fleetwood Mac song is “Crystal.” It uses images of water to describe the theme of true love – which is a theme so overdone and overwritten, to present it in a refreshing way is near impossible. “Crystal,” however, sung by Lindsay Buckingham’s tenor, is pretty refreshing, in my opinion, maybe because it conjures up images of glaciers and streams!