Saturday, May 3, 2008

If I'm Lucky, Matt Bell Will Comment on this One


First of all, when I say 'writerly,' I mean 'prose-writerly' -- because, you know, the music and association you think of when you think of poetry, that's what you expect, more or less, in a good pop song.

I'm for writerly music. That's my position. But I don't often like it. Prosey lyrics, I find, tend to kill the lift. And what's a pop song without lift?

All of this is prelude to an offering:

"Duplexes of the Dead," by the Fiery Furnaces (via Pitchfork)

Listen to this: "On the honeymoon my husband sat still / With a look in his eyes and a pen in his left hand"

Interesting, right? But you doubt you could move to it. You can move to it! REally! This is good stuff, synth and guitars w/ a David Bowie-type groove.

What say, Bell?


Matt Bell said...

First, I think this Fiery Furnaces song is great. I haven't listened to them in a long time, but I think I will today.

I like the distinction you're making between "writerly" rock and "prose writerly" rock, because you're right, there's a difference. Anyone with good lyrics and stories to tell comes of as "literary" (see The Hold Steady, The Decemberists, etc.) but actually writing in paragraphs and turning them into listenable songs is a different thing. I've got to go back to Okkervil River for a great example. Here's the entire lyrics for their song "Westfall":

I’m surrounded, each doorway covered by at least twenty men. And they’re going to take me and throw me in prison. I ain’t coming back again. When I was younger, handsomer and stronger, I felt like I could do anything. But all of these people making all these faces didn’t seem like my kith and kin. Colin Kincaid from the twelfth grade, I guess you could say he was my best friend. He lived in a big tall house out on Westfall where we would hide when the rain rolled in. We went out one night and took a flashlight, out with these two girls Colin knew from Kenwood Christian. One was named Laurie, that’s what the story said next week in the Guardian. And when I killed her it was so easy that I wanted to kill her again. I got down on both of my knees and….she ain’t coming back again. Now, with all these cameras focused on my face, you’d think they could see it through my skin. They’re looking for evil, thinking they can trace it, but evil don’t look like anything.

That's a nice piece of flash fiction before it's even a song, surprisingly readable all by itself (which is a rare feat for song lyrics). There are minor flow concessions in the prose to make it a better song, but they're fairly minor, I think.

Every lyric sheet I've ever seen for Okkervil River is just paragraphs, so that's obviously the way they think about them too.

"Westfall" by Okkervil River

Good post... Hopefully others will come along add other songs for us!

hobart said...

oh, he'll be here.
did you see the whole week of "writerly music" posts that happened a little by accident over at the hobart blog?

hobart said...

see?! i knew he'd be here! he was typing the same time as me!!

Scott Garson said...

Wow. I never realized what happens when you put O. River lyrics on paper. You're totally right. What's surprising is how natural and organic it sounds within the songs themselves.

A fantastic band, needless to say....

(And you got to see them live a few weeks ago if I recall!)

Matt Bell said...

I did see them live, and it comes across even better live. It's one of the signs that this kind of writing doesn't have to be inaccessible-- You can think through it, and enjoy the story, and really find a lot there, but you can also just rock out to it. And let me tell you, there was a lot of rocking happening. It was a shame that they were the opening band, as it limited the scope and selection of the show (you stick mostly to your up-tempo stuff when you're in charge of pumping up the crowd), but it was still great. Probably one of the best shows I've seen in a while.