While cleaning out my childhood bedroom I came across a box of treasures that made me as elated as Beck’s “Debra” showing up on random this morning. Review clippings from shows I had been to as a youngster, random things handed out at those shows, and ticket stubs from every concert I attended from 1995-2001 were stashed away in a Converse All-Stars box in the back of my closet. Sure, all of these items were great to reminisce with, but the most important nugget to this post specifically was a bundle of scribbled in notebooks that I had used as journals during those years.
There was the the typical drawn and doodled names of girls that I secretly crushed on. Failed prose mimicking my favorite poets and artists. And WRITTEN OUT, word for word, lyrics to songs that made me feel cool, hip, individualistic, and like none of my friends. Dyaln, the Dead, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, etc… The list goes on and on. Upon seeing this I was shocked. Remembering writing them down but also wondering what in the hell I was thinking. There is no way that I would do something like that now. I wouldn’t even think of it.
And then I realized that my relationship with music has changed drastically since then. While I used hang on every lyric that made me feel intertwined with the loners, lovers, and losers that populated my favorite songs, I simply don’t do that anymore.
Is it that artists nowadays fall short of producing glittering fodder to feed our minds? I often think this is the case when a friend’ll quote interesting or relatable song lyrics to whatever it is we’re rapping about. Most if not all were penned some 30 years ago. Can’t really see anyone throwing a line from Brandon Flowers and Co. out there. Unless of course we really end up being alien dancers
Or is it that I was naive to think that the ambiguous hero in a Lou Reed narrative and I had something in common? (maybe-probably) Too fried to think that Syd Barrett and I shared an emotion?
Or is it that it is nearly impossible to make out just what is being sung. I love me some MMJ and so much as a breath into the microphone from lead singer Jim James gives me chills. But man is he hard to understand sometimes. True, it is fun to make up your own lyrics to his songs, but also embarrassing if you were to quote asinine made-up lyrics in front of a die hard.
I’m pretty sure that there is not a universal answer suitable for such a question. Maybe people still invest all of their attention on lyrical content. Alter meanings to fit their own situations. Maybe it’s just me. I can’t do it. Not completely anyway.
Years and years of listening to and following Phish could have contributed to my current state. Let’s face it, their sounds and grooves annihilate even the prettiest words that Tom Marshall or Mike Gordon put on paper.
Or maybe it was my studying of literature for almost a decade. Being forced to pay attention to every inkblot on a page has forced me to pay more attention to the white spaces around them.
Now it’s the sound of harmonies that get me. You could string all of the harmonic vocalizations from Pet Sounds together and I could transport myself to a much happier place. A nice bass line may do the same thing. A nice bass line mixed a steady piano and a driving drum beat have been know to throw me into a convulsive frenzy. Think Joe Cocker light. There is also nothing better than a chunky guitar riff that is filthier than an Andrew Dice Clay routine falling on the ears of a virginal youth.
To get a feel for what I’m talking about, check out LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” from Sound of Silver or the guitar work of Mick Taylor on “Sympathy for the Devil” from the Stones 1969 live release Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. Both are absolute head shakers. The entire LCDS track grooves from start to finish. Be prepared, you’re gonna move. James Murphy’s lyrics are an asset to the song but can only be considered a runner up to the pulsating beats and grooves that fill the speakers, your ears, and your soul.
The Stones track, on the other hand, is a builder and a slow burner. Most people know and like the studio track of this song. I’ll admit, I like it a lot too but this live version absolutely kills. Most of the song stays true to form, but when that solo hits and Mick’s guitar starts to whine and punish, you’re blanketed by it’s nastiness. You’re eyes close a little, you’re head starts to move from side to side and you find yourself tracking back to start the solo over and over again. This version will induce a swagger. You maybe never be able to get to the end of it. Can’t recall if I have.
So while I still have an ear for good lyrics, the actual music and sounds that accompany them does it for me a little more. Maybe it won’t always be the case and I’ll end up jotting down Craig Finn’s latest tale about Catholicism and alcohol abuse if I begin to lose touch. But for now, I’ll keep flooding my buds with atmospheric mood changers.
What gets you going? A 12 minute lyrical journey like Dylan’s “Desolation Row?” Or 64 minute noise affair fueled by feedback like Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music?
I think a lot of that had to do with being all teenager and stuff. In high school I was into New Found Glory, Dashboard Confessional, All-American Rejects, The Ataris, Midtown, Taking Back Sunday, and The Juliana Theory—and I was convinced that every sad song they sang was directly related to the romantic holocaust that was the boy who introduced me to those bands.
Now, I’m all about sounds, which explains why I have Justin, Britney, Coldplay, Timbaland, Radiohead, Snow Patrol, Beck, etc. on one playlist–I mean, if I really LISTENED to Miss Spears, there would be vomit. Everywhere.
Songs in particular that take me to a whole to element of being seem to be “Set the Fire to the Third Bar” by Snow Patrol, “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” Radiohead, “The Scientist” by Coldplay, “Distractions” by Zero 7, “Star Mile,” by Joshua Radin, and of course, “Never Gonna Give You Up,” by Rick Astley.
You’re pretty much dead nuts on this one. Although I’ve pretty much always been into the instrumental feel/groove of the music I tend to enjoy, when I was in my teens and maybe the first few years of my twenties lyrics seemed to mean a lot more to me. Other than the fact that people are still trying to figure themselves out–emotionally, mentally, often spiritually etc– at that age, I’m not sure what it was that interested me so profoundly in lyrics either. I remember intently discerning the words of Lou Reed on various VU songs, trying to get a grip on what exactly is flippin’ this fella’s switch. Or really wondering what the hell Stipe is getting at when he’s saying “twentieth century go to sleep”. Then, of course, there’s practically everything Whiskeytown made for about a half dozen years.
Now, when I listen to The Stooges or The Stones or Spoon etc (hey, all S bands!?!), the lyrical content USUALLY seems secondary. There are instances or particular songs where words still hit me with some force, but definitely with less frequency than in the past. “Down On The Street” rocks because it’s the effing Stooges laying down a monumental, brutal rock groove, not because Iggy’s giving me some sage advice on life or telling me who to vote for or what to bomb. If anything, he might have wanted to take some advice from me, namely “stop being a stupified drug addict, Lunkhead”. The lyrics are great, but that’s mainly because they’re simple as pie. The words let the music do the talking.
Worth discussing in the future.
I’m all about lyrics which is why so much of the dance music and hip hop is completely lost on me. When I listen to Folds singing “Bitches Ain’t Shit” in his own style it makes me smile because of the idiocy of the lyrics stand out so much. I look at that as a good example of pulling the back the curtain on these supposed musicians.
All of this is probably why there was a brief year or two that I flirted with liking country music. I never considered going to the concerts or anything but I at least saw that they still valued a well turned phrase.
I think you commented on the post on our blog where I professed my love of instrumental rock. Because I’m such a lyric nut it is hard to concentrate on whatever I’m working on when I’m trying to figure out what they’re saying; thus, I have to turn to lyricless music just to get something done!
All of that said, I don’t consume as much music as you three so I am clearly on a different page. I did stumble on LCD Soundsystem two years ago on Virb.com and loved it; that is where I found Pelican too. I heard Cold in the Kitchen by Umphrey’s McGee on NPR and Back introduced me to Kings of Leon. Oh and for some reason Mika makes me smile. I think Back will agree that he came out of left field.