Sunday, October 23, 2011

Story Songs

Music has always been a part of our lives.  Sure we watched a lot of T.V. growing up but it was music that kept us grooving during chores or entertained in the car (this was before radio was more commercial than music).  Sometimes we got to experience those special moments when you and a friend/stranger/group all ‘sing’ together, usually off key, and forever link that moment or situation to that song. 
I have always been drawn to songs that tell an interesting story and subsequently spending way too much time researching the true events behind the lyrics or interpreting the meaning.  

Tangled up in Blue - Bob Dylan
I used to have these lyrics on my bedroom wall.  This was before we had the luxury of the internet and had to actually listen, pause, write, listen, pause, write, rewind, listen, rewind, listen, pause, write….cont. Dad and I used to argue over the lyrics; we never did come to an agreement on the 6th verse (the part about living with them on Montague Street).  He claimed that the lady he found was reading the poem and I argued that he was the protagonist lived with his lady and her lover for a while and everything was fine for a while until things fell apart and they ended up splitting up again.  I never could explain the part about dealing with slaves though…

Ode to Billy Joe - Bobbie Gentry
Another song introduced by Dad.  The story follows a young girl as she sits down to eat dinner with her family only to learn that her friend Billy Joe committed suicide. We never learn why he jumped off the bridge or what the he and the girl were throwing off the bridge earlier in the week.  All we are left with is a lot of questions and feeling of loss.

Ramble On - Led Zeppelin
Even if I wasn't a huge Lord of the Rings fan, I would still love this song.  The acoustics are simple yet powerful and the lyrics tell of a traveler who has enjoyed his time and must continue to ramble on.  The connection to Lord of the Rings depicts the restlessness that the ring bearer feels and the loneliness that accompanies one who must always travel.  I also like the undertone of excitement that is felt when starting a new journey.  Zeppelin does a fantastic job creating all those feelings into a neat little package.

Rocky Raccoon – The Beatles
So we found Dad’s records buried in a crate in the garage and low and behold the Beatles White Album was among the stash.  We had just acquired a really shitty record player and spent many a day listening to the songs that we thought Dad experienced in his early years.  Dad came in, put on the white album and proceeded to sing along with Paul McCartney….the entire song.  That is where we learned of a young boy from the black mountain hills of Dakota and his battle over the girl called Magil, who called herself Lil and everyone knew as Nancy.

Ol’ Red –George Jones
Instead of the standard cheatin’ songs that usually fill the country charts, this song tells the story of a man after the cheating took place. He is in prison and eventually earns the responsibility of taking care of the hound dog that is used to track down escapees.  The listener starts to feel that this guy isn’t all that bad and actually start to root for the convict while he ‘trains’ the dog to visit go north to see his girlfriend.  When the time is right and the dog has been away from his lady for a few weeks, the prisoner makes his move and escapes.  The dog is released and instead of following the sent south, he makes a bee-line to his lady who he knows is waiting for him in the north.  A bit corny but when combined with a deep baritone, acoustic guitar and a great sense of timing, the story is very entertaining. 

One – Metallica
Metallica is better known for head splitting guitar and incredibly fast riffs not their story telling prowess.  One is based on the book Johnny Got His Gun and tells the story of a man who has lost his arms, legs face in WWI.  The book depicts the main characters struggle to understand what has happened to him and communicate with the outside world that he is so completely cut off from.  Metallica does an amazing job of taking the listener through the emotions displayed in the book.  Starting off with a fairly calm realization of what has happened escalating into a crescendo of frustration ending in an incredibly fast explosion of sound. 

Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts –Bob Dylan
Probably my favorite Bob Dylan song.  A shady character comes into town and attends a cabaret that just so happens to star an acquaintance from a long time ago.  Lilly is already involved in a love triangle between Big Jim (who owned the town’s only diamond mine) and Rosemary (Big Jim’s wife).  The Jack of Hearts does what he does best and stirs up trouble by meeting with Lilly in her room when Big Jim breaks down the door with Rosemary right behind him. Jim’s affair appears to be the last straw for Rosemary who is fed up being Big Jim’s wife, tired of her current life and sticks Jim with a pen knife.  In the commotion Jim dies, Rosemary is arrested, Lilly rethinks the choices she has made and the Jack of hearts is nowhere to be seen having already skipped town the contents of Big Jim’s safe. 

It could be country, metal or folk, just give me a good story and I will listen. 

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