So while Bryon is out having Princess Breakfasts in Orlando, he asked me to step in and write something. Now typically my blogging is reasonably specifically publishing-related, but Bryon told me to stretch a little. But I am who I am, and can’t help bringing it to writing.
It started last week, when author Ron Currie, Jr. posted on Facebook that if someone asked him how to write stories, he’d guide the person to Warren Zevon’s entire catalog. I’m hardly arguing with the choice (although I’m a bit more partial to Frank and Jesse James (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hk41aq2Klk) or (very aptly these days) The Envoy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkHn7WFrzCU), and one time I had an interview for a position on my college paper in the middle of a fraternity formal and sang Excitable Boy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJefPK_UkdM) in my tux.) But Zevon could really write a narrative, insert a tune you could hum, and make each album into a collection of short stories.
Ron’s little post got me thinking about some other artists who also understood narrative structure in addition to tunesmanship. And I realized as well that, like literature, there are certainly genres within popular lyrical storytelling. I mean, there’s YA (I’m looking at you, Taylor Swift!), fantasy (Terrapin Station (https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=iv&list=UUbinA8M1RT7eyTpSmYFSYZQ&v=GAIvo6QkOgc&src_vid=ugRct9pNQYM&annotation_id=annotation_1996822919), and, good lord knows, romance. So when I thought about some songs and artists I wanted to share, I realized I needed to narrow it down. So I got out of the shower (what? YOU don’t think of your blog topics in the shower?) and started to give myself some guidelines. I figured it would also help me avoid the “what do you MEAN you didn’t include The Queen and the Soldier/Stan/Eleanor Rigby” comments if I said from the get-go that what I’m thinking about are guy rockers who aren’t legends to everyone. Maybe I’ll hijack the blog again for those, but in the meantime, this one won’t have Dylan, Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Eminem, Elton, Springsteen, etc. And of course it’s subjective. But here you go: My favorite Story-Songs include the following:
1) Screenwriter’s Blues by Soul Coughing off their first album, Ruby Vroom. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR9WJSX9pnU) One thing I found in thinking about this list is that many of them fall into noir, and this one—about a guy driving, late at night toward Reseda (because after all, all of us, in one way or another, are going to Reseda) and talking back to a late night DJ—hits the wry darkness spot on (and the groove is oddly jaunty). Another one like this is
2) Drive, She Said by Stan Ridgway (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7iARb-JpaY) off The Big Heat, which is an album chock full of stories—Ridgway, best known for bursting out of a can of baked beans while singing Mexican Radio (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnx_sVLbGvQ) as singer of Wall of Voodoo, is the Dashiell Hammett of this list.
3) A Southern cousin to this crew is Kevn Kinney of the Atlanta band Drivin’ n Cryin’ which mixed the jangle rock of early REM with country and some ill-advised metal. Kinney clearly learned a bit from Dylan in his solo MacDougal Blues (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4LFsJAvE3k ) after he spent some time in the Village in the 80s, But my favorite of his stories is the lament of an old man whose kids are trying to move him out of his home to Residential Living in DNC’s House For Sale (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nOFTGeHVxw). And this brings up another theme—the lonely man lamenting the mistakes he made and trying to make the best of them. A great version of this, from one of the best, most unsung troubadours, is
4) Father’s Day, by the brilliant, undersung Australian pub-rock band Weddings, Parties, Anything. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYKNqftCkSQ) Songwriter Mick Thomas has an entire catalog of poignant songs about day-to-day domestic life that range from the quietly wistful Step In, Step Out (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fx-stB_EpQU) to the more optimistic Ticket In Tatts (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTrUGM8f6E4). These songs (particularly Step In) brought to mind one of the greatest skewerings of this kind of song,
5) Fairytale of New York (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9jbdgZidu8) by the Pogues and Kirsty Macoll, which really needs little discussion. The Pogues in general are one of the greatest story-song bands, and one of the most amazing sights of my life was watching Shane Magowan a couple of years ago, toothless and hammered out of his gourd, spin around, fall completely off the stage, and not miss a word of Sickbed of Cuchulainn (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZIISfOm3dI) from the brilliant Rum, Sodomy and the Lash.
Obviously there are loads more. I didn’t get into Pogues progeny’s Dropkick Murphy’s roiling Flannigan’s Ball (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChkjbkyyzzQ) or Dire Straits’ take on Romeo and Juliet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxfjSnMN88U) or my wife’s entry, David Gray’s Babylon (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zI_SBAkdKzc). And on and on and on (and country songs and hip hop and women). But I tell you: this is a Norton’s Anthology of short fiction, with a melody and a rhythm.
What are some of your favorites? Include them in the comments here, or on my preview post on Hey, There’s A Dead Guy In The Living Room. http://heydeadguy.typepad.com/heydeadguy/2014/07/click-bait.html