Friday, January 10

Jesse's Rules of Lyric Writing #23

Last week, I penned my first post of musico-literary pedagogitude - Jesse's Rules of Lyric Writing #672 - and lo, for it was dead sexy.

But to date, I have received exactly 0 submissions of songs in honor and thanks. Ya'll need to write me some tunes pronto, and not in the voice of Yoda. Get to it! I'll be over here, eating this eclair.

Only the worst pontificatory educationalists teach through negative example, so I've decided to go beyond writing a bunch of rules telling you what not to do to write awesomely uncommercial songs. No! I'm going to give you the secrets of my un-success, as well. The "to-do's," as it were. Or are they "to-not-do's for the commercially successful?" I'm really not sure, and frankly, Bobo, I don't give a damn.

Rule #23: Pick The Right, Weird Word

Now any of the 19,271 books on lyrics will tell you blah blah blah, you have to choose words. And they should be spelled right. And every other word should begin with the letter "B." But who's going to tell you to be weird in your word choices? Only me.

Let's Go Swim The Zambezi

At the risk of gushily spilling my influences down the front of my sweater, I really love The Wedding Present. I love the guitars, the arrangements, and the songs. David Gedge is recognized as a brilliant songwriter, and rightly so. He wields point of view like a garden trowel via a uniquely tight, conversational style. And beyond that, he knows how to pick the right, weird word.

Consider the chorus of 2, 3, Go from The Wedding Present's 1996 LP, Saturnalia:

Ride white horses today
Buy a red Chevrolet
Let's go swim the Zambezi
Let's do it just ‘cos it's easy 

Who else have you heard sing the word "Zambezi" in a song? Nobody else. When else have you heard it sung? Never else. Where else was this not person not singing "Zambezi?" Quoth the Raven, Ne... oh shit I got eclair on my keyboard.

Anyway, that's what I mean by weird - infrequently used, distinctive, remarkable. An ear hook via word choice.

But Zambezi is not just a weird word. It's also the right word. The Zambezi is no crick in the wood behind Paw's. It's huge. Only Aquaman could swim it. And it's exotic - far off for most TWP listeners. So this is an absurdly ambitious goal - the kind one would shout in jest if one had just ridden a wicked water slide with one's sweetie. "Zambezi" also sounds right. It's zesty, like "Zinfandel" and ... "zesty."

"Zambezi" is the right choice - perfectly selected in terms of tone, sound, literal meaning, and secondary connotations.

And of course, Gedge cooly rhymes "Zambezi" with "easy," and lands a good number of syllables for the melody. That's how you play skee ball, folks.

Let's Get Totally Neruda, Dear

As for my own work and weird, right words, I'm proud of how I sullied Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's name by repurposing it as an ambiguous euphemism in Let's Play*, a song about getting busy in a bookstore:

golden glow through bookstore windows
neon says "come back tomorrow"

they can't see us in the stacks
they're like fishes in a tank

red plush chair
let's get totally Neruda, dear

in the dark you're all mine
fan your pages, touch your spine

And with that, I am spent.

Have you ever picked the right, weird word?

*Let's Play appears on Lavender 3, The Sexy Accident's forthcoming fifth full-length out in 2014.

Tuesday, January 7

Don't Talk Like Yoda

Today whilst slogging through snow on my lunch walk, the anemic winter sun reminded me of the importance of humility as I decided imma tell y'all how to write!

Reminder: I am a thoroughly unsuccessful songwriter, commercially. Yet I could not fail so consistently for so long if I were also not delusionally self-confident. Therefore, your first lesson follows:

Don't Talk Like Yoda

"But so cute he is!", say you.

Indeed, cute is he. But sing like him, you must not.

Better, I Should Know

Now I'm no expert on pop music, since I don't listen to the radio, watch television, or talk to humans, but one of the most egregious examples of Yoda talk I've heard comes from Sarah McLachlan, a generally excellent songwriter and lyricist, in the chorus of her hit song Fallen.

Though I've tried, I've fallen
I have sunk so low
I've messed up
better, I should know
So don't come 'round here
And tell me I told you so

I can only assume while Sarah was writing her morning pages in a log cabin deep in the misty forests of Canada, the only thing on TV was The Empire Strikes Back. What else can explain this Yoda-like chorus?

It's so distracting! Every time I play this song using the CD that I purchased, I visualize Frank Oz serenading my children as they dance around me in circles, begging me to play The Cars. Clearly, using the voice of Yoda has negatively impacted Sarah's financial future.

Tell You Of The Weather, I Will

Now before you go calling me hater, let me add that with each of Jesse's Rules of Lyric Writing, I will share instances where I have failed to follow them. Case in point, here's the second verse from The Sexy Accident's I Guess I'll Never Know:

there's a school bus driving down my street 
such a foggy day the kids will meet
when I was young, I'd be lost in thought
making spaceship sounds everywhere I walked

Luke! This day, how sunny it is! To the beach go, we must!

I agonized over this flawed couplet for months at a time, eating nothing but Doritos while staring at the sea. While that isn't entirely true, it is true that I agonized over this flawed couplet for months at a time without eating Doritos, nowhere near the sea. I just never came up with another way of packing the image I wanted into such a small space. Just goes to show that I am incredibly awesome, despite my awesomeness.

So there you have it! Rule #672 from Jesse's Rules of Lyric Writing: Don't Talk Like Yoda.  Watch this space for the next rule, to be published whenever I damn well please.

What are your favorite Yoda lyrics, dear readers?