Thursday, 9 March 2017

March #8: I Want To Tell You A Story...

More Dar Williams today. I make no apologies for that: some bloggers write about the same artists week after week. Why do we blog about music we love? Because we love it. Because we want to grab you by the lapels and say: "Hey, listen to this. This is good." Because whenever we hear a really good song, we want to share it and help it find another pair of ears that will love it the same way we do. Because maybe we don't have anyone in our real lives who loves music in quite the same way we do, who values it quite the same way we do... but out there in the blogosphere, we might just find a like-minded soul.

And finding a like-minded soul is kind of what today's song is all about...

8. Dar Williams - Mortal City

Up until just a few years ago, I used to love writing short stories. I enjoyed writing longer works of fiction to, as you'll see in the sidebar, but they took a lot more time, blood, sweat and tears. A short story, I could write in a day. I think I got quite good at it. Maybe not "publish my collection" good, but good enough to be shortlisted for a few prizes. Ha... at this point I can't help but remember a cartoon that appeared in the Guardian Review section a few years back. I remember it because it's pinned to the noticeboard at the side of me as I write this...

Anyway, the point is: I liked writing short stories, and I like reading them. It's a different skill to writing a novel, a different art form. There are different rules, different pleasures. You don't get to use as much repetition of a word like different in a short story as you might do in a novel. You'd get pulled up on that.

I realised something the other day. Out of all the music blogs I read, mine is the one which focusses the most on song lyrics. The only other blogger I can think of who regularly quotes song lyrics is Alyson at What's It All About? But for Alyson, the lyrics are there because (often) they remind her of something in her own life, and those memories are her blog's reason for being. I'm the only blogger I can think of who obsesses over lyrics, who makes whole Top Tens out of obscure lyrical references to toasters, who raves about the working man's story songs of Bruce; the cleverly worded puns of Elvis Costello; the mordantly witty couplets of Morrissey; the everyday woodchip-on-the-wall minutiae of Jarvis; the self-deprecating romanticism of Billy Bragg; the ludicrously exaggerated melodrama of Jim Steinman...

I like a lot of different types of music for a lot of different reasons. But if I were to list my all-time favourite artists (a list I started, but by no means completed, in the previous paragraph), they'd all have something in common. Their words are as strong... if not stronger than... their music. I realise I may be somewhat in the minority when it comes to this. I'm not saying you lot don't like the lyrics of your favourite songwriters, don't pore over them, didn't spend hours as a teenager transcribing them because there was no lyric sheet in the album sleeve... I'm sure many of you did. I just don't think the lyrics are paramount, the main reason behind your choice of favourite artists. I doubt any of you have found yourself giving a pass to Gary Barlow... or James Blunt... or even Coldplay in the last week or so because, you know what, their latest singles have some interesting stuff going in the words, even if their music still sounds like their same old tat. (Actually, the Gary Barlow song has better music than usual too, mainly because he's nicked a load of ideas from Jeff Lynne... but I digress.) The point is, good lyrics will always sway me to a song, even by an artist I would normally cross the road to avoid. I'll even throw Bono a bone... if he ever writes a lyrically interesting song, I will buy it and sing it proudly at the top of my lungs. Go for it, Bono!

(By the way, I may be wrong about much of the above. You may value lyrics as much as I do. If so, I'll be happy to start up a club and we can get together on the third Tuesday of every month in an abandoned bus shelter on the edge of town to discuss whether Ben Folds has written a funnier song than John Grant. The invitation's there.)

The point... I was getting to the point a few paragraphs back, wasn't I? The point is, I like a good short story. And today's offering, the title track of Dar Williams's second album, from way, way back in 1996, is a great short story. You may decide it's not a great song... but I can't really tell the difference. No, as far as I'm concerned, there's no difference at all. Musically, I suppose it sounds a little bit Joni Mitchell, but... oh, just give it a listen.

Why do I write this blog? All the reasons above plus one more. I don't write anything else anymore. This is all I have left...


  1. Rol, it's a waste not to write something else. I understand that life is busy - trust me, I really, really understand - but you write good stories. Time to squeeze some more out, I think.

    1. P.S. See you on the third Tuesday...

    2. Thanks, Martin... Though your choice of metaphor verb left something to be desired. ;-)

      P.S. Bus shelter is booked, we might have to make do with an old phone box.

  2. What a lovely post - and I really hope you do write more in other ways too if you can find the time, it seems as if it's so natural for you, something you're clearly good at and that you enjoy immensely. I'm a big believer in following one's creative talents if at all possible - too good to waste.
    I found your words about lyrics really interesting. I think my own attitude to music varies - mostly I'm grabbed by everything else first - how the melody makes me feel, its mood, rhythm, or whatever - hard to define. But the lyrics sometimes make the difference between a song which is just fine or a song which has something special. E.g. with Deap Vally 'Smile More', I've heard and liked plenty of tracks which sound much like that but it was definitely the lyrics which gave it an edge.
    Anyway you've opened my eyes (ears?) to paying more attention to lyrics again now even when I don't like the tune; that way I could at least get something out of it. I'll be back to pay proper attention to Dar Williams later.

    1. I know exactly what you mean about the Deal Valley track, the words distinguish it from the pack.

      Of course, having said all that, I realised today that one of my favourite albums of the moment is one where I haven't really paid much attention to the lyrics at all, because everything else is so distracting. I'll try to feature that here soon.

  3. For what it's worth, your book on the sidebar was my favourite read of last year - Its a shame that the things we are good at and enjoy most in life are not the things we can earn our living from nowadays - Mr WIAA and his sculpture is another example.

    Anyway, thanks for the mention but yes you are right I include the lyrics/a clip/photos in my posts and sometimes quote from them but it was not until starting my blog that I really started taking heed of what the songwriters were saying - For me it was always about the music/melody and how it made me feel. I am now however righting that wrong and am constantly impressed by your encyclopaedic knowledge of the lyrics - Just listened to all 6 minutes of Dar's song here and you are right, its a great short story. Come to think of it I am over at Wordpress as I really was more interested in the writing aspect of blogging at the beginning but would never have kept it up if not married it up with something fun like music. I know time is limited but I do like when you share your "stories" with us here, so in the short-term, it's a good way of putting it out there whilst still doing the day job. And, as I keep saying, my daughter is now all grown up and I seem to have time now for a full-time job and hobbies - Everything comes to he who waits. Sorry bit of a long comment... verging on a short story!

    1. I did worry that this might be seen as an "Alas, poor Rol," post, and I really didn't intend it that way. But thank you for the kind words as always.

    2. Not at all with the poor Rol - we're just all jealous of your vast knowledge and clever writing style. You have been very prolific here of late so maybe time for a short story or two after all.

  4. Been a while since I dropped in (hangs head in shame). Third post down and all it came flooding back at how I've long admired and been jealous of your writing telents.

    I just churn out any old rubbish and occasionally will put together a run of words that I'll look back on with a small degree of pride. I read your stuff and it makes me wonder why I bother...and maybe I should just post the mp3s!!

    Thanks again Rol for being somone who not only makes whole Top Tens out of obscure lyrical references to toasters, but does so in a way that is witty, erudite, informatice and often thought-provoking.


    1. Well, you've certainly been making up for lost time!

      Thanks for the kind words, JC, but you should remember that your blog was one of my few original influences when it came to blogging about music...And you're one of the few remaining from that era. Any old rubbish would not have kept me - and many others - following you for all these years.


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