The Perfect Line
by Joel Caris
There's something I'm not great at when it comes to music. While many of my friends actually listen to and digest the lyrics of the songs they listen to, I typically do not do that. I don't mean to say that I pay no attention to the lyrics, but I'm definitely one of those people who pays attention to a song's overall sound more than the lyrics specifically. I don't follow them line by line and, often times, I don't grasp the story the lyrics typically tell. There are exceptions to this, of course, and I often do start paying more attention to the lyrics of songs that I listen to again and again, but the majority of songs exist in a land in which I'm not really sure what the lyrics are about.
Understand, that's fine with me. But to some people, they find that a very strange way to listen to music. I don't know what the split is of people who listen to music the same way I do and how many pay close attention to the lyrics right off the bat, but I seem to know a lot of people who fall into the latter category.
However, while I may not always listen to every line of a song's lyrics, I do often catch certain phrases that resonate with me, burrowing deep into my brain and creating strange chemical and emotional reactions. This is when lyrics hit me hardest and, often, these small phrases completely overtake me, leading to an almost obsession with a certain song.
One of my most played songs is "Desperate Ain't Lonely" by Whiskeytown, which is a defunct band that was fronted by Ryan Adams. The particular line in this song that really resonates with me is fairly simple and straightforward: "I try not to drink / 'cause if I sit and think / I'll go crazy." It's such a basic line, yet somehow I find it incredibly compelling, as it perfectly creates a picture of a person lost in their misery, wanting to drown it in alcohol but not wanting to dwell on the sadness, as they surely would with the alcohol. It's a simple image, but one I was obsessed enough with to continually play the song over and over for a few weeks straight.
Another song that I listen to again and again and never grow tired of is "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." by Sufjan Stevens. It actually has a couple lines that really hit me hard. One is "The neighbors, they adored him / for his humor and his conversation." Another line referring to Gacy's alcoholic father comes in the song's final stanza: "And in my best behavior / I am really just like him." They're affecting lines in a quiet and devastating song that somehow, someway, brings the listener to the brink of empathy for a serial murderer and child molester. In that sense, they're compelling and fascinating.
In "Land Locked Blues" by Bright Eyes, lead singer Conor Oberst sings, "We made love on the living room floor / with the noise in the background from a televised war." This line always catches my attention not so much because of its emotional resonance (though that is an element of it)as it does due to the simple visual nature of the words. It's a stark and compelling image, made more interesting by the inherent social commentary but not needing that commentary to catch the listener's attention.
Of course, one of my favorite lines of all times, and one that I've mentioned on this site before, comes from Taking Back Sunday's song "You're So Last Summer." The line is "You could slit my throat / and with my one last gasping breath / I'd apologize for bleeding on your shirt." It's really just a brilliant, entertaining and funny line that beautifully describes passive aggressive behavior. It's such an outrageous and ridiculous image, it's almost impossible not to notice the line, at the very least on the second or third time you listen to the song. Similarly, it's almost impossible not to at least smile at it. It's a great line and one that instantly makes the song stand out from the rest of the album for me.
There are plenty more lines of lyrics I love, but I want to throw this into your court now. What particular lines of lyrics do you love? I'm not necessarily looking for a song with great lyrics throughout (though that's perfectly acceptable) but just what specific bit of lyrics really grab you and have helped elevate the status of a song for you. I'm sure you've got some good ones, so let's hear it.
Joel is adored by his neighbors
I have a handful I can add, but I'm won't say who did them. We'll make a game of it and I'll go easy on ya to start...
"This place is a prison
And these people aren't your friends
Inhaling thrills through $20 bills
And the tumblers are drained and then flooded again
"I'm a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm
I'm a runaway son of the nuclear a-bomb
I am a worlds forgotten boy
The one who searches and destroys"
"You tell me that I make no difference
At least I'm fuckin' trying
What the fuck have you done?"
"Why do we still live here
In this repulsive town?
All our friends are in New York"
"And in the Euston tavern you screamed it was your shout
But they wouldn't give you service so you kicked the windows out
They took you out into the street and kicked you in the brains
So you walked back in through a bolted door and did it all again"
"I be tossin, enforcin, my style is awesome
I'm causin more Family Feud's than Richard Dawson
And the survey said -- ya dead
Fatal Flying Guillotine chops off your fuckin head"
Posted by: thefinn | February 8, 2007 12:39 PM
"Now the rainman gave me two cures,
Then he said, "Jump right in."
The one was Texas medicine,
The other was just railroad gin.
An' like a fool I mixed them
An' it strangled up my mind,
An' now people just get uglier
An' I have no sense of time."
-Bob Dylan, "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again"
This song reminds me of living in the Bay Area.
Posted by: Philbrick | February 8, 2007 2:05 PM
I really like short lyrics that tell a long story.
Pink Floyd: "If the dam breaks open many years too soon/ and if there is no room upon the hill"
Think about that story. The dam goes, you rush to a hill and there are your friends there but they can't let you up or they'll die so you have to sit there and wait to die. Powerful.
And of course, Pat Benatar's "Hell is for Children",
"So be a good boy/you'll get a new toy/tell grandma you fell off the swing"
I think of the millions of kids living that suck-ass life and I want to punch the shit out of some child-abusing assholes. (can I cuss here?)
Posted by: Veeshir | February 8, 2007 3:13 PM
Ya sure can, Veeshir!
-Stooges - title's there
-Minor Threat - In My Eyes
-sounds familiar, not sure, pass, I don't know
-Pogues - Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn
-no clue, don't know
Posted by: Dan | February 8, 2007 7:17 PM
Finn, I don't know any of those, but I sure like them.
Veeshir--agreed, that's a great line from Pink Floyd. Powerful.
Posted by: Joel | February 9, 2007 1:35 AM
And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten-ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure - the privilege is mine
The vessel groans the ocean pressures its frame.
Off the port I see the lighthouse through the sleet and rain.
And I wish for one more day to give my love and repay debts.
But the morning finds our bodies washed up thirty miles west.
I could do this all day. But I don't have all day.
Oh, and let's not forget the greatest 50 Cent lyric ever:
I love you like a fat kid loves cake.
Posted by: michele | February 9, 2007 6:29 AM
"And if a double-decker bus"
Simply because of that Michele, I declare today to be Smiths day... Posies in pockets everyone and snap to it! Because sometimes it feels so good to feel so damn bad!!
Dan, you were right on except for the one's you didn't know...
Posted by: thefinn | February 9, 2007 7:32 AM
Damn it! I know the second one, Michele, but I just can't quite hear the song and remember what it is. Love that song, though.
I'm resisting the urge to Google, but I'll have to do it at some point if I don't remember.
Posted by: Joel | February 9, 2007 9:52 AM
And thus we see how bad I am with recognizing lyrics. It took me fifteen minutes to realize that's from Play Crack The Sky by Brand New, which happens to be one of my favorite and most listened to songs.
I've got 95 listens to it in iTunes, which is good for 7th place of all my songs. And it took me fifteen minutes to remember distinctive lyrics from it.
Anyway, love that part, too. And the whole damn song, for that matter.
Posted by: Joel | February 9, 2007 10:10 AM
Leave me here all by myself, I don't need no one. Yeah it isn't very pretty, but it's a popular song.
When I'm feeling like I really NEED to go get shit faced I put this on and BLAST it. Usually only takes one play.
Posted by: Timmer | February 9, 2007 1:11 PM
This bed is on fire
With passionate love
The neighbours complain about the noises above
But she only comes when she’s on top
My therapist said not to see you no more
She said you’re like a disease without any cure
She said I’m so obsessed that I’m becoming a bore, oh no
Ah, you think you’re so pretty
Caught your hand inside the till
Slammed your fingers in the door
Fought with kitchen knives and skewers
Dressed me up in women's clothes
Messed around with gender roles
Dye my eyes and call me pretty
Moved out of the house, so you moved next door
I locked you out, you cut a hole in the wall
I found you sleeping next to me, I thought I was alone
You’re driving me crazy, when are you coming home
Posted by: michele | February 9, 2007 7:03 PM
"Laid" by James. Great song, Michele. Nice call.
Posted by: Joel | February 9, 2007 7:57 PM