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