Words and Music
On the way home from seeing Ottmar Liebert at the Orange County Fair Sunday night, I asked Muri if she enjoyed it. Yes, she answered, But can I ask you something without you getting mad? Didn’t all of his songs sound the same? Not to me, I answered. You don’t listen to the details of the music so you don’t hear the differences. If you listened to me talk the way you listen to instrumental music, everything I say would sound the same. Hmm. But she knew what I meant and we had a laugh about it, which is good. In my arrogant forties, her comment would, in fact, have annoyed me. Older Eyes have showed me that not everyone who likes music loves music … and not everyone likes music. Particularly instrumental music. I probably listen to more instrumental music than music with lyrics, which is surprising given my love of Words and Music. Listening … really listening … to instrumental music seems to affect me in a more visceral way than songs with words.
On the other hand, I love the sound of a beautiful human voice … or even an interesting human voice that can phrase a lyric in an interesting way. Whitney Houston was an example of the former and Frank Sinatra, in his later years, the latter. There are certainly plenty of songs with ordinary … dorky … or even bad … lyrics that I love anyway but I especially love a song with a lyric well-turned. Singer-songwriters seem to have a particular gift for turning out poetic lyrics. I could probably come up with a week of posts on the lyrics of Joni Mitchell or Jackson Browne. In perhaps my favorite song, Sky Blue and Black*, Jackson Browne describes how his lost love affects everything he does with these lyrics:
You’re the color of the sky,
Reflected in each store-front window pane,
You’re the whispering and the sighing
Of my tires in the rain.
Joni Mitchell’s Urge for Going*, about winter and the loss of love, begins:
I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold,
And shivering trees are standing in a naked row.
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go.
A favorite lyric of mine is from the Gordon Jenkins song, This is All I Ask*, an ode to getting old made famous by Frank Sinatra on his September of my Years album:
Beautiful girls, walk a little slower when you walk by me
Lingering sunsets, stay a little longer with the lonely sea
Children everywhere, when you shoot at bad men, shoot at me
Take me to that strange, enchanted land grown-ups seldom understand.
Maybe that’s why I listen to more instrumental music than vocal … I have a taste for sad lyrics … and more often not, I need to be uplifted. I’ll leave you with one more song with lyrics I love, Billy Joel’s Lullaby to his daughter. This one’s for my daughter, Amy … with tears every time:
What are your favorite lyrics?
* All songs are linked to videos, in case you’re interested.