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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Music in Our Minds

This is Steven Petrick posting.

The lyrics of songs often seem to escape people. I have seen books on such a subject, but had not generally paid it much heed. Most "modern" music comes across to me as repetitive nonsense words. Words are said, but are strung together in a sequence which does not carry any real meaning to me.

Still, older songs I have often found to be popular with people, but if you ask them about the lyrics, they really do not know. Have no idea what the song is about.

I have talked to people who love the song "Lucky Man," who are stunned when I tell them the lyrics are about a young man who was born into wealth and dies in a war.

I have talked to people who love the song "Scarborough Fair" and do not know that it is the story of a young woman and an young man exchanging impossible tasks to prove their love (of course the older song is about a woman putting off the advances of a demon who demands she do impossible things to achieve her freedom, and she in turn demands impossible things of the demon, it is actually a very, very old song, unlike "Lucky Man," as indeed was the Scarborough Fair itself).

I am not immune to this. I have heard "Green Green Grass of Home" many times, but was never able to make out all of the lyrics. Still, the image the song always conjured in my mind was that of a man being returned to his home for burial. In that I was always half-right. The first part of the song it turns out is a dream by the man that he has come home, the break is where we learn the man was sleeping, and has awakened to find himself still surrounded by prison walls, and then the chaplain arrives to accompany him to his execution. The lyrics pick up then to carry the man from the aftermath to his burial beneath the oak tree of his youth and the grass of home. The song, of course, makes no mention of why the man was imprisoned and sentenced to death, i.e., what his crime was, so all are able to imagine it as they will, only he is very probably not an "honorable soldier" which was the image conjured for me before I actually read the lyrics. Depending on your viewpoint, because the crime is not mentioned, he might be a political prisoner, or an innocent man entire. The tone of the song, however, conveys that the man in question is probably not a violent man, and that perhaps his execution was somehow wrong. The chaplain (padre) walks with him "arm-in-arm" to his execution and clearly from the lyrics bears the prisoner no malice for whatever crime he committed that has brought him to that point.

Still, there are other songs.

"Leaving on a Jet Plane" for example always conveys to me the image of a soldier going off to war, even though the protagonist is clearly a musician ("Every song I sing, I sing for you"). Being me, however, the image is always of soldiers leaving their families to go and protect those families from "war's devastation."

Of course, I have mentioned before the images "Tubular Bells," "Classical Gas," and "Maid of Orleans" conjure in my mind, and always have from when I first heard them. There are other instrumentals not meant to create the images in my mind that they create (one I have forgotten the name of always makes me think of a carrier launching a strike, and another that was on that same tape was of a aircraft making their way through an enemy's defensive nets).

Still, I wonder how many of us (meaning of course you the readers) have songs we like that we do not actually know what the lyrics are about, but "it has a good beat and you can dance to it."