Music or Lyrics

How long are you willing to wait?

For me? June 14th marked 10 years.

Postal Service on tour for the first time since 2003, when their one and only album, Give Up was released. I still remember where I was 10 years ago when I first discovered them; on the corner of Newbury Street and Mass. Ave, sporting a pair of  vinyl headphones that blocked out a modicum of retail chatter as I stood transfixed at a listening station in the belly of Boston’s Virgin Megastore. It was there I heard Ben Gibbard’s soft, pleading voice loud and clear:

I’m thinking it’s a sign, that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images, and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned.

I’ll be the water wings that save you, if you start drowning in an open tab, when your judgment’s on the brink.

I turned the jewel case over in my hands studying the cover art and playlist, mesmerized. How could he have written lines that so perfectly captured the all-consuming desire of new love or the heartaching loss of it? I bought the album, listened to it on repeat for a good six months. It paid off too because I can still sing along with every word.

Ten years later.

In a sports arena.

In Brooklyn.

Following the herd of hipsters up the steps of the Barclay Arena to the city streets, my friends and I chattered on about how good they sounded and whether it was music or lyrics that first drew you into a song.

For my boyfriend, Marc, and our friend, Tara? It’s the music.

For Tara’s husband, Dan, and I? It’s the lyrics.

Truth be told, I’ve always be enamoured of prose set to music (no doubt it’s the writer in me), the raw emotion on display in a catchy, rhythmic delivery. I first dialed into this experience in high school, when I discovered the Smiths. Morrissey crooning: If a double-decker bus, crashes into us; to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die in “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” made me wonder how a man could be so tortured, yet simultaneously poetic — I had never had experienced such dark emotions in my 16 years, but my teenage heart understood the anguish in a palpable way. To this day, whenever iTunes serves up that very song, I’m transported back to driving the streets of Dana Point in my Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera SL with my best friend, each of us singing at the top of our lungs.

Lyrics still stop me in my tracks to this day. Some recent favorites?

The Avett BrothersSo when you run, make sure you run to something and not away from, cause lies don’t need an aeroplane to chase you anywhere

The Lumineers You told me you were good at runnin’ away, domestic life had never suited you like a suitcase

Vampire WeekendAll your diction dripping with disdain, through the pain I always tell the truth

There is nothing like that first moment of hearing a new song, the words catch your ear while your brain makes sense of it, the meaning slowly revealing itself. And that moment when you get “it”? It’s as though a spark of creativity ignites and I find myself wanting to catch it as it courses through the ether. It beckons me  to write, to create, or, at the very least, consider the possibilities.

So what draws you in: music or lyrics?

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18 thoughts on “Music or Lyrics

  1. Both. At different times and in different ways. I love that first line–Act of Congress does a great cover of “Such Great Heights.” Sometimes I just want the sound and sometimes I love appreciating the music, but the best is when they line up. I write music (more wrote than write) and find it interesting that as a writer, I don’t write lyrics and then music–I do them both together.

    • I’ve always been enamoured of how musicians and songwriters do it — getting the lyrics to match the music? It seems magical in some way. I haven’t heard that cover (will have to check it out) — thanks for the recommendation!

  2. I remember that “freckles” lyric from the Garden State soundtrack–so good–but didn’t know the band’s name. I pay a lot of attention to lyrics, but the singer’s voice and the music have to draw me in first.

  3. These words, “So when you run, make sure you run to something and not away from, cause lies don’t need an aeroplane to chase you anywhere” are my very favorite. To me there are types of songs. The kind that draws me in only because of it’s beats or music. And then there are those other songs, with words that tell your story in a way you didn’t think was possible. Such songs, even if they don’t have good music to accompany them, still stay the favorite for the longest because their newness never wears off.

  4. I love your description – especially, “It’s as though a spark of creativity ignites and I find myself wanting to catch it as it courses through the ether.” Lovely. You really capture what it’s like to hear a great song for the first time.

  5. There have been so many great discoveries on the corner of Mass Ave and Newbury. 10 years before your discovery of Postal Service there, I discovered Pixies and Liz Phair and Tom Waits and Singers Unlimited when it was still Tower Records. Lyrics and music both capture me.

    • Oh man, I would have LOVED to have been there 10 years earlier. I remember when I discovered Liz Phair’s “Exile in Guyville” in the dorms at the University of Colorado. She blew me away!

  6. Especially loved the line: “It’s as though a spark of creativity ignites and I find myself wanting to catch it as it courses through the ether.” Gorgeous. Both music and lyrics draw me in – I’m not that discerning upon first hearing a song – but lyrics keep me coming back. Love that you still remember the lines so many years later!

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