Monday, 17 August 2015

Songs Telling Stories

My friends on Facebook are making a valiant effort to keep communicating meaningfully and overthrow the algorithms promoting clickbait and advertisements.  People are throwing out conversation starters, random questions and crowdsourcing webcomic and song recommendations. 

One of today's requests was for songs with narratives.  Not 'just hinting', but straight out telling stories.  And...well, a good portion of my music is folk music / singer songwriter / indy whatever that means (I am bad with music genres, just go with it) so I was valiantly restraining myself from posting whole albums.  And then I started thinking about it more, and thinking about the types of stories different songs tell. 

[ I mean, I long ago faced up to the fact that much of the music I adore comes from a very specific background and tells the story of a particular person. 

Really, I have so many stories of the woes of white American men in declining industrial regions, harking back to the golden age of the American Dream and pretending it was a real place...
And then there's some of the British folk, which talks dreamily about soldiers or lords or labourers, and I don't think it's possible to love the music and the tales without implicitly giving it a pass on the things it doesn't talk about or the people who aren't quite counted as people enough to have their stories told or hardships remembered.  And then there's the damn gender politics...
- Which isn't to say that some contemporary folk singers aren't doing an awesome job of rebalancing that, through re-interpreting, rewriting and doing their own damn thing. ]

Anyway, that was mostly a lead-in to me linking to a whole lot of music, because I refrained from swamping the Facebook thread with my enthusiasm.  This may turn into more than one post on the subject.

First up - because he was the consummate story-teller, and I really can't think of any of his songs which aren't narratives - Harry Chapin.  Humanitarian, overworked campaigner, fundraiser and apparently infuriating when he got onto his pet subjects, Congressional Medal of Honor holder, and guy who sang about a very particular America - a combination of the one he lived in and the mythic 'America' that he felt it was a part of. 

Okay, he got linked on the original thread for 'Cats in the Cradle'.  And, well, that's nice and it went on to be the song he's really well known for, but I think there are better ones. 

I mean, the guy wrote a ten minute single based on shootings at the University of Texas.

 And sometimes he sang stories about people being ignorant about their oncoming destruction, despite plenty of warning.  (If he was still around, I think he would have been one of the people getting Very Angry about climate change deniers, and then he would have sung about it)

I do think that my affection for his stories is one of the reason my music tastes get called depressing.  There's a lot of songs where things go wrong, or people end up regretting past deeds and dreaming of what might have beens.  Actually, this one is more like a horror story involving a succubus, if your mind twists that way.

And there are less creepy love songs.  Some of which are autobiographical, and many of them include that same kind of wistful quality of wanting something and just missing.  This one even has a story within a story.

The sad thing is that I could have posted about five songs instead of one for each of those examples.

However, since his post was inspired by my friend SF, I will finish with a song which was written with the kind of poor taste that I think he would appreciate, taking a fatal crash and turning it into a comedy song.  A song about a truck, a town called Scranton, Pennsylvania and....30,000 Pounds of Bananas.

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