Today I like: Sullivan’s Island
Not so much: Wrapping paper
Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in
Are you aware of the shape I’m in?
My hands they shake, my head it spins
Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in
–The Avett Brothers (I and Love and You)
My second daughter, she of the white blond hair and blue eyes; she who looks nothing like me, is a child after my own heart. I think she might have a writer’s soul. She takes it all in.
Songs, for example. She always asks me, “Mommy, what is this song about?” This is her reaction to every artist from Kesha to Bob Dylan. Usually I can come up with a pretty succinct, child-friendly answer. (“She’s mad at her boyfriend! He wants to go to a big party! He likes big butts and he cannot lie!” Ok, really, I change the song on that one…) Sometimes I’m stumped…and the above song, I and Love and You, by the Avett Brothers…which I have recently discovered and with which I have fallen in love…is an example of such a song.
When I had that inevitable question, this time I said, “Why don’t you just listen to it, and tell me what you think at the end?”
Load the car and write the note
Grab your bag and grab your coat
Tell the ones that need to know
That we are headed north
One foot in and one foot back
But it don’t pay to live like that
So I cut the ties and jumped the tracks
Never to return
She kept up a commentary. “So he’s going on a trip? North…it will be cold. Is it Christmas?”
When at first I learned to speak
I used all my words to fight
With him and her and you and me
Oh but its just a waste of time
Yeah its such a waste of time
That woman shes got eyes that shine
Like a pair of stolen polished dimes
She asked to dance I said it’s fine
I’ll see you in the morning time
“He messed something up. Maybe his girlfriend is mad.”
Three words that became hard to say
I and love and you
What you were then, I am today
Look at the things I do
“I and love and you. That’s like I LOVE YOU.”
Dumbed down and numbed by time and age
Your dreams to catch the world, the cage
The highway sets the traveler’s stage
All exits look the same
“What kind of exits?”
“Like the ones on the highway.”
“They do look the same. But they have numbers. What number is Brooklyn?”
As we were listening, I thought of how the best songs tell a story. Like novels do, but in the very shortest, simplest form. Sometimes the most eloquent and emotional. It made me think of that old writers’ adage: Show, don’t tell.
Songwriters tell their tales in emotion, and give the reader room to interpret the details and the message in an individual way. What one person hears, where he or she finds some commonality, might not be how the songs resonates (no pun intended) for the next listener. So, as long form writers, I think the lesson we can learn from great songwriters is this: Don’t over explain. Give your readers a chance to come to their own conclusions, and maybe even leave them hanging a tiny bit. Tie it up, but keep the sense of wonder. Give your readers credit for having individual points of reference and creative intelligence. And of course…tell the story in as few words as possible. Just make sure they’re the right ones.
So, at the end of the song I asked my girl what she thought it meant.
“He’s sad. He misses home. He wants to go back and fix things.”
“Do you think he did?” I asked.
She nodded. “Yes, definitely.”
I’ll let her tell me the rest of the story when she’s ready.