Dave's Mental Meanderings
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2003-03-20 06:46:39 (UTC)

How did they know?

from my journal
18 March 2003

“They say everything’s alright,
They say better days are near,
They tell us these are the good times,
But they don’t live around here,
Billy and Christy don’t,
And Bruce and Patty don’t,
They don’t live around here.”

- Warren Zevon, from the song “Indifference of Heaven”

How did he know? How did he know to put those exact words
in the song? How incredibly arbitrary are the names Billy,
Christy, Bruce, and Patty? How did he know those words
would strike a chord? In the history of rock and roll,
there are good songwriters (John Lennon, Janis Joplin,
Lenny Kravitz), there are great songwriters (Bob Dylan,
Mark Knopfler, Bruce Springsteen), and there are
songwriters whose ambitious, upper-echelon mediocrity is
shattered on a few glorious occasions when they truly
achieve greatness (Warren Zevon, John Fogerty, Tom Petty).
Whether a songwriter displays greatness in every song he
writes or only for a few brief moments during a 30 year
career, greatness as a rock and roll songwriter can always
be classified as one thing. It is the ability to connect
with a person not through common emotions or experiences,
but through pure humanity. Any fool can write a sad song
about lost love and touch the hearts of lonely, recently-
dumped people everywhere, but it takes a true master of
written words, music, and voice to create something so
RIGHT that it can bring a person to tears simply because he
is a human. In other words, the listener need not have any
thoughts, ideas, experiences, beliefs, or emotions in
common with those expressed in the song – it is the songs
raw humanity that touches the listener. When a songwriter
achieves greatness in his music, a listener hears a line, a
verse, a song, and asks himself, “How did he know!?!”
Think about Springsteen singing the line “chrome-wheeled
fuel-injected and steppin’ out over the line,” or James
Taylor simply uttering the three words “down on
Copperline.” Too many such lines by Knopfler and Dylan
exist to even narrow them down to a select few – I’d have
to buy another journal.

If you like rock and roll but don’t know what I’m talking
about, you’re missing out. Go check out a few choice songs:
“Mutineer” – Warren Zevon
“What it Is” – Mark Knopfler
“Mississippi” – Bob Dylan
“Thunder Road” – Bruce Springsteen

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