Now it was winter.†
For weeks this last fall I had been listening to Converge’s “Predatory Glow” several times a day; it’s the finale to their recent All We Love We Leave Behind, and its lyrics begin, "I've found myself / running out of time / relating to those that / just stopped trying / clinging to those little things / and the light they bring / I bow down to you / extinguished youth" (for more, this transcription seems mostly correct). It’s disappointing to me when the closing song on an album doesn’t sound like a ship on fire in the middle of the ocean. Converge know how to end an album:
Parenthetically, do we not seek out “new” music to listen to because it is unburdened by memory associations, for listening to “old,” “familiar” music always seems to draw us back against the current? New music isn't yet tied to a life time or place or stratum. Surely now, thanks to my overplaying, “Predatory Glow” will be October of 2012 whenever I hear it.
(Cobweb or chain of memory. At once I recall struggling to explain to M.S. between sets at a “Neue Musik” piano performance why a blog should take “belated” as its title. But then, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that my first website, from ye olde late 90s, in the end became a way for me to share the lyrics from songs that were affecting me most urgently at a given moment; I need only think of a pretext for their use or display. Epigraphs are always handy. I also recollect struggling with Elliot Carter’s “Insomnia.” The occasion for the struggle was a paper for a course called “Music since 1968,” which was taught by an accomplished student of Carter’s! The paper was about the relation between Carter’s music and the poem of Elizabeth Bishop’s that it set. Soundtrack, “a mirror on which to dwell.”)
Personally, I am not averse to bombast.
Why do I find some pop songs so compelling? As though the lyrics were written by someone sneaking into my room at night, ghost writing my high school diary. As though “the shadows are really the body.” A circle between high school journal and pop song lyric whose most crystalline expression is the kid writing during class, from memory, the full lyrics of an Iron Maiden song on his trapper keeper.
What is the relation between the lyrics and the music they “accompany?”
Footnotes? at first ridiculing, then destroying the main argument of the piece. Or the lyrics could figure what the music seems to be doing abstractly. Then pop singers always say: the lyrics have a personal meaning for me; individual fans will make of them what they will. Everyone shall have their own interpretation that I am not responsible for! Or the lyrics are a kind of de-figuralization that allows anyone to inject some semantic something into them? And how does that complicate our notion of the physical force of music? the way it moves the body despite its abstractness, and of the words, which seem to rip away from the flesh and float over like ashes. High school diary, high school poetry.
Song lyrics are supposed to be abstract enough to enable individual interpretations, and at the same time, they do not sound meaningful and invite such interpretation without seeming to figure the music they “accompany.” That's a question.
And we haven't yet accounted for the voice. Perhaps the voice is precisely this site or relation between lyrics and music?
And if song lyrics are so important to me, then why am I so terrible at hearing what they are in the first place – I always need the booklet, the text – let alone deciphering them?
I had a dream
and it split the scene
but I gotta hunch
it’s coming back to me.
It took me twenty years to realize that “split” could mean divide and leave.
† Composed November 2012, edited February 2013, published December 2014.