Earlier I had written about imagery and storytelling in poetry and lyrics. Today I want to write about what I think is a fine example of both imagery and storytelling in song writing.
James Taylor is a song writer who does an exceptional job with imagery and storytelling in his songwriting. I could probably pick out dozens of examples but the one I chose today is from the song “Copperline” on his album “New Moon Shine”.
There are three lines in that song the just fill my head with a very detailed picture and piece of the story.
“One time I saw my daddy dance
Watched him moving like a man in a trance
Brought it home from the war in France”
I love those three lines.
I can see a young boy looking like he is from the late forties early fifties, sneaking up on a bunch of men sitting around a fire. The fire is by an old shed. As the men are sitting there swapping stories they are passing around a jug of homemade moonshine and getting pretty loose. All the while the boy is lingering in the shadows taking in what the men do.
Maybe the men start to sing an old war song or someone brought a guitar and starts playing. Suddenly the boy’s father gets up and starts doing this dance. It’s not a very attractive dance but it certainly an uninhibited dance.
His father a veteran of World War II was remembering and reliving the times of comradeship the he and his war buddies experienced in France. Perhaps the dance was something he saw after liberating a village.
This is a side of his father the boy never saw before and it leaves one of those life long memories that we all have.
I got all of that from three lines. Three very well crafted lines that when combined with the superb music it becomes an emotional experience.
Maybe that’s not what James Taylor was thinking of when he wrote those lines but to me that’s not important. What’s important is the images evoked in my head by those lines that help makes the story and the song the emotional experience that it is for me.
Sometime after hearing and analyzing such works I feel as if I might as well stop writing. How on earth can I even compare my work to his? But James Taylor has about 30 or 40 years of writing experience on me.
Just like drumming where I realize I’m never going to play like Steve Gadd or Jim Keltner, I need to remember I’m never going to write like James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Sting, Paul Simon and so on.
I can only keep writing and playing for myself. I can only do what I do to the best of my ability, striving to reach a level where I can say I did that, I like it and I’m proud of it.
I’ll never be one hundred percent satisfied but I can like it. If I like it I feel others will like it.
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