Archive for the ‘Lyric Analysis’ Category

Bob Marley

Posted: April 4, 2012 in Lyric Analysis, Music Therapy

I’ve been gaining a new appreciation of Bob Marley recently, and it’s all thanks to a client that I’ll be discharging at the end of April.

My history with Bob Marley goes back to college when a practicum group was doing a presentation of a songwriting exercise they did with No Woman No Cry.  It was the first time I had ever heard the song, and everyone in the class was pretty moved by what transpired.  No Woman No Cry later became the first Bob Marley song I learned on guitar, and was the only Bob Marley song I knew for a long time.  After that, I learned Redemption Song.

When I started working with S, he asked for a lot of songs, including Don’t Worry Be Happy, which I had in my repertoire.  But, even after we sang it, he kept asking for Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bob Marley, and DWBH by Bobby McFerrin (which he liked) wasn’t what he wanted.  I looked deeper, and found the song Three Little Birds, which has the following chorus:

Don’t worry about a thing
Cause every little thing is gonna be all right
Singin’ don’t worry about a thing
Cause every little thing is gonna be all right

That turned out to be exactly what S was asking for.  He started asking for more Bob Marley music.  I brought out Redemption Song, which he was kind of so so on, and No Woman No Cry, which he didn’t like at all.  So I left the lyrics for NWNC with him for a week, telling him to listen to it on YouTube because I thought he would like it if he knew it better (a common theme in sessions – he only liked songs he knew, he didn’t care for songs he didn’t know).

The next week, he liked it a little better.  The next week, even better.  Before long, he was asking for it every single session and requesting more Bob Marley music.  I finally went out and made a CD of a bunch of Bob Marley tunes, and he ate it up.  He uses it all the time in his coping skills practice, and it’s easy to see why – it’s very chill music.  It was the first time I’d really made an effort to seek out more Marley stuff, and he’s got some great tunes – some of my new favorites are One Love, Coming In From the Cold, Jamming, and Could You Be Loved.

Yesterday, as we were singing No Woman No Cry, I got to thinking more about the meaning of the song.  I haven’t ever really done a lyric analysis on it since there’s so much Jamaican to it, and that can confuse people – I have had that problem with doing lyric analysis on Redemption Song.  But considering that S is being discharged at the end of the month, my mind was probably in the right place to really connect with the meaning of No Woman No Cry – it’s a song about saying goodbye.  If you look at the lyrics (linked to here), you’ll see that the verses are all about memories of times gone by, and looking ahead bravely to the future.  The refrain is an appeal to stay strong, and there’s even a reassuring chorus of “everything’s gonna be all right.

For these reasons, I think No Woman No Cry is a perfect song to close out our time together.  In fact, I may be using it in future sessions where I need to facilitate closure.  But, beyond that, I’ve become a bigger appreciator of Bob Marley’s work.  I think I may have avoided him for so long because of his association with the drug culture out there.  But there’s some phenomenal music in his catalog, music that can touch you emotionally and spiritually.  I’d recommend everyone to check him out sometime.  I know I’ll be looking more into his work from here on out.  Thanks for reading!

-Jesse

I Don’t Wanna Work

Posted: August 30, 2011 in Lyric Analysis, Techniques

Lately, one of the more frequent songs I’ve been using is Todd Rundgren’s anthem “Bang on the Drum All Day.”  Which is a little strange, because it’s kind of a mixed message to be sending.  There’s the chorus:

I don’t wanna work, I just wanna bang on the drum all day
I don’t wanna play, I just wanna bang on the drum all day

Who hasn’t felt like that, right?  Mostly I’m just using the song as a drum playing activity, but I always end up thinking about the lyrics, particularly when I get to the verses:

Every since I was a tiny boy
Don’t want no candy, don’t need no toy
I took a stick and an old coffee can
And I bang on that thing till I got blisters on my hands because
I don’t wanna work…

That verse isn’t so bad, and neither is this one:

When I get older, they think I’m a fool
The teacher told me I should stay after school
She caught me bangin’ on the desk with my hands
But my licks were so hot, they made the teacher wanna dance and that’s why
I don’t wanna work…

If you know drummers at all, you know they’re constantly banging on stuff.  So that’s not such a strange verse, it’s just encouraging a little bit of rebellion in school.  But, after a nice bass break, we come back with the third verse:

Every day when I get home from work
I feel frustrated, the boss is a jerk
I take my sticks and I go out to the shed
And I pound on that drum just like it was the boss’ head because
I don’t wanna work…

It’s a popular sentiment among the working class, but not necessarily something I want to reinforce in my clients.  I usually drop the third verse and do the chorus again (after encouraging a drum solo).  I also thought about modifying the third verse:

Every day when I get home from my job
I want to do nothin, wanna feel like a slob
All I wanna do is bang on my drums
Bang on it with sticks or with my fingers and my thumbs because
I don’t wanna work…

OK, so I’m not the world’s greatest lyricist.  But none of the lyrics in this song are particularly profound.  It’s just a fun song.  I enjoy playing it, and my clients enjoy hearing it and playing along.  Thanks for reading!

-Jesse

Last Friday was a little rough for me.  The big problem was just the latest in the current wave of thunderstorms hitting my life – my car.  On Memorial Day, the body control module went out on me, so I had to take it in on Tuesday morning.  They said they’d probably get to it in the late afternoon, and they called me at around 4:45 to let me know they were still looking at it and would have to call again on Wednesday.  So on Wednesday, they called to let me know they needed to order a new part.  On Thursday, they called to say it was done, then called again to say “not so fast.”  So on Friday at around noon, they called to say that the part they ordered was a dud and they needed to order a new one, and I’d probably get my car back on Monday.  That kind of soured my mood, and I really didn’t want to do my remaining sessions.  However, I pushed my personal stuff aside.  Or tried to – it’s really tough with all that weight on your shoulders.

The client I was working with that day doesn’t really do much, so I mostly just try to find different things to engage his interest and encourage participation.  Part of that means that I try singing different songs.  And it just so happened that I opened my songbook to John Denver’s “Sunshine on my Shoulders,” so that’s what I sang.

When I got done with the song, something had happened.  Not to my client, he was staring off into space.  Something had happened to me.  It was like an enormous weight had been lifted.  The car issue was still there (as of this writing on Tuesday, they still have it), as was all the other pressure I’ve been feeling lately.  But something about the song reminded me that there’s still a lot in life to be grateful for.

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me highIf I had a day that I could give you
I’d give to you the day just like today
If I had a song that I could sing for you
I’d sing a song to make you feel this waySunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me highIf I had a tale that I could tell you
I’d tell a tale sure to make you smile
If I had a wish that I could wish for you
I’d make a wish for sunshine for all the while

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost all the time makes me high

This song is one of my all-time favorites.  It’s very simple, it’s very beautiful, and there’s something bittersweet about the whole thing that just gives me goosebumps.  My first exposure to John Denver was the Christmas album he did with the Muppets, but I never really listened to anything else he did until I was in college.  He was a phenomenal songwriter, and this song is a fine example.

The point of the story, I guess, is that it’s important to have reminders every now and then that music is very powerful, even for therapists.  I think it was just what I needed, and I functioned much better for the rest of that day.

It happened again last night.  I was at a client’s house and was having some back pain issues.  I had made a coping CD for this client, and we were going through it.  We got to Sunshine on my Shoulders, followed immediately by Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds.  By the end of that pairing, my discomfort was gone.  Who needs drugs when I’ve got John Denver and Bob Marley?

That’s it for now.  Thanks for reading!

UPDATE (TUESDAY EVENING): Got my car back.  The remote doesn’t work, and they didn’t give me my promised car wash.  So on it goes…

UPDATE (THURSDAY MORNING): So my car wouldn’t start Wednesday morning.  We took it back in and they fixed it.  They tried to weasel another $100 out of us, but my wife was very firm that they should have fixed it the first time if they wanted to get paid.  I have it back, it started this morning, it got washed, hooray.  BUT, our power went out at around midnight last night when lightning struck the tree behind our house, taking out power lines, our shed, and our back fence.  I guess our metaphorical thunderstorm just became reality.  So on it goes…

In the Summertime

Posted: May 24, 2011 in Lyric Analysis

I sometimes have difficulty when it comes to songs with controversial lyrics.  I recently had a client request In the Summertime by Mungo Jerry.  I didn’t know the song very well, just the hook, so I looked up the lyrics.  Here’s the first verse:

In the summertime when the weather’s high
You can stretch right up and touch the sky
When the weather’s fine
You got women, you got women on your mind
Have a drink, have a drive
Go out and see what you can find

This song was released in 1970, and you can definitely get a sense of that from the lyrics.  The line that gets me is “Have a drink, have a drive.”  You couldn’t get away with that today.  Sure, the late sixties/early seventies were all carefree, but are we really advocating drinking and driving?  Even looking past that, there’s a lot of weird stuff in this song.  Take the second verse:

If her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal
If her daddy’s poor, just do as you feel
Speed along the lane
Do a ton, or a ton and twenty-five
When the sun goes down, you can make it
Make it good in a lay-by

OK.  So first we’re advocating treating rich and poor women differently.  Next we’re advocating driving 125 mph (or whatever a ton is…I’m assuming it’s pretty fast).  And I’m assuming that by lay-by, they’re using British slang for a rest area, so I don’t even want to talk about that part.

So what do you do with this?  I’m not big on censorship, but I guess I could change some of the lyrics.  When Shaggy covered the song, he changed the line “Have a drink, have a drive” to “I’m going to drive and ride”.  He also changed “do a ton or a ton and twenty-five” to “even though the speed limit is twenty-five”, and “make it good in a lay-by” to “make it with my cutie pie.”  I’m not sure these are better options, but they at least make more sense.

Then again, my client didn’t choose this song because he was interested in the lyrics.  It’s a summertime song, and he’s really looking forward to summertime.  So do I leave the lyrics alone and focus on the music?  We’ve been working on rewriting songs, so maybe he could change the lyrics to suit himself.  But he doesn’t always enjoy that process, usually just preferring songs in their original form.

In the end, what I decided to do was just to sing the song with him, then talked a bit about the lyrics.  Just as I thought, he was more interested in the feel of the song rather than the message.  And I admit, it is a fun song.  My problem is that I sometimes just think too much about the words.  This is not a song I’d want to sing or listen to outside of sessions, but as long as my client is getting something out of it, that’s a good thing.  Thanks for reading!

-Jesse

PS: Here’s the full video for the song in case you’re interested:

Music and Misery

Posted: January 6, 2011 in Lyric Analysis

What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music? – Rob Fleming, High Fidelity (2000)

I love High Fidelity.  The book AND the movie.  It’s extremely an extremely insightful look into the human (particularly male) psyche.  And it’s mixed with a love of music, which I can relate to.  This quote sticks out to me as a musician, particularly as one who is often asked to learn new songs for sessions.

One of my clients asked me to bring in some Tom Jones to sing for our next session.  I suggested It’s Not Unusual (which was the only Tom Jones song I could think of off the top of my head), and he said that would be OK, but then started to try to remember another song called Delilah.

As I was looking these two songs up, I found that they’re both pretty depressing.  For It’s Not Unusual, the lyrics seem kind of disconnected from the joyful horn driven Vegas background music.  Take the first lines:

It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone
It’s not unusual to have fun with anyone
But when I see you hanging about with anyone
It’s not unusual to see me cry, and I wanna die

My most enduring memory of the song is seeing Tom Jones perform it while Martians are blowing up Vegas.  However, the music is more about a man who wants a woman that he can’t have.  There’s still some hope there, but still, pretty miserable lyrically.

And then there’s Delilah.  A snippet for you:

At break of day when that man drove away I was waiting
I crossed the street to her house and she opened the door
She stood there laughing
I felt the knife in my hand, and she laughed no more

OK, so this one is about a man who kills an adulterous woman.  Who knew that Tom Jones was such an advocate of violence?

I guess my point is that music has the ability to be really emotional.  You have to be prepared for some lyrical power at all times, even if it is from Tom Jones.  In knowing my client, I don’t think there’s any particular reason to choose those songs other than he just likes them (no girl troubles that I know about).  I doubt I’ll be taking in Delilah to sing with my client, but I will be prepared to talk with him about it if he wants to.

So, in summary, High Fidelity is a better movie than Mars Attacks, but Mars Attacks has Tom Jones.  Go figure.  Thanks for reading.

-Jesse

Lyric Analysis: Crazy Train

Posted: November 16, 2010 in Lyric Analysis

I’ve been trying to post at least once a week since I started this blog, and have been doing pretty well with that.  However, sometimes I feel like I have nothing to say (and I am saying it – John Cage).  I don’t claim to be an expert in things – in fact, the only thing that gives me any credibility is that I’ve figured out how to use a computer.  For me, blogging is catharsis – I like being able to tell the world what’s going on and maybe give a few ideas to others.  I sometimes find myself slipping into the trap of thinking I have to offer something profound, such as right now.  But in reality, I’m mostly just talking to myself in a public forum.

But instead of babbling about nothing (since I have no stories to tell or topics to cover), I’m going to instead use this post to do a lyric analysis.  I keep coming back to Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train lately, partly because one adult in the day program is a big fan (she also likes Debbie Gibson, go figure).  Yesterday, I had another client request the song, so I want to look at the lyrics.

I’m not a heavy metal fan.  Part of it is that I haven’t really been exposed to a lot.  Part of it is that the subject matter is not something I’m drawn to.  However, I can’t deny that there’s a certain level of musicianship there, and the lyrics can be pretty thought provoking.  I have the same mixed feelings about rap.

Here’s the first verse of Crazy Train.

Crazy, but that’s how it goes
Millions of people living as foes
Maybe it’s not too late
To learn how to love
And forget how to hate
Mental wounds not healing
Life’s a bitter shame
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train

There’s kind of a hippie vibe going on here with the whole “make love not war” sentiment (I bet Ozzy has NEVER been referred to as a hippie before).  However, the predominant feeling is one of frustration and anger, particularly in the last few lines.  It’s tough to get rid of anger, and some wounds really cut deep, especially psychological ones.

I’ve listened to preachers
I’ve listened to fools
I’ve watched all the dropouts
Who make their own rules
One person conditioned to rule and control
The media sells it and you live the role
Mental wounds still screaming
Driving me insane
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train

This verse starts going off on the status quo and the conformity that is expected from society.  And again, there’s that frustration popping up.  Now the bridge.

I know that things are going wrong for me
You gotta listen to my words

We all have problems.  I think the singer here is acknowledging that, yes, things aren’t perfect in his own life, but does that make his point any less valid?  Sometimes all we want is for someone to listen to us.

Heirs of a cold war
That’s what we’ve become
Inheriting troubles, I’m mentally numb
Crazy, I just cannot bear
I’m living with something that just isn’t fair
Mental wounds not healing
Who and what’s to blame
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train

It’s a heavy metal protest song!  The point, however, is that problems are foisted upon us and we can’t always find the solutions.  The stress of it all is enough to drive anyone crazy.  The song closes out with the repeated idea that psychologically, we’re not getting any better.

Despite the overriding political themes, I think there are some good lessons for us as clinicians.  Our clients often have enough problems with us coming in and compounding their stress with unreasonable demands.  The lady who requested this song originally has TBI and can’t remember a lot of what she used to know.  I know that has to be frustrating for her, and I can imagine that this song reminds her that there are other people out there who can empathize.  When Ozzy sings about going off the rails on the crazy train, he’s talking about teetering on the edge of not being able to take it anymore.  That’s some place we all find ourselves at different points in our lives.  I guess that heavy metal, with its inherent aggressiveness, becomes a good outlet for those emotions.

That’s all I have to say.  Hopefully I’ll do more of these as time goes by.  If you have any comments about Crazy Train, any insights that I may have missed, let me know.  Thanks for reading!

-Jesse