What Was That Line Again?

I’ve begun to populate the “Verse” page of this site with original poems and lyrics. It’s a sticky process. With prose, there’s room to blanket your ideas under an atmosphere of theme, character and events, giving you a bit of privacy (though this is less true of the kind of fiction I like, which tends to be more about thoughts than action). I’ll probably get deeper into all that at some point, because the subject of privacy has a lot to do with how friends and family react when you try to write something meaningful. I might need a glass or two of wine for that one, but it’s 8 AM right now, so…

In my /lyrics folder are two child folders. One is a collection of my original lyrics and the other, much larger one is a repertoire of songs I’ve learned to play at one time or another, ranging from Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Hanky Panky” to Death Cab for Cutie’s “Soul Meets Body”. My destination being the /original lyrics folder, naturally I ended up cruising the other one, guitar on my lap.

You can tell a good lyric by how well you remember it. I don’t mean “Oh yeah, I sort of remember that song.” I mean being ready to sing the next verse when the guitar comes around again, as Arlo Guthrie put it.

Dylan can be like this. Not the long, rambling stuff, but his tighter, little songs. It might take me five minutes to remember the title if you ask me, but I can sit down after a year away from… um… “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and get through it basically unscathed. It just flows, largely because it makes sense:

And it ain’t no use in turning on your light, babe

That light I never knowed

And it ain’t no use in turning on your light, babe

I’m on the dark side of the road

So then I came down the list to “Oh yeah, that song.” One I haven’t thought about in a long time. A more complex song, to be sure, but with images so pure they immediately come back to you. This line has always been a favorite:

And she walks along the edge of where the ocean meets the land just like she’s walking on a wire in the circus

The song “Round Here” was written by Adam Duritz sometime before he became lead singer for Counting Crows. As with Dylan, you have to stop to wonder how some people possess so much wisdom by their early twenties (a good thing to keep in mind before you get sucked up into Boomer/Millennial wars on Facebook). Here’s another line from Duritz, from the bridge of “Mr. Jones”:

Believe in me
‘Cause I don’t believe in anything

That’s a wrinkle you don’t get in me-a-big-star songs like Dire Straits’ “I Want My MTV”, Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good to Me So Far” or will.i.am and Script’s ode to the good old Protestant work ethic, “Hall of Fame”. Was Duritz, sometime before the song’s release in 1994, getting to the crux of how celebrity worship has run amok in our culture? Do we believe only the nonbeliever? Do we follow only the unreligious? Do we most adore the unlovable?

When I’m getting a little too “world gone to hell in a handbasket” I sometimes remember this line by Don Henley:

I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac

A little voice inside my head said don’t look back, you can never look back

And then there’s the movies. My all time favorite movie line might well be:

“Toto, too?”

It just cracks me up every time, especially when Billie Burke squeaks it back. And who can forget:

“Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?”

So clever. By moving the word “sometime” a euphemism turns literal for a second before it turns into another euphemism altogether.

I could go on and on, but this might be a good time to beg some discussion. What are some of your favorite lines?

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