I asked my friends to send me the lines from their favorite songs so that I could write mini-essays about each of them. And here is the result.
I. I don’t know how / You were inverted
Being an old Beatles fan I knew this song all my life. And yet, this version, played by great late Jeff Healey, gave me a different insight into its tune and lyrics. In original it is a cry, a moan, a lament (in the early version George sings “And I’m sitting here doing nothing but aging”). In Jeff’s version, it pushes through the boundaries, it drives you forward, it turns into an anthem.
And then I caught myself playing with the concept of inversion that this song features (including guitar solos that replace the vocal outro). I have been trained as a literary scholar, and the word “inversion” – both in Russian and English – reminds me of endless versification courses, where you would often note – this is the inversion, and it means so and so. Personally, I love inversions in writing though the lack of natural language intuition constantly challenges me. When you invert words and phrases you do not follow everyone’s path going against the current.
II. Just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world, she took the midnight train going anywhere – Journey, ‘Don’t Stop Believing’
Close your eyes and relive how as a little girl you imagined the American 1980s: bright streets, shop windows, colors, disco parties, stadium rock shows, cool clothing, and blue jeans. Record shops bursting with favorite music, where you can spend hours (and fortune!). The past that never happened.
Also: standing on a platform watching the trains passing by. It is summertime, the concrete feels warm under your feet, and you are engulfed by this special railroad smell of creosote and dust. Green and sometimes blue trains are racing by, with a gush of wind and noise, and people are peeking through the lowered windows. And you are dreaming of jumping on one of them, leaving everything behind, to the sea and mountains that you never saw in your life, to different colors and smells, into the unknown.
III. A shadow of a man I used to be – Brian May, ‘Too Much Love Will Kill You’
These words, chosen by my friend as a theme for this mini-essay, always strike me, right into my heart. For me, Brian’s lyrics are true poetry, because he has a gift of putting his emotions into beautiful and poetic and yet very exact words. But even among Brian’s saddest songs, this one is special; it is a confession, a warning, a lament that describes the emotional state of a very particular person, and yet, encompasses the whole world, making this cry relatable to anyone who ever endured a loss.
These words have been on my mind for almost a week; I keep on playing them, turning them around, trying to put my own emotions and associations in line with this beautiful line. I think of the realm of shadows, the kingdom of Hades, where only shadows (or shades) dwell; I think of an old belief that our shadow is, in fact, our soul; and I try to put these thoughts together with the song. It is about loss – but not the loss of soul; it is still there, perhaps, the only thing left; and yet, it gives rise to hope that one day the wound will heal, and strength will return to you.
IV. Barefoot girls dancin’ in the moonlight… – Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Green River’
The rhythms of my young years: the music of the 1960s, with its own special tone and mood, and running barefoot all summer, no matter if I had grass, dirt, or gravel beneath my feet. Feeling dreamy all the time – walking around, getting splinters in my feet, and then pulling them out. The combination of summer months, warm ground, sun, and music in my ears – that’s probably one of the few things that I feel nostalgic about.
To fully experience summer I need to be barefoot; to fully grasp a tune I need to play it over and over again until it becomes embedded into my mental playlist; and then, images start coming up. I see two layers of associations, the first being my own past, the second one belonging to the times when this song was recorded. Interestingly, even before I looked up the history of this band, I felt Californian sun coming out, with the tanned figures of young people sitting around the campfire, and distant humming of the ocean somewhere in the distance. As I put these two associations together, I get a stereo effect, and everything becomes tangible and real.
To be continued…
Katya Neklyudova, 2020