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Telling a long story with few words - Country Music Lyrics

Popularity 13Viewed 3117 times 2015-4-1 12:05 |Personal category:Quote Me|System category:Life| welcome, English, writing, music, lyrics


If you are a beginner writing in English, I write this post to welcome you to a new path to  explore. It might show you a way to tell a longer story with very few, but effective words. If you are already proficient in English, you might still enjoy looking at something that you are already  familiar with, from a new angle.

In learning to write in any language, it is more than just translating words from one to another.  In every language, in every country over a long period of time, there evolves an elegant way of  expressing oneself or telling a long story with very few words - a few carefully chosen phrases  or sentences. It is still challenging to do it in a way that it can be sung as a song! And it is just magic when the song is so good that it becomes popular.

For writing in English, I would recommend, for a start, looking at the American/USAnian way. They have a powerful, but easy writing style in simple language as compared to the British or other English speaking people. One of the things that listeners of country music in the USA really seem to 'get' is the art and of telling a poignant human story without using many fancy words, and something that resonates in the hearts of the listeners, especially  those that can relate to the joys and sorrows of a way of life that the song is about. It can also reveal a whole lot about the culture and way of life to a new comer from the 'outside'  such as I was when I first heard these.

The examples I use are lyrics from a song that is very well known and popular in the USA. In some ways, I feel that in taking apart the lyrics and expanding on them, I deconstruct the  beautiful construction of them, in the first place.  Yes, ironically, I have to take apart something with a few words and explain it with a lot of words, doing the opposite of what this post  is about. I will try to do so without making too much of a mess and hopefully it will be 'worth it' in the end to aspiring writers.

The lyrics I use are from a song titled "Lucille", the lyrics were written by Roger Bowling and Hal Bynum, and recorded by American country music artist Kenny Rogers, according to Wikipedia.

The copyright is owned by Lucille lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, THE BICYCLE MUSIC COMPANY, ANDITE INVASION. One can find the entire lyrics by searching on the Internet, fairly easily.

Look at the beginning of the song 

"In a bar in Toledo
Across from the depot
On a bar stool she took off her ring"

Even in just describing the settings and surroundings, these simple words instantly tell a long story - of a married woman, who is unhappy in her marriage and has finally made her decision to walk out and end the marriage. She is sitting in a bar, which is across the street from the (bus) depot, from where she intends to catch a bus out of town if she can. She is in Toledo, a small town in  Ohio. The action of taking off her ring in public for all to see, or she does not care who sees it. She is indicating that is now available and ready to meet someone new in her life. It tells the story of a long, troubled marriage and a decision to quit.
There is more indication of the reasons why she is quitting in the following lines and it might make us sympathetic to her condition.

"She said I'm no quitter
But I finally quit livin' on dreams
I'm hungry for laughter
And here ever after
I'm after whatever the other life brings"

The entire story of the marriage and the consequences for her and her family is complete with just the addition of two more sentences in the song, as said by the husband she is leaving -

"You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille. Four hungry children and a crop in the field".

It is the refrain and the surprise line that completes the picture. It changes our impression about the whole situation instantly. It makes clear that the man has been left to take care of four children and the farm. Raising and particularly harvesting a crop is really hard work that requires the most hands in a small time frame. 
The narrator (singer) meets this woman at the bar, is attracted to her and walks on over to ask her name. The way he describes this woman's husband, his mood and tone in the following few, but brilliant lines is worth noting.

"The big hands were calloused
He looked like a mountain
For a minute I thought I was dead
But he started shakin'
His big heart was breakin'"

 The calloused hands indicate a hard working man, likely a farmer, who works with his hands. He is still a gentle soul and only reproaches the woman without threatening her. He only indicates plaintively, his own condition.

The entire song is summarised well in the following extract from Wikipedia.

"The song, told by the narrator (Rogers), tells the story of a man in a bar in Toledo, Ohio, who acquaints himself with a downhearted married woman named Lucille. An inebriated Lucille admits her unhappiness in life and a longing for adventure. Her husband arrives and approaches her and the intimidated narrator. The brokenhearted husband, starting to shake, scorns her for her inconvenient timing in abandoning him "with four hungry children and a crop in the field," leaving him with a "hurtin'" that refuses to heal. After the husband leaves, Lucille and the narrator make their way to a hotel room. The beautiful woman comes to the narrator, but is blindsided by his odd, sudden change of heart. In his mind, he recalls the recurring haunting words of her husband and feels unable to respond to her advances."

The end of the song tells of a human empathy for the husband left behind in the heart of the man the woman comes to. He does not have the heart to be with her, even though he found her attractive to begin with. While one can tell the same story with more elaborate words and in a long winded fashion, the simple elegance and power of the lyrics quickly capture the heart of any listener. No wonder this song was a big hit!

There are plenty of other such songs and lyrics that can help one understand the power of language in simple, elegant sentences that say a lot with very few words.

Check out the lyrics of a few more of such songs. I would recommend the following for starters.

1. "The Gambler" -   a song written by Don Schlitz and recorded by American country music artist Kenny Rogers

2. "I Fall to Pieces" - a song written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard sung by Patsy Cline, released in 1961, and was featured on her 1961 studio album.

Please feel free to comment and share examples from your own experience, even if translated from another language.




(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Comment Comment (19 comments)

Reply Report Dr.Bill.Shen 2015-4-1 23:23
USA Today used to be my favorite newspaper. Stories are short, concise and easy to read. Interesting to see that through country music lyrics.
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2015-4-2 12:39
USA Today was also readily available! Rather like some people in bars!  
Reply Report voice_cd 2015-4-3 09:00
Thanks for sharing your opinion here. We have highlighted your blog.
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2015-4-3 11:28
Very interesting post, Klyer!  Yes writing lyrics forces people to express a lot in few words. A bit like a disciplined one paragraph blog post!  
Reply Report Kevinfly 2015-4-3 13:18
It is easy to express a short story long, but to express a long story in few words, it is tough work for most people.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2015-4-3 13:30
For beautiful phraseology I recommend Lionel Shriver: We Have to Talk About Kevin especially.
For exquisite song lyrics, my hands-down favorite is Don Henley, especially the music of his solo career.
Interesting note about country music in particular: the slower it is, the faster the listener tends to drink (beer, usually, but can be hard liquor).
Reply Report SEARU 2015-4-3 15:42
In Chinese, we say 长话短说 which means ‘long words in short saying’!

On that stone before the tomb, there are such a note: The woman was kind to all people.  when she died, her neighbours cried and all villagers came up and paid the last respect to her! ----------

Readers could imagine what had happened to the master and her friends and the detailed stories could not be written on small stone!
Reply Report KIyer 2015-4-3 16:07
SEARU: In Chinese, we say 长话短说 which means ‘long words in short saying’!

On that stone before the tomb, there are such a note: The woman was kind to a ...
that's interesting SEARU. thanks for sharing. yes,tombstones tell great stories in few words
Reply Report teamkrejados 2015-4-6 08:38
Do you know that old joke: what happens when you play a country music record backwards? You get your wife back, you get your dog back, you get your car back, you get your mama back...  
Reply Report ysyaileen 2015-4-6 21:36
the song "whisky lullaby" also tell a very moving story
and the wonderful tonight " also very romantic
Reply Report KIyer 2015-4-7 00:07
ysyaileen: the song "whisky lullaby" also tell a very moving story
and the wonderful tonight " also very romantic
Yes!  It is a sad moving tale of two people 's tragedies when their love did not synchronise in time
Reply Report Newtown 2015-4-7 12:16
I'd recommend some of the country honk tunes of Kinky Friedman such as in his song "Get Your Biscuits In The Oven
And Your Buns Into Bed", "Somethin's Wrong With The Beaver" and "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus (anymore )".
Reply Report Newtown 2015-4-7 20:10
Re: the new icon- why a duck ?
Reply Report KIyer 2015-4-7 20:38
Newtown: Re: the new icon- why a duck ?
It is not a duck. It is my friend - a Black Swan.

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