Lyrics are a huge part of what we do here at Custom Serenade. Whether they are written by clients or for clients, the words that accompany music are extremely important to us. So, naturally there is a keen interest in what other people do with words in music. I personally find it helpful to examine the lyrics of established songs and songwriters as both a means of improving as a lyricist, and also just for fun. So, I thought that I would share some of my thoughts about lyrics via this blog. If you write lyrics we’d love to see them. Or if not, we’d love to write them for you!
Indie rock is rarely literal. The lyrics to songs often consist of a patchwork of phrases loosely associated with an overall theme. It is usually possible to listen to a song and gather an overall meaning, but it takes some interpretation on the part of the listener. The end goal, in my opinion, is that the songs and specifically the lyrics are thought-provoking – that they bring forward an image of some sort, make you question or consider something in a different way, that they make you want to interpret them. So, for this installment of Let’s Talk Lyrics, I’ve chosen the song Times Square, Poison Season 1 by Destroyer, the Vancouver based project of songwriter Dan Bejar. It’s a wonderful song full of interesting language and I will dare to offer the thoughts, images and questions that the words conjure up for me.
Within the context of Destroyer’s latest album, Poison Season, the song Times Square appears in three different forms. I will focus on the version that opens the album, Times Square, Poison Season 1. Which opens with the following:
Jesus is beside himself
Jacob’s in a state of decimation
A good opening line should grab your attention, and in this one, the Son of God is confused. Possibly because of the state of his surroundings, which I can’t help but picture as Times Square in its sinful heyday of the 1970s. Pairing Jesus with this idiom (beside himself) humanizes him, it brings him into our world, out of the thees and thous of the bible and on to the streets of New York. The next portion of the line about Jacob brings up more questions than it does images. Why Jacob? What does “decimation” really mean? Taken at face value I picture a hirsute man in robes who is in deep despair about something. Perhaps thinking about the trials of his son Joseph while gazing into the faces of the runaways who have come to the city.
The writing on the wall wasn’t writing at all
Just forces of nature in love with a weather station
The writing on the wall is another biblical reference, meaning that a disaster of some sort looms in the near future. Here we find out that there is no impending doom after all, and that the forces of nature are in love with the weather station, which makes sense.
A weather station exists to study forces of nature, so it would stand to reason that a hurricane or sunset could love it.
Artists and repertoire
Hand in hand through the grey doorway at dawn
Artists and repertoire refers to a department in a record company that finds new talent. Here though, it seems that the two things 1. Artists, 2. Repertoire, are separate entities walking hand in hand, thus a creator escorting his/her body of work, through a mysterious grey doorway at a hazy time of day. Perhaps the whole line eludes to a changing record industry?
The writing on the wall said, “Jesus saves”
Maybe that’s why Jesus finds himself here. To save something or someone. The city itself? The record industry? Something entirely unrelated?
The writing on the wall mentions Honey playing a game with the waves
I wouldn’t be surprised if this were an actual piece of graffiti, just strange enough to be beautiful even though its meaning isn’t clear. I can’t help but thinking that Honey is a person, and to imagine that the waves are sound waves, or radio waves. Again, perhaps a reference to the currently evolving music industry?
You can follow a rose wherever it grows
This is my favorite line of the song. Mainly for its use of “grows” instead of “goes”. You expect the latter, but the former makes more sense. One can watch this lone rose, somehow alive in Times Square, and follow its slow growth process.
Yeah, you can fall in love with Times Square
As a person who grew up in the rural south in the pre-internet days, I can tell you that Times Square represented a mysterious place to me, based largely on this movie. Most of the things we heard about it were bad. Similarly, the new digital music landscape might seem strange and unusual to those of us who grew up with vinyl and CDs. But maybe we can grow to love it. Who knows?
So, am I saying that Times Square by Destroyer is a metaphor that uses 1970s New York to represent the evolution of the music industry? NO! What I am saying is that these lyrics were compelling enough for me to think about, wonder about, and to draw probable conclusions. The non-linear nature of Indie Rock lyrics should inspire one to think and wonder about their meaning, and this song does that beautifully. If I were to level any criticism at Indie rock songwriters and fans, it would be that there is a huge lack of discussion as to the meanings of lyrics. No one talks about them. I think the hipsters (and aging hipsters such as myself) are too self conscious to offer any interpretation as it might be different than what the songwriter intended, or that they might have missed something or have been way off. I also think that some indie lyricists don’t have much of an intention and just cobble together cool sounding stuff because they know no one will ever ask them about it. Not the case with Dan Bejar. This is a beautiful song with fantastic lyrics.