Storytelling in Music: Lyrics that Tell a Tale

This post isn’t going to be a long-winded rant on my favorite artists, bands, and types of music. That would be an unnecessary harangue that is not appropriate at least at this exact moment. This post isn’t even about songs that have cool rhymes or a killer beat. I want to specifically examine songs that tell a tale, direct storytelling that goes beyond bigger themes and metaphors, rather songs that hover in the invisible, out loud pages of a book. A good book to be precise. 

The song that inspired this post is “Northsiders” by Christian Lee Huston. Although in terms of lyrical storytelling I must give credit to the verses of Brittany Howard, Shakey Graves, Florist, and specifically Chance the Rapper’s song from his tiny desk performance titled “The Other Side.”  But once again, if you want to discover more of my music taste I have a list of recommendations, this post is specifically about the dulcet words of Huston in his song. 

Maybe I like this song because I first heard it when I was losing the girl I thought I loved. My favorite verse is the second:

[Verse 1]
I was new in town, kinda goth
I met you in the science quad
You asked if I had any pot
We’re going up to Mikey’s spot
Covering important ground
I tried cocaine in my cousin’s house
Yeah, I’m probably addicted now
The things that children lie about
I didn’t notice it was getting late
You offered me a place to stay
We live up in the palisades
Tell your folks you ran away
Besides, you’re a Northsider now

Nothing’s going to change it, pal

[Verse 2]
We were so pretentious then
Didn’t trust the government
Said that we were communists
And thought that we invented it
Morrissey apologists
Amateur psychologists
Serial monogamists
We went to different colleges
But you said that we would always be
Branches on the same old tree
Reaching away from each other for eternity
And you know I can’t argue with that

Nothing’s going to change it now

[Verse 3]
We could have had one last hurrah
When I was working in the smoothie shop
But I couldn’t get the weekend off
She told me I was getting soft
I read an article about the accident
Probably reaching for cigarettes
And missed the brake lights up ahead
I hope it was an instant death
Sometimes I imagine us way down the line
Getting fat somewhere in the countryside
It’s crazy how things shake out sometimes
But maybe that’s enough magic for me

Nothing’s going to change it now

Anyone who knows me can say that all those lines apply. So is it this blatant connection that induced my affection towards this song, or is it deeper than that? To be honest I don’t really know. Maybe like a busy, plane-filled sky I’ve been so used to a standard flight of songs about heterosexual romance that when this song came along it felt like a spaceship instead. Maybe listening to this song explain my newly developing communist tendencies, my Morrissey apologist posters in my room, my constant analysis of my thoughts with my new psychologist, my 2.5-year romantic break up with a girl who went to a different college; maybe it was as easy as that. Before I knew it the feelings I felt from the tips of my toes to the ends of my dry hair were romanticized into a beautiful song backed up by my orchestral echoes. And at that moment when I first heard this song, I knew that 

Nothing’s going to change it, pal

What I felt was not singular or lonely or isolated. Before I knew it I was listening to my story caress my anxiety away. In a new town, a new story in a new song gave me a new feeling of optimistic hope in myself. My feelings were validated in a way that felt beautiful. And at that moment, I knew

Nothing’s going to change it now.

Published by ellakotsen

student at Bryn Mawr College

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