Some Songs Make Great Short Stories

I’m a writer and a music fan, so I often think of the lyrics to my favorite songs as short stories. A couple of the best elements are usually there—from isolation, desperation and validation to heartbreak, betrayal and revenge. Some songwriters create easy to follow narratives, while others make you tease the story out. Great songs can make us imagine exactly what the songwriter envisioned, but it’s more fun to create our own version of the story as we listen.

Lately I’ve been digging deeper with daily posts that re-imagine lyrics through the lens of short fiction. I can’t promise that I’ll keep up this pace, but I’m having fun for now. I call the series “Short Story in a Song.” Here are the first twenty:

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.

Short Story in a Song — “The Mercy Seat”

I’d already explored the Johnny Cash catalog by the time I heard the album Tender Prey by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Cash songs like “25 Minutes To Go” and “Folsom Prison Blues” were early favorites, but even those criminal tales couldn’t prepare me for the viciousness of Cave’s “The Mercy Seat.” I must have listened to that song a thousand times since then and always come away with a slightly different understanding of the narrator’s take on redemption. Then I heard the Johnny Cash version of “The Mercy Seat” around the turn of the century and everything made sense.

Our narrator is a death row inmate in his final hours. The story is littered with powerful imagery that alternately portrays the electric chair as both the end of his suffering and the throne of God. Religious themes and struggles with morality drive the narrative forward as he constantly asserts his innocence and claims that he’s “not afraid to die.” It isn’t until the last line of the song that he admits he “told a lie,” leaving the listener to weigh the evidence and decide if it’s a confession, or if he’s simply done with all “this measuring of proof.” Powerful stuff and a great sort story.

Read the lyrics for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “The Mercy Seat” HERE.

More “Short Story in a Song” posts:

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.

Sometimes The Best Short Story Is A Song (#24)

I had a room-mate in the mid-90s that produced a fanzine from our living room. I mostly helped him assemble and staple it prior to shipping, but I also wrote the occasional review or interview. It was a pretty good trade-off given the amount of new music that was mailed to him on a weekly basis. That’s how I discovered Guided By Voices, Zumpano, John Spencer Blues Explosion, Railroad Jerk and a host of other 90s Indie rock bands. Among my many musical discoveries during that period, Jonathan Fire*Eater remains one of my favorites.

The band had a crypt-kicking, 60s garage rock sound mixed with a dramatic darkness shared by bands like The Cramps, Pulp and Nick Cave. “Give Me Daughters” was on their 5-song 1996 EP, Tremble Under Boom Lights, which established them as critical darlings. This narcissistic tale starts with a hypnotic organ line before crashing down into the story. Our protagonist envisions his demise via a motorcycle accident, causing him to wish for children who can carry on his bloodline. It’s a murky vision of a future where he hands down his peculiar wisdom to three daughters that worship at his feet—and possibly the only one in which he survives into old age.

Read the lyrics for “Give Me Daughters” HERE.

Previous installments in this series:

S.W. Lauden’s short fiction has been published by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners, Dead Guns Magazine, Akashic Books, WeirdBook, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published by Rare Bird Books in October 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.

New YouTube Channel For Your Ear/Eye Holes

 

I have been doing a weekly music feature on this blog for the last four months called “Sometimes The Best Short Story Is A Song.” And now I’ve created a YouTube playlist to go along with it. I’ll be updating the playlist every week as I add a new song.

The series is an exploration of the lyrical narrative in some of my favorite music. Last week I posted my 21st installment about the classic Whiskeytown track “16 Days.” For those of you new to the concept, here’s a complete list of all the songs featured to date starting with the most recent:

S.W. Lauden’s short fiction has been published by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners, Dead Guns Magazine, Akashic Books, WeirdBook, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published by Rare Bird Books in October 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.

Sometimes The Best Short Story Is A Song (#20)

The year was 1988. I’d barely scratched the surface of the Johnny Cash catalog, but songs like “25 Minutes To Go” and “Folsom Prison Blues” were already favorites. Cash’s ability to transition easily between those criminal tales and traditional gospel music, however, was mind-blowing to my teenage ears. I just couldn’t reconcile it. Then Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released the album “Tender Prey” and everything came into sharp focus.

The protagonist in “The Mercy Seat” is a death row inmate in his final hours. The song is littered with powerful imagery that alternately portrays the electric chair as both the end of his suffering and the throne of God. Religious themes and struggles with morality drive the narrative forward as he constantly asserts his innocence and claims that he’s “not afraid to die.”

It isn’t until the last line of the song that he admits he “told a lie,” leaving the listener to weigh the evidence and decide if it’s a confession, or if he’s simply done with all “this measuring of proof.”

Read the lyrics for “The Mercy Seat” HERE.

Previous installments in this series:

S.W. Lauden’s short fiction has been published by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners, Dead Guns Magazine, Akashic Books, WeirdBook, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published by Rare Bird Books in October 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.