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:
There is an important moment in every budding rock musician’s life when they first discover Big Star. Although the they never achieved mainstream success during their original run in the early 70s, their legacy as a quietly influential rock band is unquestionable at this point. Why that is—how a band can be so far ahead of its time—is one of the themes in the tragic 2012 documentary “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.” Among the small catalog of songs they released during their short career is the fan favorite, “September Gurls.” Not only does it have one of the most heartbreaking opening guitar riffs ever, but the evocative lyrics would make a great short story.
Our narrator is heartbroken and alone, obsessively reliving a short relationship that burned hot. They met in September, presumably at the beginning of the school year, but the flame burned out by the time December rolled around. His life has been cold and lonely ever since. It’s only when he climbs into bed at night and dreams about her that he feels whole again. And then the cold sun rises and our hero is forced to survive another winter day.
There is an important moment in every young musician’s life when they first discover Big Star. Although the band never achieved mainstream success during their original run in the early 1970s, their legacy as one of the most influential rock bands ever seems unquestionable at this point. Why that is—how a band can be so genius, so far ahead of their time—is one of the themes in the tragic 2012 documentary “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me“. I would totally understand if you stopped reading now and went to watch it. That’s what I would do if I was you. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Welcome back! If you just watched the documentary, then you will definitely want to discuss the most perfect Big Star song ever (IMHO): “September Gurls” (no easy feat considering that they wrote so many perfect songs). I have searched high and low and never found another opening guitar riff that is quite so heartbreaking. And then Alex Chilton starts singing and you quickly understand how he came up with that perfect riff. The lyrics are cryptic, but strangely relatable to anybody who has ever pined away for lost love. For all these reasons, and because Jody Stephens is an amazing rock drummer, “September Gurls” is one of the best short stories I have ever listened to.
S.W. Lauden’s short fiction has been accepted for publication 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.