Short Story in a Song — “Here Comes Your Man”

Discovering Pixies was like finding out that ghosts are real. Their music felt brand new and familiar at the same time—like it had been steadily playing in the background of all my favorite songs. I still remember the moment when a friend handed me a copy of Surfer Rosa. Songs like “Bone Machine,” “Broken Face” and “Gigantic” were a revelation. I’d played it to death by the time I got my hands on the band’s commercial breakthrough, Doolittle. From the opening bass line of “Debaser” and all the way through the anthemic ending of “Gouge Away,” Doolittle remains one of the most influential alternative rock albums ever. Interestingly, it was a mid-tempo song about drifters that gave Pixies their first hit. “Here Comes Your Man” would make a great short story.

The setting is a desolate rail yard. Box cars sit idle while desperate men stand around an open fire to fight the numbing cold. It’s a familiar scene for our narrator, the pointless monotony feeding his desire for the end to come. Despite it all, he waits patiently for death to arrive and take him away from his tired existence. And when it finally does arrive, it isn’t the shaking of a box car that rousts him from his daydreams but an earthquake. It’s not the ending he he’d hope for, but it answers his prayers all the same.

Read the full lyrics for “Here Comes Your Man” by Pixies right HERE.

Short Story in a Song — “September Gurls”

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.

Read the full lyrics for “September Gurls” 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.

Short Story in a Song — “Motor Away”

I was lucky enough to catch Guided By Voices on the Alien Lanes tour in 1995. I was working as a journalist at the time and writing part-time for my friend’s fanzine. We already had the band’s previous albums in rotation on the stereo, but everything changed when this one came in the mail. We got the last three tickets in Los Angeles and had our faces melted off at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood. There are plenty of great songs on this impressive collection, but “Motor Away” has always been a stand out. The repetitive riff and driving rhythm are vintage GBV, but the lyrics would make a great short story.

Our narrator is a road warrior who has spent his life chasing a tired dream. The long, winding road that stretches to the horizon in both directions is littered with the bleached bones of missed opportunities, broken promises and failure to grab the brass ring. He’s the last man standing from a once proud army that haunts him day and night. Despite the odds, he’s made it further than any of the others he originally set out with, but he’s still no closer to reaching their ultimate destination. And every day he wonders if this will be the last before he finally turns the wheel and drives off into the sunset.

Read the full lyrics for Guided By Voices’ “Motor Away” right 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.

Short Story in a Song — “Say It Ain’t So”

I went to see Weezer in Hollywood last night. It got me thinking about how I was introduced to the band and the impact they had on my musical tastes in the early 90s. I was fresh off the plane from Europe when a friend handed me the blue album, swearing I would love it. I remember describing their sound as a cross between The Pixies and The Beach Boys back then, with fantastic hooks and interesting lyrics. It might be hard to remember now, but Weezer’s early music was chock full of angsty Emo goodness with “Undone—The Sweater Song,” “Buddy Holly,” “Tired of Sex” and “Why Bother?” But my all-time favorite, and a song that would make a great short story, is “Say It Ain’t So.”

Our narrator is exploring his refrigerator when he discovers a bottle of beer that is pregnant with meaning for him. It isn’t exactly clear what drives this mounting uncertainty, but it chills him to the bone. He heads for the living room to watch some TV, all the while haunted by the unwanted feelings that morph and mutate in the back of his mind. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that an overwhelming sense of loss is behind his apprehension, wrapped up in the failed relationships with the father figures in his life. And behind it all is the presence of alcohol which fuels his growing sense of dread. “Say It Ain’t So” is an amazing song and it would make a great short story.

Read the lyrics for “Say It Ain’t So” by Weezer right 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.

Short Story in a Song — “Carmelita”

It’s a testament to Warren Zevon’s lyrical and musical genius that a song about a junkie in free fall could be so romantic. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a version sung by 70s pop idol Linda Ronstadt. But this is more than just a junkie love story, it’s also an ode to a bygone Los Angeles that still exists if you squint your eyes and go in search of giving up. Kinda puts you in the mood for Pioneer Chicken and somebody to hold you tighter while you shiver and shake through the night. For those reasons and so many more—including the line about pawning a Smith-Corona typewriter in order to go score (or was it a Smith & Wesson?)—”Carmelita” is probably one of the best short stories I’ve ever listened to.

Lucky for us, there are two versions. Which is your favorite?

Read the lyrics for “Carmelita” by Warren Zevon right 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.

 

 

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.

Short Story in a Song — “Los Angeles”

Sugarcult came out of the impressive Santa Barbara music scene that has given the world everything from Toad The Wet Sprocket, Ugly Kid Joe and Dishwalla to Nerf Herder, Snot and Lagwagon. Not bad for a quiet little beach town best known for its Spanish mission and million dollar real estate. And although Sugarcult was a great pop punk act in its own right—touring the world with bands like Blink-182 and Green Day—a few members also went on to create music with other bands as well. Before he produced radio hits for alternative rock bands like Neon Trees and Walk The Moon, Tim Pagnotta was Sugarcult’s lead singer and main songwriter. The line up also featured guitarist Marko DeSantis (Bad Astronaut) and bassist Airin Older (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros). That’s a talented bunch of musicians.

Sugarcult has several tortured teen anthems to choose from, but when it comes to songs with a story to tell I’ve always loved “Los Angeles.” Although it shares a title with the classic X song, this mid-tempo rocker has its own take on the love/hate relationship that so many people have with the City of Angels. Our narrator is burned out on the fast-paced, hollow lifestyle and desperate to make a change. He’s caught between hating everything about this town and still chasing after his Hollywood dreams. It’s the perfect song to blast while flying down the freeway in the middle of the night, and a cautionary tale about what it takes to make it in LA.

Read the full lyrics for Sugarcult’s “Los Angeles” right HERE.

Check out my podcast chat with Marko DeSantis about rock and reading:

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.

Short Story in a Song — “Common People”

I was a big Blur fan when Britpop happened in the 90s. I always preferred their precious take on The Kinks vein of British blues rock over Oasis’ fascination with Beatles-based psychedelia. Since then I have come to the conclusion that Supergrass was ultimately my favorite band from that era—who can go wrong with melding Bowie and The Stones? But none of those bands wrote the perfect Britpop short story song. That honor goes to Pulp in my book.

What starts off as a tale about an unlikely one night stand, quickly turns into a scathing indictment of class and wealth. Our narrator is a working class guy out on the town who encounters a young woman of means. She buys him a drink, expressing interest in sleeping with him to find out how the other half lives. He starts by taking her to a supermarket and asks her to wander the aisles pretending she has no money. She laughs him off while he explains that being rich keeps her insulated from the cold reality of a world that offers no relief beyond dancing, drinking and screwing. Sure, she could lay in bed with him watching roaches climb the wall, but if it got to scary she could always be rescued by her father—and that makes her a tourist.

Read the full lyrics for Pulp’s “Common People” 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 (#23)

Even 27 years after I first heard it, Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” still fills me with a certain angsty anticipation from the moment the opening bass line kicks in. It’s three minutes of post-hardcore perfection that triggers some kind of Pavlovian response in me. And while I may not publicly drool as often as I used to, I do find myself almost hypnotized by the pulsating tension and mysterious lyrics.

Truth is, this is one of those brilliant songs that really sounds like it’s saying a lot without saying much at all. Instead of intricate detail, we get broad strokes and powerful imagery that evoke feelings of frustration and isolation. As if “the waiting place” from Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go has been stripped down to its non-psychedelic core to reveal the mind-numbing horrors beneath. And three decades later that’s just what the doctor ordered.

Read the lyrics for “Waiting Room” HERE.

Check out the “Sometimes The Best Short Story Is A Song” YouTube playlist:

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.

Sometimes The Best Short Story Is A Song (#22)

 

There was a time, in the early 80s, when Minneapolis was a hotbed of post-punk activity. One of a handful of American cities that was starting to shape the alternative rock revolution that gave us grunge and pop punk. These days, most conversations about this golden era in the Twin Cities revolves around The Replacements and Husker Du. But what about Soul Asylum?

All three bands went on to sign with major labels, but only Soul Asylum was able to turn that opportunity into mainstream success. So, they are mostly remembered for “Runaway Train.” The band won one Grammy Award and suddenly the three genre-bending albums they made for Twin Tone Records were forgotten. Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re missing out.

By far my favorite song from that era is “Closer To The Stars.” The drumming is muscly, the guitars and backing vocals soar and the lyrics are great. The song seems to be a coming of age story at first glance, but it’s also a cautionary tale about trying to be something you are not. The narrator starts out cheering for the protagonist, but ultimately judges her. Prophetic, perhaps, given the career that Soul Asylum has had, at least according to the revisionist punk historians.

Read the lyrics for “Closer To The Stars” here.

Check out the “Sometimes The Best Short Story Is A Song” YouTube playlist:

 

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.