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.

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 fifteen:

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 — “Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault”

“24 Hour Revenge Therapy” was my gateway drug to Jawbreaker. From there I quickly got hooked on “Bivouac” and “Unfun”. But my favorite album is probably the least popular with hardcore fans—”Dear You. It was the band’s major label debut and features slicker production than its three predecessors, but it also has some of my favorite Jawbreaker songwriting and hooks.

When you’re looking for lyrics that make for a fantastic short story, it’s hard to beat the teen angst of “Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault”. If you partied your way through high school and college the way my friends and I did, you probably have a few memories like the one so perfectly described here. Our narrator is at a house party with other “bicycle messengers, punks and art school dropouts,” commiserating with a heartbroken friend over beers. Led Zeppelin’s blasting on the stereo when they spot the friend’s ex happily making out with another guy. The narrator watches as the friend and his ex get into an argument that only lasts until the cops show up, bringing the whole pathetic scene to a screeching halt.

Read the lyrics for “Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault” by Jawbreaker 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.

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’m calling the series “Short Story in a Song.” Here are the first ten:

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 — “Misunderstood”

I got Wilco’s debut album, A.M., when it came out, but it wasn’t until they released Being There that I really sat up and took notice. There are a lot of great songs on this ambitious double album, including “Outtasite (Outta Mind),” “I Got You (At The End of the Century)” and “Sunken Treasure,” but nothing quite so anthemic as the opening track. Sitting somewhere on the angsty suburban continuum between The Replacements and Beach Slang, “Misunderstood” gives a sneak peek into the musical direction Wilco would later perfect on their breakthrough album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Our narrator is back in his old neighborhood, smoking cigarettes and wondering what happened to his music career. There are million dollar song ideas rattling round his head, but he’s convinced that nobody wants to hear them. Beat down and fresh out of  inspiration, he falls back into comfortable addictions that deliver oblivion one house party at a time. Things have gotten so hopeless that he even starts to question his love of rock and roll—the one thing in life that always gave him hope. So don’t be surprised if you find him somewhere screaming at the top of his lungs, thanking each and every one of us for nothing at all.

Read the full lyrics for “Misunderstood” 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 Rat”

If you asked me in the mid-90s what one band I thought was destined for indie rock stardom, I probably would have said Jonathan Fire*Eater. With great songwriting, a retro sound and an art-damaged vibe, this five-piece quintet seemed like the perfect New York response to the wave of Brit Pop crashing on America’s shores. Unfortunately, despite releasing a handful of solid albums and singles, the band broke up after their major label debut, Wolf Songs for Lambs. Bad news for their fans, but a phoenix soon rose from the ashes in the form of The Walkmen featuring three members of Jonathan Fire*Eater and two from The Recoys.

The Walkmen are an equally talented band with several impressive songs in their arsenal, but we’re here today to talk about “The Rat.” Propelled by a relentless drum beat that is truly impressive to witness live, the real energy in this track comes from the short story worthy lyrics. As the title implies, our narrator has leveled his disdainful gaze upon somebody that seriously betrayed him. Although it’s never made clear exactly who this backstabber is, it’s easy to imagine them as an ex-lover, a former friend—or both. Whatever the nature of their grievous transgression, it left our protagonist emotionally bruised and isolated from the world he once knew. Now the sinner has come crawling back and it’s tearing our hero apart.

Read the full lyrics for The Walkmen’s “The Rat” 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 — “Books About UFOs”

I never really stopped listening to Husker Du after I discovered the album “Metal Circus” in the 80s, but there were songs from their catalogue that I hadn’t paid close attention to for a few years. One of them was “Books About UFOs” from New Day Rising. I re-engaged with this track after watching the excellent Grant Hart documentary Every Everything a couple of years ago. It’s a tragedy that we lost Hart in 2017, but the existence of a movie that so perfectly captures his tremendous talent and unique worldview eases the sting a tiny bit. And, of course, his amazing music lives on.

“Books About UFOs” might be one of the best examples of how Hart managed to create such great punk and hardcore music by using a broader palette than many of his contemporaries. The narrator is obsessed with a girl whose eyes are always on the sky. It gives him the opportunity to study her the way that she does the planets. It’s the perfect celebration of long-distance crushes, but also pays homage to freaks who proudly wave their flags. I’d say that it might be the perfect Grant Hart song, but there are too many to choose from.

Read the full lyrics to “Books About UFOs” 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 — “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts”

It’s hard to imagine a more influential LA punk band than X. With a sound that’s equal parts punk, roots rock and hard-driving rock and roll, X has been dodging easy classification since they burst onto the Hollywood scene 40 years ago. In that time they have released some of the most iconic songs this town has ever heard. One of my personal favorites is “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” from the 1983 album More Fun In The New World. Performed with acoustic guitars and a shuffling snare beat, the power in this song comes from the lyrics and the dual lead vocals by Exene Cervenka and John Doe.

“I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” also makes for a great dystopian short story. The action starts with our narrator having a debate with him/herself on a crowded city sidewalk. The world, as they see it, has become divided on every issue, with debate too easily giving way to violence. Wars break out, people starve, and chaos rules the day. But there’s nothing our protagonist can do despite a position of privilege, so s/he tries to force those thoughts away instead. This continued inaction fuels an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and guilt that the narrator eventually turns inward to examine his/her own helplessness in the face of obscurity.

Read the full lyrics for X’s “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” 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 — “Party At Ground Zero”

It’s Friday, so let’s focus on an 80s party anthem. Or, at least, that’s what it seems on the surface. Lurking beneath this upbeat ska classic is a scathing indictment of Cold War politics and the continued threat of global nuclear war. Despite the heavy subject matter, in the end this is a positive plea for the next generation to choose a different path than their parents did.

Released in 1985, at the heights/depths of the Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher era, Fishbone states its case with a tongue-in-cheek opening salvo that makes it clear we’re all doomed. From there a narrative unfolds between young American soldiers, represented by “Johnny,” and young soviet soldiers, represented by “Ivan.” There is a never-ending war machine that needs more fodder and these are tomorrow’s heroes. The band pleads with Johnny and Ivan to party instead, because the seeds for world destruction have already been sewn and further fighting is pointless.

So, you know, start dancing before we all get turned into “pink vapor stew.” Wackado, wackado, wackado!

Read the full lyrics for Fishbone’s “Party At Ground Zero” 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.

Guest DJ—Andrew Hilbert

Andrew Hilbert is a writer living in Austin, TX. His poems and stories have been in numerous journals and websites since 2009. His novella, DEATH THING, was released by Double Life Press in Spring 2015.

Death ThingHere’s what Benoît Lelièvre at Dead End Follies had to say about DEATH THING in his review: “Stories like DEATH THING are the best legacy Ronald Reagan America left to the human race: grindhouse, paranoid tales of conservative America gone rogue. Not that there are several stories like DEATH THING, for it is quite unique and amorphous, but it shares a fascination with the underbelly of the Norman Rockwell revival of the late 70s, early 80s.”

Along the way, Hilbert co-founded Beggars & Cheeseburgers, has contributed articles to Austinist.com, and was a columnist at Out of the Gutter Online. He was a fiction editor for Foxing Quarterly for three issues and co-founded an audio short story website, Slagdrop. Andrew is also a founding member and creator of the weirdo-press Weekly Weird Monthly.

This week he is spinning an eclectic collection of songs ranging from The Minutemen and Parliament to Slick Rick and Townes Van Zandt.

Find Andrew Hilbert: Website and Amazon

Previous Playlists:

Guest DJ—Eryk Pruitt

Guest DJ—Tom Pitts

Guest DJ—Craig T. McNeely

Guest DJ—Angel Colon

Guest DJ—Josh Stallings

29 SoCal Punk Songs

S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available now from Rare Bird Books. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.