Sing Me A Song, Mr. Writer Man

When it comes to these blog entries, I feel like I spend a lot of time avoiding answering the question, or I at least take a boxer’s stick-and-move approach to the week’s topic.

This time though, I’m going to answer it straight up . . . maybe. We’ll see how it goes.

As far as non-literary sweet tooths go, I am a sucker for a good lyricist. If you can paint a vivid picture in just a few words and tell a damned good story in about four minutes or less, I’ll be a fan, regardless of whether or not you can carry a tune. That’s not to say I don’t love music. I absolutely do. But I think it’s okay to be in it for the words too.

One guy who’s had my ear lately is Robert Earl Keen. He doesn’t have the greatest voice in the world, but the man can tell a story. He’s also funny when he wants to be, which gets you bonus points in my grade book. I’ve read that Keen writes a lot of his songs based on personal life experiences, and while I have no idea if this is true or not, the characters in his songs do have an authenticity that I admire and try to emulate in my own writing.

Another trick of a good song writer is the illusion of shared experiences. If someone’s words can make you feel like you could have grown up in the same house with them, or at least on the same block, then you’ve just found a talented writer. Lyle Lovett does this to me over and over again. I grew up in rural Oklahoma, and I often recognize myself or my family in the songs he sings.

One song of Lovett’s in particular describes the scene of a small boy out for a drive with his parents. He’s sitting in the front seat between his them, watching the countryside fly by, and there’s a cold can of beer in his dad’s lap “protected by only a small, thin brown paper sack.”

Setting aside the legal no-no’s of this scene, I was that boy, and the moment I heard that line, I could picture it in my head. Lovett had me, and I was going to follow that song until to its end, no matter where it took me.

I want to do that to my readers. If I can get them to believe they know me, that we are somehow alike, I believe that illusion of camaraderie might keep them reading as I stumble through the mechanics of what I’m trying to say. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and people like to reminisce, even if it’s about things that are so very wrong.


Larry Jenkins is an aspiring Word Pimp. Has laptop, will travel. Let's make this happen, people.

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