Monday, April 20, 2015

"The Inescapable Mantra"

Oh, my.

In my last entry, I wrote a post I believed would be both straightforward (Read:  short) and easy to complete.  It wound up over a thousand words long, and took me nearly six hours to finally drive a stake into its cold and unsympathetic heart. 
What happened? 

Overthinking and overwriting.

In other words:  I had forgotten to keep it simple.

(CLARION TRUMPET CALL)  “Buh-duh-duh bump ba-daaaaah!!!

Call for “Writer’s Rehab!” 

The place writers go to expunge themselves of unfortunate habits, by helpfully reacquainting themselves with “The Basics.” 

For some writers, that might involve rereading poetry or revisiting short stories, genres where every word counts – the objective:  No frills, and straight to the heart.
My “rehab destination” is inevitably country music.

My favorite, because it’s the simplest. 

Not negative-connotation “simplest” in an “I never got past Fifth Grade” kind of a way.  At its best, country music offers the fewest words for the greatest value.  (Note:  Two of my formative influences were Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.  I adored them both, but I rarely understood any of their songs.  Especially Simon.  Lyrical melodies.  But what the heck was he talking about?)

Some of the most memorable country songs derive from familiar catchphrases:

“It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

“All the girls look beautiful at closing time.”

“I’m not as good as I once was.”  (But I’m as good once as I ever was!)

Throughout its long and illustrious history, country musicmakers have been inspired by these colloquialisms, writing songs that were initiated by them.

Today’s example – and there are a countless number to choose from:

“She’s Got You.”

Written by Hank Cochran and sung by the incomparable Patsy Cline.

“She’s Got You” is as simple as it can get – musically, it is primarily three chords (Remember what they said about Hank Williams:  “Three chords and the truth”?) – it’s rudimentary storyline:  “I got the mementos but she got the prize.”

The selected images in the song are generically identifiable – a signed photograph, mutually appreciated records, a class ring.  You can imagine some beat-up cardboard box, maybe up in the attic, overflowing with these “little things.”

Everything about “She’s Got You” – music, lyrics, Patsy Cline’s uncluttered rendition of it: 

Simple.  Simple.  Simple.

The simplest but also the most moving element?  The song’s “bridge.”

“I’ve got your memory
Or has it got me?”

Think about that for a second.  I challenge Cole Porter of Larry Hart to improve on that sentiment. 

“I really don’t know,
But I know,
That it won’t let me be.”

You see that?  Steven Sondheim would have whacked himself in the head with his “Rhyming Dictionary” before deliberately rhyming “know” with “know.”  I’d have tortured myself to death, struggling for an alternative. 

You don’t need an alternative; it is right just the way it is.  Artistic?  I was going to say no.  But maybe, in its rough and guileless manner, it’s exquisite.  Not clever.  Not “mountain greenery where God paints the scenery.”  But for my money, it’s better.

Whatever it is, it is a valuable reminder of…


Why is “simple” so hard for some people – maybe most people – to pull off? 

I don’t know. 

But I am convinced that it’s something to shoot for. 

I shoot for it every day.

Or is it “every single day”?

“Every day” is less words.

But “every single day” is more evocative.

Or is it “more dramatically evocative”?

Or is it “more emotionally evocative”?

Or “more dramatically and emotionally evocative”?

Excuse me.  I’m going to have to get back to you.

In the meantime…

Listen to this.

(It's going to tell you to watch it on Youtube.  I think it's worth the inconvenience.  I recommend this version.  Enjoy.)


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