Monday, April 29, 2013

Better Fiction through Songwriting: Kacey Musgraves

I was hanging out with a dear friend recently, helping her pick out a couch for her apartment (this is the one way in the world in which I am useful to my friends, unlike my friend the veterinarian or my friend the chef), and she played me some songs by great new country artist Kacey Musgraves. "You're going to love her," my friend said. "I just saw an interview with her where she said one of her favorite artists is John Prine."

And boy, can you tell. Not just from the song whose chorus goes, "my idea of heaven is to burn one with John Prine"--although, yes, Kacey, I agree with you--but in her incisive portrait of small town claustrophobia, "Merry Go 'Round:"

If you ain't got two kids by 21,
You're probably gonna die alone
At least that's what tradition told you.
And it don't matter if you don't believe,
Come Sunday morning you best be there
In the front row, like you're s'posed to.
Same hurt in every heart.
Same trailer, different park.

Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay
Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane
And Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down.
Mary Mary quite contrary,
We get bored so we get married
And just like dust we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round and 'round and 'round we go,
Where it stops nobody knows...
And it ain't slowin' down, this merry go 'round...

We think the first time's good enough,
So we hold on to high school love,
Say we won't end up like our parents.
Tiny little boxes in a row,
Ain't what you want it's what you know,
Just happy in the shoes you're wearin'.
Same checks we're always cashin',
To buy a little more distraction.


Mary Mary quite contrary,
We're so bored until we're buried.
And just like dust we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round...
Merry go 'round...

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
Jack burned out on booze and pills,
And Mary had a little lamb,
Mary just don't give a damn no more.

One thing I love in particular about this song is the repetition of the three "hooked" lines: two short lines, rhyming, same rhythmic pattern, then punctuated by the longer, non-rhyming line that drives home the saddest idea of all three. I think rhythm is one of the most important things we can pay attention to, as writers. You often see the advice to read your writing aloud, and while that's partly to help you make sure nothing sounds stilted or awkward, it's also encouraging you to be aware of the flow you can create through the rhythm of your words. The pauses and beats within a sentence, and the variation between long sentences and short ones. The rhythmic structure of well-written songs can be a great tool to help train yourself to be even more aware of that.

1 comment:

  1. A beautiful and inspiring post and a beautiful and inspiring life by the sound of it...Songwriting .