Monday, November 30, 2009

Lyricist #5 - Collin Melloy

Storytelling is one of the most time-honored branches of songwriting. And while still pretty central to most genres of popular music, especially pop country music, the form has devolved, in many respects, into a paint-by-numbers routine. Then there's Collin Melloy. Whether its a concept album based on a Japanese folktale or theatrical tracks about seafarers or gymnasts (and regardless of how such stories strike your fancy), you must admit he is a true storyteller. I recognize the trust he has in his listeners. He tells stories full of metaphor and symbolism and action without talking down or oversimplifying.

One of the key tenets of writing is "show, don't tell." In his song "Red Right Ankle" he shows three stories, each one speaking to a different aspect of the same relationship. He doesn't hand it to you in a to-go bag, but instead relies confidently on the interpretation of the listener. That's hard to do without being overly cryptic and vague.

Red Right Ankle (mp3)
The Decemberists - Her Majesty The Decemberists (2003)

This is the story of your red right ankle and how it came to meet your leg. And how the muscle, bone, and sinews tangled and how the skin was softly shed. And how it whispered, "Oh, adhere to me, for we are bound by symmetry. And whatever differences our lives have been we together make a limb." This is the story of your red right ankle.

This is the story of your gypsy uncle you never knew because he was dead. And how his face was carved and ripped with wrinkles in the picture in your head. And remember how you found the key to his hideout in the Pyrenees? But you wanted to keep his secret safe, so you threw the key away. This is the story of your gypsy uncle.

This is the story of the boys who loved you, who love you now and loved you then. And some were sweet and some were cold and snuffed you, and some just layed around in bed. And some, they crumbled you straight to your knees-- did it cruel, did it tenderly. Some, they crawled their way into your heart to rend your ventricles apart. This is the story of the boys who loved you.

This is the story of your red right ankle.


Anonymous said...

Hi Collin.
I very much adore your music. Yes. I. Really. Do. This is was i was waiting for since 19th century. Thank!You!Very!Much!. Thanks. Is there an possibility to see you and/or the decemberists in Hamburg (Germany) again, within my lifetime (46) ((maybe more than once))?
Greatings from Hamburg sends Florian

Anonymous said...

Oops! Got the wrong page. Sorry folks...