Lyrics Are Words and Words Mean Specific Things


I can’t talk to you about music.  I’m not entirely sure what a chord progression is, and the notion of recognizing notes played on a guitar borders on magic.   Jamming, as far as I’m concerned, should be impossible.  But I do pay attention to lyrics, because they are something I understand and can appreciate (or not).

Somewhere recently I overheard a Linkin Park song.  I listened to them in high school as part of my 2,000 hours of life-mandated angsty community service, and I understand they’re still around.  Well, Linkin Park makes a genre of music that has always bugged me – the kind of angsty, emotional-sounding alt rock where they don’t say a goddam thing.  It’s like they’re trying to make the song as widely applicable as possible, so they include no specifics of any kind.  To show you what I mean, let us look at “In The End” by Linkin Park (2000).

We have feelings about a lot of stuff

Interpretation Key:

  • Blue is a figure of speech or truism which doesn’t mean anything
  • Red is a frustratingly nonspecific word or phrase
  • Green is something specific we can sink our teeth into
  • Orange is a word I had to look up

It starts with one thing
I don’t know why
It doesn’t even matter how hard you try
Keep that in mind
I designed this rhyme
To explain in due time
All I know
[Okay, so far we’re talking about “it” starting with “one thing.”  What thing?  Nevermind, the narrator’s going to explain all he knows.  Sounds like a big project; let’s find out what he knows:]

Time is a valuable thing
Watch it fly by as the pendulum swings

Watch it count down to the end of the day
The clock ticks life away
It’s so unreal
Didn’t look out below
Watch the time go right out the window

Trying to hold on, but didn’t even know
Wasted it all just to watch you go
I kept everything inside and even though I tried, it all fell apart
What it meant to me will eventually be a memory of a time when
[The narrator is upset over the passing of time.  The first 43 words are devoted to that sentiment.  Is that all he knows?  We are momentarily excited by the introduction of a new character: “you.”  But then the narrator is keeping everything inside.  What is he keeping?  His feelings about time?  The mysterious “one thing” from the beginning?  Perhaps the chorus will shed some thematic light.]

I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
[Mr. Sajak, I’d like to buy a proper noun.   Sheesh.  The chorus only presents new questions.  How far, exactly, did the narrator get?  How, or from where, did the narrator fall?  There’s a hint of some kind of redemption story here, with the character falling and losing it all.  But then apparently “it” didn’t even matter.  The “one thing” from earlier?   If that doesn’t matter, what are we talking about?]

 One thing, I don’t know why
It doesn’t even matter how hard you try
Keep that in mind
I designed this rhyme, to explain in due time
I tried so hard
In spite of the way you were mocking me
Acting like I was part of your property
Remembering all the times you fought with me

I’m surprised it got so (far)

Specifics! That's a bingo!

 [Forgive my hasty judgment!  Just when I thought this song wasn’t about anything, we get a double whammy.  The reintroduction of our mysterious “one thing,” and then the assigning of a recognizable pattern of behavior to “you!”  It was some kind of relationship, and “you” mocked the narrator and took him/her for granted!  We’ve got emotional involvement, a relationship dynamic, two characters interacting with each other, and a view point on the situation.  Perhaps the first half of the song was merely an aperitif!  An amuse-bouche!  I can’t wait to see how this turns out.]

Things aren’t the way they were before
You wouldn’t even recognize me anymore
Not that you knew me back then
But it all comes back to me (in the end)
You kept everything inside and even though I tried, it all fell apart
What it meant to me will eventually be a memory of a time when I
[Um, okay, so things have changed since the time of the relationship…the narrator was and is a different person, got it.  But – what comes back to him/her?  Those views on time?  And now “you” also kept everything inside?  And the narrator “tried”?  What will eventually be a memory?  The narrator’s efforts in the relationship?  C’mon, Linkin Park, give me more! ]

[Chorus]
[Not helpful.]

I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
And for all this
There’s only one thing you should know
[Sigh…only “one thing” I should know?  I bet I know what that one thing is.]

(2x) Chorus
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
[Yup.

What was the “one thing?”  Was it the narrator’s views on time?  His relationship with “you”?  Perhaps like the suitcase in Pulp Fiction, or the suitcase in Ronin, we were never supposed to know what the “one thing” was.  Perhaps…that was the point?!

No.  It’s just an angsty, overwrought song which is so vague as to be entirely shapeless.]

COMING SOON: the other end of the spectrum

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3 thoughts on “Lyrics Are Words and Words Mean Specific Things

  1. zack

    a lot of the time, poetry can’t be understood by breaking it down line by line. the first part is about how their relationship went on for awhile even though it was bad. the “one thing” stands for the insignificant event that starts the snowballing process of the relationship ending

    what is blue seems arbitrary. i think later i will color code your post and weed out the garbage.

    I TRIED SO HARD BUT SOMETHING DAAAA
    IN TEH END, IT DOESNT EVEN MATTER

    Reply
    1. nmirra Post author

      Poetry is workshopped line by line, word by word. You don’t ignore the larger context, but specific word choice is incredibly important in poetry.

      Rather than announcing ambitious critical projects on other peoples blogs, you write something original on your own.

      Reply

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