Lyrics are Words, Part 2

In Part I, we examined the lyrics to Linkin Park’s “In the End” and discovered that the song isn’t about anything.  And not in a whimsical way, but in the same way a Twinkie doesn’t have any actual food in it.

Now let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum: The Decemberists.  I like this “hyper-literate prog rock” (Stephen Colbert’s term) band quite a bit, but they can go overboard with specificity.  Their newest album, “The Hazards of Love,” contains the word ‘taiga’ three times in the first three songs.

Solzhenitsyn used 'taiga' less frequently than the Decemberists

To give you an example of just how indulgent The Decemberists can be with specificity of meaning and word choice, we will pick a doozy: “The Infanta” from their 2005 album Picaresque.  As a help to readers, here is a link to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The SAT people call these guys when they want a really hard word

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

Here she comes in her palanquin
On the back of an elephant
On a bed made of linen and sequins and silk
All astride on her father’s line
With the king and his concubines
And her nurse with her pitchers of liquors and milk
And we’ll all come praise the infanta
And we’ll all come praise the infanta

Among five score pachyderm
Each canopied and passengered
Sit the duke and the duchess’ luscious young girls
Within sight of the baronness
Seething spite for this live largesse
By her side sits the baron
Her barrenness barbs her
And we’ll all come praise the infanta
And we’ll all come praise the infanta

A phalanx on camelback
Thirty ranks on a forward tack
Followed close, their shiny bright standards a-waving
While behind in their coach in fours
Ride the wives of the king of Moors
And the veiled young virgin, the prince’s betrothed
And we’ll all come praise the infanta
And we’ll all come praise the infanta

And as she sits upon her place
Her innocence laid on her face
From all atop the parapets blow a multitude of coronets
Melodies rhapsodical and fair
And all our hearts afire
The sky ablaze with cannon fire
We all raise our voices to the air
To the air…
[For a moment there, I thought we were getting bland, with the dull rhyme of ‘place’ and ‘face.’  Of course, the very next line rhymes ‘parapet’ with ‘coronet,’ and we’re back to the Renaissance Faire-themed vocab test]

And above all this falderal
On a bed made of chaparral
She is laid, a coronal placed on her brow
And the babe, all in slumber dreams
Of a place filled with quiet streams
And the lake where her cradle was pulled from the water
And we’ll all come praise the infanta
And we’ll all come praise the infanta

[Well, my fingers hurt from flipping through a dictionary for the past forty five minutes.  Let’s see, this song was about an extraordinarily elaborate procession of elephants, soldiers on camelback, various royalty and kept women, and a dazzling array of trade goods found on the Silk Road.  The procession is in honor of and in tribute to an “infanta,” which I learned is the title given to a Spanish King’s infant daughter.  And they throw in a bit of potential myth-making at the end, with the suggestion that the babe may have a destiny intertwined with lakeside abandonment.]

COMING SOON: ne’er the twain shall meet…or shall they?

3 thoughts on “Lyrics are Words, Part 2

  1. leigh

    in 6th grade i was in a play called “the birthday of the infanta,” with music written by my middle school music teacher mr. benzaquin, who i’m pretty sure was clinically depressed (he cried a lot). lyrics from one of his songs:
    “look at the mirror, what do i see?/ do i like what i see?/ when i look at the mirror, what do i see?/ who’s staring back at mee-ee?/ am i happy/am i sad? am i ugly/am i mad?” [REPEAT!]


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