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The Lines of My Earth

“The lines of my earth, so brittle, unfertile, and ready to die…I need a drink, but the well has gone dry.” (Sixpence None the Richer)

With Husband’s permission, I have hijacked the Learn These Songs, Matt! blog to share with Koopman, Jr. my all-time favorite song. This blog – my offering to it, anyway – was always going to be about a song with which I felt a deep-seated emotional connection. But, as it turns out (and this shouldn’t come as a surprise at all), there are no less than five thousand songs that fit that description.

And so, I narrowed the field to a precious few favorites among which were Jonatha Brooke’s “Because I Told You So” and “Ten Cent Wings,” Jennifer Knapp’s “Fall Down” and “You Answer Me,” and pretty much the entire catalog belonging to the phenomenal and yet underrated Sixpence None the Richer.

But I didn’t want to take the time to explain why I chose either of Jonatha’s songs for Matt, and I sang one of Jennifer’s with her on that tour I joined her on last Spring. So, I return to my first and forever Favorite Song Ever.

Now, understand me here: I have a hundred thousand favorite songs on any given day. (I am also, just for the record, a perpetual exaggerator. So when I say “a hundred thousand,” a more accurate number would be closer to ten…or maybe even fifty. Anyway, I digress…) But this song has been my anthem since first I heard it at 15 years old. I spent hours listening to it on repeat. And that’s no exaggeration. I studied to it. I slept to it. I cried to it. I ran to it. I wrote a term paper listening to this one song, with maybe a couple others thrown in.

Because it speaks my heart. While my beloved Husband is deeply and profoundly moved by songs of pure musical genius, I have always been drawn to and moved by songs of lyrical genius. Songs that say what I, a self-proclaimed wanna-be wordsmith, long to say so often but can’t find the phrasing for. And this song was perhaps the first to not only grab me, hold me, comfort me, and move me…it threw me into another dimension of spiritual and emotional awakening. Yeah. It was that powerful.

But even my lyrical ears can’t be drawn to a song without the musical prowess to carry it. Whatever the song, whether it’s a driving rock tune or a simple acoustic ballad, the forms must marry.

And so I chose “The Lines of My Earth” by Sixpence None the Richer, which is, as far as I’m concerned, the Perfect Song. It’s ethereal and breathy, but grounded in fierce reality.

Before I go any further, the lyrics:

//

The lines of my earth
So brittle, unfertile, and ready to die
I need a drink, but the well has gone dry

And we in the habit of
Saying the same things all over again
For the money we shall make…

(chorus)
This is the last song that I write
Till You tell me otherwise
And it’s because I just don’t feel it
This is the last song
Till You tell me otherwise
And it’s because I just don’t feel it
Anymore

It should be our time
This fertile youth’s black soil is ready for rain
The harvest is nigh, but the well has gone dry

And they in the habit of
Saying the same things all over again
About the money we shall make

(chorus)

//

There’s something truly weighty about this song, lyrically. The metaphorical comparison of a songwriter’s world of planting ideas for the nourishment and maturity of the human spirit to a dry well or unfertile soil is both beautiful and tragic, and one I understand all too well.  The constant pressure to “write a hit” when what’s brimming at the surface and growing from the soil is something much more profound than commercial listeners might ever appreciate often leaves us wanting, needy, and bone dry of any true creativity or inspiration. Often, we find ourselves writing song after song of meaningless drivel, lost to our real person. Other times, we lose it altogether. The pressure to write something “accessible” seems juvenile, but without it we can’t pay bills. It’s a painful reality.

But songwriter’s aren’t alone. I think every person who’s ever pursued a dream or passion in an unforgiving industry (and what industry isn’t unforgiving?) has found himself in a position of wondering when the fire died, when it all became about the next paycheck instead of a pure conscience and excellent product.

And so each of us, at some point, longs to lay down the pen and shelve the paper, swearing not to pick it up again until we’re specifically told by Someone greater that it’s time.

I know I’ve been there a hundred times. Sometimes, it’s as simple as writing a song for no one but me to enjoy. Sometimes, it’s as complex as refusing, despite what every instinct screams, to let it lie a while longer. And wait…just wait, and wait, and wait for true inspiration.

Matt, I give you this song both as a warning of dangers ahead and as an escape route. You’re only in 8th grade, but the years ahead – especially as you enter college and then the workforce, hopefully pursuing your dreams – you will be tried and tested. Your passion will be challenged by the dollar. You will probably be forced at some point to choose between them.

And when that happens, I hope and pray you’ll remember this song and know that it’s good and right to put it away if you’re doing it for any reason other than Love and calling. I hope you’ll remember there are seasons of planting, and seasons of waiting for seeds to take, and seasons of reaping what you’ve sown.

And in the seasons of waiting when the road is long…when others are pressuring you for something you simply don’t have to give….when the well seems dry and the soil unfertile, I hope you’ll wait with comfort, patience, gratitude, and confidence that He who began this good work in and through you will be faithful to complete it.

The Logical Song

The Logical Song, by Supertramp, from the album Breakfast in America

“Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable”

They are certainly not The Beatles, but I like to think Supertramp sort of picked up where “the fab four” left off. This is the biggest reason I wanted to introduce my son to this song at this early point in the blog’s lifespan – a little coherency. After reading the first entry, which he apparently enjoyed, Matt did make it pretty clear he was already very aware of the coolness of “Eleanor Rigby”. So I set out to stump him with this one – while he may have heard bits and pieces of this song on classic rock stations here and there, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know Supertramp.

I’m not really going to talk about the artists much in this space – that’s what wikipedia is for. However, sometimes a little background is going to be necessary. It’d be silly to call Supertramp “underrated” – they were, for the most part, a big commercial and critical success – but for some reason, their music hasn’t really translated well into the past decade. This is sad, because far beyond being one of the myriad bands influenced by The Beatles, Supertramp was a band doing things in the late 70’s I believe The Beatles themselves would have been doing, had they survived.

This song is a real pleasant progressive pop-rock song. This is to say, it’s a rare song that both sticks in your head, and makes you take your time to get your head around it all. The lyrics are one thing – they’re quite simple and profound, lamenting lost innocence of youth as one grows up and feels forced to conform to the expectations of civilization. The verses do some alternating time signatures, adding a bit of unpredictability. You’ll also notice how different the three verse portions (verse 1, verse 2, sax solo) feel from a dynamic standpoint. Though the chord progression and melody is all the same, they offer 3 very different musical feels. And you have to admit, not many prog-rock bands can pull off a legit sax solo.

The coolest part of the song, to me, is the coda – the part of the song after the verses and choruses are complete, as the song is concluding. A friend of mine recently noticed how British bands seem to use the “pre-chorus” a lot more than the American bands. Well, Supertramp is king of the coda. Much like “Crime of the Century” and oft-covered “Give a Little Bit”, “The Logical Song” features a coda that really sticks out, almost to the point where you remember what’s going on in this part of the song more than the chorus. Why is this cool? It just feels like they’ve really completed the song, rather than just let the “hook” play out to a fade over the end, which ends up pretty boring.

This is another song I don’t really have much sentimental attachment to. Part of the reason is that I only recently re-discovered Supertramp, and I’m still working my way through them. Also, while I can certainly relate to the lyrics (actually, they really sum up my life pretty well!) they were probably more relevant in the post-Vietnam/Woodstock era than they are now, as conformity seems mean something quite different to current generations (hint – we’re a little bit spoiled). Still, there is something pretty universal in appreciation for displays of disgust at the cookie-cutter mentality, even from (maybe especially from) those of us who have already been molded.

Eleanor Rigby

Eleanor Rigby, by The Beatles, from the album Revolver

At the time of this first post, I still do not own a Beatles album. I have never owned a Beatles album. I’m not going to sit here and say The Beatles haven’t had any influence on me as a writer or musician – but honestly, most of that influence is indirect, because I just haven’t ever been motivated to buy or steal, and then listen through a Beatles album, not even once.

With this in mind, it may seem odd to choose Eleanor Rigby as the first song my son Matt needs to learn. It’s actually an odd choice for a number of reasons. Beyond my general ignorance of The Beatles, my son is a drummer. There are no drums or percussion on this record. In fact, there are no traditional rock instruments at all. It’s string quartet, and vocals. But I wouldn’t be able to leave The Beatles out of a list like this, and of all their songs I know, this one has left the biggest impression on me, by far. So we may as well start this journey with the biggest and most influential pop band of all time.

A significant song, for me, begins with an interesting melody. This song is engaging from the start, quite literally beginning with “the hook”. In modern pop music, “the hook” is what we call that part of the song, usually in the section called “the chorus”, that draws us in. The part stuck in your head, the part you can’t stop humming or singing. Blasting us with the hook right from the start was a brilliant move – but it can’t work for every song. I typically don’t really care for the songs starting with the chorus (with a few notable exceptions, I’m sure I’ll get into in this space later). Why does it work for this one?

Lyrics matter. “Ah, look at all the lonely people”. How can you help but be drawn in by that type of opening line, delivered in cold open style, with a beautiful melody (and harmonies) behind it? Loneliness is an unfortunate inevitability in this life, and it’s one of the few truly universal experiences we have. You could say we are together in our loneliness – this sort of irony works way better, from a literary standpoint, than the Alanis Morissette version.

So this first one is a pretty easy one. Great melody, great lyrics, even the production is fantastic. Notice McCartney’s voice on the stereo version, only on the right side during the verses, except the very first word of the first verse, “Eleanor” – I love this sort of character, and George Martin was the king of this stuff. You don’t have to be a Beatles buff to know that.

This particular entry doesn’t really have a lot of sentimental significance to me. But I wanted to include it here first, because it really is my idea of a “perfect” pop song, if there is such a thing. And it’s probably good for us to set the standard high.

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