Though I think of myself as a storyteller and songwriter, I hadn’t often put those two together in my writings. It seemed like a writer of story songs had to have a certain bent that I didn’t seem to have.
Recently, however, when I began to write them on a regular basis, I realized a story song is a form of journalism. John Lennon talked about that in an interview about some of the songs on Sgt. Pepper, like “Day in the Life.” Story songs are accounts of fact and fiction that represent at least some the Five Ws and H used by journalists:
Take Rocky Raccoon, as an example.
- Who – Rocky Raccoon, Doc, Lil Magill and Dan
- What – Shooting, I think is the “what” in this song
- Why – Love/Jealousy
- When – Before now. Likely in the late 1900’s
- Where – The local saloon in the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota, silly
- How – With guns
Listen to some of the great ones like:
Lord Franklin (my personal favorite), Ode to Billie Joe, Coward of the County, North to Alaska, Thunder Road, The Last Time I Saw Richard, Alice’s Restaurant, Streets of Laredo, Hurricane (Dylan) and The Boxer.
Start with the who. Introduce a name, or better yet two. Now tell the listener about them with action verbs and using imagery. Use your memory, your imagination, something somebody told you or something from the newspaper. Let go, and tell the yarn. I find the results very satisfying and sometimes a bit disturbing, if I’m lucky.
If you’re lost, think of your perspective as the storyteller. You need a consistent and truthful voice. You are a journalist, an ex-lover, a friend of the deceased, or maybe … a boy name Sue.