Thursday, September 29, 2005

No, I'm Not a Lyric-Listener

My wife and I had a curious discussion the other day about whether or not I listen to the lyrics of songs on the radio. As a matter of fact, I rarely actually listen to lyrics these days, mostly because I have a difficult time with the way most so-called "singers" manage to butcher their deliveries. Apparently most either are screaming the lyrics or cannot manage to maintain a note longer than a millisecond before smearing the one-syllable word across the chromatic horizon into five or six portions. I thought that I was somehow unusual in that characteristic until I heard a portion of a great NPR show last Saturday called "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" in which a female rocker told the interviewer that she didn't worry about what her husband and kids thought of her sometimes suggestive lyrics because "they aren't lyric-listeners".

As someone who studied classical piano in his youth and who still listens to that genre predominantly, most lyrics don't interest me nearly as much as the melody and the harmony. If it is a good or even great piece of music, I couldn't care less what the words are. I remember in college, during my senior year, my preacher-in-training roommate got furious with me for not listening to the words of a song on the radio that were particularly suggestive; of course, his admonition caused me to listen to the words for probably the first time and I finally figured out what the all the hubbub was about.

Nope, give me melody, give me harmony, give me something I can tap my feet to, something I can be inspired by, weep over, let my mind soar to the heavens with while my body is mired in the mundane. Listening to Chopin is like drinking a great dry white wine; Beethoven is like eating a great meal in a five-star restaurant.

Now, once in a while I do like lyrics, but usually when they are witty or humorous. One of my first CDs was a greatest hits of Spike Jones, the 1940's band leader with wonderful, farsical stuff that made me laugh and still does. The Bob and Tom radio show has lots of comedians who use music to express their sense of humor; the old Eagles' song "Fly Like an Eagle" became "Fry Me an Eagle" in someone's hands and I still laugh out loud when I think of it.

I have to listen to stuff my kids (and wife) prefer to classical when we're taking trips together and so far cannot say that my opinion has changed much over the years. Most of the songs are quickly forgettable. Besides, I'm getting too much stuff crammed into my ever-increasingly fewer brain cells to have to remember to worry about listening to and retaining dime-a-dozen lyrics by a one or two hit wonder.

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