I was exposed to those songs at a very early age and even though I really only remember them as background noise, they definitely influenced me subconsciously. When I was young, my parents listened to a lot of folk music when I was little, so I grew up on songs by Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and others. Their songs often told stories about people who worked hard to get by or who were trying to bring change to the world. Admittedly, as I grew up and started discovering my own music, those artists didn't really interest me. Like my character, Emily from I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, I usually searched for music that was loud. One big exception was Johnny Cash.
I had a really cool teacher in college, Joe Meno (who some of you might know for his books like Hairstyles of Damned), who brought a boombox and a bunch of Johnny Cash CDs into our creative writing class one day. He wanted us to listen to the stories in the songs and think about music as a form of storytelling. After all, before the printing press and all of that, stories were often passed along as ballads. I wrote in my journal furiously during that class because it helped me figure out something very important about a novel idea I had that would become my second novel, Ballads of Suburbia (which is already available for pre-order on Amazon, squee!). I realized that the Johnny Cash songs that Joe was playing had something in common with a couple punks songs I really liked, namely "Story of My Life" by Social Distortion and "The Young Crazed Peeling" by The Distillers. They told the story of the most important moment (or moments) of someone's life (perhaps a real person, perhaps a character). I decided to do work that concept into Ballads of Suburbia. Each of my characters writes their ballad, or the defining moment of their life, in a notebook. Their ballads aren't songs though they all are introduced by lyrics that speak to the character and remind them of their story.
I'm about to start revisions on Ballads of Suburbia, which may be one reason I'm re-obsessed with songs that tell stories. But the other reason is a song called "Anna is a Stool Pigeon" by Tom Gabel, the lead singer of Against Me! who just put out a solo ep called Heart Burns. I've been listening to the song over and over again. It's based on the true story of activist Eric McDavid and I might just have to share the song with my parents because it likes the punk version of the folk songs they raised me with. Here's a clip of Tom performing it at my local radio station Q101:
This is the link to the video of the song, but be forewarned, the lyrics in this version are not "radio friendly."
As for some other story songs I like, Against Me! has a song called "Thrash Unreal" that weaves the story of a very interesting and sad female character. I have no doubt it will inspire me to write a story someday. Also, Nirvana is my favorite band and even though Kurt Cobain is known for writing lyrics that are hard to understand and interpret, he wrote one of my favorite story songs, "Polly," which is based on the true story of a girl from Tacoma, Washington who was kidnapped and escaped her captors. Their song "Paper Cuts" is also based on a newspaper article that Cobain read and the song "Scentless Apprentice" is basically a book report on the novel Perfume by Patrick Suskind. It's interesting to think of Kurt Cobain being inspired by books and newspaper articles to write his songs, when I'm inspired by music and newspaper articles to write my books!
What about you, what are some of your favorite songs that tell a story that is really vivid or resonates with you?