I am still dreaming of your face-
Hungry and hollow for all the things you took away
Do you recognise those lyrics? More importantly, do you like them? I hope so , because I recently paid $440 to use them in my upcoming novel, Last Summer. Yep, $440, and they weren’t even for something special like an epigraph, just a scene half way through chapter eleven where a character is digging a garden and they flash into her head as she thinks about her brother, who has recently died. When I heard how much the copyright fee was I was tempted to edit them out, but in the end I couldn’t do it- to me the words sum up so succinctly the way that loss leaves you heartsick, bereft, aching for everything that’s been snatched from you.
That’s the thing about lyrics- at their best they capture an emotion or a moment in just a line or two. As a novelist, I am both incredibly admiring and jealous of that. If I’m lucky, my books will be read once, then put away or passed on. Songs, though, are listened to over and over again… the words seep into your subconscious and wrap around your brain. In 1989 I was at uni studying neuroanatomy. Though I still work in a related field, though I had to dissect them and draw them and describe their function in both written and oral exams, I cannot for the life of me tell you what the twelve cranial nerves are. I can, however, remember every single word of Like a Prayer by Madonna, which was huge that year, and though I probably shouldn’t admit it also The Look by Roxette (complete with na na na na nas), Girl I’m going to miss you by Milli Vanilli and no doubt countless others.
And that’s not just me. If you were in your teens or twenties when those songs were hits I’m betting that you know them too, that we could sing them together without even rehearsing. Ever tried doing that with passages from a book? A popular song is a collective lexicon. It enters the cultural subconscious; it becomes universal shorthand. You can’t touch this. It’s my prerogative. Think I’m gonna dance now. The very first concert I attended was The Police supported by Australian Crawl at the Melbourne Showgrounds. I was 15, but I can still remember the chill that ran down my back when the entire crowd- 50,000 people- heard the familiar whine of the harmonica that signals the beginning of The Boys Light Up and stood up as one and sung “I went heading for my mountain home/Where all the ladies names are Joan”. It’s not Proust, but there was something about the entire great mass of us knowing every.single.word that made me shiver. I imagine it’s what got the monks singing those Gregorian chants in the first place.