Another one from Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk. He says “To add a new texture to any story never hesitate to insert a list”. As an example, he says to read Chapter 18 of The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West. When reading, lists can visually break up the page and force people to read each word. In a song, I believe the same can be true. A list can grab our attention because it is simply a list. In narrative songs, the story may stall for a list. In lyrical songs, the conveying of emotion stalls at the insertion of a list. We pay attention to them. Why was the list here? What does it convey? Often it reinforces the emotion or plot by simply listing items.
Here are a few song examples:
The first two are written by Maynard James Keenan, who seems to really understand the power of a list.
Ænima by Tool:
Fret for your figure and fret for your latte and
Fret for your lawsuit and fret for your hairpiece and
Fret for your Prozac and fret for your pilot and
Fret for your contract and fret for your car
It’s a bulls++t three ring circus sideshow
Some say a comet will fall from the sky
Followed by meteor showers and tidal waves
Followed by fault lines that cannot sit still
Followed by millions of dumbfounded dipsh++s
And some say the end is near
Some say we’ll see Armageddon soon
F++k L. Ron Hubbard and f++k all his clones
F++k all these gun-toting hip gangster wannabes
F++k retro anything, f++k your tattoos
F++k all you junkies and f++k your short memories
F++k smiley glad-hands with hidden agendas
F++k these dysfunctional insecure actresses
Because I’m praying for rain
(Sorry for all the censoring, but I’m trying to get the point across without offending). The song also ends with a list of “I wanna see it come down, Put it down, Suck it down, Flush it down”, but I think the point of adding lists is better made with the other examples.
Here is my attempt at explanation: In the first list, it shows the banality of materialistic culture. Those are things that people worry about and they don’t seem that important if the world were to end soon. The second list demonstrates a discreet way for the world to end, and finishes with saying those that were too materialistic are dumbfounded because they were not paying attention to what mattered. The third list seems to show disdain for squandered influence by celebrities, politicians, and religious leaders. Those are at least my interpretations.
Red flag red, all the sentinels are dead
The Tokyo kitty, swallow, rose, and canary
Tick tick tick, do you recognize the sounds as the grains count down?
Trickle down right in front of you
Aristocrat breaks down to
Timocrat breaks down to
Oligarch breaks down to
Republocrat breaks down to
No hope left in the hourglass
No hope left in the hourglass
Eight, seven, six
Five, four, three, two
Eight, seven, six
Five, four, three
Verse 1 lists natural sentinels that can provide humans with information about the health of the environment. In Japan, cats got “dancing cat fever” prior to humans from eating mercury-laden fish. Swallows eat insects and show adverse reactions to pesticides more quickly than humans. Roses are used to monitor the health of soils in vineyards. Canaries were used to detect carbon monoxide (or potentially other dangerous chemicals) in mines. The chorus references forms of Government from Plato’s book The Republic. Listing them from the most ideal breaking down into lesser ideal forms until time (or hope) runs out. The ending is interesting in that it is numbers counting down, but never hitting one. Niner is used by the military so it is not confused with five. So, from a simple countdown, it appears to be militaristic in nature. It resets at eight a few times, showing that though the count started, it didn’t get too far. Then it repeats eight – like a grudge was being held or a problem was not fully addressed, so we restarted, but not at ten. It works its way down to two. That is scary close, it always makes me think of WWII with Hitler and the atomic bombs. Then resets to ten, makes it to three and ends. The pessimist says that another power ended this power’s countdown. The optimist says we are only at three, there is still time to fix it! All of that from simple lists.
Here are a few other abbreviated examples:
Paul Simon - 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover : The chorus is listing ways to walk out on a relationship. This shows that the wife has been considering ways for him to leave for a while to compile the list.
Sublime - April 29, 1992 : The song ends with a listing riots occurring in various places as a result of the Rodney King police violence incident. It is interesting because you see larger cities with a more directly impacted populous listed, but you also see smaller towns with a smaller minority population. This says to me: everyone should be mad about what happened and it echoes the mentality of some of the lyrics earlier about what the rioting is actually about.
Okkervil River - Kathy Keller : Verse 2 opens with a description of a crime scene that the narrator caused:
That bright kitchen, that old cleaver
The spots of blood, the fallen phone receiver
Don’t you get tired of seeing those pictures?
That was me, but now I’m different
I did all that, but now I’m really better
After describing the scene and the incident, he admits being the perpetrator and says he is cured.
The Cranberries - Zombie : “With their tanks and their bombs and their bombs and their guns In your head, in your head, they are dying”. This shows the trauma of violence still lingering in the head. What a great way of showing PTSD type of stuff.
Edwin McCain - I’ll Be : Pretty much the entire song is made up of various lists describing his love interest, describing what he wants to be, etc…
Two other songs that came to mind were REM - It’s The End of the World As We Know It and Billy Joel - We Didn’t Start the Fire. But, the lists in those songs I felt would take a lot of words to describe the coherence, and some of which I don’t understand, so I would not be in the best place to describe. I think maybe they just reflect hecticness in some instances.
One of the neat things about lists, is they can be left open to interpretation of the reader/listener. So, my explanations above might not match yours, and that is awesome.
For this exercise, incorporate a list into a stanza. Note what you intend the list to represent. Free reign on subjects, but utilize a list to convey something.