Songs That Tell Stories

Back in the day, when I lived in New York in the 1980s, a new singer-songwriter was getting a lot of attention—Suzanne Vega. I bought her first album as a cassette tape, and then had to buy it again because I wore out the tape. Eventually I bought the CD, which I found recently when I was reorganizing my music collection. I immediately played it, and aside from being transported back to that other place and time in my life, I was struck—again—by Vega’s wonderful imagery and lyricism. Vega also frequently writes songs that tell stories, and many of her lyrics can be used as writing prompts. So in case these short winter days are short-circuiting your creativity, I offer as prompts, from Suzanne Vega’s first album, lyrics from songs that tell stories.

“We go to the playground
In the wintertime
The sun is fading fast …
You stand
With your hand
In your pocket
And lean against the wall
You will be Bogart
And I will be Bacall …”
–“Freeze Tag”

“There’s a sound
Across the alley
Of cold metal
Touching skin
And you can see
If you look in her window
That she has gone and cut
Her hair again …”
–“Straight Lines”

“’We had our
Neighborhood girl, she
Used to hang out, in front of
McKinsey’s Bar, and we were
Interested in her, and her
Clientele …
We just wonder where she’s gone …’
‘Oh she’s gone?’
‘Yes, she’s gone, gone, gone.’”
–“Neighborhood Girls”

And although this song is from Vega’s second album, Solitude Standing, I have to add a few stanzas from the memorable “Tom’s Diner.”

“I am sitting
In the morning
At the diner
On the corner
I am waiting
At the counter
For the man
To pour the coffee
And he fills it
Only halfway
And before
I even argue
He is looking
Out the window
At somebody
Coming in …”
–“Tom’s Diner”

Have fun with these!

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In which I blog about the days I write and the days I don’t write; about teaching about writing; about reading (which is never enough); and occasionally about music, because sometimes a three-minute song can tell as good a story as a novel.

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