I've noticed a lot of 'six word story' and 'one sentence story' challenges on the writing blogs at the moment, so I though I'd blog about one of my favourite genres of short story writing: songs.
Most storytelling songs I know are folksongs, but stories can be told using other sorts of music. The best sort of storytelling songs leave you longing for sequels in the same way a good book does, or sink you into someone else' s story so deeply you have to pull yourself out when the last bars fade away.
My personal favourite is Cry Cry Cry's hauntingly acoustic cover of James Keelaghan's 'Cold Missouri Waters' ,a confession tale based on the true story of the Mann Gulch Fire of 1949, in which thirteen men lost their lives. Told from the perspective of the smokejumpers' foreman, Wagner Dodge, the song describes in chilling detail how Wagner and one other man survived by setting an escape fire and letting the fire burn out around them. I still remember hearing 'Missouri Waters' for the first time as part of a cover CD I'd made at random for my car. I automatically wanted to find out more about it. Who were these men? Did it really happen? What went so wrong?Cry Cry Cry (James Keelaghan cover): Cold Missouri Waters.Link here'So confession..is that the reason that you came?
Get it off my chest, before I check out of the game.
Since you mention it, there's thirteen things I'll name
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters...'
The song that started this rant-and my obsession with folk music. Richard Shindell: May
No youtube link for this one: this
is Shindell's website.
So May, take care of the kids,
Tell them I love them,
I'll send a few quid when I can.
I know this is no kind of life
But you've got to be strong
When you're a fugitive's wife.
Shindell's speciality is stories. This song's told from the viewpoint of a man on the run from the law (for what, where?) calling home to his family.Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
Youtube here 'Lily took her dress off, paraded away.
'Has your luck run out?' she laughed at him
'Well, I guess you must have know it would someday.''
A classic. A daring robbery takes place in a western cabaret. The owner is murdered-could the culprit be his wife, his mistress, or the daring conman Jack of Hearts? Townes van Zandt: Pancho and Lefty.
Link here to folksong cover site Cover Lay Down, for a free download of Gillian Welch's cover here.
'Pancho was a bandit, boys
Horse as fast as polished steel
Wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel...
Another classic. The Butch and Sundance of folksongs. I found it on a soundtrack for the TV show Supernatural. Full Frontal Folk (Dave Carter cover) Cat Eyed Willie Comes to Claim His Lover
Another free download via Cover Lay Down here.
Scroll down for the song then right-click 'save as.' 'Now he has had away her coat of leather
And he has had away her daisy dress,
But as he slumbers in her bed of feathers,
She breaks a silver dagger in his chest.'
This one's more of a typical folk song, in that it's creepy and depressing. A man wins a girl in a card game, and she kills him. Dave Carter is the king of lyrical Americana. Stan Rogers: The Wreck of the Mary Ellen Carter
Youtube link here.So you to whom adversity has dealt a bitter blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.'
The tale of a heroic effort to raise a sunken ship, this song's unusual in that it actually saved someone's life. When the Marine Electric out of Virginia sank in 1983, the first mate kept himself conscious-and alive-by singing the song over and over. He was rescued after four hours in the freezing ocean-and survived. Josh Ritter: The Curse.
Music video here.
'The days quickly pass,
He loves making her laugh
The first time he moves it's her hair that he touches,
She says 'Are you cursed?'
He says 'I think that I'm cured.'
The he talks of the Nile, and the girls in bulrushes...'
If Pancho and Lefty goes well with Supernatural, then the Curse fits the Mummy franchise like a glove.I do love me some Josh Ritter, but most of his songs, although lyrical, don't really qualify as stories. This is one exception.
I've posted some links to my favourite storytelling songs abovew. Which ones do you like? Which songs make you think? I've posted links to youtube files of the songs below, but can post a zip file of them all if people are interested.