When I was young I was in a band. I know, I know, who wasn’t? I was the guy by the microphone stand, hitting A-chords and holding my right hand up in the air while I shouted the lyrics. The glory-whore in need of endless attention. I was also the principal songwriter in the group. It was supposedly my forte (‘cause God knows I could barely play that guitar.) Back then, people always said, “You’d make a great writer. Your songs can really tell a story.” Some of the time I believed them. Now, people say, “Com’on, Tom. You were a songwriter; it’s got to easy to write a book.”
I’m not sure why people have always assumed such a connection between the two. It’s a little like saying, “Hey, you’re a painter, you’ve got to be good a making pastries.” The two are mutually exclusive. There is a fundamental difference in how one approaches either task.
Music, lyrically speaking, is made up of word-play. Catchy phrasing that sounds somehow familiar to the ear. Lyrics that, when shadowed with a double entendre, can take a commonplace idiom and twist it to give it a profound relevance. Need examples? Look no further than any country song. Country music is rife with puns and word-play. Them good ol’ boys take it to the extreme. Thank you George Jones for lines like, “I’ve learned to stand on my own two knees,” or Charlie Pride’s more subtle, “She’s too good to be true.” You know who else is masterful at that stuff? Elvis Costello, a craftsman whose examples are too many to list. (Okay, just one, “I’d step on the brakes to get out of her clutches.”) Don’t get me started on puns for album names either, from Rubber Soul to Aladdin Sane, the examples are endless.