Song Lyrics- Who gives a shit?
99.9% of the population, that's who.Particularly if they don't play, and have never played a musical instrument. When they listen to music(for the sake of argument, a group with a vocalist), the lead singer is who they focus on, and what comes out of his or her mouth is what they focus on in the music. Most folks think that the lyrics are the most important element of a song, the real "message". Delivered by the most important individual in the band- the lead singer.
One musician friend has encouraged me to put lyrics to my songs so they'll be remembered. People(well, at least 99 percent of them)tend to remember words rather than melodies, so that gives them something to hang onto. Seems tragic to me that a beautiful melody is all but lost on them. So very sad.
Me, I perceive music in just the opposite way. Not saying my perceptions are in any way "better"- if anything, I guess I have the opposite kind of impairment. I hear the "tune" first, the melody and harmony and rhythmic component. If there are vocals, I listen to the sound of their voice rather than lyric "content". Lyrics are usually all but lost on me, unless they're by Frank Zappa:
You're phony on top,
You're phony underneath
You lie in bed and grit your teeth.
TV Dinners by the pool,
I'm so glad I finished school.
Life's a ball, TV tonight,
Do you love it, do you hate it,
There it is the way you made it.
Great stuff. For some reason, Zappa's lyrics stick in my mind where others just slide right off. His music is pretty memorable too.
Music is the most abstract of the arts, and that's the very thing I love about it. However it makes you feel is its message to you. I like my music just like I like my Quarter Pounder from McDonald's: nice and plain. Unfettered by all those extraneous condiments. Just the pure burger. The pure listening experience. I don't usually like Program Music that's telling you a story you're supposed to follow(gee, what's the puppet doing now?), and loathe most Operas. And I don't generally care for musical comedy or musical theater --again, unless it's by Zappa(Gregory Peccary is one of my favorites!).
To me, there's plenty of beauty, all the beauty I need, in a graceful melody or an infectious rhythmic pattern or a driving bass line. Among other things instrumental. I even like listening to certain voices, their timbre and expressive nuances. But again, it's the sound, not what's being said.
I remember in the mid-80's, being on the road, and hearing our drummer talk about a certain song we were playing. "This song is about the war in Vietnam", he said. Again, I have a sort of aural color-blindness as far as that goes, and had never paid any attention to the lyrics. "What difference does that make to us?" I asked. "It tells us how to interpret the song", was his reply.
As the guitarist in the band, what possible difference does that make in how I play the chords, or how I solo over the chord progression? Am I supposed to be thinking about the Vietnam war while I'm playing? And is that supposed to somehow seep into my approach to the music- which is, again, abstract? Really folks, I'm stumped on that one.
I probably had an expression on my face at that point which read, "what color is the sky in your world?"
Reading this, you're probably thinking, 'what color is the sky in my world' as well. Why blue of course. At least my interpretation of blue.
Lyrics and librettos are just fine in their own right. And so are some vocalists(okay, I probably have a musician's professional prejudice against singers as a group, but do like them individually). It just seems tragic to me that most people miss the great beauty and trenchant expression that's already there in the music without the almighty lyrics. And the almighty vocalists. Try a Quarter Pounder without all that stuff on it and you'll discover it's just fine as is.
Well maybe with a bit of cheese.