Issue #202 / July 2022
My favourite lyrics from your album Ghosteen are on the final track: “The kid drops his bucket and spade / And climbs into the sun.” I find this so deeply powerful and evocative, although I really can’t say exactly what it means, and I suspect that if I did have an easy and concrete explanation then it would lose much of its power. But of course, the line between profoundly ineffable and nonsensical can be a fine one. My question is, what is your creative process for coming up with these lyrics that may not have an obvious meaning but are nonetheless trying to say something important?
JEREMY, BURLINGTON, USA
I find that many of my favourite lyrics are those that I do not fully understand. They seem to exist in a world of their own – in a place of potentiality, adjacent to meaning. The words feel authentic or true, but remain mysterious, as if a greater truth lies just beyond our understanding. I see this, not just within a song, but within life itself, where awe and wonder live in the tension between what we understand and what we do not understand.
Sometimes, I write words that seem to vibrate with potential, even though I may not understand their exact meaning. That vibration is a promise. It promises that, in time, all will be revealed. I have learned to trust that intuition, because I know I am dealing with a metaphoric form that is essentially mystifying, and that a seemingly insignificant couple of lines have the capacity to reveal, in their smallness, in time, all of the world.
‘The kid drops his bucket and spade/ And climbs into the sun’ are such words. Two short lines that draw to an abrupt and brutal halt the main body of the epic song, ‘Hollywood’. I can understand why these are your favourite lyrics. They are a lovely image. However, looking at them now, these lines are perhaps not so obscure, and without wanting to take away their power by attaching my own meaning to them, their intent seems fairly clear. They mean, the child stopped what he was doing and died.
‘The child stopped what he was doing and died’ is also a beautiful line, perhaps a better line, but sometimes some truths are too severe to live on the page, or in a song, or in a heart. Hence, metaphor can create a merciful sense of distance from the cruel idea, or the unspeakable truth, and allow it to exist within us as a kind of poetic radiance, as a work of art.
Jeremy, I love that those words resonate with you. It is as much as a songwriter can hope for, that the words he or she writes are received, with love, into the heart of others. Thank you for that.