A trademark of a well-written novel is a complex, engaging central character. It's the author's most important and difficult job to create someone readers will be interested in and have strong feelings about.
Same thing with a captivating movie. Did you see Silver Linings Playbook? That was a great motion picture, not because of its fast-action plot or M. Night Shyamalan-infused twists. Just solidly written characters we could care about and Oscar-worthy acting bringing them to life.
Here songwriters are at a vast disadvantage. The task of introducing someone and then making you care about him or her has to be accomplished within three, four or five minutes or so. That's not much time. And then there's the music, which adds to the experience but can overwhelm the lyric.
Thinking about it this way, it's pretty amazing when a songwriter creates someone amazing. It does happen, though, and a lot more often than we might recognize. But who are these personas, created from keen human observation and immortalized in song? Here are eight I'd actually want to encounter in real life.
Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles The spinster who gave loneliness a proper name is someone I need to meet. If you aren't covered in the ooze of depression when you give this song a listen, you really don't need to keep reading this list.
Life is about making connections, our human interaction gives us purpose. These are the Dalai Lama-like mantras I'd deliver to Ms. Rigby. I'd not just stop by to visit occasionally so Eleanor could pull her face from the jar by the door every once and then. I'd find her some other lonely hearts to share her life with.
Maybe she could clean up Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" and make an honest man of him? Together, they could love Pearl Jam's emotionally ignored "Jeremy" and Annie, Sublime's juvenile case who is headed the "Wrong Way" and in need of a motherly figure.
Rocket Man, Elton John Over beers, I'd pick his brain about the sights and sounds of deep space, what it feels like to burst from Earth's orbit and why one would leave his loved ones behind to engage in such a lonely pursuit.
Don't you know there are people, like Eleanor Rigby, who have no one back on Earth? You have a wife and kids who don't want you to go to Mars. They need you at home, bro. Listen, if you see Major Tom up there, deliver this message to him, too, I'd say.
Kate, Ben Folds Five With so many beguiling women cast in song to choose from (Duran Duran's "Rio," Dolly Parton's "Jolene," Journey's "Girl Can't Help It," etc.), I settled on Ben Folds' "Kate." It was really a toss-up between her and Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon."
But I'm assuming Rhiannon is a witch, and I've met a couple of witches. They're pretty boring, truth be told. It might be cool to watch Rhiannon "take to the sky like a bird in flight" or just disappear into the darkness; but, if it means hearing her babble on endlessly about the Mother Goddess and such, well, no thanks.
I'll stick with Kate, who appears to be human, albeit a supremely cool human who can summon small furry animals by playing "Wipeout" on the drums. She smokes pot, makes brilliant mixtapes, hands out the Bhagavad Gita and always knows the right thing to say when no one else does.
Roxanne, The Police No, I don't need to meet her for that reason; but it would be interesting to learn why Roxanne and others in her profession do what they do. Is it all about the money? To support a terrible habit of some kind? Is it necessary to be emotionally damaged to go into this line of work? What's it like to work with a pimp? Have you ever seen a John cry in shame after the deed is done?
So many questions. I'd invite Roxanne, "Lady Marmalade," Jack Johnson's "Taylor," Lana del Ray's "Carmen" and all of Donna Summer's "Bad Girls" over for an Oprah-style chat about what they do and why, and maybe have Dr. Drew nearby to see if he could help them out a bit.
Stan, Eminem Yeah, I'm an advocate for treating crazy mofos with dignity, medications and the psychological help they may require. But, to be honest, I wanna meet Stan just so I could hand deliver the ass-whuppin' he deserves.
Before I commence with the beatdown, I'd tell him to stop being a little bitch all on Eminem's tip. Seriously, go out and find a life of your own, loser. But the minute he tried to grab his girl and shove her in the trunk, I'd be on him like Dr. Dre on the production knobs -- spinning and twisting him ferociously and punching him repeatedly.
If he lived on the same block as Britney Spears' "Womanizer" and Erykah Badu's trifling-ass "Tyrone," my afternoon would be pretty busy.
Maggie (and her family), Bob Dylan Let's say you toil honestly at your place of work, but your contributions are glossed over by butt-munchers who either faked or slept their way to the top; or maybe you're subject to a boss who pinches your bottom every time you leave his or her office and pays you only slightly more than your kid brother who slings Fatty McFat burgers at the fast-food place. If so, I'll strike a symbolic blow for you and all downtrodden employees by applying for work at "Maggie's Farm" and taking the job.
Once there, I'd begin the clandestine work of destroying the place. Really, who deserves it more than this terrible family? They hand you 15 cents for scrubbing the floor, ask if you're having fun while you're on your knees and put their cigars out on your face. Fuck these guys.
First, I'd create dissension among the ranks, to grow power in numbers. We'd steal all the farm's agricultural secrets and sell them to competitors, since I'd rather hurt Maggie's bank account than her feelings. We'd start a Yelp crusade about how the stuff from the farm will give consumers unabated diarrhea.
Eventually, they might catch me; but, by then, I and my legion will have burned the place down. Viva la revolucion!
Cutsman, Horse the Band What fun would it be to be able to meet song characters come to life without getting to know one or two who aren't human? I considered Bananarama's "Venus," since it would be pretty mind-blowing to meet a Roman love goddess. Also, I thought about the O'Jays' "Brandy," who is a lost dog. That song is so sad! I'd want to meet the old girl just to facilitate a Peaches and Herb-style reunion between the wayward hound and her dejected master.
But really, I want to meet Horse the Band's "Cutsman" because he'd be a study in contrasts right before my eyes. He's a monster, a brutal, death machine, the stuff of nightmares -- who also happens to be "a little android man, half the size I am... with scissors on his fucking head!"
The song is about Cut Man, a villain from the Mega Man video game series. Meeting him would likely result in a bloody death by shears, but if I met him in his realm, it would merely be a virtual bloody death and I'd probably be able to power up into several more lives.
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, Jim Croce My dad wasn't too adventurous when the subject was music, God bless his soul. You could boil his choices down to Mexican music from the conjunto halls (we didn't call it Tejano back then); Elvis (his favorite); and... Jim Croce. Because dad loved this music, I did, too, but I especially loved Croce. Back then, I saw myself as a budding author who one day would write my own great American novel (started five, finished none) and Croce tried to teach me and anyone else interested in his music how to create vivid, fascinating characters.
There was the Roller Derby Queen, who was a hottie "built like a 'frigerator with a head", Rapid Roy the Stock Car Boy and Jim, who you did not mess around with. But Bad, Bad Leroy Brown is the dude I want to meet most from Croce's songbook. For one, he frequents bars, some of my favorite places to also visit. And, there's an aura of danger about him that scares me, and we all need to be scared a little in our lives, don't we?
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I'm certain I'd survive my encounter with Mr. Brown, since there's no mention of my demise in Croce's song and also because Leroy is sliced into fish bait by the song's end.