For an example of lyrics that were inspired, look at the first stanza of Journey’s “Faithfully:”
Into the midnight sun
Wheels go round and round
You’re on my mind
Look at what Jonathan Cain accomplished in just a few lines.
This stanza gives us the setting. Notice the very clever tension between stillness and movement. The idea of the moon, of midnight and of a highway create images that are rather lonely, unmoving and calm. But you can tell there’s movement mainly by the word “into.” The writer is on a run towards the moon. He could have said ‘under’ the midnight sun, but the movement is more directed and you could almost say more aggressive than that.
I really like the third line, because the phrase “wheels go round and round” could be a reference to the truck (yes, I know it’s not stated as a truck, but I picture a large rig filled with band gear), but it is also a way for English speakers to describe thinking. And he’s got that line positioned right before he talks about thinking: “You’re on my mind.” So you’ve got the idea that he’s thinking about someone while he travels along the highway.
And there’s even some rhyme in here, with ‘run’ and ‘sun’ and sort of with ‘round’ and ‘mind’ – at least in that final consonant blend. But a perfect rhyme isn’t necessary. Rhyming shouldn’t ever really be the engine or primary goal of any piece of writing.
Here’s the second half:
Sleep alone tonight
Sending all my love
Along the wire
Once again, very nice. The writer loves someone (later in the song, he refers to raising a family, so that’s how we know he’s writing to his wife), and that someone loves him back. They both have “restless hearts.” The word ‘heart’ is lovely here, and it’s an example of what I said previously, about how spouses protect the privacy of each other, and how words about romance become more tasteful, refined and discreet in their proper context. Consider how another writer could have easily bungled these lines. Try to find a song where these words are put into such close proximity to each other and still remain noble: “restless,” “sleep,” and “tonight.” But Cain has done it. The words work, and you’ve got romance even with reality. The writer is saying that two people are unsettled because they cannot be together. And once again, there’s a tension between stillness and motion. The hearts are restless, wanting to move together, and yet there is the word ‘sleep.’
I cannot say that Jonathan Cain was deliberately aiming for a contrast between movement and stillness, but that’s how it goes with inspiration. An inspired songwriter operates on one level, but things are happening on more than one level. The completed work is multi-layered, more complex than it seems at first glance, and internally connected. It even rhymes sometimes. When he is finished, the inspired author is just as surprised as anyone else that it turned out so well.
To return to the song, “Sending all my love / Along the wire” is a poignant line, because by it, the writer communicates the pathos of his situation. Human beings are body and soul. What a torment it is, then, to be physically separated from the one you love!
Ah, well done, Jonathan Cain.
And here, let me tell you that I just read, on Wikipedia, some information about the song, which I hadn’t done prior to writing the above paragraphs. How interesting! It says that this song was written on a napkin. You hear this kind of thing from time to time. It’s what we humans do when we really want to catch something, and we weren’t expecting to need to write. That supports my idea of inspiration, as does the little detail that the melody came to Cain in a dream.
But anyway, the rest of the song is very lovely too. It’s written by someone who can speak, almost cynically, about the hardships of a life that so many people want. He talks about not knowing where he is, and that’s understandable. Being on tour and travelling in general is disorienting, and it isn’t something which God calls many people to do. St. Paul went here there and everywhere, but that’s the exception, not the rule.
God knows people do best when they set down roots.
I like how Jonathan Cain referred to the show-biz music world as a circus. His words tell the truth with just the right mixture of detachment and resignation:
Under the big top world
We all need the clowns
To make us smile
I like the symbolism. Those big-top tents are enormous and the imagery is bang on — another world is formed under those tents. It’s an unreal, temporary and fleeting world.
The stanza continues with this:
Through space and time
Always another show
Wondering where I am
Lost without you
You can feel the weariness in the line, “Always another show,” but it is done well. It’s not a complaint; it’s a statement of fact — he’s describing the reality without wanting sympathy.
The reference to ‘space and time’ ties back to the idea of trying to send all his love ‘over the wire.’ The words “lost without you” are beautiful, following as they do the previous line, where he says that he is “wondering where I am.”
Such a well-written and well-performed song.
But I guess I’ll leave it now, even though the other lines are very good too. I just wanted to show you that there really is something behind these inspired songs; I don’t pick them out of hat, and I also don’t get to pre-decide, based on what I remember about it, or based on what I’ve heard about the band or the singer. Once a song is examined, it’s usually pretty clear where it falls. Some songs come close, and others crash and burn so definitively. Yet when all is said and done, I can explain why such-and-such a song is wonderful, and why such-and-such a song didn’t make it.
But for the most part, I won’t have the time on my blog to go over every line in every song — you’ll just have to take my word for it. It’s either that or we’ll have to meet some evening soon. I’m picturing some orange soda pop and cheesy nacho chips, but you can have beer if you want. Make sure we get some napkins; we might have to scrawl out a song.
I’ll tell you why I’m right and I’ll tell you why you’re wrong.
And then we can go play some pool.
I’ll win (you had too much beer), and then I’ll drive home.
Into the midnight sun.