Song lyrics often read poorly in print, and also often seem pointless and affectless in captions. There’s an idée fixe that lyrics are telegraphic and choppy, an assemblage of phrases. Some are, some aren’t.

I’ve been trying to think of lyrics, from any genre, that actually form lengthy complete sentences. Better: What about consecutive sentences in lyrics that actually border on intelligible paragraphs? It’s OK to begin a sentence with “and” or “but” to stretch a syllable, but the whole shebang has to read perfectly. I do not know how to treate song choruses or refrains; sometimes I leave them in my assessment, other times not.

The longest example I can recite from memory is “Tiny Voices”: “The brown-and-orange sky holds its breath as the sun retreats to the distant horizon, and our hearts palpitate anxiously as we soon will lay supine and wait for sleep to overcome us. And from somewhere in our black, subconscious minds when we’re asleep comes a haunting, swelling mass of voices resonating. It screams of forgotten victims and the cries of innocents and the desperate plea for recognition and recompense.” (A tight 71 words, uttered in 33 seconds.)


Love Vigilantes”? “When I walked through the door, my wife, she lay upon the floor, and with tears her eyes were sore. I did not know why. Then I looked into her hand and I saw the telegram that said that I was a brave, brave man but that I was dead.”

The spiritual B-side of “Love Vigilantes,” “Camouflage”? The entire song qualifies. (Gotta quote the whole thing to prove it.)

I was a PFC on a search patrol hunting Charlie down. It was in the jungle wars of ’65. My weapon jammed and I got stuck way out and all alone and I could hear the enemy moving in close outside. Just then I heard a twig snap and I grabbed my empty gun, and I dug in scared while I counted down my fate. And then a big marine, a giant with a pair of friendly eyes, appeared there at my shoulder and said “Wait!”

When he came in close beside me, he said, “Don’t worry, son, I’m here. If Charlie wants to tangle now they’ll have two to dodge.” I said, “Well, thanks a lot.” I told him my name and asked him his – and he said “The boys just call me Camouflage.”

Well, I was gonna ask him where he came from when we heard the bullets fly coming through the brush and all around our ears. And then I saw that big marine light a fire in his eye, and it was strange, but suddenly I forgot my fears. We fought all night and side by side. We took our battle stance. And I wondered how the bullets missed this man – ’cause they seemed to go right through him just as if he wasn’t there.

And in the morning, we both took a chance and ran. And it was near the river bank when the ambush came on top of us and I thought it was the end and we were had. Then a bullet with my name on it came buzzing through a bush – and that big marine, he just swatted it with his hands. Just like it was a fly!

And I knew there was something weird about him ’cause, when I turned around, he was pulling a big palm tree right up out of the ground and swatting those Charlies with it from here to kingdome come. When he led me out of danger, I saw my camp and waved goodbye, but he just winked at me from the jungle and then was gone.

And when I got back to my HQ, I told ’em about my night and the battle I’d spent with a big marine named Camouflage. When I said his name, a soldier gulped and the medic took my arm and led me to a green tent on the right. He said, “You may be telling true, boy, but this here is Camouflage, and he’s been right here since he passed away last night.”

Hard to top, I’d say. Anything vaguely similar?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2005.10.24 00:04. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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