Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lyrics (Over)Analysis - No Secrets by Trung Doan

Previously, I wrote a detailed analysis of Losing My Religion by R.E.M. and wrote that it's my favourite song from a lyrical standpoint. That song had an impact on my songwriting and that lyrics and personal circumstances inspired me to write this song called No Secrets. Both these songs tell the same story and cover the same theme. Before people start accusing me of ripping off R.E.M., I’ll just say that these two songs may cover the same theme but they tell the same story in a completely different way.

Whilst Michael Stipe approach with Losing My Religion was to takes the indirect and subtle approach and covers the lyrics with obscure sayings such as "Losing My Religion" and he express his emotion using a fair amount of imagery. The structure of the song is more akin to a person letting off a stream of frustration at his own predicament rather than telling exactly what happen to him in sequence.

My approach in this song is to tell a direct structured story and go into detailed about what happen and how the character felt at each individual point of the story. This is essentially a baring the soul type song and is an example of a classic case of the singer-songwriter genre. Whether my approach is better or worse is dependent on your own personality and what you are looking for in lyrics. If you prefer subtlety and atmosphere in your lyrics, you probably like R.E.M approach to lyric writing and think this song is beating you over the head and is overbearing which I concede that sometimes I feel this way about the song as well.

However if you like the songs to have clarity and prefer a raw expression of emotions then perhaps this approach may be more suitable. I generally take the direct approach in lyric writing (even though I can appreciate both approaches) and I'm inspired by the likes of John Lennon who when responding to criticism of the song I Want You (She's So Heavy) of banal and unsubtle lyrics. He just responded that this song is an expression of raw emotions and by dressing up emotions with imagery, metaphors etc then you lose the essence of what you are feeling.

Perhaps this lyrical analysis is redundant for this song as there's absolutely no way a person can read the lyrics of this song and not get what I'm talking about. The meaning of this song is as clear as day. However I try to expand on some of the point I'm trying to make.

This song is about falling in love with someone who is a good friend who already has a boyfriend (which is incredibly stupid) and feeling very conflicted about how to handle it. The main character tried to keep the feelings as a secret but eventually the person of attraction works it out leading to emotional disaster for the main protagonist.

I see you everyday
I feel happy and free
Something inside wants something more

So these opening lyrics establish that the protagonist and the person of affection get along well but he wants more of the relationship as he is in love with her.

Should it feel like a sin?
That she's drawing me in
Already taken by someone else

So it's a reveal that the person of affection already has a boyfriend and he is feeling guilty about loving her.

My world is turning into her
And its spinning out of control

Often in love, you're entire perspective in life and the way you judge how good your day has been, revolves around the person of affection. Like all obsessions that dominate your life, you ended up losing any self control and discipline and ultimately it will become self destructive when taking this obsession to an extreme.

No, no don't you say don't you say don't you
Don't you say don't you say
How you never be never be never
Never be never be
No, no don't you say don't you say don't you
Don't you say don't you say
How you never be never be never
Never be anything more to me
This moment of the song, the main character goes on a PJ Harvey-esque rant (this time you can definitely accuse me of ripping off) almost begging and wishing that the affection the character have is return. It's obvious that the main character has gone quite mad during that rant.

You look at me and say
"You're such a good friend"
There's no secret except my thoughts for you

These lyrics confirm that the main character has been put in a "friend zone".

The next line "There's no secret except my thoughts for you" is probably my favourite line from the song as I named the song based on that line. Sometimes people feel like they are such good friends that they feel that no personal issues are too uncomfortable for them to talk to about. That they are willing to open up and tell everything about themselves to that person and vice versa. That you be yourself without being self conscious about it. However in cases like this, there's no secret between the two people except for the secret that really matter. That the only secret that the main character has that he can't tell her, is the secret that is bothering the main character the most which leads to obvious complication.

After all if you having problems in your life or something are bothering you, you often go to your best friend and talk about it. However when you're problem that is bothering you are the feeling that you have for the best friend then that makes things really awkward. The person who you usually confide in is the person where you can't actually talk to about.

And now that's eating me away
Do I settle or aim for more?
Now she seen a change in me

The awkwardness of that situation eats away at your own soul until eventually something has to give and eventually you will start giving more and more signs that she will eventually detect something. After all, if you have strong feelings for the person and in response of that feeling is to continue to talk to that person and get to know the person more and develop a closer friendly relationship with that person then that feeling will not go away and the feelings will only grow stronger. Really, once that line is cross, there will be no compromise, either the rare occasion where the person wins the heart of the girl or more commonly rejection and destruction of the friendship.

You can't settle for friendship once you reach that point and so the whole question of whether settling for friendship or aiming for lover status is really almost a rhetorical question because there is an inevitability that the answer to that question is neither.

Well it’s the dream I learn to hide
If we met before
Another time, another place
Would life be so different?
Different my oh my

I never really believed in the whole concepts of "the one true love". I liked to believe that there are many people in the world who are compatible but it's just circumstances and a bit of luck that they get together. So often when you reach the situation where it is obvious the relationship is not going to happen (especially if you got along well with them), you end up self-torturing yourself by wondering whether in a hypothetical parallel universe where you meet each other under different circumstances or if you made different choices that perhaps the relationship would have work and then curse your own luck for being in this universe. A very unproductive thought process I must say but when you are in this emotional state, logic has nothing to do with your behaviour.

Woo hoo baby
Must I hide?, Must I hide from you
I can't hide, I can't hide anymore

The main character finally admits that his feelings can't be hidden anymore and perhaps he doesn't want to hide it anymore. There's only so much a person can take holding that type of emotion in as a secret.

I see my hope from above
I grab her hand that's pulling me out
Pulling me out

Often with people who have poor social skills who don't really get along with people that readily, simple and small things that are considered a simple part of everyday life for most people; are considered moments to cherish for people who don't really have that much experience talking to people and are shy. These small things could mean a simple conversation, that person laughing at your jokes, that person saying thank you to you, that person being interest in what you are saying and that person opening up to you and telling you about their problems. To most people that is just normal behaviour or at least normal behaviour for a simply friendly relationship. However for people who are normally shy and anti-social, those things are extraordinary events, moments to be cherish and remember for the rest of their life.

The person who they like ceased to be a normal person from their perspective, they become their saviour and a person to lift them and save them from their own loneliness and low self-esteem. They become more like angels and gods (which is ultimately a wrong attitude to have) rather than just another human being.

The line above reflects the feeling that the main character sees the person he loves as a saviour that is rescuing him and pulling him out of loneliness.

My emotions reaching the surface
She's reading me now
Seeing through me now
Reading me now

So now the feelings the main character has is so obvious and so transparent that the person of attraction has finally realised the true feeling that he has.

You view our past from a different light
You know the truth
That's tearing me apart
Tearing me apart

Now the girl knows the truth. Suddenly she views all the past behaviour from the main character differently. So all the time when the main character did nice things to her, she used to see it as just a person being a good friend. Now those memories of those events are now tainted because she knows the truth.  

Stripping the armour
Leaving me bare
Can you look at me now?
Will you look at me now?
Look at me now

Now that all the secrets are out leaving the main character emotion laid bare to her. He is wondering whether she can ever look at him the same way again. Can they still be friends after knowing this?

The answer is of course no, the last line “look at me now” is intended as the final cry for the person of his affection to talk to him again. Of course the sad music in the background symbolises that he is not going to get what he wants.

So that is my song and it’s a standard baring your soul type of lyrics that is associated with the singer-songwriter genre of music. The only way I could make it more emotional if I copied PJ Harvey by screaming in anguish or emulate Bright Eyes and actually cry in the middle of the song. However that’s too extreme even for me.

I’m in two minds about this song. On one hand I think this song perfectly articulate the emotions that a person would go through in that situation. On the other hand I just want to slap that character in the face and say “be a man and get over it and stop being a god damn pussy” and that the character problems are so small and significant to talk about and for people to care about.  The fact that this song is actually autobiographical and that I’m pretty much pass that period probably makes me feel a bit more embarrass about the lyrical content of that song even if it perfectly captures that moment in my life.

Normally when people ask whether my songs are autobiographical, I usually say the emotions are real but the stories aren’t. Which means that the emotions the character are expressing are emotions that I have felt in my life before but the details of the stories told in my songs never happen to me before and it’s a case of me acting.  However in this case, this is all personal and I have a hard time reading the lyrics even today as it stirs up past emotions.

In any case, a couple of years after this song was written I was still writing broken hearted love songs and in the process of writing one. I was thinking, man this is retarded; it’s time to move on. That song changed and became Looking Back which is a sequel of this song. It basically starts where this song was left off where the character is in an extreme depressive state pining over lost love but by the end of the song there is a happy ending where the character finally manages to come to grips with the failed relationship attempt and manage to move on.

However that’s for another Lyrical (Over)Analysis. Stay tuned for the sequel.

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