Sunday, September 30, 2012

Stevie's Syntax

Stevie Nicks. She seems to be an artist that people either fanatically love, or loudly dislike. No middle ground. I’m happy to report that I’m on the absolutely-adore-secretly-wish-I-could-be-her side.

When we lived in Boulder, Bart’s CD Cellar was on Pearl Street, and there were several vinyl records I would constantly check on to make sure they were still up for grabs. Time Fades Away by Neil Young was one. Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks was another. Always relieved to re-locate those perfectly faded cardboard sleeves, I wrestled with my wallet and the other stacks of must-have selections to decide if this was the day to finally bring them home. For whatever reason, some other records would win out. But I found comfort in the fact that I still had the option to own those coveted albums some fateful day in the future. After moving from Colorado to Maine – and since returning to Boulder a few times for work, only to discover that Bart’s doesn’t exist in the same capacity anymore – I’ve always regretted not buying those two albums when I had the chance.

So when I stumbled across Bella Donna in a record store a few weeks ago (with a whopping $2 price tag!), I walked it straight to the register.

After listening to it a few times, I started to think about “Leather and Lace.” Particularly the “Give to me your leather/Take from me…my lace” line. I love the simultaneous simplicity and implied complexity of the leather and lace dichotomy. But I think what makes this line stick with me, what gives it a little extra weight, is the syntax. In conversations, most people wouldn’t talk in the way this line is presented. You might say, “Give me your leather, and take my lace.” Which sounds much more casual and not nearly as meaningful.

Maybe poetry and song lyrics are better suited to the type of word arrangements found in the leather and lace phrase. Less of a need to form complete, more "traditional" sentences. When you hear words aloud, without seeing them written down, you are less aware of what goes where. Maybe it's easier to sing, enunciate, and breathe in the right spots when the words are arranged as “Give to me your leather/Take from me…my lace.” Maybe it's Stevie Nicks, who in my opinion can sing almost anything and make it sound good. But even without her voice attached to the phrase, under silent repetition, the words flow. Enough syllables for the internal tongue to skip along, natural places to pause. It just works.

In my writing, I often find myself getting hung up on the syntax. I find the most freedom to play with word order in stream of consciousness moments. It is such a delicate balance to arrange words in a purposeful, innovative, and attention catching way - without creating a mangled mess that no reader wants to wade through.

Until I write that perfect sentence, I’m glad I can now listen to “Leather and Lace” on vinyl whenever I want!

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