Monday, August 24, 2009

Word sounds

Got on a kick recently listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Born on the Bayou" after seeing the "live at Woodstock" video. I'd heard on the radio someone who'd worked at Woodstock talk about how the opening notes of this song, at 3 a.m., kicked the festival into overdrive. (Thank God for anniversary stories.)

Anyway, the more I listened the more I realized something about how the lyrics (see below) use the repetition of a particular sound to tie the piece together.

I doubt I have a chance of interviewing John Fogerty about this, so don't know how intentional this was, but check out the video below and listen for the repetition of the "oo" sound -- in words like "do" and "July" -- that reinforce that sound, which of course is in the title of the song. And when he sings, Fogerty really exploits the sound -- pushing it hard and low at least a couple of times so it really punctuates the rhythm of the song.

(He also, importantly, gives the sound some room to breathe -- in the 3rd line of the song, he sings "don't let the man getcha and do what he done to me." It'd be different, and probably not as good, had he sung "don't let them man get you and do what he done to me.")

Fogerty's emphasis on that sound ends up unifying the song. And you can use the same type of technique to help unify a story. Pay attention to the sounds of the words. If you can deftly repeat key sounds at points in the story -- being careful not to overdo it and turn it into a gimmick -- your piece will feel that much more cohesive, that much more like a whole thing as opposed to a collection of paragraphs. The reader might notice only subliminally, but that's even more cool.

Born on the bayou
(by John Fogerty)

Now, when I was just a little boy,
Standin' to my daddy's knee,
My poppa said, son, don't let the man get you
Do what he done to me.
'cause he'll get you,
'cause he'll get you now, now.

And I can remember the fourth of july,
Runnin' through the backwood, bare.
And I can still hear my old hound dog barkin',
Chasin' down a hoodoo there.
Chasin' down a hoodoo there.

Born on the bayou;
Born on the bayou;
Born on the bayou.

Wish I was back on the bayou.
Rollin' with some cajun queen.
Wishin' I were a fast freight train,
Just a chooglin' on down to New Orleans.


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