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Lyrics influence, inspire through generations

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 12:05



From the primitive, pieced-together gourd and wood guitars of Africa and Mesopotamia, to the sophisticated modern instruments people employ today — music’s beginnings for the purpose of celebration, escape and community have not changed even with the passing of time. Add vocals and lyrics to a composition and the influence of a song can be even more impressive.

“I think from generation-to-generation and era-to-era, you find that lyrics will either function as a means of escape or as a means of realism, and forming opinions about social issues,” said John Siqueiros, assistant professor of music.

Siqueiros said that although lyrics through time have been used in this way, particularly in American popular music, lyrics have also been used as a tool for rallying a generation to action.

“For example, during the ‘40s, those were rough times and people had enough reality to keep them occupied, so the songs tended to be escapist kind of songs, to talk about blue skies or talk about sentimental things and things to take your mind off of the fact that we were at war and so on,” Siqueiros said.

In the ‘60s, The Beatles and Bob Dylan, according to Siqueiros, sang about things that were “real,” with the intent to get people to respond to the lyrics.

Siqueiros also said that lyrics have been added to music for expressions of happiness, protest or escapism, but another kind of writing in music has impacted American popular music in a way that actually altered the nation’s popular culture and perspective.

“(The double entendre) comes out of slave music. Originally, the double entendre was a way for slaves to insult the master without the master knowing, so the double meaning was that they would be talking about something else, but everybody knew that they were talking about the slave master,” Siqueiros said. “Later, after slavery in the 20th century, the blues’ entendre shifts subject; it’s no longer talking about the slave master—they’re talking about sex.”

Jerusalem Benavides, education administration graduate student, said that although lyric-less classical music inspired him to play piano, one of the most influential bands to him was Fleetwood Mac because of their lyrics.

“I think it’s because of the way that they write and tell a story with each song and it’s interesting in their substance behind what they’re talking about, like there’s cool melodies in the music and they know how to write poetry in songs,” Benavides said.

When it came down to pinpointing the kind of mood certain songs and lyrics created for Benavides, the most vivid example of a lyric amplifying a mood he was in, was in a song released this year, “Someone That I Used To Know” by Gotye.

“I was in a bad mood and I happened to hear it on the radio and I was like, ‘oh my God, that’s cool,’ so I listened to it a bunch of times the next day and was like, that’s depressing, so I think it just depends on the mood,” Benavides said.

Alejandra Juarez, a third-year pharmacy student, said that lyrics really affect her the most when they are about heartbreak or about being upbeat and happy and in love, but that genres like rap do not appeal to her because of the vulgarity in them.

“Music doesn’t get me excited. I can relate to it sometimes if it’s a sad song about a heartbreak or about disappointment or just about being happy and in love, so yeah I listen to music I can relate to. I guess that can cheer me up when I’m sad,” Juarez said.

Another student, Alex Fierro, sophomore civil engineering major, said genres like indie, alternative rock, punk and rap all lyrically and musically appeal to him for different reasons.

“I like indie music mainly because it has a good tempo, it can be gloomy or it can be bright, punk rock because it has a lot of energy in it. Rap, I think, is kind of like a modern-day punk rock and is a lot more accessible in what people can make it and voice their opinions through it, make their troubles be known,” Fierro said.

Even with the various purposes of music and lyrics, students may not be getting the full intent of the message songwriters are trying to get across, Siqueiros said. Because people do not try to delve into the meanings of  songs, Siqueiros said he has more reason to do so.

“I think in an age where there is this specific type of sound that people are looking for when they listen to music, and if they don’t hear that sound, then they turn it off or switch to something else, but they’re not listening to the lyrics,” Siqueiros said. “One of the reasons I analyze songs in class is to get people to start thinking, well what is the singer singing about?”

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