I’m Pushing an Elephant up the Stairs

As many of you know I’m a music fiend, but more accurately a lyric hound. I sniff lyrics out. I delve into them. I immerse myself in lyrics in the same way that I sink into a luscious hot bubble bath at the close of a day.

I just can’t relate when people (okay – I’m naming and shaming my husband here)  say  “I never really listen to the lyrics.”

Really?!  That’s blasphemy to me – like watching Downton Abbey on mute. You miss out on so much of the juicy, nuanced loveliness of the experience.

If you’ve read ‘Playing Along’ then you’ll be familiar with, George, my sweet lead who is a musician and a songwriter.

I believe all characters are a synthesis of fragments  –  actual reflections of the author’s psyche blended with imagined realities. George is part of me. The part of me that loves lyrics. He is the writer in me. The side of myself that doesn’t always like to be ‘looked’ at directly, but attempts to be ‘seen’ through words, and in George’s case – words and music.

This morning while on the school run an old REM song came on the radio. I marvel at how I can’t recall algebraic equations or historical facts from my Freshman year of high school, but throw on an 80’s dance party mix and I have every word to every song committed to memory.

Think of how many lyrics we each have stored in our brains, only for them to arrive promptly on instant recall when the melody releases the trigger. It’s pretty amazing. Perhaps all school lessons should be a collaboration with Duran Duran or One Direction?

But I digress… back to the REM song :

I’m pushing an elephant up the stairs. I’m tossing out punchlines that were never there. Over my shoulder, a piano falls. Crashing to the ground

A gift really, those words. I sang along, remembering what those lines meant to me when I first heard them, but also deriving new meaning in the present moment.

“I’m pushing an elephant up the stairs”  sums up much of the creative process. My daily tackle with writing a second novel – confronting the blocks that rear their ungainly heads, yet remaining determined to convince that elephant to cooperate.

“I’m tossing up punchlines that were never there”  calls to mind how I grapple with writing these blog posts, wondering if what I have to say and how I articulate it still holds interest.

“Over my shoulder, a piano falls, crashing to the ground”  for sure means something to my middle schooler sitting next to me in the car, juggling a pre -adolescent world that is out of her control, loud and unpredictable.

I was so relieved to hear those lyrics and syphon from them the empathy the songwriter wasn’t even aware he was offering. Thank you Mr Stipe.

Songwriting is cathartic – not only for the artist but for the recipient.  Songs are like potent microscopic therapy sessions. Offered for free. Always accessible.  Soulful mirrors. There for the taking.  But most importantly, there for the listening…

On a side note, I am thrilled to be featured as the guest poet this week on Samantha Reynolds’ gorgeous site www.bentlilly.com. Samantha writes a poem a day and hosts one guest each week. Click HERE to read my ‘Creative Diagnosis’.


Share your favorite song lyric. Reflect on how the meaning has changed for you over the years. Take ten minutes to write about the impact music has in your life.


Are you writing fiction? Tell me your experience of integrating aspects of self into your characters. I’m always curious – let me know!

5 Responses to “I’m Pushing an Elephant up the Stairs”

  1. Melissa
    February 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    Ah – what a great post! Song lyrics – In my fantasy life, I’m a guest on Desert Island Discs (I’m not sure what I’ve done of note, but nevermind) and I think of my top discs. How about Safety Dance – from Men Without Hats. ‘You can dance if you want to, you can leave your friends behind….’The lyrics I most love, though, are almost every single song on Nanci Griffiths ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms,’ – especially Dylan’s ‘Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather’, and ‘Morning Song for Sally’. I loved ‘Morning Song for Sally’ when I first heard it from the first boy who really really broke my heart – and the song was so prophetic. I still love it, but for different reasons – it gets different layers of nostalgia and bittersweetness over the years. When I put that disc on, my husband always moans that it’s country music, but I ignore him and sing louder. Anyway, it’s folk. By the way, regarding your blog, the punchlines are definitely there, and I’m doing my best to catch them. 🙂

    p.s. I like REM, too, but don’t know which song those lyrics are from. Nightswimming – ah, there’s another good one!

    • Rory Green
      February 1, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

      Melissa – I love that Nancy Griffiths album too. One of my favorite songs by her is called ‘The Flyer’ – maybe from another album but tells the story of an unexpected encounter – simply dreamy! ‘Safety Dance’ was another 80’s classic which I have embedded in my memory! The list is endless…

  2. Maureen
    February 1, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    Love this post! I’m so glad I found you through Bentlily the other day. Yes, me too about the lyrics — they are THE best part of the song. There are so many lyrics I’ve been crazy about, I’ll have to put some thought into what my favorite is. Probably something from Billy Joel. That man’s a creative genius.

    Speaking of Billy Joel, here’s one of my favorites (I love these lyrics because of the crisp and vivid picture they paint):

    “And the piano it sounds like a carnival … and the microphone smells like a beer … and they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar and say ‘Man what are you doing here?'”

    I remember loving the lyrics from James Taylor’s “Secret of Life.” And Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender.” Tons more favorites from Billy Joel…. and a good handful from Jimmy Bufffet (yes, closet Parrrott Head here).

    On another note unrelated to good lyrics — me too on knowing every word to every 80s song!. They are ringing in my ears now: “I’ll stop the world, I’ll melt with you” … “And I ran, I ran so far away…” ” Rock the Casbah, ROCK the Casbah…” “BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE!”

    And if that’s not embarrassing enough, I actually remember this:

    “Jenny I’ve got your number, I want make you mine, Jenny, don’t change your number — 8-6-7-5-3-0-9-(eee-Ine)” .

    I can’t believe I actually remember that number. I’m drawing a blank on one about dancing — the guy sings his name which is weird and then there’s a line about dancing with (his name).

    Well I’m having a ball over here, but in the meantime I’m overloading your comments! Thanks for the fun post. I might be back when my head clears from the 80s songs, and I can pinpoint some all-time fave lyrics!

    • Rory Green
      February 1, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

      Hi Maureen – great to see you here! I’m enjoying the randomness of your playlist! Billy Joel was also one of the first songwriters I fell in love with when I was about 9 – my mum used to always play his music and I was enthralled by the storytelling. Talking Heads, Flock of Seagulls, Modern English… all bring back wonderful memories. I’m singing along with you!

  3. mady
    February 3, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

    Hi Rory,
    I loved this post! Have you been on Tunewiki? It’s my husband’s app — a social networking site around, believe it or not, lyrics! It’s what immediately came to mind when I read this blog today. See you soon!!

Leave a Reply