Greater than the sum of its parts

I’ve been rediscovering my love for the slower songs of Incubus. How did I forget how great these songs are? I listened to “Here in My Room” on repeat all the way home from work on Wednesday, and it consistently gave me goosebumps in the same couple of moments.

Listen — I get chills at -3:20 and -1:42.*

This party is old and uninviting
Participants all in black and white
You enter in full blown Technicolor
Nothing is the same after tonight

If the world were to fall apart
In a fiction-worthy wind
I wouldn’t change a thing now that you’re here

Earlier this week I felt the same frissons of excitement listening to “Wish You Were Here”:

I dig my toes into the sand
The ocean looks like a thousand diamonds strewn across a blue blanket
I lean into the wind,
Pretend that I am weightless,
And in this moment I am happy… happy.

“Wish You Were Here” got me thinking about how good songs and comics are a lot alike, in that in both forms, the words can be evocative without having to tell a full story. Good lyrics or comics text still have to be precise, like all good writing, but they can get away with less than, say, prose or poetry, because there’s another form of expression there to fill in the blanks (or at least make them more interesting): the music, or the images.

The above lyrics won’t win any poetry contests, but as lyrics they’re pretty breathtaking when set to the right music. It’s the same for comics. There isn’t a whole lot of punch to “I feel sad. And alone. No one can help me.” But give these words some images (even as sketchy and badly scanned as these are), and they take on a different resonance:

2008 July - Sadcomic for journal

Like the mood, tempo, and other aspects of the music in a song, the images in a comic help tell a new part of the story that is not always contained within the words alone. Moreover, because our brains take in words differently than they do music or pictures, we also process their story differently than we do the story the text tells us. So listening to music and lyrics, or reading a comic, gives us a multilayered experience we don’t get with words alone.**

*Erik, Ying and I had an in-car listening party for this song Wednesday night and we all got chills. Erik is awesome, because he analyzed while he listened and offered several explanations for the chills, including flanging (which I noticed after he pointed it out, but would never had picked up on my own).

**Of course, the power of words is that no one is telling you what music to hear or pictures to see or scents to smell or flavors to taste or emotions to feel while you are reading. So I’m not saying anything against that!

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at]