Sunday, October 17, 2010

Deconstructing "Stars Over Avalon"

I've deconstructed my top pick. I may do this for every SpinTunes round, and maybe not... it's a lot of work. I sort of mentally do this for every song, but for the top pick at least, I think it's worth the time.

"Stars Over Avalon" took the top spot in my review alone, which is unsurprising to me. As I mentioned in my previous post, we come at these entries from different directions. And as I mention in my review, this was a perfect storm. As I was driving home to make it to the listening party, it was evening. The stars were coming out as I passed through the town of Adamsburg, SC. It takes exactly 17 seconds to drive through Adamsburg; I know because I had counted it that very night. (Adamsburg is my stock example of the smallest town I know... I joke that the town is so small, the sign says "Welcome to Adamsburg" on both sides. That's untrue, but this is: in days gone by, the "post office" was simply one of the houses. There was a single box on the front porch, with a note that said, "Take your mail. Leave everybody else's"). So I was already in the mood to hear something like that. So I'm going to take a moment to deconstruct the lyrics and explain how it struck me. I'm not trying to convince you of anything; I'm just showing you exactly why it took my top spot. I'm pretty sure Travis has or will write a bio of this song. I haven't read it, so this is what I'm reading into and taking out of the song. I may be adding levels of meaning that Travis never considered or intended. I don't care in the slightest, because that's the way art works; you don't have the artist sitting there to explain to you what he was doing. Your interpretation comes from inside you.

Travis' lyrics were nearly perfect. He didn't just say, "my town's small", he illustrated it. "Driving down the road I just had to laugh. Population 50, there couldn't be half that many souls lying within these so-called city limits."  Here we not only see the diminutive population, we learn that even this paltry number is an exaggeration! The choice of the word "souls" tells us that these aren't just bodies or minds, but people with a spiritual connection, and sets the hook. The "so-called city limits" tells us that we're talking about a town that may not even be deserving of the title by any objective observer. 

"It doesn't take a minute to drive from one side to the other, but you can't judge a place by the ground that it covers." I'm deliberately removing any formatting. These lyrics read as sentences. Travis gives us a statement that emphasizes Avalon's smallness; one that may seem hyperbole, but is no doubt entirely factual, and then prepares us that there is more to this town than we see with our eyes. 

"If the news is a battle we are soldiers far from the fight." This tells us succinctly that no news ever happens here. But beyond that, I think of a battle, and what it symbolizes. Not so much modern, mechanized warfare, but old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat. It's cacophony. It's constant confusion. It's dangerous: If you're not on your toes every second, ready to adapt to constant change, you will not survive. This lyric is descriptive shorthand of the world at large... everywhere but here. Avalon is none of that.

"At least we can look up and see stars at night." This is what the word "souls" set you up for. The lyric implies a connection to the heavens, and by extension, to Heaven. This contrasts with the imagery from the previous line, and "at least..." tells us that those other people in other places in the news don't even see the stars much less feel the connection. 

"Drifting past the place I wrote songs with my band, I remember things I learned I still don't understand: streetlights shining off the gravel of quiet streets where no cars travel; empty buildings, the cemetery, forgotten founders and secrets buried." This verse gives us some biographical information. This is important, because the facts of the place are just facts. Travis goes beyond the what and the where to give us the how and the why. How is he connected this place, and why does that connection persist? We learn here that this is a place of his past; hence the past tense. We learn that his musical passion was born here. And then we're treated to exquisite imagery set within the context that this locale contains some profound lesson that lies just beyond reason. All of the imagery here harkens back to the first verse where we learned that "Population 50" was an exaggeration. There are more people buried here than survive, and this continues to be driven home in the bridge. "Secrets buried" conjures allusions to lost wisdom, and the verse gives us a general sense of decline, explaining why this is a place of the past. 

"This town has lived longer than I ever will, with all of its people come and gone. Somehow no matter where I've been, or what I've seen, I still miss the stars over Avalon." Here's the bridge, and the line that is the emotional hook, "...I still miss the stars over Avalon." with it's multiple layers of meaning. We know here that the singer is no longer there, permanently. 

"And it's quiet but for sounds that we make ourselves, you see. It's not so bad as long as you can stand your own company. For what we might lack in artificial light, at least we can look up and see stars at night" This, to me, is the weakest verse, as the profundities have already been stated. Still, it adds value structurally -- we need a verse after the bridge -- and brings something new to the table: the perspective of someone who has left for the wider world and returned for a visit. In a moment like that, you realize how much you have changed in the interim. The almost apologetic phrasing illustrates this well. Though this interpretation is bolstered by the 30-second instrumental which immediately precedes it, the verse is weak because this has to be inferred; without the inference it would appear to be an unwarranted change of verb tense. I argue that it's not unwarranted at all.

Taken as a whole, the lyrics really put me in the town of Avalon. The music set the twilight mood perfectly. On repeated listenings this is still my top pick of the round. Of course, it doesn't follow that this is the sort of thing I want to listen to every round, but for this challenge and this town it works.


Travis "GD" Norris said...

All true! ;) I am indeed working on a bio which might fill in a few gaps. But honestly there aren't many.

Bram Tant said...

Gives you chills to think about it. Great job, Travis.

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