Micro to the Macro: What’s Your Favorite Song Lyric

Posted on November 6, 2009


Many moons ago, I posted my favorite single line of song lyric and asked people to share theirs. Now we move from the micro to the macro! My question: what is your favorite song lyric?

To clarify: I’m not asking for your favorite song necessarily but what song you think has the best lyrics considered as a whole — as opposed to a line or two from the song. For example, the music might be total ass but all the words taken together could be awesome.

I choo, choose Suzanne by Leonard Cohen

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she’s half crazy
But that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you’ve always been her lover

And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said “All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them”
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone

And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with his mind.

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror

And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.

Why do I admire these lyrics? I love when art is both personal and universal, subverts and re-articulates our expectations and conventions, and uses structure to convey or support meaning. All of this happens in these lyrics.

At the beginning, this song seems to be a poignant but quirky love song. By the end, it subverts that expectation and, at the same time, the cultural trope that man equals mind and woman equals body.

It does this with a beautiful revisioning of the Jesus narrative: arguably, the most important account of the union of body and spirit in Western culture.

Structurally, the Jesus stanza operates in this song the same way Jesus himself is meant to operate in human history: as the bridge between body and spirit and as the vehicle to a new covenant with God.

Furthermore, the comparison with Jesus transforms Suzanne from a crazy-woman-novelty-fuck into a quasi-prophet-soulmate. This in itself is a commentary on how men and women come to love each other.

Ack. If I start parsing individual lines,  I could go on and on. So I will stop here.

Please, what is your favorite complete set of lyrics and why? Please post the lyrics in question as well

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Posted in: My Life