by Paul C. Binotto
Categories and fields of professional writing are wide and varied, and can even encompass lyric writing.
The most successful professional writer’s will closely adhere in their writing, even if unwittingly so, to a variation of the time-tested classic “Schramm’s Model” shown below, that diagrams the quintessential formula for all professional communication.
Undeniably, The Beatles are among the most successful musical groups in Rock n Roll history; and their songs have held up to the test of time as classic hits. Much of that success can unquestionably be attributed to John Lennon’s interesting, even bizarre, lyrical constructions.
Stephen Holden writes for Rolling Stone, “John Lennon’s unique sense of humor and intellectual keenness quickly revealed themselves, and his love of wordplay, puns and storybook nonsense became one of the Beatles’ most cherished traits.” *
Indeed, this King of the Crypto-lyric has strung together
some of the most distinguishable, dissected, and debated lines in rock n roll
history that fifty years later, still capture the imaginations of amateur word-sleuths
and trivia buffs.
But, just how well do they hold up to the Communication Model?
Certainly, all the elements of the model are present: Senders and receivers, encoding and channels proper to the message’s purpose, character, and receiver. We may also turn to William Zinsser’s definitive book on writing familiar to generations of writers,
On Writing Well, to help us in our critique of Lennon’s lyrics. If as William Zinsser states, “[t]he race in writing is not to the swift but to the original”**, lyrics such as, “I am the walrus, Goo goo g’joob”, “looking through a glass onion”, and “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall”, has Lennon finishing far ahead of his peers.
But just how clear and concise did he communicate his ideas? Are his lyrics, “flabby”, or “empty”, “cliché” laden; their verbs “buried” in “wordy noun expressions”?*** Is “Penny Lane” clean, as “a clean machine” or simply, “very strange”? Is Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” free of Zinsser’s, “weeds”, or is “[m]isunderstanding all you see” in it after reading Chapters 2 and 3 of On Writing Well? The lyrics unquestionably succeed in “rhythm and alliteration” in the way he considers, in Chapter 6, “vital” to good writing.
Lyric writing, therefore, is neither an exception to the rule and model of communication, nor is it an oxymoron, beyond testing for “high volume/low noise”.
A fun exercise would be to sit down with copies of famous Beatle lyrics, to practice putting “brackets around every component…that wasn’t doing useful work.”, as Zinsser would do with his students writing exercises. Or, try to revise each line for clarity and concision.
Did Lennon always communicate well based on the model – I think his greatest fans would likely answer, “Yes”. I would say, it’s a matter in need of more debate. However, few would debate, unless maybe you’re another John Lennon, most success in writing comes to the writer who can write with clarity and concision – even song lyrics.
*“Lennon’s Music: A Range of Genius”, by Stephen Holden Rolling Stone Magazine, December 7, 2010, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/lennons-music-a-range-of-genius-246059/
**Zinsser, William. On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction (Ch. 2, 3, & 6, including p.15, 34 & 35). Harper Perennial. Kindle Edition.
***PWR601, Introduction to Professional Writing, Week 2 Lecture, “Genres and Simplicity” – Jenna Wandrisco-Trushel (Chatham University)
Song & lyrics in order quoted: “I Am the Walrus”, “Glass Onion”, “A Day in the Life”, “Penny Lane”, and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, all John Lennon / Paul McCartney lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC cent 5; \