Ballad Of Love And Hate

I don’t listen to much music anymore.  Oh, I’m forced to endure a fair amount of Hannah Montana, Veggie Tales and High School Musical, but nothing for grown-ups.  With kids came chicken nugget shrapnel and goldfish crumbs in the floor of the van and forfeiting control of its radio.

But on the road?  That rental car is all mine.  And Ben’s.  Ben has no children. (No, Ben, dogs aren’t children. No opposable thumbs. Your radio is safe.) Luckily, Ben has great taste in tunes and he likes to share.  If I’m even close to musically current, it’s Ben’s doing.

This weekend he introduced me to The Avett Brothers; alt-folk-bluegrass with incredibly clever lyrics.

My favorite song of theirs so far is The Ballad Of Love And Hate. The lyric is so well crafted that you don’t notice just how well at first – like a figure skater or painter so skilled that while watching them do their thing you forget their thing takes talent and practice, and that very few can do it.  Here it is live and a little on the slow side:

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And here’s the lyric with a few songwriting notes of my own in parentheses:

Love writes a letter and sends it to Hate. (Personification of Love and Hate’s been done before. Will this be anything new?)
“My vacations ending. I’m coming home late. (Non-linear story-telling. Picking up at the end of the vacation creates interest: why and where?)
The weather was fine and the ocean was great (just enough detail, not too much)
and I can’t wait to see you again.” (Surprise: Love is in a relationship with Hate.)

Hate reads the letter and throws it away. (Hate’s verses are one sentence per line, short , punchy, blunt…like Hate)
“No one here cares if you go or you stay. (Hate exaggerates.)
I barely even noticed that you were away. (Hate lies to himself.)
I’ll see you or I won’t, whatever.” (Relatable. I know the sort Hate is. I’ve known folks like that.)

Love sings a song as she sails through the sky. (Hate is grounded. Love floats. Clever, subtle contrast.)
The water looks bluer through her pretty eyes. (Internal rhyme: bluer/through her)
And everyone knows it whenever she flies,
and also when she comes down.

Hate keeps his head up and walks through the street.
Every stranger and drifter he greets.
And shakes hands with every loner he meets
(“Misery loves company” and “birds of feather” comes to mind. Old idea in new words.)
with a serious look on his face.

Love arrives safely with suitcase in tow
Carrying with her the good things we know:
A reason to live and a reason to grow,
To trust, to hold, to care.
(Could have ended the metaphor and preached to us about the attributes of love, but the metaphor continues…more showing, not telling.)

Hate sits alone on the hood of his car (Enough detail to picture the scene in my mind.)
Without much regard to the moon or the stars (Shows self-absorption, indifference, boredom – without telling us Hate is any of these.)
Lazily killing the last of a jar (Could have said moonshine but alluded instead with the “jar.” Could have said “drinking” but “killing” is much more aggressive and emotive.)
of the strongest stuff you can drink. (Allusion without too much detail again.)

Love takes a taxi, a young man drives. (Text painting: the melody changes on “man drives” to illustrate movement, travel.)
As soon as he sees her, hope fills his eyes.
But tears follow after, at the end of the ride,
cause he might never see her again.
(Illustrates the duality of love: joy and pain – instead of telling us about it.)

Hate gets home lucky to still be alive. (Instead of saying Hate’s drunk, this verse shows us.)
He screams o’er the sidewalk and into the drive.
The clock in the kitchen says 2:55,
And the clock in the kitchen is slow.
(Maybe this illustrates Hate’s apathy: He hasn’t fixed the clock. Also, Hate claims not to miss Love or care about her return but yet he’s watching the clock.  He’s in denial, lying, torn, but all that’s described in two efficient lines.)

Love has been waiting, patient and kind, (More text painting: “waiting” through “patient” is slowed down.)
Just wanting a phone call or some kind of sign,
That the one that she cares for, who’s out of his mind,
Will make it back safe to her arms.
(Love, in contrast to Hate’s last verse, is concerned. Love’s verses tend to be more complicated, poetic, less to-the point. Commas at the end of each line, not periods. Is this intentional?)

Hate stumbles forward and leans in the door, (Text painting: the rhythm changes, rushes the front half of the line, stumbles.)
Weary head hung down, eyes to the floor.
He says “Love, I’m sorry”, and she says, “What for? (Beautiful.  You could preach this line. All that rudeness and indifference and waiting and still Love says “What for?” That kills me.)
I’m yours and that’s it, whatever. (Clever.  Love re-uses Hates catch-phrase “whatever” (a kind of hook for the song) but with a new positive and profound meaning)

“I should not have been gone for so long.”
“I’m yours and that’s it, forever.”
“You’re mine and that’s it, forever.”
(“Whatever” is replaced with “forever” so I’d like to think Hate is speaking here – though it’s not clear – because he was changed in the end, admitting he cared and giving himself to Love like Love gave herself to him. But it could be that Love is speaking here and she’s reaffirming her commitment to Hate who feels ashamed.  Either way: beautiful.)