Wow! I just finished reading Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” last night. There is a reason why I like Vonnegut so much, and I just remembered why after I got done reading this. In a lot of ways he writes prose the way a good lyricist writes lyrics. As a lyricist you have to be succinct, completely uncluttered, and you have to get the maximum amount of information and imagery in as few words as possible. The great lyricists can do this all while presenting a rich and colorful view of the subject they are writing about.
Look at Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics to The Miller’s Son - (which is linked here). Well, for starters the alliterations and rhymes in this song are typically genius Sondheim, but read into the picture of this person that is singing this song! Petra gets one song in all of “A Little Night Music” and this is ALL she needs; you learn everything you need to know about her in this one number.
Vonnegut has a very similar way of dealing with characters in his books. Just like Sondheim, Vonnegut can give a very detailed description of many of his characters in a single page or two. Many times they’re merely there to serve the moment, but he never gives up on them. Everybody has an interesting story, an interesting take on things, a unique... color if you will.
This is usually considered an “anti-war” book (and I’m intentionally using quotes here), but really Vonnegut just lays out a story about a guy (Billy Pilgrim) that was in the middle of the worst bombing of any city in the history of forever and he survived. It’s Billy’s fascinating outlook on life before, during and after that event that is so intriguing. Vonnegut makes the correct assumption that duh, of course everybody is anti-war. Who would ever say that they are pro-war? But he hands you a bite sized description of those events and says, “Ok, this is what happened, do with this information as you will.” Hence the three words that he repeats faithfully throughout the book upon describing someone’s death (no matter how they died), “So it goes.”
Anyway, I could go on and on in analysis of this book, but the bottom line is that you should go read this book... like now. It’s possible you’ve read it in High School, (so did I), no... that doesn’t count, read it again.
I’ve got a ton of song ideas jotted down from this book. Probably more than from any other book thus far. The tricky thing is that every one of those ideas seems like a mountain to climb in terms of fleshing it out into a song. This is gonna’ be a tough one to wrap my head around, but I’m psyched for the challenge.