Arthur Phillips’s 2009 novel, The Song Is You, begins with the following passage:
Billie counted offf the tune and started the pre-refrain verse, with only the piano accompanying . . . and the soldier hoped that Holiday, having sensed that he was diffferent from all the others, was perhaps granting him more than she allowed lesser supplicants. . . . In the lyrics, she was waiting by the water, longing for her lover’s ship to return. She was singing the music he had ached to hear, was singing it to him as if he, soon to head offf by sea to war, was that lover for whom she pined, and this thought vibrated in him like a recently arrived arrow. . . . The applause ebbed away, into foam and then nothing. The tone arm bobbed over the deep black space as it skated toward the label with the two blackbirds perched on telephone lines that become a musical stafff. The whispering ended, the tone arm flew home, the LP stopped turning, and he wept like a child.
This kind of experience, in which listeners feel themselves either to be spoken to or speaking through popular songs, seems to be a common one. It is itself the subject of quite a few pop songs, perhaps most famously Roberta Flack’s 1973 “Killing Me Softly with His Song.” In the lines “he sang as if he knew me in all my dark despair” and “I felt he found my letters and read each one out loud,” the narrator describes sensations first of being spoken to and then being spoken for. In the present work, I explore one axis of musical detail by which such listener experiences are informed and facilitated.
"Disruptive Voices: The Minor Characters of Musical Narrative,"
Narrative Culture: Vol. 2
, Article 4.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/narrative/vol2/iss1/4