Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Music To Write By: The Band Perry's "If I Die Young"

Why Listen? For an unexpected subject; literary heft; a nod to the Romantic poets.

It's easy to hate on The Band Perry's crossover hit "If I Die Young." Though coming from a trio of country musicians, the song's crystalline vocals by lead singer Kimberly Perry betray none of usual twang demanded by the genre, and its mandolin and banjo riffs are decidedly muted. Cynics might conclude that industry suits decided to dial back the "ethnic" flourishes to reach a wider audience, and perhaps they did. "If I Die Young" went quadruple platinum, selling over four million copies. But it would a mistake to dismiss the song out of hand just because of its pop pretensions, because it tackles a subject few popular ditties dare -- premature death.

"If Die Young" opens with the female speaker instructing loved ones about how to dispose of her body, grim subject matter that's sweetened by a honeyed melody. But rather than soothing listeners with carpe diem bromides, it socks them with a stanza full of literary complexity:
And I'll be wearing white when I come into Your kingdom.
I'm as green as the ring on my little cold finger.
I've never known the loving of a man,
But it sure felt nice when he was holding my hand.

There's a boy here in town, says he'll love me forever.
Who would have thought forever could be severed by
The sharp knife of a short life?
Images of transcendence mingle with those of corruption, sex, and violence. It's all exceedingly subtle, communicated through artfully couched metaphors and striking allusions. No wonder Kimberly Perry is clutching a copy of Tennyson as she floats away on the waters to her eternal rest. "If I Die Young" offers a nod to his "In Memoriam A.H.H." and the Romantic poets who came before him, always acknowledging death even in the midst of life.

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