Buffi Duberman (@rockyourenglish, ook te vinden op Facebook) deelt haar tips & trucs hoe je je Engelse uitspraak en songteksten verbetert. Eerder zette ze Nederlandse songwriters op hun plek, had het over die altijd lastige 'th'-klank, de V en F in I Lof You Fairy Much, blogde over je songteksten (en nogmaals), ambities, breien (ja, ja...) en gaf je een gratis worksheet. Niet eerder analyseerde ze een bekende hit om te laten zien wat ze nu precies bedoelt. Vandaag doet ze dat aan de hand van Ed Sheeran's The A Team, de populairste track op de Nederlandse radio op dit moment:'I know this song has peaked. I wanted to deal with this lyrically ages ago, but death and surgery kind of got in the way. As a word nerd, someone who lives and dies daily by the sword of the word, this song really struck me as extremely well crafted lyrically, and I devoted a lesson to it recently in Rotterdam. Afterwards, the students told me that although they had known this song for months already, they had a new and deeper appreciation of this song after the lesson. I hope after reading, that you will, too. Indulge me. And remember, I’m a freak.
White lips, pale faceOpening verse – what I like so much about this is that it works on different levels. First words – ‘white lips, pale face’. What do you think about when you hear those words? A ghost? A corpse? Someone scared? Someone cold? Someone very ill? This first line sets the tone eerily for what’s to come. Check the second line – ‘breathing in snowflakes’ works literally – she could be out there in the cold, but it could also be drug related – snorting coke or meth. I love how the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th lines in this verse are all 1 syllable adjectives and 1 syllable nouns. Go back and check (adjectives – white, pale, burnt, sour, etc. and nouns – lips, facer, lungs, taste, etc.). He could have said something like ‘bitter taste’, for example, but that would have killed it, rhythm-wise. These 4 lines sound like gentle, ominous pitter-patter – creating a delicate rhythm that establishes a lyrical pattern for this very powerful opening verse. The remaining 2nd and 5th lines start with ‘breathing’ and ‘struggling’- using a 2 beat gerund (the ING form of the verb, used as the subject of the sentence) to strengthen the visual imagery. And he says everything in the last four words – ‘long nights, strange men’. Aha. Now we know. Crack Whore. When I heard this first verse, I heard a 6 line movie.
Breathing in snowflakes
Burnt lungs, sour taste
Light's gone, day's end
Struggling to pay rent
Long nights, strange men
And they sayGod I love this chorus. Ok. ‘They say’ she’s on the ‘Class A Team’ - just because people say it doesn’t mean that she is (see Adele – from ‘Rumour Has It’). Who is ‘they’? Her Johns? Her friends? Her (former) teachers? Does the A Team refer to her A-levels at school? Maybe she is/was a brilliant student? Or an A-level escort? This could refer to a lot of things, and we have no direct answers. I don’t know exactly where I am, but I’m enjoying the (scary) view. She’s ‘stuck in her daydream’ – most of us have daydreams in order to escape – thinking of better places and times. Her daydream is something, someplace that she can’t shake. She has no escape, and nowhere to go. And her face – ‘sinking, wasting, crumbling like pastries.’ I LOVE that he says ‘pastries’ here. He could have easily said countless other things, and I have to say it’s not often that a woman’s face is compared to a croissant or a brioche, but my god does it work well here. Such a delicate delicacy. And now the best part. Go back to the chorus and check the words again – say these out loud – say, a, daydream, 18, way, lately, wasting, pastries. What do they ALL have in common? The A sound. And what is this song called? The A Team! I commend him on choosing his words to reflect and strengthen the A sound in the chorus. It’s very well crafted, not only for the meaning, but also for the sound. TEAM ED.
She's in the Class A Team
Stuck in her daydream
Been this way since 18
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries
And they screamAnd we go on. In the second line of this second verse he stabs a classic English expression (‘the best things in life are free’), hoists it in the air, forcing us to examine its scabby underbelly. Ben Folds does this brilliantly in Fred Jones, part 2 (‘He’s forgotten but not yet gone’). What can you get for free these days – pain, cold, suffering, illness, loneliness, bad sex (well that one might cost ya…) – but these are the things she’s getting. And there’s no best things to talk about for her. Next line – if you have the ‘upperhand’ in a situation, that means that you are in control. You’re #winning. If you’re just under it, something or someone else is controlling you. In her case, what could it be? Fear? Drugs? Both? Then the next 2 lines are quite literal – what you see is what you get. She flies in a pipe (notice not on it, but in it, it’s her literal means of transport) to the Motherland – what’s that? Is that where she gets TLC? A shoulder to lean on? Back to her family? Again, unanswered questions but intriguing as opposed to isolating. And if it’s ‘too cold for angels to fly’, this works on 2 levels – it’s too cold for the angels to come and save her, and it’s too cold for her, who might just be an angel on the inside, to save herself.
The worst things in life come free to us
Cos we're just under the upperhand
And go mad for a couple of grams
And she don't want to go outside tonight
And in a pipe she flies to the Motherland
Or sells love to another man
It's too cold outside
For angels to fly
Angels to fly
Ripped gloves, raincoatThis is the song that keeps on giving (at least to me). Ok, we have visual imagery here, we see the gloves and the coat, but also a clever water reference – her raincoat is on but it provides no protection – she’s still drowning, and later in the verse we hear that her clothes are still wet. If you try to ‘stay afloat’, then you’re in survival mode. And notice how he writes ‘tried’ to stay afloat and not ‘tries’- this means she’s given up trying. Then Ed shows us the money. She’s exhausted, and poor, and the best ending of this verse possible – so very clever – “call girl, no phone” – if someone is a ”call girl”, then they are an escort, a prostitute, someone you order ‘to go’. But she doesn’t even have a phone herself. Again, he closes the verse by saying it all in 4 carefully chosen words.
Tried to swim and stay afloat
Dry house, wet clothes
Loose change, bank notes
Weary-eyed, dry throat
Call girl, no phone
An angel will die‘An angel will die’ – so is she an angel? Is there no one to save her? And what do you think of when you read “covered in white”? Someone covered in snow (this could be seen as ‘full circle storytelling’- referring to the snowflakes in the opening verse)? Covered in drugs? A corpse? All of the above, methinks. And the “closed eye” could represent society not recognizing her, or her not recognizing her own problems, or no one caring about her personally, or the coroner closing her eyes before he places the white sheet over her – it all works. And now he says ‘we” for the first time in the song. He brings us into it, at the end, when she dies. Is he pointing a finger at us? Is he making us feel responsible, guilty, involved, somehow? When she dies, is she taking a part of us with her? Are we only as strong as the weakest link in the chain? This makes me think. A lot. Probably too much (see? I am a freak). He brings us in when it’s too late to leave. And to me, it works. So, so well. Say the following words from this verse out lout: die, white, eye, life, tonight, line – all with the I sound. Oh, Ed. Sigh.
Covered in white
And hoping for a better life
This time, we'll fade out tonight
Straight down the line
Thank you to my wonderful students for telling me about Ed nearly a year ago. Thank you Ed for inspiring me. And my students. You were born in 1991. When I was your age I was hiding my poems from the world and taking the subway home at 6 am.'
Dankjewel, Buffi. Taart, want het was de tiende!