Songs are written and characters are birthed. And just like in your world, these characters go on to live full lives in their own space. Filled with cities, communities and households just like yours, some of these characters go on to live well beyond the verse-chorus-verse that penetrates your eardrums.
Everyone is here: lovers, drunks, heroes, workers, politicians, naysayers, vagabonds, and lots of folks just working to make it to the next paycheck. Maybe their ship will come in and they’ll be called up for another song. In their world, it doesn’t matter how well the track does on the charts. It doesn’t matter if it’s buried deep on an album or climbing the top 10. It only matters that it exists, because that’s how they exist.
We’ve also got villains. Bad guys and bad girls who have found a romantic life among songs. Whether it be outlaws or murderers, these personalities have had plenty of airtime in music’s deep catalog. And just like where you live, that’s a problem here. And we’re doing our part to help. We’re part of a task force, like your police, that tries to apprehend these miscreants. To wipe them from the written page and the anthems that tell their tale.
Our No. 1 most wanted is a fella who’s been eluding us since the early 1940s. We don’t know much of his background, but Tom was first noticed in the song “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me).” An apparently jealous person who had fallen in love with a neighboring female, his threat made evident in the song’s title suggested that if he couldn’t have the girl he so desperately wanted, no one could.
Unfortunately, the Andrew Sisters hadn’t a clue what they had just helped create. While they assumed they were singing the sweet tale of a soldier leaving for WWII duty, promising and asking his stateside love for commitment while he was absent, one of the darkest criminals in music history was secretly getting his start.
The jealousy shot through Tom like lightning, and, within weeks, he was given the opportunity to act. It was 1941, and The Ink Spots were enjoying their third year on the charts. Everything had been innocent love within their lyrics till that point, but then came “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.” On the second line of the ballad, Tom became a murderer.
I just want to set a flame in your heart.
The gory details aren’t fit to reprint here, but you can imagine the dark road taken. For years after, Tom would pop up with seemingly innocent crooners and soul singers, but he was always one step ahead of us. We thought he had finally vanished, forgotten and unimportant to new writers, but by the ’80s, he arrived again. This time, he was even taunting us.
It was 1983 and Tom decided, of all bands to appear with, that a song by The Police would be his return. What was once a mantra to “protect and serve” was now a vehicle for prey. “Every Breath You Take” allowed our Tom to become The Peeper in the most threatening way, finally making his next big move in 1984’s “I’m On Fire.”
Hey, little girl, is your daddy home? Has he gone and left you all alone? I got a bad desire.
The taste of young blood satisfied him for the remaining decade, but by 1996, that old monster was rustling inside of him. It was the Dave Matthews Band’s biggest song, “Crash Into Me,” when he let his freak flag fly high once more.
I watch you there through the window and I stare at you. You wear nothing but you wear it so well. Tied up and twisted … Into your heart, I’ll beat again.
It had come full circle for the demons inside Tom, a musical terrorist too slippery to catch, one who still prowls throughout this melodic world. It’s only within our power to do so much, for new songs are written every day. Some, even in their blindness, can produce the scariest results. We can only hope that the good guys are heroic, or that we can beat the worst ones to the bridge.
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.