Nobody actually needs a favourite songwriter of course, any more than you need a favourite food or a favourite place. It’s just a convention.
But in the car on the way home last night, listening to a CD of theirs I hadn’t played in years I realised that if I do have a favourite songwriter – one I love to listen to and whom I admire as a writer – it’s not Cohen or Dylan or Simon after all, it’s Brett and Rennie Sparks aka The Handsome Family. The perfect combination of observation and perception AND surreal twists and a refusal to be tied to rhyme and conventional structure. But it all sounds accessible and natural. Here’s the first song I heard by them.
Lyrics (by Rennie Sparks)
I am eating hash browns in the snow white diner
Outside cars are honking, flashing lights on the bridge
They’re pulling a car up from the bottom of the frozen lake
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A woman drove her Saturn into the black water
Killed herself and her two kids trapped in the backseat
She’d lost her job and didn’t want her kids to be poor
The diner is noisy, black coffee and sugar
Baskets of dinner rolls, outside the crowd is growing
Waiting by the drawbridge, hoping to see the dead woman’s face
In the booth next to me there are two old women
Eating liver and onions and they’re laughing too loud
And banging the tabletop, but then I see that they’re deaf
I don’t know why they’re laughing, maybe the world’s much nicer
If you can’t hear the cars
They make me feel better like I’m drunk on a plane
And have forgotten that I’m afraid to fly