Friday, November 21, 2014

The Quest for Forgiveness: Chapter 6, Part 1

Last time, Ethan's trial went decidedly not well. He left prison mentally broken and settled down in a town in Wyoming. But that's enough of how awful his life is, apparently. Back to Brijanna!

The flashback continues from Brijanna's perspective after she was taken away from Ethan. Things go badly for her:
During the trial Janna was taken to a foster home in Phoenix, and her life returned to the way it was before she met Ethan Anderson.
Which I would assume meant she was in an orphanage where she was not allowed to have ropes. It's moderately close: she's bounced from foster family to foster family, including one that abuses her for real but she keeps quiet because she's worried nobody will believe her after the charges she made earlier that she knows were false.

This would be a good point in the story to explain why Brijanna made the false accusations in the first place, but nope. Understanding our character's back story is less important than just telling us life got tough after she lied. And life gets TOUGH.

Apparently every single foster home forbids her from doing just about everything, like playing the guitar, writing songs, or doing extracurricular activities, and they pawn her belongings. Not surprisingly, she chooses to run away right before her fifteenth birthday. She gets a job in a Phoenix diner and lives with anyone who will shelter her. One day, she finds her guitar in a pawn shop, so she buys it and hitchhikes to L.A. to be a famous singer.

She gets another restaurant job and sleeps with anyone who claims they will offer her a record deal, though that never happens, so by the time she's sixteen she's jaded and has decided she's never going to love anyone again.

She leaves L.A. and goes to Nashville instead, changing her name to Brianna. She'll be called Brianna for the rest of the story, so I'm going to return to calling her that as well. She gets a waitressing job but is still homeless. On top of that:
Guilt consumed Brianna day and night . The gnawing fact that she knowingly hurt the one person in her life that cared most about her began to take a toll. Ethan Anderson was never far away in her thoughts.
Well, this is the first I've heard about it in two pages (and two years of Brianna's life). Apparently the guilt wasn't that bad until she was homeless.

Also, again, Rothdiener, now would be a good time to tell us why she did that in the first place...

One day, at work, Brianna starts playing the piano and sings a song she wrote herself. As is the problem with so many Mary Sues who are proclaimed to be The Best at things, hyping it up leads to a lot of disappointment when you actually have to show how awesome it is. Brianna's song is... less than amazing. I mean, it's decent for being written by a 16-year-old, but it's not spectacular. Consider a few tunes written by actual teenagers ("The Man With the Child In His Eyes" by Kate Bush, "Royals" by Lorde, and "Fake Tales of San Francisco" by Arctic Monkeys, to name a few of the more acclaimed ones) and you'll realize the bar is set a little higher than "put some rhyming thoughts together."

Frankly, though, Brianna can't even do that. Her song has has no discernible pattern, with random rhymes and bits that are either verses for a different tune or really really long bridges. These lyrics awe everyone and are later described as "sad, but captivating." Sad I'll give you. Brianna clearly wasn't having a good time while she was writing it. Captivating... the jury's still out on that one.

It's also extremely melodramatic and cliched. It sounds like a worse version of Taylor Swift's early music, and I have yet to hear any adults be complete blown away by the poignancy of Taylor's first album, as everyone seems to be here for Brianna's song in the diner.

In fact, gang, I think we might just have to take up the rest of this blog entry going through her song bit by bit, because the more I look at it to figure out what to comment on, the less I can make sense of it.

So here we go.
I used to sit and watch the sunrise,
Never by myself 
I used to run along the sandy beaches, 
Enjoying the sun 
I used to love without regretting, 
But those days are done
All right, we do have a rhyme here, so kudos to Brianna for that. (We will lose it in Possible Verse #2.) However, that is an awful first line. Watching the sunrise by yourself isn't a terribly melancholy image. In fact, I can think of more movies and books describing a solo sunrise viewing than a group sunrise viewing, and it's nearly always a peaceful image.

The song is quite literal (especially on Possible Verse #2), so I can only assume that that means she really never watched sunrises by herself. Maybe that's why it's especially lonely for her. Because she grew up thinking you just always watch the sunrise in pairs.

(These lyrics, btw, bear a bit of a resemblance to the opening lines of I Dreamed a Dream... except that song is easily 10,000 times better than this one.)
Now I sit and cry all alone, 
Now I walk the streets of this city 
Now I question if love was ever real, 
Before there was rain 
Yes, before there was rain
There is a nice lyrical parallel here between sit/run in the verse and sit/walk here. It's all a little dramatic and over-the-top (though I suppose it does literally describe her life), but it's OK. Note, however, that there's no apparent rhyme here. Because there suddenly will be in Chorus #2. If we thought Chorus #2 was the overall rhyme pattern, this chorus would look like it was trying to rhyme "alone" and "city." But, hey, maybe I'm jumping to conclusions. Maybe those rhyme in a Phoenix accent. Maybe they pronounce "alone" like "aloitty."

Now we expect a second verse, somewhat like the first one in format...
I look to the time of no more heartache, 
I look forward to that time coming 
I remember the time of happiness and love, 
The time I felt a part of life 
A time made just for us 
Now I see that time has ended
I feel no need to remember, 
I feel as if I’m all alone
...What? What is this?

No, seriously, what is this?

At first I thought maybe this was a bridge and she just got bored after writing the first verse/chorus, but there are even more lyrics after this before we head back to anything remotely resembling what we've seen so far. What this song looks like is: "Verse, Chorus, 14 lines from my diary that I haven't bothered to work into the song, Verse, Chorus."

There's no rhyming whatsoever here, aside from internally rhyming "time" with itself six lines in a row. And while I think you can totally do interesting things with repetition like that, you have to do interesting things with it. You can't just insert the word into random places in each line. That just sounds like you took a break after each line, completely forgot what you'd written thus far and thought when you came back, "Oh, hey, I should write something abut time."

And also, what the heck do these words mean?

We have:

  1. Looking forward to a happier time
  2. Looking back to a happier time
  3. There is no time
  4. I don't need to remember things because I'm alone
This is so random. There's no logical progression in these thoughts at all. The first and the second are connected, but there's no reason she'd be jumping from one to the next. The first couple lines sound like they're seguing onto the next section of the song, maybe a hopeful or a desperate "maybe someday will get better" theme... but then that's just completely abandoned in favor of "I DREAMED A DREAM IN TIMES GONE BYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY."

Can I write a super amazing song by just putting the same random word into eight lines that have nothing to do with each other? Because I guess that's all it takes. I think I shall choose the word "eggplant."
Are you there? 
I’m calling to you 
But I just hear silence 
Nothing coming from anywhere 
There is no hope 
Only sorrow
Yup, not sure what to do with this section either. I'd say it's a bridge but the last section might be a bridge since it in no way resembles the rest of the song, so maybe she just has two bridges because putting them together into a third verse was just a ludicrous idea.


That would be the most awesome answer EVER. Verse, chorus, rap with no noticeable rhythm or rhyme, verse, chorus. You could maybe even smooth over that awful "time" section by making it a rap. Maybe.

Also, I think this verse is talking about God? Although, since we never heard Brianna's side of the story about the abuse, we also have zero idea what she thinks of God. In the trial they said she wanted to be Muslim again, but we have no particular reason to think that's true. We don't even know if she still believes in God at all. So who knows what this part is about, really?
What can break me from this pit of despair? 
I used to hold him in the moonlight 
Look deep into his eyes 
See the depths of wonder 
It was a dream I surmise
And here, in Verse #3 (or maybe Verse #2, hadonno), we're suddenly back to rhyming, which is too bad, because if she'd just completely given up on rhyming we maybe wouldn't have lines as awful as "It was a dream I surmise." Seriously, if you don't have to rhyme with "eyes," there's no reason to include that.

This verse is as scattered as the rest of the song. While I've presented the lyrics to you exactly as they are broken up in the book, it's pretty clear that that lyric belongs with the bridge duo beforehand. The rest of the verse is a logical thought -- a simple memory of, uh, apparently holding Ethan in the moonlight and seeing depths of wonder in his eyes, which is a weirdly romantic image given that we as the audience know that Ethan did not develop a creepy romantic relationship with his adopted daughter.

Anyway, the rest of the verse is kind of cohesive. But starting the verse off with "SO MUCH DESPAIR" makes the sudden subject change really jarring. It's like she got distracted mid-sentence: "Ohhhhhh, how will I ever not be despair agai-- Oh, HEY, remember that time I held him in the moonlight?"
Why did you leave me? 
Where did you go? 
Did I ever mean anything to you? 
Or was it all for show? 
Are you there... are you there? 
Before there was rain 
Before there was rain 
Yes, before there was rain
Oh, and there's that sudden rhyme scheme that wasn't in the original chorus. It's fine if songs and poems don't want to rhyme, but rhyme-no rhyme-no-rhyme-no rhyme-rhyme-rhyme is a WEIRD way to do it.

It's also rather difficult to fit into the original chorus' rhythm. You have to smoosh two lines together to make it fit, either "Did I ever mean anything to you or what it all for show" or "Or was it all for show are you there are you there." Either way, it's awkward.

Also, we're back to talking to... maybe God again. Or maybe Ethan. But that'd be stupid, because Ethan left her because she falsely accused him of abuse, and he went to jail, and there's no reason to think his love was all for show. Either way, this song is all over the place. If you read it as a breakup song from a dumpee, it kind of works, especially the romantic imagery -- but the book makes a big deal talking about how Brianna writes from her own experiences, so I have no idea who this is about. Secret boyfriend Rothdiener forgot to tell us about?

So that's Brianna's song. Now let me be clear. This is not an AWFUL song. For being written by someone between the ages of 14 and 16, it's fine. It's clearly coming from her heart. But it is not something that should instantly amaze everyone who hears it. It sounds like it was written by a teenager who doesn't have a deeper understanding of storytelling, metaphor, and lyrical sound.

Note that these sections in the book are broken up by random gushing descriptions of people reacting:

"[The customers] stopped talking [and] listened..."
"Brianna continued her poignant tune..."
"Brianna stunned the patrons with her vocal ability..."
"...awed by the young girl's talent..."
"...mesmerized by Brianna's stage presence..."
"...she continued to enchant the small audience..."

Some of this refers to the voice, melody, and presentation, which, granted, we can't see. But Rothdiener's been gushing all book long about how amazing a lyricist she is, and, um... turns out we can't see that either.

Incidentally, if anyone musically inclined wants to make up a tune for this and record it and try to make it work... I would love to see someone try to straighten this out. Just remember, the melody has to be breathtaking haunting, poignant, and beautiful, according to the book. And it needs to be sung by someone with a voice that is amazing, stunning, awe-inspiring, amazing (again), beautiful, full, the most incredible, and that sends chills down people's arms. Easy peasy.


  1. Oh man! It's too bad I'm away from my piano for a month, or else I would totally try and make a melody as awful as these awful lyrics. It would need a lot of rap breaks to work, I think. A LOT of rap breaks.

    1. If you do decide to tackle this sometime in the future -- even if it's a couple months in the future -- PLEASE let me know. I would seriously love to hear that.