Analyzing songs must be one of the least gratifying tasks, since it is always hard to figure out not only what idea the author tried to get across, but also whether the author’s idea is more important than the interpretation of the audience.
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There are different schools of thought that provide various answers to the given question. Some say that the author’s intent is the only valid interpretation; others claim that, once the work is released, it is open to criticism and can be viewed through the prism of other people’s vision. Hence the ambiguity concerning the “Omie Wise” comes.
Although the issue raised by Anna Domino is not that big, it still offers an interesting introspective into the author’s universe. The very fact that the author chose writing a letter as the means to convey her message to the audience makes the story told in the song of the same name look unbelievably real and, therefore, very touching.
The author, therefore, raises a very peculiar question, asking her audience whether the leading character of a song should be viewed as a unique personality or a generic image. While the latter is easier to relate to, since it allows literally any listener to find a number of points of contact with the image in question, creating a unique character that has individual character traits and, therefore, can be seen as a compelling personality is doubtlessly a much more interesting and definitely more challenging task.
Although a generic character guarantees an instant success of a song, being very relatable, a unique character will help the audience evolve by posing a number of ethical questions and life choices to its audience. Offering a fresh look at the old character, the author of the article stresses the significance of a character that the audience can empathize with.
Another bit of information from The Rose and the Briar that was meant to leave an impression, the story behind “Pretty Polly” narrated by Rennie Sparks also deserves being mentioned as the issue that gives a lot of food for thoughts. As the author claims, the song does not have any motive whatsoever, which begs the question whether a song can exist outside the basic rules of songwriting, such as the need for a clear motive.
On the one hand, the given idea seems completely absurd – being one of the key elements of any song by definition, a motive sets the mood for the song, creates the atmosphere and invites the audience into its realm, not to mention the fact that a motive makes it possible for a band or a musician to play the song. “Pretty Polly,” however, proves the given rule wrong, as Sparks insists, telling about a song “cut from its original epic length to form a lean, mysterious and brutal folk song”.
Described as a song without a motive by the author, it strangely creates an intriguing story canvas, dragging the audience into it and creating images in ones’ head; which is even more interesting, these images transform into pieces of a puzzle that fall into their places as the song unwinds.
The given admittedly unique phenomenon begs the question whether motive is that important for a song. Although traditionally, a motive is supposed to be the glue that holds a song together, in the world of modern music, other elements of a song can perform the given function. For instance, the author of a song can supposedly rely solely on music, leaving the story behind. Thus, the concept of popular music is stretched to reach out to the classical music, in which motive is as complicated as a novel plot.
Domino, Anna. “Naomi Wise, 1807.” In The Rose and the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad, ed. Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus, 69–80, New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2010.
Sparks, Rennie. “Pretty Polly.” In The Rose and the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad, ed. Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus, 35–50, New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2010.
- .Anna Domino, “Naomi Wise, 1807,” In The Rose and the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad, ed. Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2010), 70.
- . Rennie Sparks, “Pretty Polly,” in The Rose and the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad, ed. Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2010): 35.