David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 219: Paramore (Tell Me How)

January 19, 2023

Apparently my son will save me from complete musical ignorance in my old age.

For Christmas, he got me Paramore's After Laughter. Earlier Paramore music had surreptitiously been downloaded to our computer, but I tended to hit skip when they came on. Needless to say, I was a little surprised when I opened the gift.

Hearing a whole CD of Paramore songs, I finally appreciated a lot of the high energy pop in the songs; still I couldn't say I was swayed from my general "meh" opinion. In my reverse-ageist mind, Hayley Williams was part of an on-going Disney-inspired girl act, starting with Britney Spears and reaching a zenith with Miley Cyrus. With After Laughter, the songs seemed heavily programmed and modern, all fitting to a Disney-controlled world. Admitting to all this embarrasses me. Williams probably shares nothing with Disney, Britney or Miley (that would make a great law firm name). My public disgrace here has been a long way of saying that I was unlikely to listen to them that much.

Until I hit the CD's closing song, "Tell Me How."

The best way to identify the quality of songwriting for any artist is to seek out the songs light on the production, left bare for inspection. That is what "Tell Me How" does, revealing an exquisite song full of intelligence and grace.

Not surprisingly, for me, the hook begins with the lyric moreso than the music. The song title might imply that Williams looks for some kind of standard pop song answer to "tell me how to get over you," the perpetuation of the pining broody narrator (often a man as much as a woman) refusing to believe the relationship is over. Instead the title, and the chorus, invokes to me the concept of mansplaining: "tell me how to feel about you now." For that reason alone, the lyric is brilliantly modern.

The lyrics reveal a rawness that comes out via Williams' vocals: "You may hate me," she sings, "but I can't hate you and I won't replace you." In the second verse, she announces that she is "getting sick of the beginnings and always coming to your defenses." In those verses, her singing seduces in its quietness, a marked difference from the rest of the CD, or even the chorus here.

The song also employs effective echoing effects, especially on the bridge, where the lyrics deploy their greatest attack: "Keep me up with your silence/take me down with your quiet/of all the weapons you fight with/your silence is the most violent." With her echo, Williams voice is a haunting visage winding down what must come "after laughter."

The little bit I have read about the song suggests the lyrics might be about a former bandmate. I hope so, as regardless of the role he once played in the band, this man's silence resonates in the basic keyboard riff, the rumbling drum, and the marimbas. 

Then, as the song fades out, Williams turns to spoken lyric, devastating in its directness:

You don't have to tell me/

If you ever think of me/

I know you see me dancing wildly/

In the fog of your memory/

You don't have to tell me/

I can still believe . . .

And at that, the song slips out with one last round of drum and marimba. And all is silence.

If everything Lincoln gives me between now and the rest of my life has one song this catchy, interesting, and thoughtful, I will be all right, and he will have inherited my crown completely. Wear it proudly, my grasshopper.

Paramore. "Tell Me How." After Laughter. Atlantic, 2017. Link here.

Day 218: The Mamas & The Papas "Monday Monday"

Day 220: REM "Cuyahoga"

See complete list here.