Top ten Decemberists lyrics, as picked by a word nerd


Colin Meloy of the Decemberists singing
Colin Meloy of The Decemberists performs in The Current studio, 2015 (Nate Ryan/MPR)

The term "nerd" is so broad today. It's no longer limited to the archetypal underdeveloped adolescent with taped thick-rimmed glasses sporting a pocket protector. Nerds are less noticeable these days. They blend into society. A nerd is intelligent and single-minded — one might say obsessed — with a pursuit. I am a nerd, a word nerd. Finding art in language makes me swoon and coo and giggle with delight.

I'm also a music nerd. Last year I went to Northrop to my first Decemberists show, unfamiliar with the group's music. Little did I know that my twin passions were about to be combined in a way that provoked emotion, thought, and awe. The moment that Colin Meloy opened his mouth and began to sing it was like being in a tornado, unsure where we would land.

Using words like debonair, penitent, cormorants, purloined, eunuchs, and sibylline, Meloy had my lit-major heart at hello. He can weave a tale like Chaucer or Shakespeare, with music as underpinning. I've rarely heard an artist who can inspire such a multi-level emotional response.

How could I have not known about this band? Even their name intrigues me. What is a Decemberist? When I learned they were rebels who led a revolt in the era of Constantine, all of my geeky lit fibers were firing. I listened to every Decemberists album over and over, and absorbed as much as I could.

Recently, I travelled to Chicago to see the band perform again. Wedged between historic Buckingham Fountain and Lake Michigan with the buildings of the Chicago skyline peeking over the trees, lots of fedoras and thick-rimmed glasses filled the seats at the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park. The like-minded logophiles anxiously awaited, and one by one the band walked on stage. The Decemberists had arrived. This was exactly where I wanted to be: a mecca of words and music.

This second time seeing the band was just as magnificent as the first. This time, I was familiar with the lyrics and melodies. When you read a poem or novel more than once, it changes. It's similar with music. I was entranced by a 70-year-old organ, a steel guitar named Kate, and of course the accordion. Meloy interacted on a personal level with the audience and with the other members of the band.

Though Meloy is the frontman, the band's music is clearly a collaborative effort. Meloy, the sets each track up with his poetry while Jenny Conlee, Chris Funk, John Moen, and Nate Query complete the piece with their musical and vocal contributions. Their stories and images, album after album, leave this word nerd quite content.

Meloy is a true poet. Although I wanted to include every song from every album, here are my ten very favorite lyrics. Read them, but also listen to the songs.

"I Don't Mind," 5 Songs

King George in imperial robe
and a lazy eye
knelt down as the semaphore broke
on his tawdry bride
But we don't know why he got
all stressed out on the motherland
With his T.V. sets and his fighter jets
and the royal ubiquitous handycam

"Los Angeles, I'm Yours," Her Majesty

There is a city by the sea
A gentle company
I don't suppose you want to
And as it tells its sorry tale
In harrowing detail
Its hollowness will haunt you
Its streets and boulevards
Orphans and oligarchs it hears
A plaintive melody
Truncated symphony
An ocean's garbled vomit on the shore,
Los Angeles, I'm yours

"The Infanta," Picaresque

And as she sits upon her place
Her innocence laid on her face
From all atop the parapets blow a multitude of coronets
Melodies rhapsodical and fair
And all our hearts afire
The sky ablaze with cannon fire
We all raise our voices to the air

"Summersong," The Crane Wife

Waylay the din of the day
Boats bobbing in the blue of the bay
In deep far beneath all the dead sailors
Slowly slipping to sleep

"The Crane Wife 1 & 2," The Crane Wife

It was a white crane
It was a helpless thing
Upon a red stain
With an arrow its wing
And it called and cried

"The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)," The Hazards of Love

And we'll lie 'til the Corn Crake crows
Bereft of the weight of our summer clothes
And I'd wager all

The hazards of love

"Calamity Song," The King is Dead

Hetty Green
Queen of supply-side bonhomie bone-drab
You know what I mean
On the road
It's well advised that you follow your own bag
In the year of the chewable Ambien tab

"The Wrong Year," What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

Sing me some eidolon
And I'll sleep all the winter long
Till then I can only be
Nobody's gonna intervene

"Anti-Summer Song," What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

Too little, too late
Everybody gotta medicate
Through the winter when the winter comes down
And all the city comes to hanging 'round

"Why Would I Now?," Flora Songs

But I will never be your familiar soul
and I will never see your interior whole
But have I ever stood back and watched you fall?
Ditched your call? Cut you, bend around?
Why would I now?

Aside from being a word nerd, Sarah Eldred works in the development department at MPR and shares an equal passion for music, dogs, and tacos.

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