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The Persistence Of A Good Metaphor

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I guess what I’m referring to is more repetition than persistence, because I don’t want even to suggest that the ultra-trendy pop band Neon Trees is likely familiar with the music of seventies few-hits wonder Walter Egan – though, of course, they might be.

Thing is, some rhymes and the lame analogies they drag with them (“Ev’ry time you call my name/I heat up like a burning flame/Burning flame, full of desire” – etc., etc., thanks a lot, Steve Miller) get trotted out over and over again, almost semiconsciously, by lazy songwriters.  But there are other metaphors that recur, whether the new practitioner knows their antecedents or not, because they are genuinely powerful – as powerful, say, as a strong magnet.

That Was Then

Back in 1978, Walter Egan had a monster hit with what I still think is a great pop song, “Magnet and Steel.”  The lyrics are simple but effective, and the metaphor is reserved for the last line of each chorus – “For you are a magnet, and I am steel.”  I remember that my son, when he was about three years old, figured out what that meant, and he was impressed – rightly so.  It’s a good metaphor.  (And this cracking good song is fun to listen to for fans of pop trivia: that’s Stevie Knicks and Lindsey Buckingham singing harmonies – oh, and Lindsey co-produced the album, too.)

This Is Now

I’m a big fan of the Utah-based Neon Trees, who got their first big break opening for The Killers and who’ve just released their third (and damnably catchy) album Pop Psychology.  On that album, you’ll find the song “Unavoidable,” which pushes Egan’s metaphor a little further, although it’s still relegated to the chorus: “It’s unavoidable, you are a magnet/It’s unavoidable, I’m metallic/Pull me in.”  I still think it’s a good metaphor for love – or at least for what we call (unconsciously employing the same metaphor) “attraction.”  And, more importantly, “Unavoidable” is a terrific pop song.  Check out the basic physics lessons in these videos.


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