The Power of Language, the story behind Marc Cohn and Michael Silverstone’s song “Live Out the String”

The Power of Language

Poetry is one of the only situations when language is scrutinized for more than meaning.  The sound and juxtaposition of words matter, as well as the magical combination of words.  In poems, words have a kind of power and resonance that they don’t necessarily have in another context.  There is something enormously satisfying about the way poets find just the right words to describe powerful truths.  This is part of the inherent joy in reading a poem.

I was reminded of this power quite recently, in a very unexpected way.  It happened in a song.  Song lyrics are like poetry, and some songs quite literally are poems.  The song is called “Live Out the String,” and it was written by singer/song writer Marc Cohn and my friend Michael Silverstone. The origins of the song are poetic and embody the power of language in ways that warrant explanation.

It all begins with a powerful friendship forged by a creative bond. Both Michael and Marc went to high school together in Ohio, where they played in the same garage band.  The both attended Oberlin College, where they were roommates.  They continued to play in a band together.  They both wrote songs.  After college they went their separate ways.  Marc stuck with music and Michael pursued writing. Michael and I worked together in publishing in New York when we were in our 30s.  We have been friends ever since then. Michael is the author of 6 books.  Marc Cohen became a nationally known Grammy Award winning singer/song writer (“Walking In Memphis.”)

But life took an unexpected turn for Marc Cohn when he was shot in the head in Colorado during an attempted car-jacking in 2005.  He survived the ordeal, and in the days and weeks that followed he received get well wishes from countless friends and fans.  He says that Michael had always been his most supportive friend in terms of his career, so it is no surprise that in a time of crisis Michael sent Marc an e-mail that was the most moving of all the notes Marc received.  In subsequent interviews Cohn praised the poetic quality of the language and the meaning of Michael’s message.  Here are some samples of passages that found their way into the song “Live Out the String” :

Who knows if we have angels on our shoulder right now with the devil in the street who knows if it means we got more work to do Hey baby don’t the air taste sweet and just when a meteorite has fallen in the chair when you got up from to answer the phone will you live every moment like it just might be the last…..

“The inspiration came from specific found art that is now in the song,” Michael explained, “Each word had a reason for being there.  Marc turned what he felt was the essence of what he got from this note into a song using phrases, but repeating certain ones, (such as “live out the string” and “sometimes you have to get down on your knees”) putting them into a different order, and putting himself into it, and making that personal to him.” The song literally opens with lines Michael wrote to Marc, “Maybe life is curious to see what you would do/With the gift of being left alive.”  Michael wanted to articulate the unique possibility Mark had to cherish and celebrate life in ways he possibly hadn’t considered.

We all wish that it didn’t take a crisis or near-death experience to fully appreciate our lives, but that is the gift we are given sometimes.  A song or poem that articulates such appreciation is a way to make us all count our blessings.  “Live Out the String” is Marc and Michael’s gift to us.

 

Live Out the String

Maybe life is curious to see what you would do
With the gift of being left alive
How love, how give
Spread the higher purpose
And cut through all the shuck and jive
It’s only natural, maybe superstitious
To try and find the meaning in beating the odds
Cause sometimes you gotta (get down on your knees)
Sometime (could you get down on your knees)
Sometimes baby (maybe get down on your knees)
And thank the whole wide universe of God’s for letting you…

Live out the string
A little longer boy
Raise your voice and make a joyful noise
Ain’t no guarantee of anything
Live out the string

Now that a meteorite has fallen in the chair
You just got up to answer the phone
Will you live every moment like it just might be the last
Or will you still just bitch and moan
Fate is kind, fate is cruel, fate is terminally cool
It’s a random interruption in the middle of your groove
But sometime (won’t you get down on your knees)
Sometime (get down on your knees)
Sometimes baby (better get down on your knees)
And find yourself a deeper groove, yeah…

Live out the string
A little longer boy
Raise your voice and make a joyful noise
Ain’t no guarantee of anything
So live out the string (the string)

Who knows if we got angels on our shoulders (move on)
Right now with the devil in the street
Who knows if it means we got more work to do
But hey baby, don’t the air taste sweet

Written by Marc Cohn and Michael Silverstone, from the album JOIN THE PARADE, Decca Records

   

 

 This article was previously published in The Post & Courier 

 

 

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