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Third Person Point Of View Songs

Third Person Point Of View Songs

 

A Look at Jon Vezner and Don Henry’s

“Where’ve You Been”

Sung by Kathy Mattea

 

What Is A Third Person Song?

Third person is the most distance the speaker can have from the action. Both the speaker and the audience are observing a situation, or, looking at a third person.  As a result, the speaker becomes the storyteller, guiding the audience through the narrative.

Common pronouns:
Singular – he, she, it, him, her, his hers
Plural – they, them, their, theirs

One of the most difficult decisions as a songwriter is how to choose the proper point of view (POV).  Once decided, how do you make the chosen point of view work to full advantage?

We’ll look at a view third person songs and review (1) what if it hadn’t been third person – how would the song have changed, (2) tack taken to make third person work, and (3) any unique devices of the writing.

 

When Should You Use Third Person Point Of View?

 

One of the biggest traps of third person point of view is in making the song interesting.  For me, songs are about learning something new when you’re writing them, and the listener when they become involved in the story and connect the song to their own lives. So as the writer, how do you handle telling a story where you’re supposed to know everything before you write it?

This is a key POV choice for third person – the revelation for the writer is by observing the story vs. just telling it.

A great example of this is the Jon Vezner and Don Henry song ‘Where’ve You Been” released in 1989 on Kathy Mattea’s Willow In The Wind.  It went to #10 on the Country Music Chart, and won a grammy for Best County Song in 1990.

We’ve all heard “Where’ve you been all my life?” – and who knows, maybe that’s part of what got this song hook going, but third person point of view is what moves this song into a different realm of storytelling.

By focusing on a single character and telling the story of her life (subsequently their lives) from a distance, the tie between the characters is allowed to reveal itself, and bring the emotion to the song.

 

What Makes “Where’ve You Been” Work?

 

While this song is direct address for the “conversation” used as the chorus, the song overall is third person/omniscient.

It tells the story from a perspective using “he” and “she” pronouns.  The chorus is written as direct address – or a “you” pronoun – by using a conversation between the two characters.  Pretty clever songwriting device if you’re writing in third person and have a central character you’re focusing on – in this case Claire.

One of the other great devices of this song is how the bridge is used.  Rather than being the “A-HA! moment” in the song, it’s used to leapfrog the story through time.  It brings the listener to the most poignant moment of the song, but more importantly, gets us to the message of the song: the love that began in the first verse, despite time, change, aging – endured because of its strength between the two key characters.

Jon Vezner wrote this song using his grandparents as the inspiration. He could have been sentimental, but he stayed away from talking about them in first or second person by stepping back, and looking at their lives and Claire’s emotional tie to the relationship and an expansive statement “where’ve you been.”

 

What If It Was First Person?

 

Had he and Don Henry written the song in first person, who would have told it?  An “I” pronoun would have been from a single perspective. The husband or the wife would have been telling us one side.

Since the story is about their relationship, it could have been limiting and possibly been somewhat depressing: one watching the decline of the other, or telling of their own decline. And, the song’s about their love for one another, which is someone joyful and transcends the inevitable.

 

Second Person Or Direct Address?

 

Had the song been written in this point of view, someone would be talking to a “you.”  Direct address is tricky because it tends to immediately place the singer in the song as the speaker of the message. In this case, there is a long expanse of time, making the third verse almost impossible to write without sounding odd when being sung.

Just from a logic perspective, you can’t have Alzheimer’s and be speaking the last verse. If you’re telling from the husbands’ perspective, then the “where’ve you been” hook of the song doesn’t work.

 

If you’re considering third person point of view, take a look at how this song is crafted. It’s brilliant songwriting around a difficult topic, and the choice of third person point of view makes it work.

 

Kathy Mattea: Where’ve You Been

 

 

Where’ve You Been

VERSE
Claire had all but given up when she and Edwin fell in love
She touched his face and shook her head in disbelief she sighed and said
In many dreams I’ve held you near but now at last you’re really here

CHORUS
Where’ve you been I’ve looked for you forever and a day
Where’ve you been I’m just not myself when you’re away

VERSE
He asked her for her hand for life and she became a salesman’s wife
He was home each night by eight but one stormy evening he was late
Her frightened tears fell to the floor until his key turned in the door

CHORUS
Where’ve you been I’ve looked for you forever and a day
Where’ve you been I’m just not myself when you’re away

BRIDGE
They’d never spent a night apart for sixty years she heard him snore
Now they’re in the hospital in separate beds on different floors

VERSE
Claire soon lost her memory forgot the names of family
She never spoke a word again then one day they wheeled him in
He held her hand and stroked her head in a fragile voice she said

CHORUS
Where’ve you been I’ve looked for you forever and a day
Where’ve you been I’m just not myself when you’re away
No I’m just not myself when you’re away

 





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