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Lyrics I admire

Michael Bolton

Michael Bolton's big hit "How am I Supposed to Live without You" begins thus:

"I could hardly believe it/When I heard the news today/I had to come and get it straight from you/They said you were leavin'/Someone swept your heart away/From the look upon your face I see it's true."

That  strikes me as a marvelous bit of story telling. The rest of the song, unfortunately, soon slips into standard-issue '80s ballad.

But what exactly do I like about the above?

The first line sets up the rest, pressing the listener to ask what was so unbelievable.

We might guess that a romantic disappointment was the hardly-believed thing, but we are steered subtly in another direction by "when I heard the news today." That's very different from, say, "when the gossip reached my ears" or "when someone told me so." We've come to regard the news as something authoritative and public in nature. The Beatles played on this same expectation in "A Day in the Life," which has "I read the news today" in the first line.

So Bolton starts with "I could hardly believe it," then mentions hearing "news." Our expectations are sifting again in the line that follows that. "I had to come and get it straight from you."

"You" it seems clear, isn't you, the listener within earshot of a radio. The "you" is a person at the center of the "news" in question. Yet it is the fourth line that tells us our original likely-expectation was right after all. The "news" is of a breaking-up sort.

The fifth line indicates that the narrator heard this "news" from more than one source while remaining incredulous. "They" said. Not just one mutual acquaintance. This makes the initial incredulity a more solid fact.

I could go on, but I won't. This was good writing. That's the only point.


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