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Lyrics and songwriting

La Ballade of Lady And Bird – Keren Ann & Bardi Johannsson – lyrics, analysis and meaning

Songwriting

This is one of the song analyses presented in the PDF Songwriting.

La Ballade of Lady & Bird, written in English although its title is partly in French (La Ballade means the ballad, obviously), is the fruit of a collaboration between Keren Ann and Bardi Johannson and was released on Keren Ann’s album Lady and Bird (2005, EMI). You can listen to it for free on Keren Ann’s personal website.

La Ballade of Lady & Bird – Music video

Lyrics by Keren Ann and Bardi Johannsson

BIRD – Lady?
LADY – Yes, Bird?
BIRD – It’s cold.
LADY – I know.
LADY – Bird… I cannot see a thing.
BIRD – It’s all in your mind.
LADY – I’m worried.
BIRD – No one will come to see us.
LADY – Maybe they come but we just don’t see them.
LADY – What do you see?
BIRD – I see what’s outside.
LADY – And what exactly is outside?
BIRD – It’s grown-ups.
LADY – Well, maybe if we scream they can hear us.
BIRD – Yeah, maybe we should try to scream.
LADY – Ok, Bird.
BIRD – Yeah.
BOTH – Heeeeeelp, heeeeeelp, heeeeeelp, can you hear us now? Hello, help… Hello, it’s me! Heyyy, can you see, can you see me? I’m here! Nana come and take us! Hellooooooooo? Are you there? Hello?
LADY – I don’t think they can hear us.
BIRD – I can hear you, Lady. Do you want to come with me maybe?
LADY – Will you be nice to me, Bird? You’re always nice to me because you are my friend.
BIRD – I try, but sometimes I make mistakes.
LADY – Nana says that we all make mistakes.
BIRD – Maybe we should scream more?
LADY – Yes, Bird let’s scream more!
BOTH – Heeeeeelp!!? Help us, come on, help!!! Helloooooooo…? Help… Hello? We’re lost…
LADY – I think they cannot see us.
BIRD – Nobody likes us.
LADY – But they all seem so big!
BIRD – Maybe we should just jump.
LADY – What if we fall from the bridge and then nobody can catch us?
BIRD – I don’t know; let’s just see what happens. Come with me.
LADY – Shall we do it together?
BIRD – Yeah.
BOTH – 1… 2… 3! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh……….
BIRD – Lady?
LADY – Yes, Bird?
BIRD – It’s cold.
LADY – I know. Bird, I cannot see a thing.
BIRD – It’s all in your mind.

Analysis of the story and characters in La Ballade of Lady & Bird by Keren Ann

The song lasts 4:40.

It starts with 38 seconds of a very simple yet beautiful instrumental mainly made of an acoustic guitar, augmented by nice ambient sounds a kind of lunar, shiny bell, a kind of melancholic organ.

Dramatically, this instrumental is the exposition of the plot: before any lyrics, before any characters with goals and motivations, it sets up a sad, quiet, melancholic, meditative atmosphere that lets us leave reality and enter a dreamy world.

The music goes silent for a short instant at second 37. Just after, the voices come into play.

This moment of silence contributes dramatizing the situation: as we will see later, it’s like a quick, elegant metaphor of the death that will threaten the characters.

A soft, raspy, childlike voice asks: “Lady?” Another slightly different, more feminine voice answers: “Yes, Bird?”

BIRD – Lady?
LADY – Yes, Bird?

In only 3 words, we already get to meet 2 characters. Their dialogue will structure the song all along. The way they call themselves, “Lady” or “Bird”, as well as the tones and textures of their voices, enter in a perfect harmony with the previous instrumental and confirm that the song is set in another world – a fantasy world where ladies have no personal names and can converse with birds.

BIRD – It’s cold.
LADY – I know.
LADY – Bird… I cannot see a thing
BIRD – It’s all in your mind.

The previous first two lines “I’m cold”/”I know” strike us with their simplicity. They tell us about a situation that everybody knows, making empathy and identification easy; since it’s told by childlike voices, even this minimal evocation of discomfort has the power to move the listener.

Contrarily, the two next lines “I cannot see a thing”/”It’s all in your mind”, strike us with their abstraction: we have to reconfigure the knowledge we just established about the situation, and admit that the reality of the coldness described in the previous line, isn’t actually real. The instrumental introduced us to a light, melancholic, dreamy world: now, it gets confirmed that this world is purely imaginary.

We might also be moved by a feeling of harmony between the two characters, who sound like they support each other with friendship in an unpleasant situation. It probably would not have the same emotional effect on the listener if the characters were grown-ups.

For the moment, there is not much drama going on – we still are in the exposition. The fact that they feel cold is not enough to launch a plot with a goal.

LADY – I’m worried.
BIRD – No one will come to see us.

Here again, the simple expression of feelings makes the identification of the audience to the characters easy. We start to have the elements of a plot: some characters who are in a situation they dislike; we start to guess that they might want to find a way to get out of there. Will this be confirmed?

LADY – Maybe they come but we just don’t see them.
LADY – What do you see?
BIRD – I see what’s outside.
LADY – And what exactly is outside?
BIRD – It’s grown-ups.

The mention of “they” lets us discover that our two characters are not alone in their fantasy world.

The questions of the Lady raise suspense, thus dramatic tension: the fact she’s curious makes us want to know too. This way, a feeling of participation in the audience is created.

The revelation of the presence of grown-ups “outside” (outside of what?) sounds slightly weird: since the beginning, everything is not normal, not real, so what are those normal adults coming to do here? we wonder. This too generates a bit of mystery, thus tension.

LADY – Well, maybe if we scream they can hear us.
BIRD – Yeah, maybe we should try to scream.
LADY – Ok, Bird.
BIRD – Yeah.

This is the catalyst. From now, things take shape and we know that the main characters have a goal: to be heard. This goal doesn’t sound so satisfying in itself, so we guess that perhaps they want to be heard so as to get out of their sad, cold, worrysome, and lonely world.

BOTH – Heeeeeelp, heeeeeelp, heeeeeelp, can you hear us now? Hello, help… Hello, it’s me! Heyyy, can you see, can you see me? I’m here! Nana come and take us! Hellooooooooo? Are you there? Hello?

It’s the beginning of Act II; the main characters have a goal, and they try to reach it.

The mention of “Nana” adds another actantial character to the list.

The desperate way they scream has something heart-breaking, touching. It has a powerful emotional impact on the listener: who could stay indifferent at children’s voices screaming in distress?

But the try fails – nobody answers. So Lady & Bird address each other.

LADY – I don’t think they can hear us.
BIRD – I can hear you, Lady. Do you want to come with me maybe?
LADY – Will you be nice to me, Bird? You’re always nice to me because you are my friend.

This confirms the plot is thematically about friendship – supporting each other in hard times.

BIRD – I try, but sometimes I make mistakes.
LADY – Nana says that we all make mistakes.

Those lines sound surprisingly relevant. Those Heroes locked in another world show some unexpected wisdom that stays true in our normal world.

BIRD – Maybe we should scream more?
LADY – Yes, Bird let’s scream more!
BOTH – Heeeeeelp!!? Help us, come on, help!!! Helloooooooo…? Help… Hello? We’re lost…

But again, nobody replies.

LADY – I think they cannot see us.
BIRD – Nobody likes us.

Same effect of emotion by empathy. The line “Nobody likes us” sounds so sad… The audience here might feel like helping them, but it’s not possible since it’s a fiction. This drive to answer the despair of those innocent creatures combined with the impossibility of helping them, leaves the audience with a painful sense of powerlessness.

LADY – But they all seem so big!
BIRD – Maybe we should just jump.
LADY – What if we fall from the bridge and then nobody can catch us?
BIRD – I don’t know; let’s just see what happens. Come with me.

Act III starts here. We enter the Crisis – the decisive moment when the audience is able to check whether the goal of the Heroes is reached or failed.

The dramatic tension rises one level higher. Now, the situation becomes scary. They want to take the risk to kill themselves! For us in the audience, that sounds unacceptable, tragic, pathetic… Nobody can deal with the suicide of a child! The poetic way this suicide is alluded to, adds to the tension.

LADY – Shall we do it together?
BIRD – Yeah.
BOTH – 1… 2… 3! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh……….

The music goes on, but for a few seconds their voices have disappeared.

The tension reaches its peak. The silence of the characters after they jumped and screamed leads us to believe that they fell and died – which would be a scandal, something terribly violent. But this is a wrong track. Happily, after a few seconds, their voices re-appear…

BIRD – Lady?

Climax, part 1: Bird is alive!

LADY – Yes, Bird?

Climax, part 2! Lady is alive too! The audience feels relieved.

BIRD – It’s cold.
LADY – I know.

We have no difficulty remembering that it’s the same dialogue we heard in the beginning. It was cold, it is still cold, so we can conclude: they jumped, they fell, not knowing where or whether they would land, and they actually landed at the exact same place. This outcome sounds better than death, but still worse than the freedom they expected to find. They’re still alone, unable to establish contact with “what’s outside”, unable to solve the problem of their discomfort.

LADY – I know. Bird, I cannot see a thing.
BIRD – It’s all in your mind.

This conclusion does not help us to feel better about them.

The song ends, the Heroes failed to get out of their world, and the paradoxical fact that “it’s all in [their] mind” does not make their situation easier to live: even if they are just a mental phenomenon, they are meant to stay in their despair forever. How sad!

 

Commentary

Genres

We can wonder about the genre of this song: is it a song for children?

Some elements, like the fact that the characters are childlike, that they live in a fantasy world, that they speak with much simplicity and innocence, might make us think of a kind of a song made for children.

But on the other side, some other elements lead us far away from childhood the horrible, eerie atmosphere; the theme of suicide that’s inappropriate in a song for children; the feelings of loneliness and despair.

Actually, the song appears more complex than it seems. It’s not meant for children, but rather for children in pain within grown-ups; can we hear our inner child screaming for help inside us?

The song is also a dialogue – a rather rare form of lyrics. This form helps create a dynamics through the cyclic process of Assertion/Question/Answer/Assertion.

That’s a lesson for us songwriters: to move the action forward, just create interaction between characters! It will generate suspense and tension – on the condition that the things at stake seem important enough.

Actantial roles

We can find only 3 actantial roles in this song: Lady & Bird are Heroes together, and they are locked in a world that is inescapable, this world being their Antagonist.

Lady & Bird mention one collective character (the grown-ups) and one named character (Nana, whose identity will not be detailed). The fact that those characters are mentioned is not enough to make them actantial, since they actually do not play any active role in the plot they do not encourage or oppose the goals of the Heroes, they do not give important informations, they do not provide any help. Thus, they are only thematic characters.

Contrarily, the Antagonist of our Heroes – the cold lonely world they are locked in. Even if this is no human character, it plays an active role in their story: it stops them from getting what they want and need, it contradicts their goal and make their effort vain. Actually, this Antagonist is rather an Antagonism, but the fact it is an abstraction is not at all a problem. As such, it can not have any intentional goal or human-like motivation, but that does not stop it from being powerful and dramatically active; inescapable, this world condemns the Heroes to eternal loneliness.

 


Note : this song analysis has been very carefully edited by Suzanne Uchytil.

I definitely recommend her proofreading and copyediting services! Check her website.

Thank you Suzanne!