Atwood Magazine is excited to announce Time Machine, a column in which we take a fresh look at older music. We believe that in order to appreciate the “music of today,” it’s important to have an understanding of what so many artists are inspired by, and what they listened to growing up. Having that knowledge not only makes it a lot more fulfilling when it comes to talking about music theory and deconstructing what these songs are really about, but it also lets music work its magic in connecting people across generations.
Singer, pianist and songwriter Vienna Teng’s first album, Waking Hour [Self & Virt Records] was released in 2001. Since then, she’s released four more albums, the most recent being Aims [2013 via Virt Records]. Waking Hour was featured on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and the Late Show with David Letterman on CBS in 2003, and peaked at #5 on the Amazon bestselling list. The record focuses primarily on showcasing Teng’s lyricism and vocal talent. Specifically on the tenth track, “Eric’s Song,” in which Teng is accompanied solely by a piano.
Listen: “Eric’s Song” – Vienna Teng[youtube=https://youtu.be/kK3C_VsxmHM?t=0s]
The beauty of only having a piano accompaniment gives more weight to what Teng is saying. It’s a common audio trick — pulling the music down when the narrator is about to say something that you want to stick. Teng seems to employ this tactic throughout the song, especially when she calls out traits in the relationship as “strange,” such as the opening verse,
Strange how you know inside me
I measure the time and I stand amazed
Strange how I know inside you
My hand is outstretched toward
the damp of the haze
This is a recurring theme throughout the song, and it’s structured in a way that’s similar to an academic paper. Teng makes a claim from both perspectives on the relationship, the “theirs/mine,” backs it up in the verse following, and restates her original claim in a single line after her evidence is supported.
Another thing that stands out with “Eric’s Song” is that Teng doesn’t use any male or female definitive pronouns in the lyrics. She’s clearly talking to someone, but the song is made accessible to any defining gender because it isn’t clear if she’s talking to a man or a woman, aside from the “male” name in the title. Even though gender fluidity/identity wasn’t such a hot-button topic when Teng released this album, it’s one reason why “Eric’s Song” should be brought up more these days – it’s not easy to find a love song that’s not specifically directed towards a man or a woman.
The other interesting perspective the song gives due to its lack of specific pronoun usage is that it could be a love song directed towards an activity or object, versus a person. When you’re incredibly passionate about something (like a job or a project), it can completely overtake your life. Every spare moment is spent thinking about that thing; and it starts to fit in perfectly with your life from every perspective. It’s a very similar feeling to falling in love, which is actually what “Eric’s Song” is about. This is embodied in the lyrics,
And with each passing day
The stories we say
Draw us tighter into our addiction
Confirm our conviction
That some kind of miracle
Passed on our heads
All in all, Teng fully embodies what it means to be a singer-songwriter in “Eric’s Song.” It’s crisp, clear, and her point is driven across through lyrics that are easily mold-able for the individual listening. And it’s politically correct, even 16 years later, without trying too hard to be.