This track, one of my favorites from A Tiger Dancing, is a perfect illustration of a musical quality I’ve tried off and on to nail down and describe; the “meta-song.” First, let’s walk through some of the lyrics and I’ll make some highlights. Then I’ll explain how “It Takes” is a perfect example of a meta-song within a song.
14 creates of records with my name on ’em…
Pick one without looking at it / Put the needle down
Spin it back to the beginning / Now I’m ready
“It Takes” tells a story about Felix’s discovery of hip-hop, with a warped sense of time. His experience is the past, like a memory, but it’s also a fresh experience in itself. The introduction is a beginning to the song; it also tells the beginning of Felix’s love for music. And when he says “Spin it back to the beginning / now I’m ready”, a whole new, full sound jumps in with the “It Takes” vocal hook, a second “beginning” to the song. It’s a beginning (song), and Felix names it as such (meta-song).
As I listened the words weren’t there anymore
It was just those drums and a little keyboard
I’m staring at the needle and the record’s on the floor and
All that I could do was mouth some more / It said…
Felix’s line “…drums and a little keyboard” names the instruments playing when he drops it; another clue that he’s speaking the song into being as well as telling the story contained in the song. “It said…” leads straight into a second vocal hook, the hook becoming a quotation from Felix’s memory as well as the hook to the song the listener hears. Again, when Felix tells us that about the memory of a song that speaks to him, “It Takes” speaks to us in a parallel voice; memory and moment occuring together.
Now there was a / I don’t remember but there was a part of this song that did break down
I don’t mean the beat break / No / I mean the beat almost cried,
I thought it had died, I thought it had drowned…
These words fall over a drum breakdown. Are you seeing the pattern, the technique that Felix is using? His words ARE what happens in the song – not just occuring together (like a typical song), but related on another level as well.
–(Verse 2 cont’d)–
I look at the sleeve and the tears well up in my eyes because my name is printed right there
The record’s still spinning / The voices came back
I stare at the cover / Like a mirror / I’m staring back
I was relaxed but this is so intense so I flip over the sleeve and I read the comments
It said ‘I dedicate this record to my brother Andy with the hopes that one day you can better understand me
Til that day here is this one song / I hope you learn from it / others will take it wrong’
And the breakdown was over and I held the sleeve tight / afraid that somebody might’ve seen me cry
I never wrote this song no how’s or why’s / But I guess I can’t say that it told a single lie
And the last little lyric in the last little part was a fire in my heart / That last little part
I live life like a diesel; all pressure, no sparks / So I throw myself out there as a shot in the dark
Indeed, A Tiger Dancing lists “Andy” under Felix’s thank-yous. The last two lines above are Felix’s last lines in “It Takes,” as well as in the song he’s remembering; we might even read the phrase “A fire in my heart” as a direct quotation; the punctuation isn’t defined (on purpose? I tend to do that in lyrics…). “It Takes” is a song, and also consciously a meta-song. It is self-referential in a way that is essential to its being itself.
“It Takes” offers a clear picture of song and meta-song at work explicitly; I think it is more often done implicitly (see Radiohead from OK Computer on, Wilco from Summerteeth on, echoes’ nickel EP). Sparked by a piece in the New York Times magazine, an upcoming post will tackle the “meta-song” idea more generally and completely. It will be accessible for anyone willing to follow me down the rabbit-hole, and since this is how I hear and respond to music, it most certainly feels like a valid, if somewhat academic, expression for the [blog].