Lyrically Speaking: Creating Characters from “Nothing”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Hmm. This is the second Bruno Major song I’ve been compelled to write about. Why? Well, he’s really good, and besides, I’m always grateful when a song makes me feel something. When that happens, I always have the same two responses:

  1. Thank you!
  2. How’d you do that?

In this issue, I want to look at the way he creates his characters through his use of specific, sense-bound language. Next issue we’ll look at his structures—how he puts it all together.

Go listen to this little gem, written in 3/4 time. Here’s the lyric:

“Nothing” 

Bruno Major 

Track suits and red wine, movies for two
We’ll take off our phones and we’ll turn off our shoes
We’ll play Nintendo though I always lose
‘Cause you’ll watch the TV while I’m watching you

There’s not many people I’d honestly say
I don’t mind losing to
But there’s nothing like doing nothing
With you

Dumb conversations, we lose track of time
Have I told you lately I’m grateful you’re mine
We’ll watch The Notebook for the 17th time
I’ll say “It’s stupid” then you’ll catch me cryin’

We’re not making out on a boat in the rain
Or in a house I’ve painted blue
But there’s nothing like doing nothing
With you

So shut all the windows and lock all the doors
We’re not looking for no one, don’t need nothing more
You’ll bite my lip and I’ll want you more
Until we end up in a heap on the floor
Mmm

You could be dancing on tabletops wearing high-heels
Drinking until the world spins like a wheel

But tonight your apartment had so much appeal
Who needs stars? we’ve got a roof

And there’s nothing like doing nothing
With you
Mmm
No, there’s nothing
Like doing nothing
With you

The opening images set the tone and introduce us to the characters:

Track suits and red wine, movies for two

What color are the track suits you see? Mine are dark blue with white stripes down the sides. Because Bruno Major stimulated my senses, I’m a participant in the scene. His words are full of my stuff. To me, these images create an upwardly mobile couple. 

Contrast those images with these:

Blue jeans and Bud Light and TV for two

Football anyone? Now we’re in a totally different song. 

As the images continue, we learn more about the couple. Look at the inversions of the clichés in line 2:

We’ll take off our phones and we’ll turn off our shoes

The inversions create two metaphors: 1. We wear our phones—they’re part of our ensemble and, 2. Our shoes have an energy of their own—we’re busy folks, always on the go. Without the inversions:

We’ll turn off our phones and we’ll take off our shoes

Pretty matter-of-fact. They’ve lost their vibrancy. Clichés can present a gold mine of opportunity if you’re willing to play with them a little. Invert them; change them up. They’ll be both memorable and familiar at the same time. It’s not rocket surgery.

And as the images progress, we learn more about the characters. They’re feeling childish:

Wé’ll play Ninténdo though I always lose

Compare Nintendo with:

We’ll pláy Mortal Kombat, though I always lose

What a difference! Back to blue jeans, or perhaps black jeans. And then, the light and loving clincher:

‘Cause you’ll watch the TV while I’m watching you

A terrific open verse. The first line is sense-bound, acting like a bag of dye, dripping its colors all the way through the song. That’s why it’s useful to show before you tell. What if the opening lines had been,

Dumb conversations, we lose track of time
Have I told you lately I’m grateful you’re mine

As opening lines, these tell, not show. They’d turn us into observers rather than participants. 

Each subsequent section uses at least one sense-bound image to take us deeper into the characters, and their idea of doing nothing:


We’ll watch The Notebook for the 17th time…

We’re not making out on a boat in the rain
Or in a house I’ve painted blue…

You’ll bite my lip and I’ll want you more
Until we end up in a heap on the floor

You could be dancing on tabletops wearing high-heels
Drinking until the world spins like a wheel
But tonight your apartment had so much appeal

The final bit of information—they’re single, and each has their own apartment. Then,

Who needs stars? We’ve got a roof

Pretty interesting line. It could mean, “no need to go outside, we have a roof over our heads,” or perhaps, “Your building has a roof we can go up to if we’d like. A great city view from there.” I see them as young, nearly un-single professionals in a metropolitan area. That’s where the images lead me. They may lead you in different directions, but they do lead you to somewhere from your own experience, but miles from blue jeans and Bud Lite.

Train yourself to look for details, to use specific, sense-bound language. You’ll create vivid characters and situations because you’ll be building them from your own sense of memories. 

Next issue we’ll look at Bruno’s structures – how he puts “Nothing” together.

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