Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The "Get Away" Moment

I'm just going to assume that, being the ultra-hip people you are, you agree that Chicago's "Hard to Say I'm Sorry/Get Away" is probably the best song ever recorded. I'm sure you also know why, but I ask your indulgence anyway.

"Hard to Say I'm Sorry" is nice. By itself, it's a better than average song. You've got Peter Cetera and his smooth voice and even smoother hair. You've got the piano at the beginning. You've got the song slowly building throughout and getting more awesome by the second, until Cetera sings, "You're gonna be the lucky one" and the piano dribbles out a few more notes and you think it's over. Ahh, what a satisfying song, you say to yourself.

And then--BOOM!--the greatest minute-and-a-half in rock and roll history. "Get Away" is unleashed and the song goes from mild-mannered ballad to a head-bangin', horn-blarin', "When-we-get-there-gonna-jump-in-the-air"-shoutin' masterpiece.

Go ahead and click below. You can skip ahead to the 3:25 mark if you must (believe me, I'd understand), but "Get Away" is more effective if it's experienced in context. You need that slow build.

It strikes me that the song has what all great novels have. Many books I read start out okay. They're good enough to keep me interested. But the memorable ones, at some point, have something that knocks my socks off. There's a chapter in The Art of Racing in the Rain where the dog rides in a race car with his owner. I know nothing about racing, but that chapter made the hairs on my arms stand to attention. When I got to the end, I wanted to shout out, "Yes!" It was that inspirational.

Sometimes the "Get Away" moment is beautiful and true writing, sometimes it's a plot twist, sometimes it's an unforgettable secondary character, but I think all of us strive to write something like Chicago accomplished with that last minute-thirty. Something that makes a reader scoot to the edge of his seat, say to himself, "Ooh, this is different. Here is something. This is good. Honey, you've got to read this."

(Of course, let's not forget the importance of execution. To see a truly horrific version so that you may appreciate Chicago even more, watch this. (And don't forget to read the comments. You have to love Youtube comments.)

Stay tuned: I can't get the song out of my head and I'm 90% sure I can sing better than the guy in the above link, so I'm going to embarrass myself for your entertainment. Probably tomorrow.


Kelly said...

Oh,man. I used to listen the Chicago cassette tape every night before bed in junior high. My two best friends and I also used to record a pretend radio program on cassette tape. We pretended we were radio DJs (our radio station call letters were WEIR D). We sang to this very song in our off key adolescent voices. I have to find that tape. I'm pretty sure we weren't as good as the Youtube guy...

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

James Pankow's (trombone) kids go to my school. I want to sing this song every time I see him.

Anita said...

I could NOT watch the YouTube guy and I don't think I'd be able to watch you, either. I just know the images would be stamped into my brain forever and maybe even take the place of REALLY great things like Madonna's 80s performance of LIKE A VIRGIN.

I cried a couple times while reading RACING IN THE RAIN.

I knew Kelly would post a great comment on this post. She did not disapppoint.

And Tracy SHOULD sing to the guy. Fer sure.

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

I have to read the Racing in the Rain book.

MG Higgins said...

Hope you're getting a kickback on sales of this book, PMM because I just this second bought the Kindle version.

Monica said...

In retrospect, PMM, this was a brilliant post. I wonder if people are just so amazed at your brillliance, that they feel overwhelmed, and verklempt, and all that, and dont feel like they can add to what you've already said, and to say that you're brilliant is an understatement.... maybe that's it.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

Monica--They can say the three words that I will never hear enough (especially from The Wife):

You are right.