MUSICAL LITERARY LESSONS: SETTING AND METALLICA


Setting: It’s a central element to a narrative. Without it, readers get confused. They don’t understand the mood of the book. Worst case scenarios the reader can’t even tell where or when they are in the narrative. That’s why today’s musical literary lesson comes from one of Metallica’s iconic pieces. This lesson on setting is brought to you by “Enter Sandman.”

The opening of “Enter Sandman” is iconic. You could make an argument the beginning isn’t the beginning of the story. At first glance, the lyrics initiate the full meaning of the narrative.

Say your prayers, little one.

Don’t forget, my son

To include everyone.

Only then do we know what the song lyrics definitively set out to achieve. Lyrics don’t kick in until well over a minute. Yet, no one can imagine “Enter Sandman” beginning differently. That ominous guitar solo. The drums subtly growing creates an establishment of an atmosphere. You are provided a sense of setting.

By doing so, once the lyrics begin, you know the true character motivations and intent. Those only serve to further the narrative that already began with a sense of setting. Other songs kick in right off the bat with lyrics, but not “Enter Sandman.” In this musical instance, the instrumental opening begins telling you the setting.

From there, those opening lyrics explain more regarding setting. It plays a specific part. With moments like Say your prayers, little one and Tuck you in, warm within, our setting gets more specific. We know where we are and when the narrative takes place. You begin seeing a small boy, getting ready for bed. The setting is meant to paint the everyday Americana house, that Norman Rockwell perfect Colonial home.

While we visualize the setting and understand the time of day and locale, we also know something is amiss. It all goes back to the establishment of setting in the instrumental opening. We are all fully aware this kid is in for a terrible, TERRIBLE night. And that is worsened by the transition of setting.

After the opening verse, we hit the chorus, which is repeated multiple times. After the first chorus, we spend one more fleeting moment in that bedroom only to enter the new setting of this boy’s nightmares, because the sandman he comes.

Something’s wrong, shut the light

Heavy thoughts tonight

And they aren’t of Snow White

Dreams of war, dreams of liars

Dreams of dragon’s fire

And of things that will bite.

Now, we have entered the dreamscape that will torment us for the rest of the night. We also know the settings will vary wildly. It may seem like there’s an inconsistency in the setting. But that is part of what we’re facing with the song. We’re in for a long night of varied torment. That’s our new setting.

And what element remains despite the constant change of setting? The unrelenting drums and unforgettable guitar riff that started off the entire song. Those elements carry the narrative of “Enter Sandman.”

Understand what setting can do for you now? What song perfectly captures the setting of your latest writing? Chime in with the comment section below. The conversation is always live on Twitter @ThomasAFowler. I’ve also made a Spotify playlist with the first dozen musicians we’ll be discussing and the songs that embody the subject matter. Have a listen by clicking here.

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