Many songs emulate an emotional feeling. There may be a story. However, not all songs incorporate actual dialogue, i.e. words exchanged by characters. Comedic rock duo Tenacious D created one of the most quotable songs of all time. And they did it while including hilarious dialogue. Is it the greatest song of all time? No, but it’s a tribute, and a great literary music lesson to discuss dialogue.
Jack Black establishes himself as the narrator. The two protagonists, he and his brother Kyle, find a shiny demon in the middle of the road. Then the voice of the antagonist comes around.
And while the dialogue seems simple, it’s encapsulating the characters and their motivations. With the shrieking imitation of the demon from the perspective of the narrator, you hear the tone. But more importantly, how the heroes perceive the challenge. It is furthered when they accept the challenge. Rather than go into an epic monologue in classic iambic pentameter, they respond to the issued challenge with a single word: “Okay.”
It shows the characters are simplistic and open to the challenge. Their calm demeanor captures their confidence in taking on the demon. The quivering response of the demon after describing the best song in the world shows how strong the protagonists are. With the demon mistaking the brothers for angels, we understand how good their performance was. We don’t get to hear it, but we don’t have to. The exchange of dialogue, cushioned by Jack Black’s narration and the band’s unrelenting instrumentation, tells the story as we need to hear it.
The irony of never hearing the actual song is what made the song iconic. And rightfully so, the telling of the story through dialogue and narration allows every listener to create their own version of what happened. Each fan, if asked, would have a different version of what the greatest song in the world would actually sound like.
Listeners who sing along have their own interpretation of the demon’s voice. Some are perfect impersonations. Others are creative adaptations to create a different cadence to the dialogue. But listeners become active participants. You’ve got a song that nearly everyone sings along to whenever it comes on. Don’t believe me? Blast this song at your office, a party, in a car full of friends. See if the place isn’t erupting in unison before the song is over.
“Tribute” is a funny, ironic song with memorable narration and dialogue. It captures the tone of the story. The very concept of the song allows for the basic approach makes the dialogue work. If it became too complicated of a story, the high-concept approach to the song being a song that’s a tribute to another song would be lost. So don’t ever think dialogue has to be overly complicated. Often, the more it sounds like a legitimate exchange, no matter how absurd the situation, the better the dialogue sounds. And make sure it serves the characters and story.
Is there a song that captures the tone of dialogue in your 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.