What Can We Steal From Steven Page’s “Indecision”?

Title of Work and its Form: “Indecision,” pop song
Author: Stephen Duffy and Steven Page (On Twitter: @stevenpage)
Date of Work: 2010
Where the Work Can Be Found: The song is included on Mr. Page’s album Page One.  You may also view the song’s official video below.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Poetic Meter

The narrator of “Indecision” is singing to a lover (or prospective lover).  The narrator could easily be a woman, but I will use the male pronoun for simplicity’s sake.  He knows that he is indecisive—hence the title—and understands the negative emotional impact he has on the person he loves.  His inability to make a firm choice could, at some point, lead him to leave.  On the other hand, his inability to commit also prevents him from leaving.  The lyrics are set to a good old-fashioned upbeat rock tune; the narrator is trying to put a favorable spin on the situation that he knows is hurting the person he loves.  I can certainly relate; you put on a bright smile as you tell a sad story so as not to push people away.  The music contains about a zillion hooks and the chorus is straight-on rock.  The verses keep your attention by employing a jazzy, Latin, syncopated feel.

Mr. Page is right up there as one of the singers/songwriters who meant a ton to me during my formative years.  Mr. Page, of course, was the co-lead singer of Barenaked Ladies and wrote a bunch of all-time classic songs during his time in the band.  I love the material he produced with Ed Robertson (another stellar songwriter) and I always felt they had a fascinating dynamic.  Lennon and McCartney had different artistic ideas and outlooks on the world that combined to make great music even greater. Mr. Page and Mr. Robertson are both awesome, just in different and complementary ways.

You’ll note, however, that this song was written with Stephen Duffy of The Lilac Time.  Mr. Duffy joined Mr. Page to write some of my favorite Barenaked Ladies songs.  Can you believe this set list:  “Jane,” “Everything Old is New Again,” “The Wrong Man Was Convicted,” “Alternative Girlfriend,” “I Live With it Everyday” and “Call and Answer”?  (And I can’t help but mention The Vanity Project, a whole album that Mr. Page wrote with Mr. Duffy.)

Look at the lyrics in the first verse:

I’ve always been a creature of habit

Put another way, I’m addicted to you

I’m predisposed to habit

Happiest when I don’t know what to do

If you read them like poetry (which they are, of course), you’ll notice that Mr. Page plays with the meter of the lines.  To read the poem aloud properly, you might have to mark it up a little to find the way the words should sound.  This is a good thing!  Mr. Page keeps the verses interesting by keeping you on your toes.  When you write an Elizabethan sonnet, you’re somewhat restricted with respect to meter because you must stick to iambic pentameter.  Mr. Page sings to a Latin beat that keeps you wondering how he’s going to fit in all of the words and the lines’ end rhymes.

Pretend you don’t understand English.  What would you know about “Indecision” if you happened to hear it?  You would think that it was a fun toe-tapper.  As Mr. Page does so often, he gives the song a dark side that adds complexity.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with writing a perfectly happy straight-forward rocker or poem or short story.  (Hmm…I’m thinking Warrant’s “Cherry Pie.” There isn’t a great deal of depth to that song.)  Mr. Page’s work sticks with you because there is always more emotion beneath the surface.  Listening to “Indecision” leads to a number of questions:

Will the narrator ever get his act together?

Will the lover tire of him and leave?

If he’s so smart, why can’t he help himself?

How did his parents affect his current mental state?

Listening to “Cherry Pie” leads to only one question:

My goodness…can you imagine what it was like to be a member of Warrant in the 1980s?

What Should We Steal?

  • Syncopate your lines, just as a songwriter syncopates his or her music.  When the audience can’t predict where the beat of your sentences will go, they will be more likely to lean forward and listen/read more closely.
  • Bury some pathos underneath the surface of your work.  Humans are not simple and neither are their emotions.  Be sure to explore all of the facets of your characters and their situations.

Bonus: You really have to see this amazing vocal performance.  Mr. Page sings the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah” at the funeral service for Canadian politician Jack Layton.  Absolutely haunting:

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