Want to amaze your friends? Impress your significant other? Be the hit of any writing brownbag? Pose this question: What's the shortest story ever told?
Give your audience a few moments and then wow them with:
But there's no question who wrote another masterpiece of brevity I've been obsessively playing on my iPod to and from work: Bonnie Raitt's "Nick of Time."
I marvel at the way the song treats universal themes--yearning, ravages of time, loss and redemption-- through a range of evocative characters, their predicament shaped by the classic beginning, middle and end triad, and, despite its brevity, a significant amount of repetition, all combined to produce a clear and compelling narrative:
A friend of mine she cries at night, and she calls me on the phone. Sees babies everywhere she goes and she wants one of her own. She's waited long enough, she says, and still he can't decide. Pretty soon she'll have to choose and it tears her up inside. She is scared. Scared to run out of time.
I see my folks, they're getting on and I watch their bodies change.
I know they see the same in me, and it makes us both feel strange.
No matter how you tell yourself, it's what we all go through;
Those eyes are pretty hard to take when they're staring back at you:
Scared to run out of time.
When did the choices get so hard?
With so much more at stake
Life gets mighty precious when there's less of it to waste.
Hummmm...scared to run out of time.
Just when I thought I'd had enough and all my tears were shed
No promise left unbroken, there were no painful words unsaid.
You came along and showed me how to leave it all behind.
You opened up my heart again and then much to my surprise,
I found love, love, in the nick of time.
I found love, darling, love in the nick of time
I found love, baby, love in the nick of time
--"Nick of Time." Words and music by Bonnie Raitt
A story, whole, in just 255 words. It's 3 minutes, 52 seconds of music are best appreciated by ear or earbud. (The tinny 29-second Amazon.com sample doesn't do justice to Raitt's whiskey voice or her soulful backup).
How does she do it in so short a space? That's why I enjoy listening to the song and pondering the power of its lyrics.