Grunge, hard rock, alternative rock—whatever it’s designation—doesn’t exactly turn heads in mainstream music. “It’s all the same,” critics say, “It’s dark, depressing, and self-loathing.”
Stereotypes are like cliches; both are easy to reach, the cookie sitting at the top of the jar that everyone picks. Now, the stereotype holds true for some grunge bands, but that mindset skims the surface of what modern rock offers. If a listener invests himself or herself in a band’s lyrics, he or she can scrape the bottom of the barrel and find the harmony of rock.
Breaking Benjamin, named for frontman Benjamin Burnley, is a modern rock band that I think synthesizes all the original elements of grunge—heavy & intricate guitar riffs, authentic & gritty lyrics, and intense-yet-melodious vocals—while casting its lyrics with themes of love, agony, hope, and steadfastness.
I can’t remember exactly when or how I discovered Breaking Benjamin. It was probably just before I entered middle school, but all I remember is that I got caught in the grip of rock. Lead singer Ben Burnley has a vocal range wider than the Grand Canyon. He can go from soft whispers to deep screams to syrupy melodies in one song. Plus, the vocals remain harmonious without sounding like someone gargling a chainsaw, which can be the case with some grunge bands.
Burnley and the rest of the band taught me about the potency of melody, emotion, and rhythm. They illustrate the overarching beauty of rock: it’s poetry with guitar riffs, and I do love hearing layered and complex riffs. Here’s a few verses from one of their songs…
I don’t mind
Falling to pieces
Count me in, violent
Let’s begin feeding the sickness
How do I simplify?
Dislocate the enemy’s on the way
Show me what it’s like
To dream in black and white
So I can leave this world tonight
Full of fear
I’ll be here fighting forever
You’ll find me
Climbing to heaven
Never mind turn back time
You’ll be fine
I will get left behind
Breaking Benjamin, “Unknown Soldier,” Phobia
In terms of my short story, I worked to insert the elements of melody, emotion, and rhythm. While there wasn’t guitars and drums behind my short story, I tried to use strong action verbs to bring the reader into the stress and speed of the SEALs clearing the house. At the story’s end, I had my main character in moments of reflection and in turn, I used longer sentences.
The balancing act is making sure I don’t draw too much attention to myself as the writer; instead, in my edits, I worked to insert the rhythm and emotion as subtly as possible through sentence length, action verbs, and description. Language is powerful even without instruments and vocals.
At times, if I’m struggling to capture an emotion or get a scene right, I will take a moment to listen to a song from Breaking Benjamin or another rock band. I’ll pick a song tailored to the specific emotion I want to capture, and take the time to listen. Then, I’ll go back to writing with a stimulated mind.
Who would have ever thought grunge music could be a writing workshop?
Author’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series of articles that will chart the progress I’m making on writing a short story. The story will be part of a larger Geneva College project in which students from Dr. Williams’s ENG 344 Publishing compile their short stories into a published collection for the campus. Check us out on Facebook under “Geneva Inklings.”
Kevin Cochrane is a writer and college student. Like what you read? Follow him on Twitter @RunFree_KC, find him on Facebook, or click the follow button at the bottom of the page to get Town Crier’s latest updates. Want to read more? Visit his blog at restandrefuge.wordpress.com which offers a Christian perspective on the surrounding culture. You can contact him with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.