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The Power Of Story: Indiana (Jon McLaughlin)

Storytelling is a powerful tool to connect. This is known in the corporate world and also very visible in songwriting. On this blog, I’m breaking down songs for you to demonstrate what you can learn from them when it comes to storytelling.

Today I’m breaking down what I think is the story of ‘Indiana’ by Jon McLaughlin (the whole song and its lyrics are posted below).

 

"I love the miles between me and the city
Where I quietly imagine every street
And I'm glad I'm only picturing the moment
I'm glad she never fell in love with me."

 

Instead of saying: “I’m heartbroken. I wish I’d done things differently.”, Jon McLaughlin sketches a story of recognizable human feelings, like the lies we tell ourselves to justify our decisions, and paint vivid images that resonate with our own memories. By doing this, he connects with you as a listener on a much deeper level than by just plainly delivering the message. 

 

The whole song is filled with two important things: images (mountains, the sea, the city) and contradictions. The opening lines ‘I’m glad I never lived next to the water / so I could never get used to the beach’ immediately grants the audience with both a scenery and a question (why would somebody not want to get used to something nice like a beach?); two things to keep us wanting to know more. As the song progresses, more of those contradictions leave us with a feeling that something does not quite add up. Which keeps us curious.

 

Then enter the bridge: ‘The trick of love is to never let it find you / it’s easy getting over missing out’ - my first thought was: “I don’t agree with that, and to be fair, I’m not sure if you agree with that either.”

 

The core of the story: ‘I’m glad she never fell in love with me’ is a repetition that gets stronger overtime, and as the song develops we become more and more certain that this is not true. That’s why, when in the end he finally gets to the point we’ve all been waiting for: ‘every day is a battle to convince myself / I’m glad she never fell in love with me’, the message has been electrified by the journey towards it and hits us harder: this guy has been trying badly to get over someone but does that by trying to convince himself that this is probably best for everybody - and according to everything else he tells himself, this is the way he’s been dealing with stuff all his life.

 

What I think is powerful in this song is the punchline ‘I’m glad she never fell in love with me’, that keeps coming back - but due to the growing amount of information, we only understand the gravity of this message at the end of the story. It’s a very smart use of repetition. The examples of the other situations that are dealt with in the exact same way - denial - add a sad but important context.

 

So what examples of great storytelling does this particular song contain, that you can be aware of and use in your own story? I would say:

 

  • Using a powerful way of repetition;
  • Sketching a vivid and recognizable scenery;
  • Adding ‘side stories’ that support the core message;
  • Showing very human, relatable emotions that cause engagement.

 

Here’s ‘Indiana’ by Jon McLaughlin, including lyrics, in its entirety.

 

I'm glad I never lived next to the water
So I could never get used to the beach
And I'm glad I never grew up on a mountain
To figure out how high the world could reach
I love the miles between me and the city
Where I quietly imagine every street
And I'm glad I'm only picturing the moment
I'm glad she never fell in love with me

 

For some the world's a treasure to discover
And your scenery should never stay the same
And they're trading in their dreams for explanations
All in an attempt to entertain
But I love the miles between me and the city
Where I quietly imagine every street
And I'm glad I'm only picturing the moment
I’m glad she never fell in love with me

 

The trick of love is to never let it find you
It's easy to get over missing out
I know the how's and whens, but now and then,
She's all I think about

 

I wonder how it feels to be famous
But wonder is as far as I will go
Because I'd probably lose myself in all the pictures
And end up being someone I don't know.
So it's probably best I stay in Indiana
Just dreaming of the world as it should be
Where every day is a battle to convince myself
I'm glad she never fell in love with me

 


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