What can be learned about flash fiction by examining song lyrics? Let’s examine the song-slash-story Dandelion, as performed by Kacey Musgraves.
Dandelion was written by Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and Shane McAnally. You can find it on Musgraves’ album Same Trailer, Different Park, released in 2013 by Mercury Nashville.
Normally I would embed the Vevo video for the benefit of anyone who has never heard the song. Unfortunately, there is no music video for this song, but maybe there are a few lyric videos that haven’t been taken down.
The Song Itself.
Country music has plenty of songs about weed, but how many country songs are about a weed?
Of course, Dandelion is not strictly about a weed; like so many country songs, it’s about heartbreak. In roughly 171 words, it tells a story of a woman constantly disappointed in love.
As Flash Fiction
As is becoming customary, I’m going to refer to the song as a “story”, and refer to it in prose terms rather than songwriting terms. (I know nothing about songwriting, anyway.)
This story of heartbreak is about a protagonist in a failed relationship. As is common for this type of song, none of the characters are given names: the protagonist is simply an everyman, or every-woman in this case.
For simplicity, I’m going to refer to the protagonist as Musgraves, as opposed to just Musgraves, without the italics. This is not to imply that Musgraves is singing about herself; Musgraves just seems as good a name as any.
In any heartbreak story, there must be someone to do the breaking: since we have no hint of who this antagonist might be, I’m going to refer to him as Hurricane Horatio Hurtmonger, which is the most normal name I can think of off the top of my head.
Noteworthy about this story is that it tells about the relationship entirely through a single metaphor. Throughout the story, Musgraves addresses not the object of her sorrows, but a simple dandelion.
The language of the story is filled with allusions to luck. A common childhood belief is that blowing away all the seeds from a dandelion in a single puff will grant a wish. (This much to the dismay of parents trying to maintain a weed-free lawn.) This is echoed in lines about “falling stars and lucky pennies”: falling stars are also supposed to grant wishes.
The dandelion serves as a metaphor for Musgraves’ failed relationship. What do we know about Musgraves and Hurricane Horatio Hurtmonger, simply from what she tells the dandelion?
First, Musgraves started this relationship: “Picked you out and picked you up.”
Second, she had high hopes in spite of past disappointments: “Hoping that my luck would change,” and “[t]hinking it could change my world.”
In the end, Musgraves found that Hurricane Horatio Hurtmonger gave her nothing but hurt. “Just like him, you always leave me cryin’.” He is the latest in a cycle. She is “always blowing kisses out across the sky.” She started the relationship from a low point, and has once again ended at a nadir.
And that is the crux of this story: childhood fantasy versus reality. In her fantasy, Musgraves allows herself to believe in lucky pennies and wishes on dandelions. When her wishes fail to come true, reality dashes her fantasy, and she sees that “like a stupid little girl / I spent my wishes on a weed.”
Dandelion creates an image of a brokenhearted young woman on a summer night, lonely, watching for falling stars and sharing her emotions with a wispy puffball of a flower, for lack of anyone else to turn to.
But the dandelion is just a weed. It will never grant her wish.
Lessons for Flash Fiction
What fascinates me about this story from a flash fiction perspective is that Musgraves tells a story of heartbreak completely by proxy. All of the characterization of this story is done indirectly.
She never mentions the man who broke her heart, except through the metaphor of the dandelion.
She tells nothing about herself, except in the context of a heart-to-heart conversation… with a weed.
If only the dandelions in my backyard were so useful.