Like Lightning

By Nicole Roth

She wrote her one and only hit song, “Like Lightning,” while she sat hunched over a studio soundboard. The album was late, but she was trying not to think about that. Instead, she picked out a melody on her acoustic guitar, piecing together a few of the chords that she’d toyed with when she practiced.

Finally, a combination seemed to work. The electricity of it ran through her as she scribbled the chord structure down in her notebook. Those dog-eared pages had carried her through a year of recording, and they wouldn’t fail her now.

All in all, the song took her an hour to write and another hour to record. A well-timed miracle. Her producer cut the track before the record execs could turn off the lights, and together they breathed a collective sigh of relief.

At the time, she had no idea that her little filler song would eventually be played on every radio station in every town. Now there was nothing she could do to get away from it. “Like Lightning” was a hit.

On tour, she would sing that song along with all her others. To her, every song was special in its own way, created from slices of life or bursts of inspiration. Some introduced themselves quietly over time, while others flashed bright as they came to life on her guitar.

When she got on stage, however, she could feel that the audience merely tolerated the rest of her set. As stage lights flashed down on her and her band, the audience swayed in anxious anticipation. Sure enough, when she picked the infamous opening notes of “Like Lightning,” the crowd would ignite as if possessed by the same unearthly forces that had led her to write the song in the first place.

Why this song? she wondered.

She tried to pick apart the moment when inspiration struck. There must have been something magical there that night. Perhaps it was how the fluorescent lights of the studio bathed her notebook, or how the sound of the melody echoed in the empty room. Maybe it was that one string that had been woefully out of tune, the one that she didn’t have time to change.

She wasn’t the only one asking about “Like Lightning.” Fans, interviewers, music critics wanted to know. What was the song about?

It was a question she couldn’t answer. Mechanically, she knew why the song worked. It was in a happier key, and the song structure was a familiar verse, chorus, verse. She also knew that she loved the line “It could all come crashing down like lightning.” She couldn’t really describe the song any more than that, at least not coherently.

So she answered the prying question the same way she introduced the song on stage: “This is a song about love and what we do for it.”

She reasoned that she was telling the truth in a way. She had written “Like Lightning” mostly to keep the lights on, but also because she loved music. She would do anything just to keep making it, and that’s what she told herself every time she sang that song.

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