Rock and roll rhetoric: Life In The Fast Lane

There were lines on the mirror,
Lines on her face
She pretended not to notice,
She was caught up in the race.

Life In The Fast Lane, (Walsh, Henley, Frey), Eagles

That first couplet works so well because it takes a mental double-take to realise that the first set of lines are on and not in the mirror. And then we remember that:

They knew all the right people,
They took all the right pills
They threw outrageous parties,
They paid heavenly bills.

The lines / lines line is an example of syllepsis; the use of a word in two incongruous ways. It can have a striking effect, making the listener pause and replay to fully process the meaning. In the wrong hands, however, as Mark Forsyth observes in his excellent Elements of Eloquence, it can sound a bit over-clever.

Other successful, rock and roll examples include:

  • “Mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice” – Hotel California, (Felder, Henley, Frey), Eagles again. Here, the syllepsis is on the verb “on”.
  • “You were pumping iron while I was pumping irony” – Heaven Knows (Johnstone, Barratt), Robert Plant. Plant’s a great songwriter, but this isn’t one of his.
  • “She blew my nose and then she blew my mind” – Honky Tonk Women, (Jagger, Richards), The Rolling Stones
  • “You held your breath and the door for me” – Head Over Feet, (Ballard, Morissette), Alanis Morissette. Here, super-clever the word “held” is stated only once but applies to two nouns in two different senses: you held your breath, you held the door.

Away from music, two of my favourite examples, both courtesy of Forsyth’s book are:

From Charles Dickens:

Miss Bolo rose from the table considerably agitated, and went straight home, in a flood of tears, and a sedan chair.

and, unattributed:

A shocking affair occurred last night. Sir Edward Hopeless, as guest at Lady Panmore’s ball, complained of feeling ill, took a highball, his hat, his coat, his departure, no notice of his friends, a taxi, a pistol from his pocket, and finally his life. Nice chap. Regrets and all that.

Back to the Eagles. Here’s the reunited line-up …

From the Eagles’ 1976 album Hotel California:

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