Aposiopetic: The Punch Brothers, “Rye Whiskey” (2010)

I feel like the smartest guy on my block today because I’ve just heard a song with an aposiopesis hook, and I can discuss with you its aposiopetic effect, confident that I’m using this tremendous word, aposiopesis, extremely correctly.

It means “becoming silent” and refers to sentences broken off for effect, as in “If I get a hold of you, I’ll—”

It’s a sudden invitation to imagine what (you’re ready to imagine).

So you have to (be able to handle that).

Here is a textbook example from a piece of excellent progressive string band music, The Punch Brothers’ “Rye Whiskey”:

“Rye Whiskey” 1

Rye thoughts aren’t good thoughts, boys,
Have I ever told you ‘bout the time I—

The music there confirms the fragmentation but takes it marvelously in stride.

In the last verse he finally tells us ‘bout the time he—, and instead of some outrageous episode, we get a quiet general notion that turns our thinking about “time” to a different angle:

“Rye Whiskey” 2

Rye sleep isn’t good sleep, boys,
Have I ever told you about the time I
Took it and took her for granted?
How I took it and took her for granted?
Well let’s take some and take them all for granted.

Nowwhat’s  a great purely musical aposiopesis?

My hunch is that the best place to look for musical aposiopesis is in instrumental solos, where a nice jaggediness can be obtained by breaking off a figure before it gets completed. (This would be a phantom figure that you project from the part you’ve heard.) There’s a lot more of this in jazz than in rock and pop, but I find lovely examples in the middle of one of my favorite Steely Dan guitar solos, Jay Graydon’s brilliant contribution to “Peg” (on Aja, 1977)starting at 0:17 in this clip:

Graydon solo in “Peg”

Does everyone hear it this way? Is there a choice about how to hear it?


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock Aesthetics, Words and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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