Song Videos by Mary S. Van Deusen

What Are They
Why We Make and Watch
Point of View
Getting More Complicated
Just How Complicated
What to Look For
Editing Background
Chronological List
    Star Trek
    Blakes 7
    Sherlock Holmes
    Forever Knight
    Starsky and Hutch
    Due South
    Star Wars
    Miami Vice
    Quantum Leap
Local Cable Posters
Textual Poachers
Move Over, MTV
        by Tashery Shannon
        by Paul Campanis
Still Example
        Grey Geese
Developing a Music Video
        Dust in the Wind


A literary music video, like a short story, has a point to make or a story to tell. It does this by either interpreting the lyrics in the context of the video, or by using the music intensity to create a coherent video story. And just as a short story can have flashbacks and points of view and timeline, so can a literary music video.

Without being able to watch an actual song video here (I can digitize one easily, but I'm still looking for a cheap way to make one accessible on the web), you're going to have to use your imagination and watch them in your head. Although you can make song videos out of footage you shoot yourself, I'm going to use the example of footage taken from a familiar television show, Star Trek, so that it's easier for us all to watch the same song video.

Consider Frank Sinatra's "I Did It My Way" and, as you look at the words, free associate with Star Trek's Captain Kirk.

And now the end is near
And so I face the final curtain.
My friends, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case
Of which I'm certain.
I've lived a life that's full
I've traveled each and every highway.
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

There, you've just watched a literary song video. The point of view was simple and clear since Kirk was just talking about himself. In fact, as you listen to it with Kirk in mind, the song seems almost written for him. And that's as it should be when you've made a good mix of song and scenes.

When I first made this particular video, Kirk hadn't yet died and so his "final curtains" were draperies of the mind -- his fears of loss of career, fear of aging, etc. Now that he's actually died, I'm sure that I could remake this song to be far more poignant.

The scenes of a song video can be a random collage, with each piece of lyric appearing with video that helps the viewer/listener pay attention to those lyrics. For myself, I find that I still never really hear lyrics until I have to write them down in order to find appropriate video and then I'm often pleasantly pleased by the subtlety of the songwriter.

Mary at work

I can't really explain why song videos are so obsessive to make AND to watch, but they are. I've finished 16 hour work days and gone home to edit for another 5 hours on my personal pieces. I now know that I can edit in my sleep and I can edit on pain killers. I might not be able to think clearly but, luckily, I seem to edit the way I drive -- on instinct.

From the first videos I've made, I've received letters and calls from people who talk about the compulsion they have to watch these videos. People will break tapes or wear them out just playing them over and over again. They laugh to them, they cry to them. They seem to use them to work through emotional traumas. And when the need is past, the videos become comfortable, familiar old friends that play in the background as they grade their papers or do their daily chores.

I don't understand the intensity of the reaction that comes from adding music to a psychological theme, but I do know the intensity is there. I would love to hear from anyone who had a better handle on just what the mechanisms are that lead to this obsession for all of us.

One of the common threads I do hear is that the videos are so familiar that people know the work so well, they don't need the videos any more -- the audio is enough because they can play the video in their heads. This leads to the oft-repeated anecdote about being in a grocery store, or elevator, or anywhere music is playing, and hearing some favorite music from a song video and laughing in pleasure to realize that the people around them are only hearing the song, while they are watching it. I remember being embarrassed once by someone's praise of the work and responding awkwardly that there was an error in one clip on the master I called Blakes Seven number 2. The next day the woman called back and correctly identified the several second clip on the one hour tape. I try now to be more careful in my responses.

Song videos seem to be a pathway. They make someone want to see the episodes from which the clips are cut - to find out just WHY some provocative action takes place or just to see more of a handsome face. They certainly cause a major upsurge in interest in particular musicians and albums. The most extreme story I remember of that was early on when someone asked for a copy of my songs. I agreed to send her a tape and she squealed in excitement, saying that the very moment that it came she was going to rush right out and buy a VCR.


Let's consider a song about two people, "You Needed Me" by Anne Murray. To decide who is singing and who is being sung to, you need to look at the lyrics and consider the psychology of the characters.
01. I cried a tear.
02. You wiped it dry.
03. I was confused.
04. You cleared my mind.
05. I sold my soul.
06. You bought it back for me.
07. And held me up
08. And gave me dignity.
09. Somehow you needed me.

Up to line 9, you probably could have found scenes where each character supported the other, but line 9 ties it up for me. I can't see the arrogant Captain Kirk saying "somehow you needed me." I find a humility there that only works, for me, with Spock as the singer.

Let's look at the lines again with stills from possible scenes.

--opening music--
I cried a tear.
You wiped it dry.
I was confused.
You cleared my mind.
I sold my soul.
You bought it back for me.
And held me up.
And gave me dignity.
Somehow you needed me.

You might find that you wouldn't have chosen the same scenes I did. One of the nice things about music videos is that each song maker interprets lyrics in the context of their own life -- which makes for fascinating variations when people do the same song for the same fandom.


Let's look at how you might take lyrics with a more poetic interpretation to make something a bit more complicated. Grey Geese is a pretty obscure song to find but very well worth looking for. It's on a solo album of Mary Travers (from Peter, Paul and Mary) that I've only heard about in vinyl. If you find it somewhere, let me know.

The meaning of the song is found in the refrain, "Will you be there when I need you most of all." What came to my mind was Spock being there for Kirk when Spock saved the ship in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. This image has a special poignancy in this context, since the result of Spock's meeting Kirk's ultimate need is that Spock will never be there for Kirk in the future.

The song is divided into verses and the single line refrain. I used the verses to let Kirk explain the stresses in his life that make him need Spock. I use the refrains to move along the action of Spock's sacrifice. Each time Kirk asks if Spock will be there, Spock moves further toward the ship's salvation and his own destruction until, at last, Kirk asks him yet again if he will be there, but now he's asking the dead Spock, and Kirk knows the answer all too well.

Mary at work

The limits of the complexity of song videos is only your own imagination. Song videos lend themselves to building layers of meaning. At the top layer, there is physical action that matches the words. At the next layer, there's a deeper match across the psychology of the characters or the characteristics of the show. Down even farther, what is shown can be an exact match to what was actually happening in that episode. And at the bottom, you can put in word plays, such as using scenes from an episode that has the same name as a word in the lyrics.

I've made over 300 videos and, though I do love working in a small "box", even I find the occasional need to purposely complicate the work just to make it harder. I've made song videos where I've set the requirement on myself that I would only use clips in their chronological appearance over the series. I've done "balanced" videos where the first and last scenes were naturally the same. Symbolism is also fun to work with. In Melissa Manchester's "White Rose", I use the Enterprise to symbolize the rose.

Probably my favorite technique is to continuously change the meaning of some key word. For example, in Air Supply's "Making Love Out of Nothing At All", just what it means to "make love out of nothing" varies over the length of the song, as does the phrase, "Turn it off" over Phil Collin's "Long, Long Way To Go."


What I look for in a song is clarity of lyrics and enough of a story to let me build something interesting. This means that much hard rock is out and much easy listening is in. It's often a shame. I listen to a song I've loved for years, hoping that it will work for a TV show that currently interests me, only to discover that the lyrics are basically repetitive (The Beatles "I Want to Hold Your Hand"), or can't be understood (The Grateful Dead's "Hard Time", which I made as "High Time" by mistake).

I stood outside a bar on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and listened to a band play "Boys of Summer" by Don Henley. I stayed there for several hours listening to the song over and over again. That was in 1985. I think I'm almost ready to work with it now.

Another problem with songs, especially common with country music, is that the words can be so explicit that it's difficult to find a way to turn them into something symbolic. One of my favorite songs is "Taxi", about a cab driver who picks up an old girl friend, now a successful actress. Another is "Bo Jangles." Maybe someday I'll see some way to handle them.

Sometimes, a song will just not work for one fandom, but will work well for another. I desperately wanted to do "Temper of Revenge", by Julia Ecklar, for Starsky and Hutch. It's 80 percent done. It's that last 20 percent I just couldn't get past. Working with Caren Parnes on a Tombstone video, "Shape of My Heart" by Sting, this song that was making me knock my head against the wall in Starsky and Hutch, fell out trivially in a few hours for Tombstone.

Of course, you can also find a piece of music that's ideal for song videos and discover that your taste is somewhat out of the norm. Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages" is something I'll watch over and over again. Unfortunately, I think I'm the only one. This had one of the most challenging lyrics to visualize that I remember. "In a soldier's stance, I aimed my lance at the mongrel dogs who preach, fearing not I'd become my enemy in the instant that I preach." Now think Star Trek.

Friends have been kind enough to suggest songs, expanding my own musical tastes in the process. My apologies still to Patricia Frazer Lamb. Even with the English translation, I just couldn't do German opera. I owe a large debt to Linda Ploetz, who loaned me first generation Blakes Seven tapes the first evening she met me. The only thing she ever asked for in return was that I do songs from the musical, Chess. Though I kicked and screamed for almost a year before doing it, her instincts were right on, and I'm proud of those songs. Thank you, Linda.

Mary with Caren

I usually find that my favorite video is the one I've just finished. But, clearly, there are some videos that come up on my TV and make me stop in my tracks to watch. A few of my favorites follow in no particular order. Tomorrow the list would be different.

  • Alley Oop, Gary Paxton, Due South
  • Into The West, Annie Lennox, Lord of the Rings
  • Rage On, Dan Seals, Buffy/Spike
  • Superman's Song, Crash Test Dummies, Due South
  • Song For My Mother (Mother), Jane Oliver, Camera
  • Canon (Quebec City), Pachabel, Camera, BY Paul Kosinski
  • Shape of My Heart, Sting, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday, BY Caren Parnes and Mary Van Deusen
  • Leader of the Band, Dan Fogelberg, Star Trek
  • Eye of the Tiger, Survivor, Professionals
  • Grey Geese, Mary Travers, Star Trek
  • These Dreams, Heart, Quantum Leap
  • Against The Wind, Bob Seeger, Blakes Seven
  • The Boxer, Simon and Garfunkel, Sherlock Holmes and Watson
  • Call It a Loan, Jackson Browne, Sherlock Holmes and Watson
  • Deck the Halls (Christmas in Wrentham shops), Trail Band, Camera
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Steve Grimes' Xmas), Trail Band, Camera
  • Etude (Baby Birds), Chopin, Camera
  • Badlands, Bruce Springsteen, Forever Knight
  • Comedy Tonight, Funny Thing Happened on The Way to the Forum, Blakes Seven
  • My Father (Grandfather), Judy Collins, Camera
  • Tapestry, Carole King, Star Trek The Next Generation
  • Children of the Fall, Julia Ecklar, Professionals
  • Waiting for a Friend, Roger Daltry, Professionals
  • Gravel on the Ground, Mac Davis, Professionals
  • All I Know, Art Garfunkel, Callan


Bacon-Smith, Camille, "Enterprising Women", University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1992, pp.175-181.

Jenkins, Henry, "Textual Poachers", Routledge, New York, 1992, pp.227-249.

Van Deusen and Frishberg, "Reducing Video Data for Interactivity", IBM Internal Meeting on Multimedia, Boca Raton FL, February 1991, IBM Research Report RC17789.

Van Deusen and Kosinski, "Video Editing for Interactive Multi-Media", IBM Research Report, February 1991 (NB: This includes an extensive history and overview of non-linear editors).


Song videos are made as amateur, non-profit productions, and are not intended to infringe on the rights of any copyright holder of video or music. No one who has copies of my song videos has my permission to make profit from them.

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Copyright © 1996, Mary S. Van Deusen