“Day of the Dead” is as much a short story as a song. And like many good short story writers, Hana Zara offers enough evocative details to sketch a few narrative outlines while leaving much of the specifics to the imagination.
If you analyze the lyrics here – and these lyrics merit analysis; Zara’s work should be taught in songwriting classes – a tragic story swims into focus. Trying to cliff-notes it here would only blunt the precision of Zara’s language, so instead I’ll quote the second verse as a representative sample:
So your sister called me crying from halfway across the states
She chose the dying of the desert over the dying of the plains
Said New Mexico was different but the sunlight was the same
And the phone was near on fire and she couldn’t say your name
And so we lay you in the garden and you sprung up like a weed
Where we’d scattered red tomatoes and spilled morning glory seeds
All of us tripping in the overgrowth and dying in the brush
All agreed we would have laid ourselves beside you if we could
It’s easy when writing about a lyricist of Zara’s caliber to fall into the trap of only writing about the words. But these aren’t short stories and they aren’t poems either; they’re songs. Good as the words are on the page, they’re even better performed. With only an acoustic guitar and accenting accordion to back Zara’s soaring vocals, the driving music propels the song forward. “Sad acoustic song” needn’t always mean “ballad,” and the unrelenting musical momentum Zara gives her lyrics suits a tale unavoidably bound for a tragic end.