I'm always on the lookout for suitable songs to use in class with my EM Normandie students, and, like last week's Bowie song, this one by Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett meets most, if not all, of the criteria: there's a story, you can hear the words, the vocabulary is not too difficult, there's no bad language, there are some interesting grammar points, the song lends itself to discussion. Although the song seems quite simple at first listen, it's really quite deep. See below for some background, the lyrics, lesson ideas and links to sites that discuss the song in more depth.
"Depreston" is taken from the Courtney Barnett's debut album "Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit", which was released in March 2015. The song is based on personal experience and tells the tale of house-hunting in the suburbs of Melbourne, Barnett's home town. The title is a play on words - Preston is a suburb of Melbourne which is described as 'depressing' in the song. So it could be a contraction of 'depressing/depressed' + 'Preston', or even 'depressing' + 'town'. The song was featured in a recent episode of the excellent Song Exploder podcast in which the singer describes in her own words how the song was made and what it means. I've added some other links to sites which talk about the song below.
You could use this song in all sorts of ways but here are just a few suggestions.
1. Tell your students they are going to watch a music video. Show them the first 30 seconds or so of the video without the sound. Get them to describe what they see. Would they like to live there? What sort of music do they think they will hear?
2. Play the video. Then give the students a gapped version of the lyrics below to complete (in groups?) You can do your own or use this Learnclick quiz, if you like.
3. Use this live version with captions to correct the activity.
4. Discuss grammar and vocabulary (I've italicised a few points).
5. Discuss the meaning of the lyrics. For example, who is the 'you' in the first line? (Her flatmate/partner?) Why the reference to coffee shops? (One assumes they live in the town centre currently). How is she saving '23 dollars a week? (By making coffee at home rather than going to coffee shops). Why do they want to move to the suburbs? (It's too expensive to buy a house in the city). Why are the police arresting the man? (Perhaps he's got a gun in the bag). What does 'one' refer to in the line 'if you've just got one'. (Car). Who is the 'you' in 'you say'? (The estate agent). Who is 'the young man in a van in Vietnam?' (The deceased's son? Husband?) Who is the 'she' in the line 'I wonder what she bought it for'. (The deceased owner). What does that line mean? (It's ambiguous. It could mean 'Why did she buy the house?' or 'How much did she pay for the house?') Half a million what? (Dollars). Who suggests knocking the house down? (The estate agent). Why? (Perhaps the house is less valuable than the land it's built on).
6. General discussion: What's the song really about? (The transitory nature of things. Life and death. What do we leave behind when we die?). What's the mood of the song? (Sombre, detached, wistful). Do you like the song? Would you like to live in Preston? Describe where you live. Describe your ideal home, etc. etc.
You said we should look out further, I guess it wouldn't hurt us
We don't have to be around all these coffee shops
Now we've got that percolator, never made a latte greater
I'm saving twenty three dollars a week
We drive to a house in Preston, we see police arrestin'
A man with his hand in a bag
How's that for first impressions? This place seems depressing
It's a Californian bungalow in a cul-de-sac
It's got a lovely garden, a garage for two cars to park in
Or a lot of room for storage if you've just got one
And it's going pretty cheap you say, well it's a deceased estate
Aren't the pressed metal ceilings great?
Then I see the handrail in the shower, a collection of those canisters for coffee, tea and flour
And a photo of a young man in a van in Vietnam
And I can't think of floorboards anymore, whether the front room faces south or north
And I wonder what she bought it for
If you've got a spare half a million
You could knock it down and start rebuildin'
• "Depreston" by Courtney Barnett (Pitchfork review)
• "Depreston" by Courtney Barnett (Genius)
• Stuck On Courtney Barnett’s "Depreston" (Orgastic Futures)
• Courtney Barnett's 'Depreston' song strikes a chord with first-home buyers (The Age)