Jury trials are usually fights over two versions of facts, often presented in the form of stories, which are instinctively how we communicate and learn. From morality tales we hear growing up to jokes told in adulthood, stories teach and enlighten us. We can win in the courtroom if we discover and present a powerfully true story, but if we fail the jury may choose to believe our opponent’s story or supply one of their own.
I am sitting in a coffee shop waiting for a friend. It is early morning and the sun slices through the window. My coffee smells good as I take a cautious sip and quickly set the hot cup down. Suddenly an old familiar song returns through the shop’s speakers and I am once again transported away:
Cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas
Rising up through the air
In those four short lines I’m on my way to Hotel California again, that mystical place that exists only because of the writing brilliance of Felder, Henley and Frey and the musical magnificence of The Eagles. Why does this song or any song “move us”? Why does it touch us, like a book, movie or even commercial can do? Part of it is because The Eagles follow some key storytelling basics to capture us.
First, those first few lines begin to tell us a story in the present tense, and second, they touch all five of our senses:
Cool wind in my hair (touch and hearing)
Warm smell of colitas (smell and taste–of “colitas”: slang for marijuana)
Rising up through the air (sight and smell)
We’ll all soon be checking in at the hotel with our senses firing and we haven’t even gotten to the “mirrors on the ceiling” and “pink champagne on ice” yet. Oh boy. We are hooked.
When a story begins in the present tense and touches our senses we are suddenly right there. Lessons abound for the courtroom, especially for opening statement and direct examination. As we learn from the fairy tales of our youth to the proverbial “two guys walk into a bar” great storytelling drops us right into the experience. The jury deserves the same.
The third lesson demonstrated by this song is that great stories often have a beginning of Normal, a middle of challenge and change and an end of New Normal. (See, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”, Hero’s Journey and great advocacy.) This song is no different. It begins on that dark desert highway and ends up at a place we can never leave, or as Don Henley explained in History of the Eagles, it takes us on a “journey from innocence to experience.” Quite a journey indeed, all traveled in six and a half minutes.
If we carefully listen to Hotel California it teaches us to tell the truthful emotion of our story through using present tense, triggering five senses and transitioning to a New Normal. It also teaches that if we set aside our lawyer head and access our inner artist we can have a better chance of going with jurors to special places too.