Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Truth in Songwriting

It's Freddy Mercury's 65th birthday - or it would have been, had he not been ravaged by the scourge of the late 20th century. And it got me thinking about how songs are usually so much better when they show, however obliquely, a side of the songwriter. And yes, I got there in a kind of roundabout way, after having listened to Keep Yourself Alive - because when Freddy sang "Well I loved a million women in a belladonic haze," I know that I for one was not buying THAT little piece of poetic legerdemain, however clever the turn of phrase.

Anyway, I find that as a songwriter of, admittedly, small gifts, it's beyond me to write a song that has nothing to do with something in my experience.  You'd think that it'd be easier to just compose a little nothing song about puppy love or popping a cap in someone's ass or whatever it is you kids do nowadays, but for some reason I just find that more difficult than writing from my heart about something that makes me laugh, or cry, or feel the infinite scope of emotions inbetween.  Don't get me wrong - I find it insanely difficult to write those songs too, but however facile, however rudimentary in structure, however lacking in subtlety, at least those songs seem to get finished.

I have a great admiration for people who can 23-skiddoo you a song, a professional songwriter who can write a beautiful song without it being part of their experience.  And they can do so with remarkable beauty: just fire up the ol' turntable and listen to Francis Albert singing about the Summer Wind for a prime example. But for me, where the rubber meets the road is when the songwriter speaks from experience - like anything John Lennon wrote after mid-1965, for example.  One of the first songs he wrote from the heart rather than his own personal Brill Building was a remarkable work called In My Life, even more remarkable given that he was a 25-year old looking back over his life:

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone, and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends, I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all.

I would trade many things for the ability to write like that. I guess the closest I came was a song I wrote about my dad.  Anyone experiencing a family tragedy becomes intimately acquainted with that goddamn ringing phone, how well-meaning friends and family call you to offer love or support or just to check in.  However noble the sentiment, though, I grew to really resent the ringing phone and started to think those on the other end callous and self-centered.  What a grieving family wants, in those horrible horrible hours and days right after a tragedy, is ten uninterrupted minutes of silence - but that's just what they don't get.  Anyway, after Dad's first real scrape with the dude with the scythe, I wrote a song about the phone. I had it all tabbed up with chords and stuff but I realized that you very likely don't want to hear it, let alone see the tablature for it.  Anyone who does, just send me a message and I'll send you a link.  I'm not anticipating a stampede.

In poker news I'm going back to Foxwoods tomorrow.  I tried my luck over the weekend but the sharks were out, preying on the touristas.  I ended up losing money but walked out with my dignity intact, if not much else.  Henceforth I'm sticking to mid-week and stealing from the retirees who have time to kill and money to donk off. Wish me luck.


  1. Although the lyrics are classic, one might argue that someone the young age of 25 really has such limited life experiences with which to be nostalgic. On the other hand, maybe that is genius. Personally, although not in the same ballpark lyrics-wise, I prefer the reflections of Watching the Wheels.

    btw -- the song for the first dance for the bride and groom at my wedding? Oh My Love.

  2. Well dude, yes and no. Today's 25 year olds are still living at home and are considered sort of senior adolescents. But by 1965, John had spent two years in Germany's most notorious red-light district, physically seen his mother hit by a car, dealt with his best friend die of a brain hemorrhage, been married for four years and had a three-year-old child, and had fronted what was already the most popular band in history. He had done more living in 25 years than many men do in a lifetime; my take is he earned his introspection.

  3. btw, re: Oh My Love, that whole album stands the hair up on the back of my neck, all the way from Mother to My Mummy's Dead.