Since I’ve been writing and releasing songs regularly over the last two years I’ve been getting some flack about what the lyrics are about. The songs I write aren’t always about someone in particular or a situation that is actually happening to me at the time. When I was 21 a songwriter friend of mine told me that I should write all my lyrics while I’m young. Regardless of having any music to go with the lyrics or not, he said that I should write down the feelings I have as a young man because as an older, settled down man I wouldn’t have so many wild and tempestuous feelings and that the quiet and mundane feelings I would have as an older man wouldn’t make great lyrics. In a way he was right, my feelings are less tempestuous and less dramatic as an older man but a lot of them are still there.
I didn’t heed his advice and here I am finding that I’m having to draw on a number of experiences from throughout my life in order to create food for songs. I have also found that the mundane does make a good song, please check out ‘Blue Collar Factory Blues’ from my album with Neil Challis. My life does have plenty of ups and downs and still gives me food for songs. I still get angry, but nit as intensely as I did as a young man, nor am I as likely to act as harshly as I did as a young man; the argument with the guy in my office last year would have ended far less amenably if it had happened 20 years ago! So there is the element of intensity that may have gone from my young man lyric writing, but there has added the element of perspective and also the fact that just by virtue of having been around the planet longer I have heard a lot more stories. I have had friends in situations that I have helped them through or news stories I have read that I can draw upon. I dream about lives I could have had, I know I shouldn’t but I do.
The mad thing is that these are all private thoughts and feelings that as an artist I wish to express that I otherwise couldn’t. The issue is wether I should express them or not. What if they do harm? Should I only stick to flattering lyrics? As a Blues artist is that realistic? As a miserable and sometimes suicidal person with mental health issues is that realistic? Should I just not bother to say anything at all if I can’t say anything nice? I think the answer is that art should be for art’s sake and just like anything else, if you think it’s about you then it might well apply to you even if it wasn’t written with you in mind. Maybe it says more about you than it does about the writer? Many people don’t like having a mirror held up to them.
Modern culture is full of questions about who particular songs or characters are about. Was Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter books based on J K Rowling’s ex husband? Was ‘You’re So Vain” actually written about Warren Beatty? Was Adele’s song ‘Someone like you’ written about her ex? The writer of hit TV show ‘Cold Feet’ had his friends testify in a TV documentary that the attitude amongst their group was to ‘be careful or you’ll end up in his show’ and apparently he wrote the whole first series based on actual events that had happened to them. My take on it is that it doesn’t really matter because they are all amazing pieces of art and surely the source material is irrelevant to enjoying the art experience. It’s interesting for sure but not essential to the experience.
As far as my own songs go, I’m just a tiny part-time musician from the arse end of no-where that doesn’t even do music for a living. I get about 20,000 listens a year on Soundcloud which is really just a drop in the ocean. My last song that caused a family riot has only been listened to 120 times, probably not all the way through, probably 100 times but the person it upset. Chill out, no one’s listening anyway, I’m hardly Adele or J K Rowling!
In the meantime I will continue to make up stories for my songs, imagine situations and write about what I know and just reap the whirlwind.