“Nobody wants to hear my stories.” That’s what I tell Bill Goodell, my songwriting collaborator. He’s convinced that the audience does want to hear them, if I choose the right words to make my story accessible. But I’m realizing that he doesn’t understand my complaint.
Humans naturally want to hear something that supports their narrative, but will accept an altered trajectory as long as they can get there using what they already know. My target audience is the small group of people who truly enjoy the unknown, people who have questions about living in a house where raw meat was offered to saints in tureens.
My gripe about all things is this: Why do you need to align something closer to the story everybody knows when I’m trying desperately to explain that other stories exist?
I remember meeting someone in a writing group who kept getting advice that her characters were not believable.
“But my family lives in Appalachia,” she said. “Most or all of those things actually happened.”
In songwriting, my first problem is making myself understood to my collaborator. Does the collaborator get it, or try to fix things that sound infeasible? Perhaps, then, I need a stronger magnifying glass. To use my raw meat example:
People wouldn’t just sleep in a living room where someone’s offering sacrifices…
me: But yes, they would (and write a song about not feeling endangered by someone else’s religion but make it about sleeping.)
Tangible items bring a concept home. We as listeners can swap them out with items that mean the same thing to us. What do you feel when I talk about an old teacup? Nostalgia? Thirst? What else could that teacup be? Question for myself: what besides raw meat on a plate in the living room could convey feeling strange in someone else’s world? Always check your connotations – make sure you’re not introducing something to the narrative that you didn’t want there.
Example where I demonstrated motive in the song and it worked:
but I’d married myself to the plans that we made
and you stayed on the other side
asked me home, but I chose my pride
I love that cascade of internal/external rhyme. Bill gets half the credit, either for arranging or for leaving it. It would take several more pages to explain the true story.
What if your observations directly challenge the status quo? How do you make that message palatable?
At this point, I turn to my other world, poetry. Poetry’s reputation runs from niche to weird, but like the weird kid (as the weird kid) I tell you that poetry does want to connect. We’re writing out complex subjects that deserve a voice but don’t always fit neatly into squares. There can and should be a lot of thought put into line breaks and stanzas, conveying emotional breaks
too inconvenient for a verse or a bridge.
Poetry is considered more personal, more solitary. More forgiving? Nobody’s expecting to sing along. There’s no poetry in radi…
::needle scratches across the vinyl::
Louella Arrows is a beautiful soul running a radio show out of KX FM in Laguna Beach. Her show is called Dreamgaze Overtone and airs live every Monday from 1pm-3pm Pacific time. Louella takes a break from spinning records and reads poetry over the air. Listen in live on 104.7 if you’re in the Laguna Area or stream anywhere KX FM Radio Laguna Beach. Louella is looking for poets to feature. You can reach her (ha ha that internal rhyme, right?) by writing to email@example.com or following her in Instagram at @louellaarrows.
Conclusion: maybe the difference between poetry and lyrics is modality of subject matter. While song lends well to group participation, like a super-extra-large pizza, you do want to check for allergies and maybe skip both anchovies and pineapple when you order. Poetry is a quiet sandwich – maybe you can’t see what’s inside right away, might even be raw meat. You could lift the upper crust and look, but a brave soul will just bite right in.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Song or Poetry?
NUMBER 19 - Truth, Accessibility, and Finding the Right Words