Writing a song can be a deeply personal experience. To use a current analogy, it’s like zooming in on a photo you’ve taken on your smart phone. Of amplifying the subject, of analysing the colours, the flavours, the textures and the emotions.
And then what happens if you use a filter? Are you changing the levels, the contrast, the brightness?
Song writing is a way of sharing the experience of that one snap-shot in time. Which is what it is. It is ONE finite moment, one interpretation within an infinite amount of time and experiences.
But songwriting isn’t always so serious. It can also be very light. It can be observational, imaginative, poetic and completely fictional. The words can even be chosen for their value as a sound rather than an expression of language. There is no law of being a lyricist as it’s as much an art-form as any other. And just as in art, it’s eventual meaning sits almost entirely in the interpretation at the receiving end. What the listener believes it to be.
I’m sure we’re all guilty of this… How many times have you thought a song was about one thing, only to find out later that it was something else completely? For years you believed that romantic ballad was about star-crossed lovers that took each other to greater heights, only to later hear that it’s really about a drugged out trip that was experienced during a cocaine-high, not even written by the singer.
For me, I think that sometimes it can be better to never know how or why the song was written, because it’s human nature to interpret stories by relating them to our own experiences anyway. We make them what we need them to be. We hear what we want to hear. (But on the flip-side of that, it can also help expose us to new experiences and opinions when we realise an alternative meaning.)
Here’s another one for you, how many times have you listened to a favourite song while happy? Loved it coz it made you smile and dance about like a mad woman. Then you hear it when you’re feeling sad and suddenly the whole song changes. That happened for me with Cake’s ‘Never There’. We can get not only the story wrong but the emotion in which it is delivered because it’s relative to how we ourselves are feeling. It’s powerfully magical really…
Regardless of its origins or subject matter, song writing is story telling. And as sentient beings we enjoy connecting, relating and being understood. Everyone reading this blog is aware of a song’s ability to transport us through our own relatable experiences, which is why it will always remain an important form of communication that’s as varied as the colour of our hair. And whilst there are definitely some songs that are better than others, there’s no right or wrong way to create your story or mine.
What’s a song you thought meant one thing but ended up being something else entirely?