with history now briefly covered, and a few pondering posts to test out how i like pondering on here, it’s time to get back to music as a current topic. kind of.
as many have learned, i’m not really planning to explain my lyrics to anyone. i can’t tell you the number of times jason has asked, as we work a song, “what’s this one about?” only to have me shrug and say, “what do you think it’s about? all that matters is that the music fits it.” there’s only one person i’d make exceptions for, and that’s because i know he won’t tell anyone at all and because he’s got every bit of my trust. and, you know, that’s probably not you. sorry.
why won’t i tell you what the songs mean? well, there are a number of reasons. for one, not everyone who hears a song will have the luxury of reading or hearing an explanation from me. that song needs to stand on its own, without extra words. also, i can’t tell you the number of songs that were totally meaningful to me, that i made completely valid analyses of, that were then soured when i heard what the writer meant. okay, fine, to the writer that song is about something entirely different, but there’s no need to rob me of the emotional connection i had with the song for my own reasons. additionally, i don’t want people who might have influenced a song to either see it as an attack or as an ego builder. that’s not why i write. and, finally, as you’ll read, most come from too complex a place to really sum up.
but i can tell you where lyrics come from. and, unlike when you learned where babies come from, i don’t care if you tell your little sister. in fact, please, do tell her.
the lyrics come a few ways. most just sort of fall out of me and onto the paper, quickly. i feel really blessed that it works that way. every so often, something falls out in pieces. i try not to force it when it goes like that. try to just meditate on what’s at the root. the few times i’ve forced it, the lyrics have been shoddy and needed rewriting. so, better to get it right the first time.
but at the root, no matter how they come out, is always a mental collage. and the collage isn’t built by effort or always around a clear theme. it’s a mix of memories, of story ideas, of possible futures and missed pasts, of smells and sights and emotions, of other people’s experiences, of individual words or phrases that feel good on my tongue and rolling across my brain. sometimes, there’s almost a physical sensation or two that comes along with it. it’s usually something of a chaotic mess, really.
if the lyrics just fall out, the mess seems to settle into something i can look at and benefit from once i’m finished writing. until then, it’s almost like the whole mass of the thing is pushing the words out.
if the lyrics come slowly, the mass starts settling as i regard it. i write what comes easily, and then i sort of let the whole thing shift a bit. i close my eyes and just watch it. sometimes i poke at it. i ask it, “what’s this piece doing here? it’s totally unlike the others.” and as pieces fall together, the words fall out of me.
even in a situation where i could probably say, “this song is about this person / this event / this theme / this emotion,” there’s always something more going on. that thing has drifted through my heart and my mind and other bits of what’s inside of me have caught onto it. so that even if i told you and tried to explain, there’d still be some line or verse that wasn’t quite that thing. but, hopefully, that still fits.
of course, a close friend recently noted that a lot of my songs seem to be written before their time. that they are all clearly about things that happened after i wrote them. and when i tried to protest, some pretty uncanny things were pointed out to me. but i think i’m going to chalk that up to the fact that time isn’t linear; we just see it that way through our limited brains. which means that i’ve got endless years of images to throw into those collages. so i don’t expect to understand word-by-word either. and maybe that’s the real reason i can’t explain myself. heh.