As observant readers know, I don’t talk about the meaning behind the lyrics I write. I’ve been thinking lately about explaining myself, explaining why I don’t explain myself, via blog. I was almost derailed, though, as I read the introduction to a book of lyrics by one of my favourite artists (Brian Molko of Placebo). Brian doesn’t even like to have his lyrics written out for people to read and, whilst I don’t share that particular dislike, the reasons he provided made sense. Suddenly, I felt like I’d already put so much out there just by providing lyrics…But here I am, explaining myself. Oddly, the thing that has me finally writing up what I hope will be a comprehensive guide to why I don’t like to explain what/whom lyrics are about is the decision to actually do a little explaining as part of the release of my band’s Each to Each EP. No, I know, it doesn’t make sense. Welcome to the chaos of my brain!
Now, without further preface:
Why I Don’t Like To Explain My Lyrics
(A list I scribbled whilst on the tube)
- I can’t be the only person who loved a song and found meaning in it and then read or heard the band talking about what they meant by it and was completely put off the song or confused…and it ceased to be meaningful to me. Sometimes, for the sake of being fed by art, it’s better we don’t understand what the artist intended.
- Lyrics ought to stand on their own, in the context of a song, without need for explanation. Writing them without intent to explain them keeps me from taking sloppy shortcuts. Because…
- In an ideal world, my songs are all over the place and people are hearing them without explanation. And…
- People are finding their own connection to the lyrics, their own meaning. Mine matters and there’s something to be said for authorial intent, but who am I to deny you the meaning you find? People are, I believe, most likely to find a meaning that speaks to their understanding and their context or to find, in those things that they connect with that are outside their context, a way to open their minds and hearts.
- Sometimes, the feelings that are captured in lyrics are fleeting. They might last only as long as it takes me to write. They might even be mostly worked out but just a pushy ghost whispering words in my heart by the time I have a moment to write. If I was hurt by you or doubted you for one brief moment, there’s no reason to have you feel hurt or upset every time you hear a song that was written in that moment.
On a related note…
- Lyrics, like other art forms, sometimes dramatise a feeling or an experience. We’re trying to help evoke a massive emotion in just a few minutes; we don’t have years of building up the emotional context. (Or maybe I realised the best words to get the emotion and the rhyme/metre is to use a word that’s a bit more than things strictly, literally were. Ah, artistic license…)
This leads to two reasons I don’t want to tell you the story behind a song:
- Yes, it’s an authentic emotion I’m describing, but it doesn’t mean that every moment of whatever we were doing was this massively horrible or amazing. I don’t want anyone taking it the wrong way.
- I don’t want people who care about me to know that something is really that massively big because they would worry. They don’t need to worry. Better they assume it’s just dramatised. (I promise, if I need help, I’ll reach out.)
- Whilst the feelings or my side of a story are mine to share, I don’t necessarily want to cast aspersions on or cause discomfort in the other person(s) involved. Especially if I was being a bit dramatic. Even if I wasn’t, I’m not actually hateful and I hope that even those who’ve done the worst to me have gone on to become better people and have happy lives. (I’ve actually had more than one person who quite sincerely apologised to me, years after the fact, when they realised how horrid they’d been.)
- I don’t want to feed anyone’s egos. I don’t want to make famous (or infamous) people who did me ache. The only way in which I let them linger in my life is by turning them into something good (lyrics, poems, characters in stories, art!). If the worst they did was break my heart by not returning a feeling, my emotions are still not here for their egos. They need to go find some other girl or boy to help them feel that, someone to whom they return the feeling so that it’s a healthy situation. (And, whilst some people think they know which songs are about them, I’ve had some of my closest friends guess incorrectly about a song’s inspiration. So, if someone tells you I wrote it about them, they probably don’t know what they’re talking about…)
- Often, I’ve used the song to process through and be mostly done with an emotion or a dark moment. If we’re performing, I’m willing to put myself back in that emotion to give you a good show (I am a fan of emotional authenticity). Outside that context, however, I want to be done with the feeling. (Why dwell on an old hurt when life delivers new hurts?) And some things will creep back in far too easily if I tell you what the song was about. I try to have the same policy with emotional self harm as I do with physical, which is to say I avoid it these days.
- The meanings of the songs evolve, even for me. You know how sometimes you hear a song and it means one thing, and then you live a little more and the song evolves to mean something else? There are a few of my songs where that’s what’s happened. (Bruise Me, for instance…and I swear I intend to write about that in the tidbit I’m going to post about Bruise Me in the days after the album release, so read that for a concrete example.)
Having told you all that, and feeling pretty sure I’ve covered all my reasons (nine is a good number), I’m going to go write some tidbits about the songs on the album…give you a little peek at what’s behind some of the songs.
Of course, whilst I prefer not to talk about the meanings, I’m always interested in hearing what the songs mean to someone else. Even if, as occasionally happens, what someone hears in them is so far from my truth when I wrote them that I get confused. It gives me a chance to discover nuances and consider other perspectives. So do keep finding meaning. For me, if people are connecting and finding meaning, the songs are doing what they’re meant to do, and that means my life has been worth living…worth singing about.