Monday, July 21, 2008

The Folly of Wisdom

Two recent songwriting rewrite experiences.

I was working on a collaboration over the weekend with a couple people, writing a song for a young female singer. We started with a lyric I had on hand (not referenced as it’s still being developed, though it’s on my website if you want to try to figure it out). It was conceived as a dance lyric, something dark and edgy, the message being “I want you to be dangerous and scare me, hurt me, to make it interesting” – something Madonna might sing. It was the kind of writing “assignment” I would give myself, to write in a style I hadn’t tried yet.

During the collaboration process, we softened the message of the lyric, took out the “dangerous” elements, and the message became “I like you but don’t be such a wuss all the time” – a more universal feeling, probably. And we went through the all-too-familiar process of trying to retain something of interest while making it palatable for a larger audience.

A few months ago I went through a process with a composer who gave me a melody to set. I worked pretty hard on it, a lyric about a woman (it was also for a female singer) who had been through dark times (wrong boyfriends, wrong times, lots of mind-altering activities and soul-deadening sex) but was now in love with the right guy. The song contrasted night images (scary and dark cityscapes) with sun-drenched daytime images (in a nature setting). Coming out of the darkness into the light.

Despite a few attempts at rewrites, he finally said he thought the lyric was too dark for the music. I thought it was as hopeful as it could get – that it was enormously positive, a story of redemption. I use that theme a lot in my writing – I return to it over and over. So we decoupled the music and lyrics (I’ll rewrite the lyric at another time for different music).

And it finally hit me. As an older person, I understand what it’s like to live through the long, dark night of the soul, and come out the other side. Anyone may age does. But a young person doesn’t want to hear about that. The young don’t think the dark times will ever come to them. Those on the other side of the divide can warn all they want, but youth persists in believing in its invulnerability.

A young audience isn’t necessarily interested in hearing songs about difficult life experiences.


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