‘Solitude courts the muse. So know this: you have chosen a lonely path.’
I read this quote in a forwarded blog. Several years ago I saw the lady who wrote that blog, Mary Gauthier, in an intimate show that had just her and a dude playing guitar. Her songs are so personal and moving, it seemed almost wrong to applaud after them. I mean, sure we appreciated everything, but clapping for that vulnerability? It felt odd, is all I can say. Mary also spent a little time between telling her story, and what each song meant to her. Most of the audience were visibly moved to tears at some point throughout the show. I found it hard to fathom that Mary was so open about the things that had happened in her life, but that vulnerability was the thing that resonated with her audience, both in her recorded work, and her live show. She also had this to say in her blog.
‘Being vulnerable in your work will bring you strength.’
I have a musical partner I’m working with right now. Her name is Leah Edwards. We met via my then girlfriend, who suggested I could show her some things on guitar to help her on her musical path. Sure, no problem. I love showing little tips about chords and musical ideas to people. There’s nothing like hearing someone do something cool, and knowing you had a part to play in that. Anyway, we hung out for the first time on Boxing Day, and jammed a few small things on our guitars. I had some tunes going on my girl’s computer while we were having a cigarette and a cup of tea, one of which was a demo track I’d shown to someone else. That person totally didn’t get it. Dodged a bullet there, I’ve come to see.
Leah however, went ‘What’s that? That’s pretty. Whose song is that?’ And that’s where it started. I had the first line for it, had it for a year or so, and…. Nothing. That’s all I had. The title was Jumping Puddles, which was the beginning of a chorus with those 2 words.
So I had 5 songs as demos, another 10 or so acoustic guitar ideas written on basic chord charts. No so much in the way of words, other than random sentences, or a verse or 2. About 10 days later, I got my heart forcibly ripped out, and that’s when the Muse came to hang out, commiserate, gently take my hand and place a pen in it, and put it all down on paper. With Jumping Puddles I now had 3 verses, a chorus, and a bridge. Another song with a working title of ‘I Know It Ain’t Love’ became ‘Ain’t Right’, 2 long verses, 1 half-length last verse, and a chorus with a double length one to finish. All this in one day, from about 10.30am till about 3pm. All that was left was for Leah to hear the melody ideas I had for the vocal. Which she did, about 4.30 or so. She knew me well enough to know something was seriously up, so I had to let her in on what happened that morning.
After a drink and a smoke or two, we got down to the business of learning these songs. We started with ‘Ain’t Right.’ I played the chords over and over for awhile, while she hummed and sang the words, finding the melody from the guitar notes I played to her. I wrote the words in such a way that they’d fit syllable wise over the 3/4 beat the song is in, so it didn’t take her long.
And then she sang the first verse. It was achingly beautiful. She tapped right into the heartbreak and sense of loss I’d written about, with that sweet tone she has. Right about then, I lost my shit, couldn’t hold it together. I had to go outside for 5 minutes and compose myself. It wasn’t just what had happened, it was how she sang it, what the words meant, the whole deal.
That is the power of vulnerable feelings and sincerity in music, right there. The listener may not have gone through the exact same thing as the writer, but when it’s that honest and open, you can’t help but be moved by it. I get that sense from other people’s songs, have done a million and one times. I’ve got ‘go to’ songs to listen to, if I’m feeling that way. Could be Beck’s ‘Sea Change’ album, or Radiohead’s ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ or ‘No Surprises’, Emiliana Torrini’s ‘Lifesaver’ or ‘At Least It was’. I’m listening to the last one right now, as I write. I’ve got plenty to choose from, thanks to many more artists who think and feel like me.
All of the above were written while being in a dark place, alone. Maybe not the finished tune, but the initial idea, absolutely. Sometimes I wish that my inspiration could come from a better place, but then I remember ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ and feel like vomiting out of my eyeballs. Nope, I’ll take it from where it resonates with me. If that’s what has to happen for me to create, that’s what has to happen. No point in wishing it wasn’t so.
And there it is. Every word in a song I’ve written has a very personal meaning to me. Whether it means the same thing to you, is up to you. Your situation or interpretation may differ, but that’s part of the gift. It can mean whatever you feel, and if it helps you with your emotional wellbeing by taking you away to that dark place, and releasing you from it, so much the better. That’s how it works for me.
It’s my hope and belief that you’ll be hearing these songs very soon.
Take care, peacelovengoodhappinesstuff to you all.