An Imperfect Mirror (Also, Some Of My Favourite Lyrics)

 

An Imperfect Mirror

As a songwriter, or someone who studies the use of language to shape or share emotion, there’s always something that inspires. Often enough, it’s something written by someone else as it is an emotion, a song, a movie, an occurrence. And as a songwriter, I believe that being inspired by someone else’s writing is okay. Because we’re an imperfect mirror. Our perception in the mirror isn’t borne out by what we actually look like, so therefore our copy of something isn’t an accurate reflection. Having said that, flat out theft of another person’s lyrics isn’t cool. At all. And particularly now in the age of information, directly stealing someone else’s work is a pretty dumb thing to do, leaving aside any comment on artistic purity, creativity, or lack thereof.

But being inspired by…

Well, that’s where the imperfect mirror comes in. Particularly if you’re drawing that inspiration from many disparate sources. What I’m going to share here is lyrics from songs that have burrowed there way right into my soul, for whatever reason. Some of them, just because I liked the language or turn of phrase. Some because I heard them at a time in my life where I related to them, in a way that I may not have at a different time. And some because they felt like a soundtrack that fitted exactly to a particular moment or emotion from any time in my life.

In no order of importance or relevance, here’s a few of them.

‘I poured my heart out. It evaporated… See?’

Ben Folds Five ‘Evaporated’ from ‘Whatever And Ever, Amen’

I was ‘the other guy’. No, I DIDN’T know when we started out. And when I found out, I felt pretty stupid. And betrayed, and disappointed. And when I confronted her, there was tears and apologies, and promises made. And then, about a week after, coldness. Like I was the one who’d done something untrustworthy. After I’d made my peace with her, and started towards forgiveness. But that’s not how it works. There’s another line in that song,

‘It seems that all men wanna get in a car, and go, anywhere’.

I drove a lot, back then. Just for. Fast, and recklessly. To be honest, it was more luck than skill that puts me here, right now, with some of the stupid things I did in anger behind the wheel. Driving fast, going nowhere.

‘Then the lights go out and it’s just the three of us, You me and all that stuff we’re so scared of, Gotta ride down baby, down into that tunnel of love’

Bruce Springsteen ‘Tunnel Of Love’ from ‘Tunnel Of Love’

Bruce is using the imagery of a carnival ride called the Tunnel Of Love, where he describes what some people might call baggage, some call the other passenger. Whatever you call it, to me, it means uncertainty, or fear. Fear of loss, fear of the unknown, and the way only to find out what it is, or get to the end of the story, is to take the ride. Scary. And relatable. On many occasions. I’m not really a fan of Bruce as a singer, or into his songs per se, but the lyrics? Hell yeah! Another favourite of mine is ‘Stolen Car’. That song was on the soundtrack for Cop Land, the movie where Sy Stallone proved he could act, at least that one time. There’s a scene where his character puts that record on, and lies down on the couch and listens to it. He’s so depressed, beat down, and it’s undeserved. And that song suits that whole scene perfectly.

‘No boy, don’t speak now, you just drive, drive, drive take me home’ Bic Runga ‘Drive’ from the album ‘Drive’

One time I met a girl. It was so unexpected, it was immediate, the attraction was absolutely apparent to everyone around us. From that second, it was just waiting. Delaying. Until we both couldn’t wait. I was driving, not fast, just driving. I started to say something, and she just put her hand on my cheek and said ‘You don’t need to say anything, you’re going to have me, I’m going to have you, you just drive’. And smiled. Then leaned into me and gave me a kiss that was full of promise. That promise was delivered upon, and then some. Whatever else happened after that, doesn’t matter. I have that moment, and that line to remind me. The rest of the song doesn’t really relate to my situation, but that line does. The whole song relates for other reasons, but those reasons are just for me.

‘Rock me Amadeus, Amadeus, oh-oh-oh-oh oh-oh Amadeus!’ Falco ‘Rock Me Amadeus’

Not really. Just fuckin’ with you. It’s my blog, and I’ll write what I want to. 😉

‘I’ll take a quiet life, a handshake, some carbon monoxide, with no alarms and no surprises’

Radiohead ‘No Surprises’ from Ok Computer

The first time I heard this I was lying on the floor with my head on a cushion, just pressed play on the CD, and let it roll. I was half asleep by the time I got to this, but the intro chords woke me up. The way the song starts it sounds all Beatles like, and has a quirky prettiness. And then I had a closer listen, got up and checked the lyric sheet. Oh. Well, I love how Thom juxtaposes bleak lyrics over what is a melody crying out for something happier. But maybe that’s the point? I’ve never had the urge to have fun times with poisonous gases, but I’ll take that large spoonful of bitter over the top of that base of sweet.

‘Come visit me tonight at eight o’clock, and then you’ll see, how I am not the crazy one. Voices tell me I’m the shit’

Eels  ‘My Descent Into Madness’ from ‘Electro-Shock Blues’

Ummm…. I like this as much for the song, as much for it’s autobiographical nature, and the obvious. The whole ‘I ain’t crazy, my voices tell me I’m fucking awesome’ thing especially. Actually, I like that whole album, ‘Electro-Shock Blues’. Although it can be hard going emotionally if you really get down into the depth of it. Best avoided when there’s a toaster in close proximity to the bath.

‘I’m making some plans, Finding out there’s always new demands. And I can’t be precise; When people ask me what I’m doing with my life, I say, “It’s up in the air’

Kevin Renick ‘Up In The Air’

I first heard this song in the movie Up In The Air. I really liked that movie, loved this song more. For the words, the uncertainty, the procrastination, and the not giving a fuck about it. And for the chords, the lo-fi production,  and his vocal delivery. It’s not perfect, but neither is life and the situations we find ourselves in. If nothing else, it’s honest. And I’ll take honest over auto-tune and syrupy homogenised cliched blandness everytime.

‘Fun times in Babylon

That’s what I’m counting on

Before the dam goes up at the foot of the sea

Before the new wing of the prison ribbon ceremony

Before the star of the morning comes looking for me

I would like to abuse my lungs

Smoke everything in sight with every girl I’ve ever loved

Ride around the wreckage on a horse knee-deep in blood

Look out Hollywood, here I come

Fun times in Babylon

Momma they’ve just begun

Before they put me to work in a government camp

Before they do my face up like a corpse and say get up and dance

Before the beast comes looking for last year’s rent

I would like to abuse my lungs

Smoke everything in sight with every girl I’ve ever loved

Ride around my wreckage on a horse knee-deep in mud

Look out Hollywood, here I come

Look out Hollywood, here I come

Look out Hollywood, here I come’

Father John Misty ‘Fun Times In Babylon’ from Fear Fun

I needed a new soundtrack for dark times, and I got it just when I needed it. I love the imagery, I love the ‘star of the morning’ reference, I love the song for it’s chords, clever arrangement, melody, vocal harmonies. Actually, easiest to just say, for everything. I could dissect the whole song as a separate article, but meh. This’ll do. I like all the Fleet Foxes stuff I’ve heard, too. In particular, ‘Mykonos’ from the ‘Sun Giant’ EP and ‘Quiet Houses’ from the Fleet Foxes self-titled album.

‘See the devil may do as the devil may care

He loves none sweeter as sweeter the dare

Her mouth the mischief he doth seek

Her heart the captive of which he speaks’

Smashing Pumpkins ‘Cupid De Locke’ from ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness : Dusk Til Dawn’

Mellon Collie has 28 songs on it, and they’re all good. Some are great, actually, a lot of them are great. In this case, there’s a very good reason why this album was huge when it was released. I just like the poetry to this song, with the religious undertones, and talk of love as a grand achievement. The slightly country feel and the harp chords and arpeggios, along with backwards guitar parts, really float my boat too.

‘I been drifting along, in the same stale shoes Loose ends tying a noose, in the back of my mind’

Beck ‘Jack-Ass’ from Odelay

I like the first line, as at the time I felt like I was in a rut, and couldn’t see my way out of it. And it felt like the the things I’d left undone and didn’t want to face were coming back to bite me. And bite hard. That’s what the idea of loose ends tying a noose means to me. Also, the song itself manages to tie a bridge between alt country and lo-fi hip-hop. Interesting, to say the least.

‘It wears me out, it wears me out

It wears me out, it wears me out

If I could be, who you wanted

If I could be, who you wanted

All the time…’

Radiohead ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ from The Bends

Well. That verse has been a catchphrase in my head on more than a few occasions, for different reasons. Some a fervent desire, some a plaintive cry out, and some just wishful thinking that was ultimately denied. It’s easy to get down when something you wish for doesn’t come to pass, but I have learnt that sometimes you really didn’t want it to come true, with the benefit of hindsight. But that’s hard to see when you’re swimming furiously, to keep water from your lungs, when you’re drawing breathe to stay afloat, rather than calm yourself. More so than the other songs here, it’s Thom’s vocal delivery that grants the real power to these lyrics, not that they don’t have their own emotional gravity as is. It’s just the tone and timbre as he sings that give that connection more depth.

And that’s just a few. There’s many. Too many to list. And some, well, they just mean things to me. And I’ll keep them just for me. But every one of these songs has inspired me to write something myself, based on how they made me feel. Some of those songs I kept, some I disregarded, and some I lost. That’s the way of things. Who knows if I’ve lost some irreplaceable magic along the way? I don’t. I hope not. Anyway, that imperfect mirror and my own take on what I read and how I process it, give me my own voice and style. One day I hope that I’ll have someone looking in to what I create and share, and have their version to read myself.

One last thing. You can see further when you stand on the shoulders of giants. Meaning, if you’re going to borrow inspiration, borrow from the best, not the least mediocre you can find. Please? You’ll be doing good things for the art-form, rather than diminishing it.

That’s a responsibility I take seriously.

peacelovengoodhappinesstuff to you all.

Brendan AKA B-Dub

 

‘Solitude Courts The Muse’

This day I had my heart ripped out, but I poured some of that hurt out on paper, via a pen and my guitar.

This day I had my heart ripped out, but I poured some of that hurt out on paper, via a pen and my guitar.

‘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.’

Damn.

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.
Brendan