The Problem With Songwriting Is Alienating Your Loved Ones

I would like to poll all the lyricists I admire, the fearless, clear-eyed chroniclers of wrong turns and troubled minds, and ask them how they do it. I’m not talking about the actual writing of the words, although I would like to know how they do that, too. Right now I want to know how the hell you write honestly about your life, and the people in your life, without making everyone hate you. I gather there is some art involved. A way of transposing reality into rhyme so that meaning remains visceral but nobody gets hurt. It’s not easy, not if you hope to avoid platitudes and cliches. Details must be altered, even if they’re rich. The truth is muted or twisted. Facts are bent and reshaped into verse. It’s finesse on the front end and good sport on the back. Only yesterday a friend who is the books editor at a major newspaper tweeted about getting the galleys for the new Carly Simon biography without an index. He couldn’t immediately look up “You’re So Vain.” I want to tell the truth and I want to protect people’s feelings. I want to expose myself and I want to guard my privacy. I’ll have to become a storyteller.

Filed under: I am trying to write some songs Tagged: ,


  1. Susan
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    I hear you. I don’t write songs, but I write other things. Third person voice provides an awesome refuge.

    Or not. You could always just write the truth and not worry about any of the other stuff until or unless you absolutely have to. In the end, that’s what it comes down to.

    Hey, it’s art. Somebody is going to get hurt. Hopefully. I mean that with all due respect.

    • joan
      Posted November 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      Excellent point, Susan. If the goal is to be real, and reality bites, someone is going to bleed. And real is as respectable as it gets. I took a writing class with Anne Lamott years ago and the first thing she told us was that if you want to be a writer, you’d better be ready to put every relationship on the line. The choice is ours to make: the power of art versus the comfort of the status quo.

  2. Eric
    Posted December 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    I crank out about two songs a month. Lately I have been looking to old girlfriends and failed love affairs to provide the inspiration for my songs. Some are bitter and angry and others wistful. Thankfully, my wife doesn’t like my music so I never have to explain who “my Darling Katarina” was. The few unabashedly romantic songs about my wife of 21 years are usually met with a shrug of uninterest.

    • joan
      Posted December 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

      I’m having an eerily similar experience in my house. Got any music up online?

  3. Eric
    Posted December 10, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Hey, Joan,

    I collaborate with a British Guitarist Bob Kingdon, whom I met online, as the Electric Angels, (http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=895439&content=music)

    “All the Dreams I Had”, “Shades of Grey” “Katarina” and “Splendid Little War” are the recent ones about exes.


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