Tag Archives: Lyrics

Listening Lab: EMA

I’m writing a moody rock song about the mall. It’s pretty dark and sort of pretty and there isn’t much of a rhyme scheme but I’m enjoying the literalness of it. I like a lyric that looks you in the eye. There’s something mesmerizingly literal about EMA’s “California.” It’s also mesmerizingly stream-of-consciousness. That’s a neat trick. I can’t look away. Here’s to pointing fingers and naming names and my home state.

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Two Birds.

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Listening Lab: Joni Mitchell

I’m trying something new: starting a song with words. So far I’ve got a concept and one sheet in a yellow pad covered with images and rhymes and anecdotes and vignettes. It’s pretty damn interesting thinking exclusively about lyrics, and what’s possible, and what’s important, which I suppose, whether it ends up being a rock song or a synth tune or a waltz, is truth and beauty. Which brings us to the master, Joni Mitchell. The title track on her 1972 album For the Roses is about show business and fame, broadly, and more specifically her former lover, James Taylor. The way it works as intimate missive and complicated confessional and harsh commentary all at once never fails to astonish me. Sorry about the crappy sound but this is the best I could find. Here’s to words and music. Here’s to truth and beauty.

I heard it in the wind last night
It sounded like applause
Did you get a round resounding for you
Way up here
It seems like many dim years ago
Since I heard that face to face
Or seen you face to face
Though tonight I can feel you here
I get these notes
On butterflies and lilac sprays
From girls who just have to tell me
They saw you somewhere

In some office sits a poet
And he trembles as he sings
And he asks some guy
To circulate his soul around
On your mark red ribbon runner
The caressing rev of motors
Finely tuned like fancy women
In thirties evening gowns
Up the charts
Off to the airport-
Your name’s in the news
Everything’s first class-
The lights go down-
And it’s just you up there
Getting them to feel like that

Remember the days when you used to sit
And make up your tunes for love
And pour your simple sorrow
To the soundhole and your knee
And now you’re seen
On giant screens
And at parties for the press
And for people who have slices of you
From the company
They toss around your latest golden egg
Speculation-well, who’s to know
If the next one in the nest
Will glitter for them so

I guess I seem ungrateful
With my teeth sunk in the hand
That brings me things
I really can’t give up just yet
Now I sit up here
The critic!
And they introduce some band
But they seem so much confetti
Looking at them on my TV set
Oh the power and the glory
Just when you’re getting a taste for worship
They start bringing out the hammers
And the boards
And the nails

I heard it in the wind last night
It sounded like applause
Chilly now
End of summer
No more shiny hot nights
It was just the arbutus rustling
And the bumping of the logs
And the moon swept down black water
Like an empty spotlight

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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 Tags: ,

The Notebook.

Now I am a person who has a notebook filled with crossed-out lyrics. Maybe not filled. Filling. The notebook is in process, like this song and everything else. ”You Make Me Sick” started with a word. It morphed into a strange notion. I let my mind wander. Images appeared. I chased them. A mood began to take shape. I slipped into it. Here’s what it looks like on paper. Some of the chords are guesses.







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