I was having a conversation recently with 2 amazing songwriters that I know and they were both commenting on the layers of depth in really great writers, as illustrated in how one line can take the listener to a variety of places and multiple meanings depending on the experiences of the person hearing the song. For both of my friends, Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer accomplished this feat in ways other songs miss the boat entirely.
I agree. This nugget of conversation got me thinking about other songs that dive into waters avoided by many other artists. There are those artists who tend to write only a few types of music, “party” songs or similar where a baseline beat is laid out and only a few lines of lyrics compose the track. There’s really no depth to the tune, it’s point and purpose is fun, partying, and the like. That has its place. But when that’s all you can write, there’s a lot missing.
Without necessarily intending to do so, I compiled an hour of music that will be featured in the next episode of The Appetizer that illustrates a lot of this dynamic, in that some artists have a gift in not just writing beautiful music with well-crafted lyrics, but also going beyond the surface to tackle stories, situations and feelings that are not only off the beaten path, but sometimes not articulated near as clearly or powerfully as they are in music.
Some examples of this include songwriters like Simon & Garfunkel, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Gordon Lightfoot, and Bob Dylan. But those guys are the givens, the people usually attributed to amazing storytelling about tough issues including betrayal, heart-ache, murder, retribution, forgiveness, sorrow, redemption, and love. I spent some time not only diving into the legends but also getting into some music that doesn’t get the credit it deserves for being layered with depth that compares to the icons.
I’m talking about songs like Alannis Morissette’s Your House. It’s a hidden track on her Jagged Little Pill album. The song is about trying to let go of a love that is no more, and that letting go can be the hardest thing. The way she describes having to separate herself from the memories of her lost love by going back to the places where the relationship existed is something we’ve all had some form of experience in.
How about a band that probably isn’t thought of off the top of our heads when we think about deep storytelling-Blink 182. Yeah these punk stars had a few songs in the 90s that dealt with everything from teenage suicide (Adam’s Song) to divorce (Stay Together For The Kids). Then again I’m a child of the Grunge era, where alternative rock took the headlines and spit them back in the faces of the people most responsible for them-us. That was one of the subjects that fueled the writing of Cobain, Vedder, Cornell and others. They weren’t alone. Many artists in just about every genre of music dive into deeper waters, trying to speak for the voiceless and attempting to raise awareness of the victims of issues who have no power (a followup of additional aspect of this kind of songwriting can be found on an AbileneTexan post I did on Tim Palmer).
What about you? What artists or songs really jive with you on deeper realms of music that’s more than just good sound, music, or fun? I’d love to get your take.
By the way, the two amazing songwriters from the conversation were Elliott Park and Ed Priest. They’re home-grown Texas guys with an incredible talent for creating stories in music that pales in comparison to just about everything else that’s out there.