Dig Deep: Songwriting II

The curious thing about songwriting (at least for me) is how an actual, honest-to-goodness emotion gets turned into a song that’s blatant fiction. Sometimes the song that results is emotionally true even if its narrative is completely untrue.

I started thinking about this the other day, when I started writing one of these. I was spending a quiet night alone at home, as I wrote about in this post. I couldn’t fall asleep. Out of lying awake, missing my girlfriend, came a song about missing someone. That much was, to use my new cheesy phrase, emotionally true. But the song that evolved was something else entirely. Bitter, dark, colored by alcohol and lies and negligence. Not the sweet, wistful thought that started the whole thing. But that’s how it evolved.

I’ve got another song that’s a good example of this. I was having a difficult time. One day while I was hiking, I started thinking about my feelings in terms of a song. The idea of a needle and thread suggested itself, so I started working with it. Soon I’d built the entire song around images of sewing, stitches, and tailoring. The thing is, I don’t even know how to sew anything more complicated than a button. I had to do some serious googling to come up with enough images, like French seams, and make sure that things I’d heard of (like whip-stitching) were actually what I thought they were.

The odd thing about that song is how harsh it ended up being. It had started in frustration, sure, but the quiet, wish-I-could-help kind. Without realizing it, I populated the song with words better suited to a metal rant. Dark, sharp-edged words.

It always feels strange when a songs ends up somewhere other than where it started, as though it were a sweet kid that grew up to be dishonest.  The initial idea migrates, and becomes transformed, through the writing process. It starts as something simple before it wanders around, picking up both color and splinters. As it becomes something complex it also becomes, sometimes, entirely different.  Still mine, and yet not anything that I could have predicted.

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