I feel like a blockhead sometimes because I don't read much poetry, but I've always been attracted to songs and lyrics. When I was in junior high and high school, I frustrated my teachers and parents by spending my time in class writing out and memorizing songs -- back then, I was very much into prog rock like Jethro Tull, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, Jimi Hendrix,Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin and some Rolling Stones; Beatles, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel were part of the mental and emotional environment I grew up in. Later on, especially living for a few years in Austin, I learned more about roots and country music and I'm gratified that musicians now know draw on the work of Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt than they did when I was a younger fella in the late 1970s and early '80s. Buddy Holly, Z.Z. Top, Humble Pie, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Little Feat, songs the Fabulous Thunderbirds did (mostly covers) were instructive. Phil Ochs and Fairport Convention, then Richard (and Linda) Thompson's often melancholy visions became examples and touchstones.
I guess I've gravitated toward songs that either articulate a hopeful vision or describe the depths of despair. In my own amateur writings, I've all too often plumbed the latter. I grew up on literate, groundbreaking semipopular music and went back to simpler writing to try to discover where the stuff I liked came from and found tradition and wisdom there. There were years when I stopped even trying to write when everything was coming out as broken-hearted love songs. I figured there are already plenty of those in the world. Lately, I've recognized that that's certainly true as far as it goes, but the craving for love, for sharing and understanding and the need for community are qualities we all have in common and despite my resistance to going to that well all the time, it seems that loneliness is also what all we have in common and although I'm often ashamed to admit how lonesome I've become, loneliness is a feeling that others relate to.
To put it differently, learning songs gave me a way into history and insights into other people's thinking. Writing my own lyrics when I'm moved to has given me a way to work out difficult emotions and sometimes share these feelings with others. When it works, for a moment, I can help to create that connection and community I crave. And while my songs are effective as a tool of seduction less often than I'd like, the emotional charge I feel from writing and singing sometimes still lends me hope.
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