In praise of songwriters

Maybe it was the prospect of hearing Bob Dylan live. Maybe it was just listening to some old favourite songs. It was definitely encouraged by listening to an impromptu live performance at a neighbour’s house at the weekend. And remembering that I really want to (re-)learn to play the guitar again. At some point. Not now.

Anyway, I was struck once again by the power of music. The songs that immediately bring back a memory:

  • The Killer’s ‘Human’ = Christmas a few years ago
  • Roxette’s ‘Fading Like a Flower’ = first student accommodation in Reading
  • The Scorpions’ ‘When the Smoke is Going Down’ = train from Duisburg to Munich after Christmas 1989

And of course that’s only three, and behind each there is a much longer story that the song brings back each time I hear it.

Apparently (aka I read this somewhere. I think) those of us who grew up in the 1980s have a very wide range of music we can appreciate. Not only because the 80s was, of course, the best decade for music to this day. But it does mean that it’s hard to find our children’s music objectionable even though that used to be a prime consideration for a teenager. It also means that what some of us like is probably  looked down upon by those whose taste is more selective. Oh well. Each to his own.

What I am often struck by is the way lines from songs can creep into your head, just as melodies can appear out of nowhere and bug you all day. And it reminded me that songs are another example of the power of words and, particularly, of the impact the right phrase can have. Just as we might cite particular lines in a novel, we can do the same with songs. And it doesn’t have to be in the format of this 960 page, 6Kg (13 1/2 pounds) book of all of Bob Dylan’s lyrics since 1962. Here are just a few that sprung to mind recently.

The first two are lines that I associate with Berlin – the songs have nothing to do with the city of course, but we form our own associations all the time, which is why couples have ‘their song’ and why music can have such an emotional impact on us:

‘This place is the beat of my heart.’ (R.E.M., ‘Oh my Heart’)

‘Your presence still lingers here, and it won’t leave me alone’ (Evanescence, ‘My Immortal’)

And how about this for a perspective:

‘This ain’t comin’ from no prophet, just an ordinary man. When I close my eyes I see the way this world shall be when we all walk hand in hand. When the last child cries for a crust of bread, when the last man dies for just words that he said, when there’s shelter over the poorest head – we shall be free.’ (Garth Brooks, ‘We Shall be Free’ – the whole song lyrics are worth reading/listening to – you can find them here)

Mary Beth Maziarz (please write some more songs!) always makes me smile with this line from ‘Hold On’ –

‘They tell you listen to your heart. Whatever the hell that means.’

And who can forget Taylor Swift’s ‘Darling I’m a nightmare dressed as a daydream’. Love her, although I preferred her Country beginnings.

And let’s finish with this scene setting by Bob Dylan, from Workingman’s Blues # 2 – you have this immediate picture in your head when you hear this:

There’s an evenin’ haze settlin’ over the town

Starlight by the edge of the creek

There is some remarkable writing going on out there – and these people have to think of melodies and harmonies and instruments as well as the words. Quite humbling.

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