It occurs to me that when it comes to songs,
good in the reviewer’s sense and
in the sense of mattering to someone are two different things. A critic
is rightfully concerned with originality; a listener wants a friend.
You can write the cheesiest most cliché-ridden love song in the world,
and a cancer patient might have it on repeat as he goes through chemo.
You can make an inscrutable new sound and be ignored by all but a few
hipsters at the bleeding edge, who disdain anything anyone else has
These are the poles, of course: most critics are music fans and most
music fans are critics, in varying degrees, and most songwriters are
both. We all rejoice when something connects with us on a deep level,
and shrug (or rant) when it doesn’t. But it does beg the question of
what exactly I’m trying to do here. How do I know when I’ve made
something good? When a lot of people like it, or when the “right kind”
of people like it? And what makes them the “right kind?”
I know, I know: you’ve made something good when
it. But let’s face it, that’s not the whole answer. Manuscripts have
editors, plays have developmental readings, records have producers,
A&R reps, rough mixes. There are points all along the way when you
ask “Is this working?” and listen to what comes back. There are
navigational tools other than your own compass. But which ones are
reliable? More importantly, where are you trying to go, anyway?
This is all a roundabout way of saying that I’m still stuck, down
here in my notebooks. These fragments are good for something but I
don’t know what. I do have a growing sense that whatever it is, I’m not
capable of it yet. So it’s time to become a student again: get up every
morning and practice my instruments, pick up some new ones, sing a lot
of other people’s songs, write a steady stream of lyrics and hold them
up for scrutiny. This year’s nomadic existence hasn’t lent itself to
that kind of discipline, so much. I need to live somewhere again.
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