tuning your song

Songs are like poetry that’s easy to remember. Think of a few of your favourite songs, the ones that trigger the strongest feelings, the ones you probably know all the words to and can’t help but sing along with. Ask yourself why those particular songs affect you so much.

I love songs that are stories set to catchy tunes (yep, pop music), but with a lesson woven into them.

As a teenager, I literally wore out my Cher’s Greatest Hits album, playing it so often it became paper-thin. I’d put it on the stereo when no one was home and sing in my unconventionally wonderful (some might call it bad) voice at the top of my lungs, imbuing my renditions with all the angst, sadness, surprise, and passion the stories drew from me.

Listening to that album full of stories (none written by Cher, but she collected and sang them, for which I’m grateful), was a lot cheaper and less embarrassing than therapy might have been for the super-shy, deeply feeling, late bloomer I was as a teenager.

Most of the songs on that Greatest Hits album are short, but they get across a great deal of information by using words sparingly and skillfully:

From “Half Breed,” by Al Capps and Mary Dean:

We weren’t accepted and I felt ashamed
Nineteen I left them, tell me who’s to blame
My life since then has been from man to man
But I can’t run away from what I am

From “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” by Bob Stone:

Picked up a boy just south of Mobile
Gave him a ride, filled him with a hot meal
I was sixteen, he was twenty-one
Rode with us to Memphis
And papa woulda shot him if he knew what he’d done

The more I admit to and embrace what I actually love (and weather ridicule from self-appointed members of the Musical Quality Police), whether music or books or people or anything, the more conscious I become about my natural affinities and the more I’m able to leverage them to improve my own creative expressions.

When I write, I tend to weave together stories and lessons. I’m not surprised. It fits. It feels good.

What kinds of songs do you love? Why? What might the kinds of songs you love tell you about the kind of writing you love?


Related reading: reading to dogs, writing and stitching


4 comments to tuning your song

  • Melanie McNair

    I, too, love Cher! Her music nursed me back to health when I suffered a broken heart five or six years ago. I was living in Los Angeles at the time. One day an old friend called from the airport and said she had an extra ticket to see Cher in concert in Las Vegas. She took a cab to my place and we drove 100 mph through the desert to Caesar’s Palace. (my tires were never the same) Cher lifted me out of my sad reality and showed me how big and over the top feelings can be channeled into art. I felt stronger after that. So much of her music is directed to the lonely, and so much of life now is about how hard it is to connect despite all of our forms of networks. She is still so relevant. And over the top. I love her for that. I have a t-shirt I bought in the Cher store at Caesar’s that I wear whenever I’m feeling the need to be “strong enough” again.

    • Oh, Melanie, thanks for jumping on the Cher bandwagon with me. It’s a fun ride. I love your story about how Cher helped you through heartbreak and then kept on being a source of strength ever since. Thank you so much for sharing it here.

  • I love anything by Van Morrison, but especially the songs from Hymns to the Silence. One day I was in church and opened the hymnal to “Be Thou My Vision” and almost fell over. I always just thought it was a song he wrote…didn’t realize it was a traditional Irish Hymn.

    Oh, and, (queue up the Musical Quality Police) Christmas Music. I started playing it before Halloween, that’s how much I love it. My family has forbidden me to play it in the house until after Thanksgiving. So….I am like a 16 year old jumping at every chance possible to run an errand in the car, so I can tune my radio to 106.9 which is playing all Christmas, all the time.

    • I can so see that about you, that you would be crazy for Christmas music. That cracks me up. Don’t let my husband hear about it. He gets outraged every year when Christmasy stuff starts appearing in the stores in October.