October 21, 2011 § 11 Comments
Perhaps you’ve seen me at a stoplight, a scrap of paper pressed against my knee, furiously writing–feel free to honk if I blow the light change.
It may not be the safest practice, but when you think about it, a car is as close as modern man gets to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.
Some of you sing while in that Fortress, others devise mental grocery lists or daydream. Since my song writing does not require a guitar or piano, I invent tunes while in my Japanese stronghold.
When I’m not writing songs behind the wheel, I sometimes think about how songs work. After cogitation spanning many miles of road I’ve come to the conclusion that songs are always about evoking emotion.
Yes, songs have been used to ignite social movements but a song can only motivate with the permission of the heart.
The emotion with the highest song-writing value is love.
Romantic love, specifically. In this respect the English language has done songwriters no favors. What rhymes with love?
Above? Useful if you are writing a spiritual or hymn I guess…
Shove? I’ve actually used that one in the following lyric:
Don’t need no lukewarm love, I gotta give a shove.
Songs about love include losing it, finding it, losing and finding it again, not getting any, and killing the man-who-done-me-wrong. There are also the smaller tributaries of love that get less attention: the love of children, work, community, spirit and place, and love grown old and comfortable.
I sometimes am saddened by all the things we do not put to music. Alone in the car I think, why not a song that celebrates taking a nap, or a sharp number two pencil? And then I go back to writing songs about love.
Strangely, given the vintage of my car, many of the songs I’ve written in the last few months sound as if they should be played by the Glenn Miller Band. My car seems to be occupied by phantom men in fedoras and women who can dance backwards in high heels.
Could I be reprising a tune my dad sang in the car while he was driving? Carl Fogelin had a pleasant voice and a delivery styled on Sinatra and his peers. If it was just the two of us in the car we would both sing staring straight ahead. As long as neither of us mentioned we were singing it was okay.
For a Swede like my dad public singing could only be done if no one pointed out that it was happening.
So far though, no one has asked me why I changed the words to some long-loved song and called it my own.
Here’s a sample verse from “Once in a While”:
Do you ever regret? Do you ever wish that you could forget?
Still it smolders like a lit cigarette, cause you ain’t over me yet.
Do you lie awake nights dreaming? Do you spend your daytimes scheming?
Do you want me back, am I what you lack? Does it ever hit you like a panic attack?
The melody is harder to hold onto. It begins to vaporize as soon as I pull into my driveway.
Lennon and McCartney said that if a tune didn’t survive a night of sleep it wasn’t worth remembering.
If that’s true, I’ve written plenty of unmemorable tunes. Once they vanish I’m left with the sadly naked lyrics. It takes both lyrics and melody to create the emotional throb that makes a listener’s breath catch.
I wonder if maybe I should get a small handheld recorder.
After all, I am neither Lennon nor McCartney, just a woman piloting her 2002 Fortress of Solitude, scribbling on small sheets of paper.