Doing whatever works and avoiding whatever doesn’t (though sometimes the bad is inextricable from the good)

Interesting discovery as I was tossing out old writing today, the original poem (one of my “Hart Crane imitations“) I wrote from which I drew the lyrics for Like a Wire. Or maybe it was not the original poem (it has choruses, which I would not put in a poem, and is a handwritten clean copy, which is strange) but a sort of mean between that poem and what eventually became the (much shorter) song lyrics.

(I had a very short song writing career, most of the fruits of which can only be heard by standing very close to me at random times.  This song Our Love is Like a Wire was one of my first mature efforts and made it onto record.)

This is perhaps what is generally referred to as navel gazing, but still, nothing matters, and it is interesting to reflect upon how you turn a piece of writing from something that doesn’t work into something that does; the difference between all you want to say and the little you in fact can; the difference between one of my Hart Crane imitations and Like a Wire.

Basically the process is — you’ve written a lot yet there’s nothing interesting in what you’ve written except for these words and that line —  so you cut out everything except those working elements, unite them, add nothing else, and that’s the song.

If it doesn’t exactly or explicitly make sense, well, that is first of all fine, because very many excellent songs either make no sense or are not appreciated for the sense they make, while a lot of perfectly comprehensible songs are thoroughly terrible; and second of all, the next song might be a better clarification of your meaning, if that should be important. Chief thing is — that you do whatever works and avoid whatever doesn’t.

Touting my own euphonium: I’m Small

I’m Small was an example of a song that really didn’t know what it was about until its last stanza, but I bluffed my way through the bad lyrics, instead of excising them, in the hope that the musical elements would carry the day, which I feel that they did. (Bad lyrics of course are different from lyrics that make no sense: bad lyrics are obscure or make bad sense. Obscurity is different from making no sense: obscurity is pretending to make a kind of sense. Sometimes the bad is inextricable from the good.)

The lyrics in the first half are really searching to bring meaning to the idea of being small — was this about arrested development, sexual organ self deprecation jokiness, “childhood”…?– but gets around to making a strong statement:  a person whose life is mainly behind him reflects on when his life had mainly not begun.

I really like the intimacy of this recording, I will tout — done on 16 track I didn’t know how to use, and with the assistance of Eleanor Underscore Reed’s sensitive euphonium accompaniment. Final Verse:

And all these days that I recall
They are shadows on the wall
Dusty ruins on the web
Soon to break and lose their thread
They are the tokens of the dead
And the sins that won’t have fled
They are the days that can’t be lived
They have fallen through the sieve
Once for all
But I was small.

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