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Adopting a persona in songwriting

Will Fly 13 Jan 10 - 02:23 PM
Mrs Scarecrow 13 Jan 10 - 02:31 PM
Tim Leaning 13 Jan 10 - 02:46 PM
henryclem 13 Jan 10 - 04:06 PM
katlaughing 13 Jan 10 - 04:14 PM
katlaughing 13 Jan 10 - 04:20 PM
BobKnight 13 Jan 10 - 04:39 PM
Uncle_DaveO 13 Jan 10 - 04:48 PM
katlaughing 13 Jan 10 - 05:29 PM
Acorn4 13 Jan 10 - 05:36 PM
McGrath of Harlow 13 Jan 10 - 05:57 PM
Acorn4 13 Jan 10 - 06:01 PM
Artful Codger 13 Jan 10 - 07:21 PM
katlaughing 13 Jan 10 - 07:23 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 13 Jan 10 - 07:43 PM
Artful Codger 13 Jan 10 - 07:52 PM
Bert 13 Jan 10 - 08:38 PM
Songbob 13 Jan 10 - 09:16 PM
jamesstoffee 13 Jan 10 - 09:37 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 13 Jan 10 - 10:02 PM
M.Ted 14 Jan 10 - 01:59 AM
Darowyn 14 Jan 10 - 04:57 AM
GUEST,Chris B (Born Again Scouser) 14 Jan 10 - 06:05 AM
GUEST,matt milton 14 Jan 10 - 08:32 AM
GUEST 14 Jan 10 - 08:37 AM
Will Fly 14 Jan 10 - 09:17 AM
GUEST,matt milton 14 Jan 10 - 01:22 PM
Lonesome EJ 14 Jan 10 - 02:23 PM
Artful Codger 14 Jan 10 - 04:46 PM
Will Fly 14 Jan 10 - 05:26 PM
Don(Wyziwyg)T 14 Jan 10 - 06:40 PM
michaelr 14 Jan 10 - 07:04 PM
balladeer 14 Jan 10 - 11:00 PM
olddude 14 Jan 10 - 11:39 PM
Tim Leaning 15 Jan 10 - 04:17 AM
Artful Codger 15 Jan 10 - 04:47 AM
GUEST 15 Jan 10 - 06:42 AM
Acorn4 15 Jan 10 - 09:16 AM
frogprince 15 Jan 10 - 10:34 AM
GUEST,synbyn no cookie 15 Jan 10 - 10:54 AM
Acorn4 15 Jan 10 - 12:03 PM
olddude 15 Jan 10 - 12:18 PM
Mr Red 16 Jan 10 - 05:48 AM
alanabit 17 Jan 10 - 04:15 AM
Valmai Goodyear 18 Jan 10 - 06:44 AM
McGrath of Harlow 18 Jan 10 - 11:50 AM
Stringsinger 18 Jan 10 - 05:17 PM
Stringsinger 18 Jan 10 - 05:19 PM
balladeer 18 Jan 10 - 11:34 PM
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Subject: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Will Fly
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 02:23 PM

Many singer-songwriters place themselves in the centre of their songwriting, i.e. the message or theme of the song is based on their life, their experiences, their beliefs. What fascinates me about certain songwriters is their adaptation of a persona - a "self" - which, like a disguise or make-up, is assumed for the purpose of the song. One of the best songwriters in this genre (IMO) is, for example, Randy Newman. In songs like "Short People" and "Rednecks", he takes on the persona of somebody not himself and puts that persona at the centre of the song. In fact he does it so well that he got hate mail accusing him of "shortism" when "Short People" was initially released!

It's my view that singer-songwriters who convincingly place themselves into other shoes often create better and more interesting songs than those whose shoes are always their own. I'm not a songwriter myself but can't help being critical of some performers I hear in folk clubs or open mic sessions because they often have nothing original or interesting or ear-catching to say in their songs. The better and more memorable singers seem to be those who can don the metaphorical motley and adopt an interesting persona. This is, of course, not to dismiss those songwriters who can create great songs from their own personal experience.

Other views - particularly from those 'Catters who have put pen to paper?


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Mrs Scarecrow
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 02:31 PM

I do both, but when I do write songs from personal experience I try not to make it too personal so often those from a persona may give the impression of being more personal


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 02:46 PM

I try to do both but usual end up just imposing myself on the subject.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: henryclem
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 04:06 PM

Tom Bliss and George Papavgeris provided an excellent insight into songwriting at Chippenham FF last May, and Tom did ask me who was the 'I' in my Needle and Thread song, because that song depends for its impact on the narrator being an observer rather than a participant - involved emotionally maybe but not of the action. When I wrote the song I wouldn't say I was conscious of adopting a particular stance or persona; it just came out that way.

In my view it is the decision as to who is describing, narrating, emoting, which comes before anything else. My own style is largely to be on the outside of the action looking in - the dispassionate witness to sad, tragic (sometimes happy!) tales.   Now, when writing songs does not come so easily, finding that angle of entry to a new subject is much more of a conscious act. I would not describe it as adopting a positive persona, though; more, finding a neutral one.

There are examples of songs where the description of people and events is simple and apparently uninvolved yet the impact, the message, is emphatic and impassioned (Hattie Carroll, for instance).

If I only wrote as myself, about myself (albeit thinly disguised sometimes) well ... going to work every day is bloody boring and singing about it wouldn't make it interesting. Being the bloke outside the factory gate though, trying to sell The Big Issue to the workers, could - either as observer or subject.

Henry


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: katlaughing
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 04:14 PM

I write novels and essays, with a few songs written in the past. I never was the wife of a sailor, did not grow up by the sea, but did write Waves of Sorrow sung here by Mudcatter "Alba" who also added a few words.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: katlaughing
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 04:20 PM

Forgot to say, I thought the thread title was "Adopting a PERSON in songwriting." **bg**


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: BobKnight
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 04:39 PM

I never write about myself - imagination is the thing. As I always say, that old lady Agatha Christy didn't have to murder hundreds of people to write those novels.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 04:48 PM

Kat, when I click your clicky I get this:

Request cannot be handled by the server.

Reason: URL has unsafe spurious path elements. Cannot continue. /=http:/katlafrance.com/id9.html


Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: katlaughing
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 05:29 PM

Thanks, Dave, had one too many equal signs in my html. It works now.:-)


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Acorn4
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 05:36 PM

I think adopting a persona stops a songwriter getting too self absorbed.
Don't we all dread that line:-

"This song is about a failed relationship"

Adopting a persona is a way of avoiding the more masturbatory elements of songwriting.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 05:57 PM

It's always surprised me that people so often seem to think that songs are personal statements just because they have an "I" in them.   

'''''''''''''''''''''''

Maybe some time I'll say "this song is about a failed relationship" and then go on to sing Little Musgrove or something like that...


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Acorn4
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 06:01 PM

The persona can work particularly well with comedy songs - remember the Jeremy Taylor classic "Jobsworth"

"I was just an ordinary Englishman, 'til I got me uniform and 'at"


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Artful Codger
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 07:21 PM

One of the great joys of singing traditional songs is the adoption of different personae. In one song I can be a whaler returned to port, in the next, a woman grieving for her lover lost in battle, a cowboy on night duty, a lovelorn milkman, a highwayman on his way to the gallows, or a cossack singing sadly of his homeland. Yes, changing skins is much more refreshing than just being oneself, or endlessly whinging about one's self-obsessed feelings, as so many "singer-songwriters" do.

This ability to place oneself in others' shoes seems to distinguish the songwriters I admire, and helps account for the diversity of their works. It may be one reason we love show tunes--the best encapsulate a specific character and perspective, in addition to a well-focused idea, a great tune and clever language.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: katlaughing
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 07:23 PM

Yes, AC, excellent explanation!


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 07:43 PM

There's a very valid third option in songwriting which I often use: telling a story. Not all songs have to be in the first person, whether it's the songwriter him or herself or another persona. I usually prefer observational, story songs. Maybe that's because I love stories. Songs I've written like Old Blue Suit, Silver Queen, Uncel Willie's in the Sheets, Willie's Dog... and on and on are not about me, or even a specific person. They are about a situation, a predicament, or a story. I never owned an old blue suit, and never danced on the Silver Queen. And I didn't habitually come home drunk.

My problem with writing as a cowboy, a sailor of an escaped prisoner (All topics I wrote songs on early in my songwriting) is that I don't know enough about those ways off life to write anything deeper than cliches. I wrote a song about being a gunfighter that really stunk. Now, if I'd written a song about being a gunfighter who carried a cap gun and a plastic Lone Ranger holster, then I'd know what I was talking about. Come to think of it, I did.

Maybe some people can write believable songs in the persona of someone radically different than themselves. I can't. I'm just trite.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Artful Codger
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 07:52 PM

So, how many people DID Agatha Christie have to murder?


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Bert
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 08:38 PM

Like Mrs. Scarecrow and others, I do both. Although I don't think of it as a persona as such.

Like, when I wrote 'tumbleweeds' I had to write it from a woman's point of view. I didn't think of myself as a woman, but tried to imagine the loneliness of this woman's life.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Songbob
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 09:16 PM

I sometimes have found that NOT having a persona leads (me, anyway) to writer's block. I took Bob Franke's songwriting class at Pinewoods a while back, and he assigned me to write about the photos in the camphouse (the photos of the founders of the camp -- deadly dull photos of aging overweight people). One of the photos did not have a name caption, so I didn't know who it was. I went four days of the week before it occurred to me to step outside myself.

Who was looking at the photo?
A camper.

Why did he notice it?
It was of his grandmother.

Why was that important?
He didn't know "granny" was into music.

Why not?
His folks were against music.

Bingo!

        Discovery
        (Granny's Picture)

I saw my granny's picture just by chance
At a summer camp for music and dance,
There on the side of the camphouse wall,
Where I'd never expect to see her at all.
There were other pictures there, and stories, too,
How they started the camp, and saw it through.
I knew my Granny was a crusty old dame,
But I never knew that music was her game.

I got into music in a roundabout way,
Listening to what the rock 'n rollers play.
Heard the Rolling Stones do "Prodigal Son,"
Had to find the source, learn how it was done.
So I got a guitar and learned to play,
Practicing hard both night and day.
My Mom said I'd be a "singing fool,"
And Dad said, "Son, don't you dare quit school!"

So I stayed in school and learned a trade,
But music was the best thing I ever made.
My folks didn't seem to understand
My fascination with an old-time band.
Then I get to this camp and find my kind
Of people and music, and no one minds
What I do with my life; then out of the blue,
I find my Granny liked music, too!

Whatever the reasons my parents had
For hating this music makes me sad.
Something turned them sour so long ago
That they'll never know the little bit of Truth I know:
Music and dance are a part of it all,
If you leave them out of life, that life is small.
Granny knew that in a basic way;
That's why I saw my Granny's picture yesterday.


Reprise:

I saw my granny's picture just by chance
At a summer camp for music and dance,
There on the side of the camphouse wall,
Where I'd never expect to see her at all.


Copyright (c)1989, Bob Clayton

----

After the camper concert where I sang it, another camper said she thought I was brave to tell my story that way, in public and all, and when I told her none of it was true, her face fell so thoroughly I felt sorry for her (I really have to develop a way of letting people down more easily).

So finding a persona, or telling a story, are two good ways to keep your songs from becoming "I feel, I feel" songs concerning navel interests.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: jamesstoffee
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 09:37 PM

Consider using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and identify the singer and the singee's personality types.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Brig ... _Indicator

Too often we only see the world through our own personality type, but learning what other types value can help create more realistic characters with more authentic actions and reactions...step into someone else's shoes so to say.

First, identify your own personality type and read about what makes that type "tick"

http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes1.htm

Next, choose specific types for each character in the song. Some types compliment others clash, but whichever types you choose, have them communicate and respond with the values true to that personality type.

I try to write a song a week. Here is where I post them

http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=896900

or go to www.soundclick.com and search for James Sunday SongWriter's Group


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 13 Jan 10 - 10:02 PM

Whatever works.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: M.Ted
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 01:59 AM

Great songwriters are few and far between. How well any given song works often has more to do with who is singing it than anything else. I can't tell you how many times I've heard great performers take what I'd thought was a mundane and unfocused bit of scribbling and make something memorable or even powerful out of it. In fact, there are singers out there who can squeeze the whole of the human experience out of "Well, Well, Well" or "Mmm, mmm, mmm".

The fact of the matter is, it's likely that the folks you hear who "often have nothing original or interesting or ear-catching to say in their songs" just aren't particularly good at "selling a song", and that in the right hands, that song could make you laugh or cry.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Darowyn
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 04:57 AM

Coming at it from the opposite direction, isn't it strange how fans of a songwriter try to put together a biography of the artist from the songs?
The assumption is that all the first person songs relate actual experiences.
One of the writers whose work I love is Melanie (Safka). If everything in her songs had happened as described she would have had more lovers than Messalina and Catherine the Great put together! I know for a fact that she has been married to the same man since the sixties and they have brought up three children.
I do think that a song needs to be based on an emotional insight into the narrative, a grain of truth. Beyond that, the process of turning that into a piece of art involves polishing and adapting that grain into something that fits the dramatic structure of a song.
You start from observation, add a touch of "what if..." and after that it's a craft skill to build the song.
Cheers
Dave


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: GUEST,Chris B (Born Again Scouser)
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 06:05 AM

Interesting thread. I don't write songs myself and I've always admired those who could. I remember one of the things that drew me to Ralph McTell's songs when I was a teenager was his imagination and capacity for empathy in his writing rather than just contemplating his own navel and whining about his own life (which a lot of American songwriters, particularly, seemed to be doing at the time). Similarly with Richard Thompson, although another thing I liked about his writing (and Ralph's) was his economy - he left enough space in his lyrics for the listener to engage their own imagination, especially on 'Pour Down Like Silver'. I rather think Thompson has tended to lose that over the years as his songs have become more 'wordy', like 'Beeswing' and '1952 Vincent Black Lightning'.

Like I say though, I've never been able to write songs myself so hats off to those who can, even if I don't always like what they write.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 08:32 AM

Songs don't have to be autobiographical or adopt a persona. They don't have to feature people at all.

They can be about a tree, a car or a bird. Or even be about a song.

Songs can make just make a statement or tell a lie.

Songs can ask questions like "What'll I do with my herrings' heads?" and then list all sorts of improbable and impossible answers to that question. I like songs like that, and I'd love to hear some contemporary examples.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: GUEST
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 08:37 AM

"The fact of the matter is, it's likely that the folks you hear who "often have nothing original or interesting or ear-catching to say in their songs" just aren't particularly good at "selling a song", and that in the right hands, that song could make you laugh or cry."

Was listening to the various final albums of Johnny Cash yesterday on Spotify and it's amazing how true this is. He sings "One" by U2 or "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails and the rather trite words start to sound like Samuel Beckett.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Will Fly
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 09:17 AM

Songs don't have to be autobiographical or adopt a persona. They don't have to feature people at all.

They can be about a tree, a car or a bird. Or even be about a song.

Songs can make just make a statement or tell a lie.


True, I'm sure but - if the song is being sung, then it has been written. And behind the writing is a writer. That's the paradox - there's inevitably a creator/narrator, and the words of the song will give some clue as to the persona of the creator/narrator! :-)


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 01:22 PM

yeah, there's a good quote by somebody or other along the lines of "nothing human is alien to me".

but in the herring song I was referring to, it's pretty difficult to talk about a "persona". Because it belongs to a vein of ritualistic english songs. What's the persona here? The closest you'd come would be 'someone who works with fish who can't find a tolerable method of disposal of its offal'. I'm not sure that really tells you a great deal about the character and temperament of the subject putatively singing. I'd go further: I don't think there is actually supposed to be a subject putatively singing, other than whoever happens to sing the song.

'Poor Old Horse' and other mayday or related songs would fall into this category. Or riddle songs. And then there's the US tradition of collage song/surreal song/nonsense song there's no persona in any conventional sense (I'm thinking of songs like 'The Coo-coo', 'Bile that cabbage down', 'Ole Joe Clarke', 'Cindy', 'Cumberland Gap') and it's pushing it to suggest there's a persona in an unconventional sense. Someone who enjoys stringing a series of unusual, sometimes grotesque, non-sequiturs into a song? Is that a persona? Isn't that just you, singing the song?

I'm not suggesting they reveal nothing about the predilections of their creators. But I'm suggesting that they don't project a personality in a any useful sense. That's partly what makes them great.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 02:23 PM

This thread brings back a memory to me.
I was in a band where we played mainly cover material. Several of us wrote songs, though. The drummer, a good friend, wrote all of his songs from his personal standpoint. They were pretty good tunes. I brought a song called "Maria" to the group, which we played a few times until the drummer, Sean, started questioning the point of view.
The song is sung from the standpoint of a stalker, essentially. After he sings the praises of Maria and how much he loves her, we then discover his admiration is platonic, partly because her "husband is a monster and he drives a truck". The song ends with the narrator being detained by the police as he shouts his love to Maria from her front yard. I thought the song was funny, and had a good tune. The problem for Sean was the attitude of the singer...he was a rather timid, neurotic guy who is finally overcome by his passion into being arrested. Why should the guy be scared to tell her he loves her? Why is he afraid of her hubbie?
I tried to explain to Sean that the guy was not me, or him, or anybody in the band. He resisted the argument, however, and decided he just didn't like the song. His arguments and complaints actually influenced the rest of the band, and the song eventually went into the recycle bin.
But some of my favorite tunes are done by people like George Jones, Warren Zevon, Randy Newman, etc who do this sort of first-person play acting in their songs.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Artful Codger
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 04:46 PM

Some posters are missing the original thrust, saying that a song needn't be written from the first person or even be about a person. No one disputes that; but the premise of this thread is to compare using one's own persona versus an adopted persona in "first person" songs specifically; those other songs are generally outside the focus.

As for the herring-guts song, there would be definite clues to the persona of the writer/narrator in (1) the particular uses he dreams up and (2) the tone with which he expresses himself. Is he wordy or terse? morose, carping, whimsical, gleefully macabre? Are his suggestions practical or impractical, mundane or inventive, self-focused or of more general utility? What kind of tune is used? You can tell a lot about a man from his fish guts.


Darowyn wrote: "...she has been married to the same man since the sixties and they have brought up three children."

Yes, but were they his children? ;-}


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Will Fly
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 05:26 PM

I quoted Randy Newman in my original post because I think he embodies the extra complexity of creating a song "in character" as compared with the complexity of creating a song as "yourself". My examplar from his work would be "Rednecks". In this song the narrator/singer describes seeing segregationist Lester Maddox being interviewed on TV by some smart ass New York Jew, which so enrages the singer that he made this song. The song, however, doesn't just defend segregationism - it agrees with the stereotype of a redneck, but makes, in its latter verses, the point that so-called liberal communities are just as bad as rednecks in their attitudes to black people. Worse - by doing so, they're hypocritical about it all, whereas at least the so-called rednecks are honest about their attitudes.

Now, that's my take on what I think is a complex and intelligent song - words enclosed below for those who want to agree or disagree! It also has a great tune. Newman, of course, could be described as a smart ass California/Louisiana Jew - but he's someone else in the song. And, actually, you can take his lyrics in an unsubtle or a subtle way from the persona he's adopted.

Apologies if I've gone on at length about Newman, but - to me - he's a superb songwriter; one of the reasons I don't write songs. I leave it to those of his ilk. And one of the reasons I find songs from writers like him endlessly interesting

-------
Lyrics to "Rednecks"

Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
With some smart ass New York Jew
And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox
And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too
Well he may be a fool but he's our fool
If they think they're better than him they're wrong
So I went to the park and I took some paper along
And that's where I made this song

We talk real funny down here
We drink too much and we laugh too loud
We're too dumb to make it in no Northern town
And we're keepin' the niggers down

We got no-necked oilmen from Texas
And good ol' boys from Tennessee
And colleges men from LSU
Went in dumb. Come out dumb too
Hustlin' 'round Atlanta in their alligator shoes
Gettin' drunk every weekend at the barbecues
And they're keepin' the niggers down

CHORUS
We're rednecks, rednecks
And we don't know our ass from a hole in the ground
We're rednecks, we're rednecks
And we're keeping the niggers down

Now your northern nigger's a Negro
You see he's got his dignity
Down here we're too ignorant to realize
That the North has set the nigger free

Yes he's free to be put in a cage
In Harlem in New York City
And he's free to be put in a cage on the South-Side of Chicago
And the West-Side
And he's free to be put in a cage in Hough in Cleveland
And he's free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis
And he's free to be put in a cage in Fillmore in San Francisco
And he's free to be put in a cage in Roxbury in Boston
They're gatherin' 'em up from miles around
Keepin' the niggers down

CHORUS


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Don(Wyziwyg)T
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 06:40 PM

Both, I suppose, but I don't have any experience of failed relationships, so my personal experience is of a man who never had two pennies to rub together, but is as rich as Croesus, as portrayed in my song "Fantasies", which took eighteen years to write, as that was how long it took for me to grow into the third verse:-

FANTASIES.

1).    I dream of blue skies, and a sparkling ocean,
       Warm balmy breezes, and bright golden sands,
       I dream of a boat, and my loved one beside me,
       Plenty of money, and time on our hands,
       I dream of the things I might do, and I wish
       That the chance to go try them might still come my way,
       But I know it's not likely, I know I'm just dreaming,
       And I wake to the start of one more dreary day.

       Ch. Fantasies keep me alive while I'm working,
             Dreams of the things that I'd most like to do,
             But somehow it seems that it just doesn't matter,
             That the dreams that I'm dreaming may never come true.

2).    I look at my life, it's just work, eat, and sleep,
       And no matter how hard I try, it doesn't seem,
       That there's anything else but the same dreary circle,
       That's waiting whenever I wake from my dream,
       But then, before bed, I look in, and I see
       My two children there sleeping, at peace with the night,
       And my love is there too, ever gentle and caring,
       Filling my life with her sweetness and light.

       Ch.

3).    A man has to toil, and it's not too surprising,
       That sometimes he feels there should be something more,
       A chance to be idle, some freedom from worry,
       And his dreams stop him wondering what his labour's for,
       But I know in my heart there are all kinds of riches,
       And I can't complain, for I've more than my share,
       And I wouldn't swap one of the treasures I have,
       For the chance of becoming a millionaire.

       Ch.

© Don Thompson 1985


On the other side, my songs tend to come from the experience of others, as related to me by them, as for instance "Gone from the Medway" which grew out of meeting an old man (I was thirty at the time), down on his luck, and buying him a breakfast. The best bargain I made in years:-

GONE FROM THE MEDWAY

1.        Down by the bridge at the end of the Esplanade,
She lies, rocking gently, on the evening tide,
An old Medway sailing barge, no longer working,
All alone now, for the others have died,
He stands by the railing, just wistfully watching her,
Aging and tattered, his thinning hair grey,
And as I approach him, he straightens up slowly,
And says, as he steps out to stand in my way.

Ch.        Gone from the Medway the things that I cared for,
        The graceful seaplanes, and the old barges too,
        Into the mists of the past they have drifted,
        Leaving me, old and useless, with nothing to do.

2.        I'm sixty years old, and I walk by the Medway,
Hungry and penniless, homeless as well,
If you'll spare me the price of a tea and a sandwich,
I'll eat and I'll drink, and my story I'll tell,
At the age of fifteen I was seeking my fortune,
When a sailing barge moored at the dock caught my eye,
A trim little craft, with a big russet sail,
And I thought, for employment aboard her, I'd try.

Ch………………………………………………………………………………………

3.        For forty five years I have sailed on the Medway,
As galley boy, deckhand, and lately as mate,
The work, it was hard, and the trials were many,
But I always had shelter, and food on my plate,
As time went by transport on dry land grew faster,
Speed and efficiency, cutting the cost,
The old sailing barges were no longer needed,
We couldn't compete, so our living we lost.

Ch……………………………………………………………………………………….

4.        No longer is heard the thunder of flying boats,
Clawing their way to the clear morning air,
They're gone, like the barges, lost and forgotten,
Vanished completely, to no one knows where,
So now I'm alone, and I walk by the Medway,
No job and no money, no bed for the night,
There's some call it progress, a change for the better,
But I call it hell, and I know that I'm right.

Ch………………………………………………………………………………………..
                                                        ©Don Thompson April 1978


The third segment is the comic aspect, and I have to say that the comic songs I write tend to be in an altogether different vein.

My sense of humour is oriented toward standing established concepts on their heads, or puncturing the pompous or the self obsessed. A bit cruel at times, as in "The Little Weatherman". Written soon after the Hurricane of 17th October 1987:-

THE LITTLE WEATHERMAN
Tune "The Little Beggarman" (Irish Trad.)


I am a little weatherman, you'll see me on TV,
I stand upon a box because I'm only five foot three,
I smile into the camera, to communicate to you,
That I really know me job, and every word I say is true,
        Of all the trades that's going, meteorology's the one,
        With the greatest chance of failure, ah! But that is half the fun,
        It really doesn't matter if I cock it up you see,
        For, when I'm on you're all out in the kitchen making tea.

Oh! The mysteries of forecasting are really quite obscure,
But the use of Doppler radar makes prediction very sure,
I forecast dry and sunny, over twenty three degrees,
And it rains so hard the water level's well above your knees,
        Take a tip, take the day off, take the car, get out of town,
        Pay a visit to the seaside, and you're sure to come back brown,
        You may boast about your suntan, if you really feel you must,
        But, unless they're blind or stupid, they will realise it's rust.

I stood upon me little box, one dark and stormy night,
And I told ten million viewers "There's no hurricane in sight",
Next morning, scattered far and wide were fifteen million trees,
I was the country's first case of the foot in mouth disease,
        And since that day I've tried right hard, to cover my backside,
        I predict the worst scenario, whatever might betide,
        For repeating that fiasco is the last thing I would wish,
        So TOMORROW WILL BE ROTTEN, and goodnight from Michael Fish.



© Don Thompson April 1988

It doesn't quite fit the currently accepted stereotype of the "singer/songwriter", but I'm rather pleased about that, and perfectly happy, when writing, in my own, or someone else's skin.

Don T.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: michaelr
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 07:04 PM

In this song I adopt the persona of a post-famine Irish immigrant who gets recruited off the boat to fight the Civil War. Obviously not a personal experience I've had - but, being an immigrant myself, some of my own experience does inform the chorus.

Chers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: balladeer
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 11:00 PM

If I had based this song on me, I'd be writing songs in a prison cell!



GUADALAJARA             by Joanne Crabtree (with Andrew Crabtree)

Picked up the train in Louisville, I went looking for a game of chance
Hoping to find me a cowboy, and maybe a sweet romance
My cowboy was nothing but trouble, and that is the reason why
I left him and I did not say goodbye
I just left him by the road to live or die

Chorus:

It was his own damn fault
Somewhere in the Black Hills we stopped havin' fun
It was his own damn fault
I gave him every chance to cut and run                  
It was his own damn fault
Never turn your back on a woman with a gun

It wasn't my idea to head for a minin' town
Just wanted a couple of horses and a place to settle down
But he started up a shell game and he put me out as bait
When he did that, the cowboy sealed his fate
I paid him back, I did not hesitate

Chorus:

Instrumental:

I hit the road for Mexico on my Appaloosa queen
Now I've got a new vaquero and the horse ranch of my dreams
I'm happy in Guadalajara; everything turned out fine
I heard they got some cowboy for the crime
I took the gold, left him to do the time

Chorus: to:

It was his own damn fault
Woe oh oh woe oh oh woe oh oh


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: olddude
Date: 14 Jan 10 - 11:39 PM

I just try to tell a story my life is too boring to write about. it would be something like computer geek with dog gets a sandwich... the end. so i make up stuff, not well mind you, but I make it up as I see it. even if it is wrong like my cowboy who wants to be a farmer. lol

by the way, i normally don't like modern diary music


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 04:17 AM

Hmmmm having skipped most of the thread for fear of it being to erudite and deep for me to understand,I was just wondering how it goes differently for those who write as a team.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Artful Codger
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 04:47 AM

They write songs about Sybil. (Peter told me to say that.)


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: GUEST
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 06:42 AM

"my life is too boring to write about. it would be something like computer geek with dog gets a sandwich... the end"

I'd like to hear that song

The Ballad of the Techie and the Sub!

Come all ye sad Trekkies from IT support
who love diss-a-sem-ba-ling motherboards for sport

etc etc


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Acorn4
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 09:16 AM

Actually, that's a pretty good beginning - why not go on and finish it?


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: frogprince
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 10:34 AM

Kitty Donohoe has a funny, sneaky narrative song about hard life in old Chicago; just as she's getting to the end, you realize she's using the persona of Mrs. O'Leary's cow.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: GUEST,synbyn no cookie
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 10:54 AM

There's always the legal side- libel is always arguable if you use a news item- I think it's easier to wrap up a satisfying song if you've taken ideas from all over, because the ending doesn't have to be what happened in real life. Every song I've written is in an imaginary person's shoes, because they can think what I don't and then I can explore their outlook.. can have disadvanttages, I was asked if I was depressed and needed therapy because I wrote a song from the point of view of a shepherd on Romney Marsh... I'm more likely to need it for writing Stick It Out For England...
other perspectives...
Bob


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Acorn4
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 12:03 PM

I've been advised that I ought to take a lawyer to all gigs in case of being sued by an imaginary person.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: olddude
Date: 15 Jan 10 - 12:18 PM

Guest
can't stop laughing , good start ... good idea LOL


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Mr Red
Date: 16 Jan 10 - 05:48 AM

It is all about "knowing your subject"

Adopting a personna requires research of some sort. People who write from their own perspective have a lot of knowledge. The problem comes when the listener has to engage.

The whole is as much about performance as it is about perspicacity.
I usually notice if the performer is saying, "feel may pain" or "share my viewpoint". One works more than the other (by a large margin).

But as George Bernard Shaw said "the Golden Rule is that there are no Golden Rules".


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: alanabit
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 04:15 AM

I think these songs as a character have something in common with writing scripts for theatre, or whatever. The real rubbish comes out when you try to make your characters say things. It you put words into their mouths, it just sounds like the writer talking. You have to listen to what your characters are saying and then put it down in their voices - and not your own. In another songwriting thread on Mudcat, Jerry Rasmussen described how he used snatches of everyday conversation and allowed his characters and stories to develop around them. Your own voice is the one you learn the least from!


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 06:44 AM

On Sunday 6th. June Mike O'Connor leads an all-day workshop on songwriting in the tradition at the Lewes Saturday Folk Club in Sussex, England.

Mike's songs have been recorded and sung by Martyn Wyndham-Read, Johnny Collins, Kathy Wallis, Mike Nicholson, Sarah Morgan, and many more. He produced and directed the folk operas 'The Cry of Tin' and 'Unsung Heroes'.

On Saturday 5th. June Mike O'Connor & Barbara Griggs perform at the Lewes Saturday Folk Club. During the day they lead a workshop for any instrument on dance tunes from Cornish manuscript sources.

Valmai (Lewes)


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 11:50 AM

Maybe there's a distinction between songs where the singer imagining themselves into an imaginary situation, but still being themselves in the way they think and speak, and songs where they imagine themselves as being wholly different people.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Stringsinger
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 05:17 PM

Christmas in the Trenches and The Band Played Waltzing Mathilda were written as "I" songs, first person.

If a song has specificity, imagery, is singable, with a sense of place and who is singing to whom it doesn't matter.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: Stringsinger
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 05:19 PM

Every story or song is written as an "I" song regardless of whether "I" is used in it.

The reason songs are great is because we "know" the persona whether first, second or third person.


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Subject: RE: Adopting a persona in songwriting
From: balladeer
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 11:34 PM

For me, everything is focused on connecting with my audience. I have to invest myself completely in a song when I perform it, so I write in the first person almost exclusively. I only use the third person when I am positioning myself as a bystander and am narrating a straight story from history, such as this one:

The Price of Freedom
(Joanne Crabtree & Paul Mills)

Like a child whose needs are greatest when the hunger comes again
Who turns toward his mother and cries aloud in pain
It's the soul of a nation bears this heavy load
What's the price of freedom when freedom's child is sold

What's the price of freedom in this land of liberty?
What's the cost of living with the struggle to be free?
Gaining ground by inches, forever standing guard
What's the price of freedom when victory comes so hard?

Michael, James, and Andrew signed on in '64
To register black voters in the savage southern war
Klansmen beat James Chaney bloody on a Mississippi night
Shot and killed the three of them by freedom's flickering light.

What's the price of freedom in this land of liberty?
What's the cost of living with the struggle to be free?
Gaining ground by inches, forever standing guard
What's the price of freedom when victory comes so hard?

James Chaney, local black kid; Michael Schwerner, New York Jew,
Andrew Goodman, liberal college boy, from among the privileged few
They shared one single aspiration, to give every child a choice
They died outside the promised land,
But they strengthened freedom's voice

What's the price of freedom in this land of liberty?
What's the cost of living with the struggle to be free?
Gaining ground by inches, forever standing guard
What's the price of freedom when victory comes so hard?


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