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What A Song Means...

saulgoldie 01 May 11 - 02:57 PM
DMcG 01 May 11 - 03:56 PM
catspaw49 01 May 11 - 03:58 PM
GUEST,Lighter 01 May 11 - 04:52 PM
Little Hawk 01 May 11 - 05:10 PM
Leadfingers 01 May 11 - 05:16 PM
DMcG 02 May 11 - 04:05 AM
GUEST,Desi C 02 May 11 - 12:49 PM
Marje 02 May 11 - 01:09 PM
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Subject: Folklore: What A Song Means...
From: saulgoldie
Date: 01 May 11 - 02:57 PM

It occurs to me that knowing exactly what a song means is a very complex process, and we can almost never be totally sure. This has come up in several threads here recently, and a few office discussions about the meaning of words.

In order to fully understand the songwriter's intended meaning, we must know their:

age;
what was going on in the community and the world, and social culture when the song was written;
place of residence--country, state, county, neighborhood;
gender;
ethnic background;
family background;
state of mind at the time of writing the song;
their relationship state--happily "togethered" or recently betrayed;
the dictionary definitions of the words they are using
the "street" meanings of the words

And many more things that could have been factors. Unless we are quite educated about the songwriter, we cannot be sure what they meant. Or am I picking the wings off a butterfly??

Saul


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Subject: RE: What A Song Means...
From: DMcG
Date: 01 May 11 - 03:56 PM

A famous writer who I forget (Samuel Johnson, perhaps, but don't count on it) said something along the lines of "good writing is not that which anyone can understand, but such that they must understand, whether they would or no". That's true of songs as well


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Subject: RE: What A Song Means...
From: catspaw49
Date: 01 May 11 - 03:58 PM

Tell ya' Saul, there are times when even the songwriter has no idea what a song means.   Take for instance, if you will, "Pancho and Lefty" by Townes Van Zandt. Lot of folks like the song and several people had hits with it. Here's a YouTube video where Townes himself explains it all.....or nothing at all................I think the narcotic had made ol' Townes null and void.

However it was.....its a pretty fair song. BTW, we have a whole thread on it and guessing at what it means. We sorta' gave up after we found out that he had no idea either..........................


Spaw


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Subject: RE: What A Song Means...
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 01 May 11 - 04:52 PM

A song "means" at least three things:

What the writer (and composer, if there is one) meant.

What you want it to mean.

What you're afraid somebody else will think it means. (This last kind if meaning got traction, I believe, only in the PC era.)

For most purposes, what a song means is a rational inference from what it says and sounds like.

Traditional songs, what with forgetting and modifying, can sometimes be fairly ambiguous.

You may "appreciate" a song better if you have the lowdown on the songwriter, but it seems to me that the most important meaning is the one that comes through most clearly in performance.


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Subject: RE: What A Song Means...
From: Little Hawk
Date: 01 May 11 - 05:10 PM

The songwriter doesn't have to know what the song "means", he or she just has to not get in the way while it's being written. If you start thinking about it analytically, you'll get in the way. If it's a meaningful song, it will write itself through you quite effectively as long as you get out of the way and let it do so.

As to what it means, once written...that's a matter of opinion. And we all have those, don't we?

"Pancho and Lefty" is a great song, it doesn't matter a damn if Townes Van Zandt had any idea why he wrote it or what it means. It's given other people lots of interesting stuff to relate to, and it's got feeling, and it works, and that's all that matters.


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Subject: RE: What A Song Means...
From: Leadfingers
Date: 01 May 11 - 05:16 PM

And a LOT of 'Modern' songs are just Contemporary poetry set to a tune - And who the Hell knows what modern poetry means ??


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Subject: RE: What A Song Means...
From: DMcG
Date: 02 May 11 - 04:05 AM

"Because the pleasure-bird whistles after the hot wires/Shall the blind horse sing sweeter?" for example? You may vote 'yes' or 'no'. The famous folk horse, of course, is entitled to two votes.

(Dylan Thomas, if you don't recognise the quotation)


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Subject: RE: What A Song Means...
From: GUEST,Desi C
Date: 02 May 11 - 12:49 PM

Well, I think if a song writer had to answer all those questions in advance it might actually put people off! Besides, for me, and I'm sure many others, who do find the meanings important, it's part of the fun, and Folk education to research the story oneself, and of course find your own meaning in it, some are real mysteries I agree but I find that makes the process even more appealing


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Subject: RE: What A Song Means...
From: Marje
Date: 02 May 11 - 01:09 PM

With many songs, including most of those we regard as traditional, much of this information simply isn't available, but this doesn't mean that the song has no meaning or that its meaning can't be known.

The clever thing about a good song is that the words will seem to apply to countless situations in different times and places. There's a universality about many of the stories and the sentiments, meaning that singers and listeners can apply them to their own lives and find meaning in them. You don't have to know the specific details - in fact, too many details can be limiting and distracting. The meaning is what you make it.

So if a song is being sung by its composer, it shouldn't need a complicated introduction such as,"I wrote this one day after I'd had a row with my girlfriend, and I was sitting by this river and I began to think ..." If it's a good song, we don't need to know all that.

There are times when some details about the song's background will enrich the performance and enhance the meaning, but the song should be free-standing and work on its own too.

Marje


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