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The personal song - Who does it well?

alanabit 27 Nov 02 - 01:38 PM
Peg 27 Nov 02 - 01:50 PM
BuckMulligan 27 Nov 02 - 01:51 PM
Rick Fielding 27 Nov 02 - 01:51 PM
sharyn 27 Nov 02 - 01:52 PM
Kim C 27 Nov 02 - 02:00 PM
BuckMulligan 27 Nov 02 - 02:00 PM
alanabit 27 Nov 02 - 02:06 PM
sharyn 27 Nov 02 - 02:10 PM
michaelr 27 Nov 02 - 02:10 PM
Merritt 27 Nov 02 - 02:12 PM
Stephen L. Rich 27 Nov 02 - 02:42 PM
Joe Offer 27 Nov 02 - 04:34 PM
Kim C 27 Nov 02 - 04:39 PM
kendall 27 Nov 02 - 04:40 PM
alanabit 27 Nov 02 - 04:50 PM
khandu 27 Nov 02 - 04:50 PM
alanabit 27 Nov 02 - 04:55 PM
Amos 27 Nov 02 - 05:17 PM
lamarca 27 Nov 02 - 06:21 PM
GUEST 28 Nov 02 - 02:12 AM
GUEST,alanabit 28 Nov 02 - 02:15 AM
Cluin 28 Nov 02 - 02:30 AM
Bert 28 Nov 02 - 03:03 AM
alanabit 28 Nov 02 - 05:21 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 28 Nov 02 - 08:27 AM
EBarnacle1 28 Nov 02 - 08:58 AM
alanabit 28 Nov 02 - 02:57 PM
GUEST,Fred Miller 29 Nov 02 - 10:10 AM
Phil Cooper 29 Nov 02 - 10:21 AM
Deckman 29 Nov 02 - 06:17 PM
Jazzyjack 29 Nov 02 - 06:43 PM
GUEST,Fred Miller 29 Nov 02 - 10:57 PM
denise:^) 30 Nov 02 - 12:46 AM
DonMeixner 30 Nov 02 - 01:11 AM
mmb 30 Nov 02 - 01:12 AM
GUEST,Russ 30 Nov 02 - 09:23 AM
GUEST,Fred Miller 30 Nov 02 - 09:57 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 30 Nov 02 - 11:32 AM
denise:^) 30 Nov 02 - 12:10 PM
alanabit 30 Nov 02 - 12:54 PM
khandu 30 Nov 02 - 06:17 PM
GUEST,Fred Miller 30 Nov 02 - 06:32 PM
Deckman 30 Nov 02 - 06:45 PM
Seamus 30 Nov 02 - 06:58 PM
GUEST,Russ 30 Nov 02 - 08:47 PM
Jazzyjack 01 Dec 02 - 12:24 AM
Jazzyjack 01 Dec 02 - 12:38 AM
denise:^) 01 Dec 02 - 01:05 AM
alanabit 01 Dec 02 - 03:06 AM
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Subject: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: alanabit
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 01:38 PM

I've been thinking - not always a good idea! I read a comment by Don Firth about navel gazing singer/songwriters - who differ from hypnotists only by the fact that the latter can usually reawaken their audiences. I have often read similar comments from Art Thieme and Joe Offer. I get their point OK. Teenage traumas and the complexities of Joe Soap's emotional turmoil do not always engage me either.
Two weeks ago I did a support for the brilliant Cologne singer/songwriter Johanna Fassbender. I played reasonably competently, but compared to what followed I looked a bit like a bricklayer coming on before a sculptor. She genuinely moved and excited the audience - and English is her second language! Her songs are completely personal and about the turmoil of her own life. In a nutshell, she represents everything we 'Catters usually loathe about the "introvert songwriter". Yet her set was stunning. What makes the difference between people who can pull off this sort of thing and those who can't?


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Peg
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 01:50 PM

I think the artfulness of lyrics is important. Lyrics that hit you over the head with emotion or are really obvious tend to be painful to listen to. I like poetic or pensive lyrics that allow listeners to discover and read between the lines. Irony is nice too.
Geoff Bartley, John Gorka, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos come to mind...


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: BuckMulligan
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 01:51 PM

I'm willing to bite here, and ask for examples of omphaloskeptic songs Mudcatters loathe. When you get right down to it, "I'm So Lonesome I could Cry" and "Lovesick Blues" are pretty introspective and angst ridden, but also pretty good songs (though not "Folk" yet they could well be considered "folkish" since an awful lot of "folk" have sung them). "The condition of my heart & soul" are, after all, one of the two or three main topics of all songs, isn't it? Isn't singing, as an art, intended to communicate one's perception of the human condition, and to evoke in a listener some understanding of and identity with, the singer and/or songwriter?


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 01:51 PM

Excellent thread Alan.(has the CD got there yet?)

I've been trying to figure this out for years. I think it boils down to a FEW things.

Can you make the audience CARE about what's gone on in your life? If so, then perhaps a LOT of skill may not be as neccessary.

Does the audience fantasize a sexual relationship with the performer? This would certainly apply to a lot of modern singer-songwriters (mostly young gals) who haven't lived long enough to have much of a story. Not saying they may not be good songwriters...just that the "sexual" aspect is there.

How about sheer storytelling or poetic skill, along with top notch musical skills? Michael Smith and Paul Simon come to mind.

Two Mudcatters...Jerry Rassmussin and Harvey Andrews, use their instruments strictly as accompaniement (and very well too) but do a lot to reflect their origins in their music (Birmingham and Wisconsin) They MAKE you interested in their lives.

Cheers

Rick


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: sharyn
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 01:52 PM

First of all, craft. When a song is written with cliches (verbal or musical), and poor rhymes that goes against it. The best songwriters' songs seem like they had to have been written "that way -- with those words and that melody."

Then there needs to be some depth to the experience written about, and the articulation of that depth.

It helps if a writer is familiar with the form she or he chooses to write in: I become familiar with forms by listening to them and I think that a lot of singer-songwriters need to become better music-listeners.

My credentials for these remarks: I am a singer of traditional and contemporary material who sometimes writes songs that others like (and have performed and recorded). All of my written songs draw on my personal experiences and emotions


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Kim C
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 02:00 PM

Sarah McLachlan


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: BuckMulligan
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 02:00 PM

sharyn, what do you mean by "form?" Rondelay, rag, raga, or something else?


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: alanabit
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 02:06 PM

'Fraid the CD hasn't got here yet Rick - but I'm sure looking forward to getting it. I'll PM you as soon as it does.
You may be pointing me towards an answer to my question - I don't really have a firm opinion. It's a fair point that the personal song is part and parcel of the folk tradition. What could be more directly personal than Mississippi John Hurt's, "Lonesome is I/Wish I could die/Nobody cares for me"? There's a good helping of self pity in there too - although with MJH I get the feeling that there is more than a little self mockery going on. In fact in his case, I'm sure it's the shaft of humour that carries it for me. Most modern songwriters would make me cringe if they sang something similar.
For sure sex can get me interested in almost anything - a fact not overlooked by advertisers...
I don't know Harvey Andrew's songs so well, but I would say that Jerry's songs tend to be about people who he knows rather than himself. I think they are the very opposite of what I was referring too. (I also think they are great).


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: sharyn
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 02:10 PM

Forms are hard to decribe: a form might be cowboy song or cowboy waltz or sea shanty or one of the traditional hymn-meters -- or rondelay, rag, raga, or something else. My point was that it is useful to listen to lots of examples of whatever kind of songs you might want to write (and that this seems to be a step many "writers" are skipping).

And while I'm amending my earlier remarks I'll add that I think the best songs marry genuine or authentic emotion with craft or care in writing.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: michaelr
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 02:10 PM

Writing a good lyric has got to be one of the most difficult aspects of music-making to master. The ones that work for me (as a listener) are those that give me an "aha!" experience -- either things I can relate to from my experience, or that make me see or think about something in a new way.

Clever wordplay can be attractive, as well, but can also work against the song (see countless country lyrics). There's a kid named Josh Joplin, who has a song on the radio with the line "I am not the only cowboy in this one-horse metaphor". I thought it a clever phrase the first time I heard it, but now it seems sort of precious.

Clunky rhymes and colloqialisms are a turnoff for me, as is overt sentimentality, and most references to Jesus.

Cheers,
Michael

(Hi Alan, how are things in Koln?)


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Merritt
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 02:12 PM

My two cents - those able to generalize the personal, i.e., tell a solid story that others can relate to, are the best. For me, it helps if the story (song) is also told in a way that is musically and rhythmically interesting. Songs that seem to get stronger audience response for me – mostly I play bars, community festivals & coffee shops – are Sloop John B, Steve Goodman's Lookin' For Trouble, Words (by the Beegees!!), Stewball, & Brother Can You Spare A Dime?, PP & M's Rocky Road..am sure there are other factors at work here. Goodman certainly wrote sang and played personal tunes well, and put his heart into them.

I think this is true of good folk music too. All of us know gen-you-wine folk standards that offer words, melody and beat that are the musical equivalent of over-cooked, unsalted oatmeal. But a strong folk ballad is one that many of us can relate to, get us tapping that foot.

- Merritt

"It's all one big note." - F. Zappa


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Stephen L. Rich
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 02:42 PM

There is much to be said for "craft" in songwriting -- introspective or otherwise. What puts an introspective song over the top, as it were; pulls it out of the navel of the songwriter and into the hearts and minds of the audience is the potential for identification with the story being told. If the listeners can hear it and say something to effect of, "Been there. Done that." the work becomes a communication and a sharing rather than merely a public whine.

Stephen Lee


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 04:34 PM

Lucy Kaplansky would be a good example of the singer-songwriters I can't stand. She's a good singer, and quite literate in her lyrics; but she writes songs I can't sing and can't relate to. Sharyn, on the other hand, writes lovely songs, and I love to sing them - they have a certain universality that Kaplansky's songs don't have. Well, I suppose not everyone can relate to Sharyn's Wallflower Waltz but I certainly can.
And Jerry Rasmussen tops Sharyn in universality. Actually, there are a lot of Mudcatters who have submitted damn good songs to the Mudcat Songbook, songs that have that universality that I look for.
Better-known songwriters who have that characteristic are Bruce Phillips, Greg Brown, John Prine, Kate Wolf, and Judy Small.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Kim C
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 04:39 PM

Speaking of John Prine - he is definitely one of my favorites. I have always thought "Souvenirs" was a wonderful song - it turns out it was one of those he wrote on the way to the gig! I guess that doesn't really matter, though, because great songs happen where they happen.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: kendall
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 04:40 PM

Utah Phillips, Dave Mallett, Kate Wolf


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: alanabit
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 04:50 PM

Jerry Rasmussen certainly has that universality. His songs radiate strength and contentment to me.
There's an interesting distinction to be made between songs you can sing and songs you can relate to. When Joni Mitchell sings "Woman of Heart and Mind," I always hope very much that no woman ever felt the same way about me (although they probably did)! I like that sort of personal song because it gets about as close as a woman ever will to making me understand how she actually feels about that man. I couldn't sing it of course. I would look ridiculous. So I am not sure that a great personal song has to have universality.
Let's throw in another idea. Is the hallmark of a good personal song the ability to speak to the listener rather than to oneself?
Hi Michael. Mir geht's nicht so schlecht in Köln danke - aber das Wetter ist bestimmt angenehmer in California in der Jahreszeit!


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: khandu
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 04:50 PM

I may not do them well, but I find it difficult not to write a "personal" song. When ever I have written a "non-personal" song, it is usually one of absurd humor. I do not consider what I write "introverted" but they are "personal". And, whenever I play them, there are those that do not like them, and there are those who do. But, what do I care? I didn't write for them!

khandu


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: alanabit
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 04:55 PM

Songs like that will always go over well. Joe Walsh's wonderful "Life's Been Good" springs to mind. People who poke fun at themselves are the easiest for an audience to identify with. I have always liked the line that people who can't laugh at themselves are missing the best joke in their lives!


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Amos
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 05:17 PM

Yeah but khandu's "personal" stuff is so vibrantly executed you can't stay out of it and that's one of the hallmarks of telling songwriting.

A


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: lamarca
Date: 27 Nov 02 - 06:21 PM

I was an angst-ridden teenager (and now I'm an angst-ridden adult, but nevermind...) when I first heard Joni Mitchell, and fell in love with her moody, highly personal songs. Songs like "The last time I saw Richard", "Ludwig's Tune", "Amelia", etc, paint really vivid pictures of a person or scene. Too many singer-songwriter "bad relationship" songs are neither well crafted, either melodically (think of the two chord rhythmic strum basis for many of them) or verbally (trite phrases, lines that don't paint a picture in your mind). I agree with Stephen's comment above:
What puts an introspective song over the top, as it were; pulls it out of the navel of the songwriter and into the hearts and minds of the audience is the potential for identification with the story being told. If the listeners can hear it and say something to effect of, "Been there. Done that." the work becomes a
communication and a sharing rather than merely a public whine.


Mitchell is a good example of a songwriter who I think crafts songs well, both in language and musical accompaniment, but with a few exceptions (Both Sides, Now and Woodstockcome to mind), her songs are written for HER voice. Other people's covers of them sound lame to me. One of the reasons that I and other traditional purist snobs say that Mitchell's and other singer-songwriters' material are NOT folk music is precisely for that reason. The writer may be crafting a perfectly wonderful song, expressing their emotions and personal history in a way that others can relate to and enjoy - but if their songs can't really be sung by other people, they aren't really ever likely to become "folk". Part of my personal definition of "folk song" is that it's a song that speaks to something inside a person enough that they are driven to learn it and pass it along to someone else. I've learned a lot of Joni Mitchell songs - but I sing them to myself, for myself, because they speak to me. I wouldn't be able to pass on the meaning in them to someone else in quite the same way that the author did to me.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Nov 02 - 02:12 AM

That all makes sense. I think another reason that Joni Mitchell's songs are not always good to pass on is that they are often too rhythmically and melodically complex to enter an oral tradition. In fact, following Joe's link and reading Sharyn's excellent "Wallflower Waltz", I'd say we have a more likely candidate there!
I have only heard one of khandu's songs, which has made me more impatient to hear his album...


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: GUEST,alanabit
Date: 28 Nov 02 - 02:15 AM

Who ate my cookie? That last post was from me!


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Cluin
Date: 28 Nov 02 - 02:30 AM

When it's personal, it should still be universal. Or at least commanding your respect. I personally don't give a damn if Jann Arden likes the colour of her own hair (despite her well-publicized early trials and tribulations... I got my own hair.. well, most of it). But we've all been so lonesome we could cry, at some time. Agree totally with RF above.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Bert
Date: 28 Nov 02 - 03:03 AM

I'm not sure that I agree completely with Sharyn about "cliches (verbal or musical), and poor rhymes". After all there are a hell of a lot of good country songs that rely on cliches and poor rhymes.

In fact cliches only exist because people keep using them. And to tell you the truth, those sare the people that I write my songs for. There's not too great a market amongst English Professors.

Sharyn, herself, uses them to great effect; "Tapping my toe" and "Walk on air" are both familiar enough phrases to be considered cliches and they work very well to make an excellent song.

I think that the trick about personal songs is to write songs that are based upon your own experience but also relate to your audience.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: alanabit
Date: 28 Nov 02 - 05:21 AM

You could well be right Bert. If the audience think you are singing about them - they listen.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 28 Nov 02 - 08:27 AM

I'm just getting around to reading this thread... thanks for the compliments, Rick, Alan and Joe. Even though I've written a lot of songs that could be called "personal" that are very specific to my life, I guess I don't think of myself as a "personal" songwriter. Handful of Songs is very personal, because I'm talking about my Grandparents and my Mother, and yet it seems to connect with people more than any song I've written. I think that if the person who is listening to the song connects the song to their own life, the writer has accomplished what they tried to do. When I started a thread on Handful Of Songs, it ran well over 100 responses because people could relate the song to their own life. I don't think much about craft, in a self-conscious way when I'm writing a song... "Man, am I being crafty!" I think the best personal songs are one where you're not noticing the craft. Just like when you see an acting performance that really moves you, you don't say "Man, look at that acting!" Songwriters who affect me do so in many ways. Some, like John Prine have such a playful, humorous way with words that I savor his songs, even after many listenings. He is an observer, mostly, and a commentator. Some writers, like Paul Simon just have such a great way with words (his wordiness at times is his greatest weakness) that lines from his songs become a part of your life. I guess my favorite "personal" songwriter is Steve Earle. He let's conversation put you in the life of the person he is writing about, rather than having them say how they feel. Maybe that's the key... writers who can put me in someone else's lives usually do it through lines that sound like they were overheard in an every-day conversation. They don't use the word "I" a whole lot, and you usually aren't sure whether the song is about them, or someone else. The Devil's Right Hand is a great song that has a powerful message, without being preachy, is very emotional without talking a lot about feelings, is economical and still says a lot, and visual. About as fine a song as you can write, from my perspective..

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: EBarnacle1
Date: 28 Nov 02 - 08:58 AM

One of my most requested songs is a song about the misery of trying to restore an old boat during an el nino that struck mostly on weekends. It is written about my experience but in such a way that others hearing it can say: "Something like that happened to me." In other words, they can own a piece of it.

As I see it, the most important thing is that the writer must have something to say, not just a whine about how miserable they are. There has to be a major element of 'relateability' to it or the public won't.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: alanabit
Date: 28 Nov 02 - 02:57 PM

Quite interesting what we understand as "a personal song" isn't it? By one definition you sure can see "Handful of Songs" as a personal song, because it comes straight out of someone's history. It is obviously popular because it could have come out of many different people's lives. I am sure that is why EBarnacle's boat song works as well.
I have all but stopped writing "personal songs" to the extent that even if something is triggered off by an event in my own life, I try to pass it off as if I was just the narrator of someone else's history. It becomes a character singing it rather than myself.
Another thing that occurs to me is that it is very easy for a listener to assume that a song is personal when in fact the singer is telling someone else's tale using first person narration - a technique I like very much myself. I am sure that this happens in particualr with a lot of Bob Dylan songs.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: GUEST,Fred Miller
Date: 29 Nov 02 - 10:10 AM

When I saw the thread I was going to say Joni Mitchell--at least nobody yet mentioned her song People's Parties, which stands out for me. It reminds me first of many women I know in how they are oblivious of their strengths, and better qualities, but think there's something wrong with them, instead. Shows how one can write a personal "I" song without writing it from an "I, at the center of the universe" point of view.

   I think being a second-language speaker might be an advantage, and not just as a gimmick, in that people may find it different, interesting, charming, or whatever. The familiarity of a language presents all sorts of opportunities for never getting around to actually saying anything. Somehow this ties back in to Joni's song, above, I think, if life were a party, and at it we found all sorts of poses and rigamaroles to avoid actually being present, and simply talking to each other. If English were your second language, you might not know yet how to trot through the evasive jokes, the routines and stage-business of talking, but have to actually talk. Yikes.
I know a few guys who've been talking about sex incessently for a few years, "sex" as an abstract language, and haven't yet got around to saying anything at all about it. It's a bit funny, but then again it's not funny.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 29 Nov 02 - 10:21 AM

I think the best of Roy Harper's personal songs stand out very well. A couple of songs from Andrew Calhoun's Tiger Tatoo CD also are personal, but very moving (Going Down to See John Prine, Miss Hill and the title song). Nick Drake's songs, I also found interesting. But all those songwriters had something else to say about the human condition, and were/are using their own experience in a way that applies to more people than them.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Deckman
Date: 29 Nov 02 - 06:17 PM

This thread poses one of the best questions I seen come around in some time. Thank you for thinking it and for posting it! I liked many of the responses, especially Ricks. I would like to add something perhaps a little different. What works for me, meaning what captures MY attention, is when the combination of the song and the singer work well together. I well remember many years ago when we were all a bunch of pimply faced kids singing about how hard it was to be in jail. Heck, we'd never been in jail and nothing we could do at the time could convince anyone we had been in jail. But TODAY, that's a totally different story. The performers I gravitate toward are the ones with lots of wrinkles on their faces ... women and men equally. And I totally agree with Rick regarding the 'sex appeal' aspect. I go back to memories of the late Walt Robertson's performances. When he sang "Wandering", for example, it was not his personal song. It was well known, although he did do his own melody. But he had the 'look on his face', for lack of a better term, that made you KNOW that this was his song. He was singing about himself. And when he sang "The Ballad of Sam Hall", there was no doubt! I'm finding the same thing in my own music these days. I think I've finally reached the age of "believability", if you will. (there's a straight line for you Don). When I choose to sing a song, it's because I want to present it. And I usually present it "my way." I hope this adds to the conversation. CHEERS, Bob(deckman)Nelson


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Jazzyjack
Date: 29 Nov 02 - 06:43 PM

Jack Williams. Saw this guy at a festival a little over a year ago. Seems you need a lot of rough life experiences first which he seems to have had .
Songwriting just scares the hell out of me which is why I only do covers. Think about it. You need to be a lyricist. You need to create a memorable tune and chord progression. You must play your instrument well and your voice must be appealing. There are hoards of artists who have built careers on one of these abilities alone. I have the utmost respect for anyone capable of combining these talents and repeating their success over and over .


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: GUEST,Fred Miller
Date: 29 Nov 02 - 10:57 PM

I don't quite agree with this notion that some people are too young to have interesting stories, although it may well be unusual that they are able to tell their stories well. But even so, I'm more often surprised when they can.

Some people's personal songs seem to have to do with "star" quality, and I think there is such a thing. Some very very good musicians don't have it, some poorer ones do. Picasso had it, Braque didn't. Maybe some people identify in a more personal, intense way, with their work, and that pressure comes through. And it is sexy, not simply because those people might be cute, but more in the way that good acting is sexy, bad acting, no matter what you look like, isn't.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: denise:^)
Date: 30 Nov 02 - 12:46 AM

I saw a local artist at a coffeehouse the other night, and any *one* of her angst-ridden songs would probably be fine in a set. However, after the first 15 minutes of them--all too long, too, IMHO--I was ready to scream. Aside from all having similar rhythm/chord structures, they were ALL very self-deprecating and misery-filled. Doesn't ANYTHING good ever happen to this woman? If so, she wasn't about to share it with us!

So, I think that variety is another component of doing "personal" songs well. Even an upbeat song--say, about how much you treasure your children or spouse--could be a drag if you sang 6 of them in a row! Or, if they go on over 6 minutes...

Even when you make 'the personal connection' with the audience, I think variety and the ability to show a little humor and lighten up a bit is really important, too, or your set can really bring people down.

denise:^)


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: DonMeixner
Date: 30 Nov 02 - 01:11 AM

I am probably one of the largest complainers of naval gazery there is.
I am on record as saying 50% of Kate Wolf's stuff is brilliant, the rest is awful with no gradients in between. But that is an opinion.

If I had to chose some personal songs that I think addressed my human condition when I heard them they would be.

Child's Song as done by Tom Rush

My Old Man by Jerry Jeff Walker

In My Life, Lennon and Mc Cartney

Outward Bound, by Tom Paxton

I was lucky enough to hear Joni Mitchell in concert about 30 years ago. Not lucky that I heard Joni. I've never liked her songs or her singing, Lucky that Pat Sky was on the bill and I got to hear him do Many A Mile.

One of the best personal songs I have ever heard is Soul of a Wanderer by Jed Marum. Achingly beautiful violin work on it sets of Jed's   lyric so well.

A personal song has to fit the current life of the listener before it has meaning to anyone but the author. There are probably songs I heard years ago that I tossed off because they had no relationship to me that might strike a personal tone with me now.

Don


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: mmb
Date: 30 Nov 02 - 01:12 AM

Several examples I thought of have already been mentioned. But even before I saw this thread, as I watched this evening's news stories about the beginning of the Holiday Shopping Season, I was thinking of Jim Ringer's "Waitin' for the Hard Times to Go, " which has not gotten any less relevant with the passing of time.

And hearing that American Airlines is shutting down its Tampa maintenance operation and laying off 300 mechanics also brought to mind "Detroit December," which John McCutcheon recorded, but I'm not sure whether or not he wrote it. Another "personal" song that taps into the pain and anguish of those who've lost everything:
    The things I had, the things I made,
    Are lost like pebbles on the beach.
    And anything I want the most
    Is always farthest out of reach.

    To trade these blues for dancing shoes,
    And trade the Old Year for the New.
    But Time, it seems, can steal your dreams,
    Detroit, December, and you.

And as we wait to see whether/when we will find ourselves in the sixth war in my lifetime, Eric Bogle's "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" is never far from my thoughts: this was a very personal song for me, because one of my uncles was left a paraplegic from schrapnel at Anzio in 1944.

I'm sure I can come up with happy songs, and songs by women, but not tonight.    M.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 30 Nov 02 - 09:23 AM

I think that the critiques of contemporary singer-songwriters is simply the latest rehash of the standard whining one generation has about another generation's music. We really have become out parents but we're having serious problems admitting it. ("Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every wayyyyy....")

Secondly, there at too many comparisons of the mediocre efforts of a contemporary lightweight with the best efforts of a heavyweight from some "golden age" of songwriting. Everybody from Dylan, to Mitchell, to Cohen and beyond wrote as many drecky throw-aways as keepers.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: GUEST,Fred Miller
Date: 30 Nov 02 - 09:57 AM

It's a little depressing to think a song has to directly relate to your own experiences for you to appreciate it. Like the political position of What's in it for me. Children naturally take to nostalgic songs, I have a weakness for songs that clearly express a female pov. I don't know, do all songs have to be anthems for us and ours?


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 30 Nov 02 - 11:32 AM

Guest Fred: I've always said, tell me you five favorite songs or groups, and I'll ten you when you were born. An exageration, of course (so don't test me on it.) But, there's some truth to it.Mine... let's see... I don't have any top five, but these are songs that totally blew me away the first time I heard them.

On second thought, maybe I'll start a thread, and then we can all do this....

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: denise:^)
Date: 30 Nov 02 - 12:10 PM

"Everybody from Dylan, to Mitchell, to Cohen and beyond wrote as many drecky throw-aways as keepers."

Ah, yes--but did they torture you with them at coffehouses every Friday night? That's the kicker, right there. Can you, (not *you* personally) as a singer-songwriter, listen to your own material, and have the objectivity to decide that some is good, and some needs to be trashed? Or, can you pare down an 8-minute song (which means you'll have to cut out some of your precious writing) to a length that will keep listeners from wishing they were at the endodontist, having a root canal, instead of listening to you?

THAT'S the difference between a totally self-absorbed, self-indulgent singer-songwriter and the pros. The material needs to be good, and have some connection to other people, but you need to be able to look at it objectively. Put it away for a week, and come back and read it again. Sing it for a friend whose opinions you trust (and who's not afraid to say, "I don't think so, Bucky...").

denise:^)


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: alanabit
Date: 30 Nov 02 - 12:54 PM

You are right of course Denise. However, the point I was trying to address was that it seems possible for some writers to be very self obsessed - yet they somehow remain rivetingly interesting or even exciting. Johanna was able to drive a coach and horses through the entire set of principles which underpins my set - while thrilling the audience with her originality. I think that is pretty rare. I will never get away with it myself, but I believe that there are some people who can really pull it off. I think it boils down to the difference between genuine artistry as opposed to mere craft. However I'm blowed if I can tell you what makes the difference, so I am finding it interesting liteneing to other people's takes on the subject.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: khandu
Date: 30 Nov 02 - 06:17 PM

Listening to many of Cat Stevens' songs, I hear a timelessness that seems to supercede all earthly barriers, a "universality" if you will, which enables the listener to become part of the songs. Yet, many, if not most, of his writings were extremely personal. This is why I consider him one of the "greats".

khandu


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: GUEST,Fred Miller
Date: 30 Nov 02 - 06:32 PM

Jerry I'm sure there's a lot of truth to that, and I won't try to test you on it, since I'd be tempted to stretch--especially since I don't really have five favorites I could name. The music I grew up with has an associative luster apart from any real value to it.

But I think part of that is that popular music is a kind of campfire that we sit around together, like the way people would rather re-ask an faq for a present response, rather than look it up in the dead sea scrolls.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Deckman
Date: 30 Nov 02 - 06:45 PM

... "but I think that part of that is that popular music is a kind of campfire that we all sit around together" ... How very well said! CHEERS, Bob(deckman)Nelson


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Seamus
Date: 30 Nov 02 - 06:58 PM

Definatley siding with John Prine. My only other addition would be Tom Waits, whose introversion and complex colours are delivered with forceful intent.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 30 Nov 02 - 08:47 PM

denise:^
Well yes, they did torture us at coffeehouses every Friday night until at least some of them "got it right" and got sucked into the "star making machinery."

A mere 8 minutes? "Sad eyed lady of the lowlands" takes up a FULL SIDE of an LP. Self indulgent doesn't even begin to properly characterize it.

But I digress.
Let me give it another shot.

My remarks are not about specific criticism or specific singers.

I'm just making an extreme generalization. I've heard all this (not in detail, but the same KIND of thing) before.

I simply remember that our parents criticized our music for any number of reasons. But for all their passion and eloquence, we always knew the bottom line. They just didn't get it.

If Frank Sinatra defines "singing" them yes, Bob Dylan could not sing. The point being???? If "Your Hit Parade" represented the alpha and omega of "real" music, then Jefferson Airplane was not "real" music. And????

One sign that you just don't get it: You run through your litany of crushing criticisms to a believer and the response is simply, "Yeah, isn't it though."

My 20-something daughter and I had a very interesting discussion tonight about what it means to be a musician. She is willing to say that a person who does nothing but manipulate (NOT produce) and mix computer files ("samples") to produce a CD with tracks of what sounds like music to me is a musician. I found myself unwilling to go that far.

I'll call it a draw and say that we ended by agreeing (rather uneasily for me) that the whole concept of "musician" not to say "music" is changing before my very ears. It brought home to me the fact that something is happening here but I don't know what it is.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Jazzyjack
Date: 01 Dec 02 - 12:24 AM

denise plus accent aigu ; I couln't agree more with your initial comments. It is so painful to hear someone with a reasonably good voice torturing the audience with serious repetitive themes and tunes. Unless you are driven to write and have a good musical background, I think it's better to find good stuff from a variety of other songwriters. Then you will have variety both in the style and content. At a recent open stage that I played, I was the only one who did a comedy no. ( not my composition ) Everyone else was dead serious especially with all the original material.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Jazzyjack
Date: 01 Dec 02 - 12:38 AM

Pardon my French denise but is that a circonflex ? ? ?


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: denise:^)
Date: 01 Dec 02 - 01:05 AM

No, sorry, Jazzyjack; just a happy face, I'm afraid...!

...and good for you, for adding a comedy number to your set! I know I have to stretch a bit to add them in, but I think the overall outcome is worth it.
(Thread creep here; sorry, purists--I'm moving into entire performances from the song thread.)
I sincerely think that part of what makes a "personal song-singer" really good is the ability to be versatile. Looking over recordings I enjoy, I don't see any where every song is similar in style, topic, etc. The songwriters mentioned in this thread so far are all people whose works have quite a variety of topics/styles. Jazzyjack mentioned that some songwriters need to seek out other people's material to add variety, and I agree.

Almost all of the professionals that I go and see do their own material AND some of other folks, too--and I don't mean covers of 60's pop hits. I've heard, for example, Anne Hills do songs by David Roth, and Chuck Mitchell do songs by Cheryl Wheeler...etc.--not because they're incapable of writing good material themselves, but perhaps because the song speaks to them, or says something they'd like to say, or is just something they enjoy which is a little 'off the beaten path' from their regular repertoire.

I think that the ability to perceive when you can benefit from performing the work(s) of others is one of the things that separates the "bees" from the "wannabees."

denise:^)


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: alanabit
Date: 01 Dec 02 - 03:06 AM

Comedy has always been one of the most important tools in my equipment as a singer/songwriter. I don't think an evening of my stuff (which is rarely personal) would be bearable without it. However, my comedy songs tend to be character sketches. I have great fun playing the characters - and the audience seems to like them, but these are a very different thing from personal songs! By the sounds of what people are saying here, it seems that there really are performers who are under nthe misapprehension that they can hold crowds with the ramblings of a therapy couch. I believe there are some who can pull it off, but a few weeks busking should cure the rest!


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