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The personal song - Who does it well?

Amos 04 Dec 02 - 10:19 AM
GUEST,Fred Miller 04 Dec 02 - 10:09 AM
alanabit 04 Dec 02 - 07:22 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 03 Dec 02 - 07:56 PM
alanabit 03 Dec 02 - 02:41 PM
Bobert 03 Dec 02 - 02:12 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 03 Dec 02 - 02:08 PM
Mark Clark 03 Dec 02 - 01:29 PM
Jeri 03 Dec 02 - 12:54 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 03 Dec 02 - 12:17 PM
alanabit 03 Dec 02 - 11:52 AM
Mark Clark 03 Dec 02 - 12:42 AM
EBarnacle1 02 Dec 02 - 04:11 PM
SINSULL 01 Dec 02 - 03:54 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 01 Dec 02 - 03:10 PM
Jim Krause 01 Dec 02 - 03:02 PM
Don Firth 01 Dec 02 - 02:11 PM
Bert 01 Dec 02 - 01:05 PM
Bat Goddess 01 Dec 02 - 12:20 PM
SINSULL 01 Dec 02 - 11:06 AM
alanabit 01 Dec 02 - 03:06 AM
denise:^) 01 Dec 02 - 01:05 AM
Jazzyjack 01 Dec 02 - 12:38 AM
Jazzyjack 01 Dec 02 - 12:24 AM
GUEST,Russ 30 Nov 02 - 08:47 PM
Seamus 30 Nov 02 - 06:58 PM
Deckman 30 Nov 02 - 06:45 PM
GUEST,Fred Miller 30 Nov 02 - 06:32 PM
khandu 30 Nov 02 - 06:17 PM
alanabit 30 Nov 02 - 12:54 PM
denise:^) 30 Nov 02 - 12:10 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 30 Nov 02 - 11:32 AM
GUEST,Fred Miller 30 Nov 02 - 09:57 AM
GUEST,Russ 30 Nov 02 - 09:23 AM
mmb 30 Nov 02 - 01:12 AM
DonMeixner 30 Nov 02 - 01:11 AM
denise:^) 30 Nov 02 - 12:46 AM
GUEST,Fred Miller 29 Nov 02 - 10:57 PM
Jazzyjack 29 Nov 02 - 06:43 PM
Deckman 29 Nov 02 - 06:17 PM
Phil Cooper 29 Nov 02 - 10:21 AM
GUEST,Fred Miller 29 Nov 02 - 10:10 AM
alanabit 28 Nov 02 - 02:57 PM
EBarnacle1 28 Nov 02 - 08:58 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 28 Nov 02 - 08:27 AM
alanabit 28 Nov 02 - 05:21 AM
Bert 28 Nov 02 - 03:03 AM
Cluin 28 Nov 02 - 02:30 AM
GUEST,alanabit 28 Nov 02 - 02:15 AM
GUEST 28 Nov 02 - 02:12 AM
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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Amos
Date: 04 Dec 02 - 10:19 AM

THere are several of these on the Mudcat Sampler CDs, and they are ALL done well. You gotta hear them.....


A


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: GUEST,Fred Miller
Date: 04 Dec 02 - 10:09 AM

Mark Clark said "A good song tells me something about myself." Once on another forum I said I though the difference between music and noise was that music was noise that seemed to telling us something about ourselves. Hm, getting the two together must be the thing.

   But--unless someone tells you the song is about their own personal experience, how does one know to squirm? I like the idea of using fictional "I" and squirm, at least over one song, at the thought I'll be identified with the character. I like the idea of making some experiences or concerns a little bigger, or stranger, than they might be in my own experience. But that probably goes to another thread.

About "universal" songs, I remember being put off one night at a coffeehouse when a guy told me his group up next were going to play "standards" and wouldn't name a tune beyond that. I knew they played jazz, standards, sure, but... well, okay, "standards." I don't know. To me they're still songs. And it may be part of the two types of jazz as I hear it, cat-jazz, which has some reserve, some smarts, still serves the tune, knows when to quit, or the dog-jazz that goes on panting with it's tongue hanging out through endless solos, ad nauseum.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: alanabit
Date: 04 Dec 02 - 07:22 AM

Thanks for the polite correction. I should have said, of course, "Old Blue Suit". By the time I'd discovered my error, it was too late to get back to the computer!


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 03 Dec 02 - 07:56 PM

I just writes 'em... Alan. People come up to me and say, "My Dad had an old "Blue" Suit, and he refused to get a new one. One person even told me that her Dad kept his old blue suit to be buried in because he couldn't bear to waste a new suit when he died...

The stories are mine, but they are many others of us, too. I figure that every family has hundreds of great songs, just waiting to be written. And, I'd want to hear every one..

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: alanabit
Date: 03 Dec 02 - 02:41 PM

I wouldn't say that I find everything by alanis Morrisette unmissable, but I do think she has written a couple of excellent songs. I think the superb "Hand in my Pocket" is a personal song which resonates, because you listen to it and think, "Hey if people knew what madness was going on in my head, they would lock me up!" I think it's a classic example of the personal having the universality which others have mentioned on this thread.
When I hear Jerry Rasmussen's songs, I don't think of them as being personal - although of course they can be to him. Why don't I think of them as personal? Well it's because he tells the story in deceptively plain words, without comment, manipulation or padding. They have a universality about them because they are good stories which connect with many who hear them. Take "Old Grey Suit" for instance. In the hands of a bad writer, this would become a whingeing lament of a poor orphan boy who had just lost his Daddy or Grandaddy.
That's not what you get. It's a respectful, cheerful song about a life of substance. You can share respect, but grief is a private matter. I think that's why such songs as "Old Grey Suit" are so resonant and I don't really think of them as personal songs. (No disrespect intended to Jerry, of course).


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Bobert
Date: 03 Dec 02 - 02:12 PM

Hey, how'z about some of the "kids", like Alanis Morrisett, Ani de Franco or Eddie Vedder? These kids are singin' about some purdy personal stuff and putting a lot of their emotional selves out there.

And I'm surprised that no one has brought up Eric Anderson who could really sell a personal song. He definately was in a class be himself.

And well, Bruce Springsteen ain't no slouch either but ya' kind have to poke around behind the E-Street sound to find songs like "Mary, Queen of Arkansas", "Book of Dreams" or "Ballad of Tom Jode".

And how about James McMurtry. Now here is a guy who is not shy about sharin' his stories.

Steve Earle?

Richard Buckner?

Whew...

Bobert


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 03 Dec 02 - 02:08 PM

Excellent observations, Mark. Even though it's hard to define what is "Universal" Little Brown Bulls is another favorite of mine... that's two of us, already. I like songs for the same reasons that you do. The transport me into someone else's life, and I can identify with the experiences and feelings, even though I've never
known them in my own life.

You could add We Are Anchored By The Roadside, Jim and Spring of 65 to favorite songs of mine, for much of the same reason.

And who knows.. maybe if we could decipher what the guy is singing in Louie, Louie it would have a universal message. I think they got the message in Animal House.. You could add Wooly Bully to that category... another song that makes no sense to speak of, that I really love!

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Mark Clark
Date: 03 Dec 02 - 01:29 PM

Jerry, You're quite right about the perception of universality. You see, I think “Jam on Gerry's Rocks” is universal; it's one of my favorite songs. Sure the events themselves aren't universal but I enjoy being informed about the life of a shanty boy. I like “The Little Brown Bulls” as well. The universality is in the motivation of the characters and the parallels in our own working lives. I also enjoy hearing “Little Joe the Wrangler” get squashed to a pulp. These songs inform us about the world and about life itself. How much more universal can it get? But when a song only informs us about the personal life of the singer and hasn't been expanded beyond that, or tells us more than we really wanted to know, many in the audience are put off. Intimacy with emotions and intimacy with events can be nice but unlooked for intimacy with the performer himself may be crossing a line.

I've always loved Pete Seeger's concerts because he can single-handedly bring an audience of thousands right along with him. He can take the audience out of itself and introduce joy, sorrow, anger and a feeling of community between sophisticated urban people who normally wouldn't give each other the time of day. Part of that is just because he is Pete but part of it is his choice of songs and the way they are written. I don't mean everyone should be a Pete Seeger—we only need one (but we'll always need one)—but the universality of his material and his presentation is what captivates his audience.

A good song tells me something about myself. It may be something I already knew or even something I didn't want to know, but a song that only tells me about the singer is, in my opinion, poorly written. “Louie Louie” is certainly universal but it isn't really a song, it's dance music and dance is always universal.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Jeri
Date: 03 Dec 02 - 12:54 PM

SINS, thanks! When the heck did I sing that in your presence? I don't think I've done it since last summer.

I try to share what I feel about things, but I also try to make it worth listening to. Not just making my diary rhyme but finding a way to communicate how things touch me. It's having a sense of who's listening instead of not caring.

The more I think about it, the more I believe what makes a good song about one's experiences or feelings is the same as what makes a good song. It doesn't matter if you have something you think is important to tell people if it's not something they want to hear. Bashing people over the head with any sort of idea doesn't work.

I'll tell you something. I haven't been writing very long, but I've yet to write a serious song that hasn't made me cry while writing it. It's not necessarily because I'm sad, but I have to peel everything away but the emotions. I have to find the heart of what makes an idea worth sharing. The hard part is trying to explain well enough so other people can catch a glimpse of that heart, because that's what I want to show.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 03 Dec 02 - 12:17 PM

Hi, Mark: Universal is a tough goal to shoot for, although admirable.
I remember talking with a folk singer (and a very successful one) who said, "I only sing universal songs,) and I thought to myself, yeah, "lah de dah!" It sounded a little pompous to me, because I'd heard the person's recordings and concerts, and there were a lot of songs the singer might have thought were "Universal" that didn't say a thing to me. I have to laugh at some of the songs that I've written that I thought were throw-aways, and never even wrote down, only to find that someone thought they were one of my best songs. No accounting for taste. The danger in trying to be "universal" for a songwriter is that it can lead you into writting things in such general terms that they become musical Hallmark cards. And, sometimes it sounds like the person sat down with beads of sweat on their forehead, saying "I'm going to write a universal song, if it kills me."

For me a good songwriter helps me to see the world through their eyes, with a freshness and difference of perspective that I might not have otherwise experienced. If I hear, and then sing Jam on Gerry's Rocks, for example, it transports me into a time and place where I've never been. It brings images to mind that are certainly not universal, but they are vivid in my mind. If you, or Mary Chicken, or Mr. Happy heard that song, it might not move you in the way it moves me. Might not move you at all.

Maybe my old buddy Holden Caulfield could sense what was a good song..
he could spot dishonesty a mile away. And, honesty is a critical factor in a good song... it has to have an internal honesty, and a believability. In order to do that, a songwriter sometimes has to reach inside him/herself while at the same time, stand outside. It's the songwriters that don't stand outside themselves who run into problems. They may end up writing about "universal" things like love, honesty, suffering and pain and write a song that no one wants to hear because they haven't put themselves, or a believable person at the heart of the song.

I have the suspicion that if we started a thread titled Universal Songs and asked everyone to put down songs they consider "Universal" there'd be agreement on a lot of songs, and some good laughs on others. Maybe I could start with Louie Louie.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: alanabit
Date: 03 Dec 02 - 11:52 AM

Worth having too. You have every business in posting to this thread. If we songwriters stop listening to the people who listen to us, we are going to end up a pretty exclusive club! I can identify with your comment that you dislike being forced to be a voyeur into someone else's private life. I get the same feeling when I read newspaper reports on the private lives of celebrities.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Mark Clark
Date: 03 Dec 02 - 12:42 AM

I really have no business posting to this thread since I've never written a song. Come to think of it, I don't remember ever wanting to write a song; not really. I can remember wanting to have written songs but that's a different thing altogether.

I'm one who is put off by overly “personal” songs. I don't mean they can't be autobiographical, just not personal. I usually don't want to know the personal details of a singer's life. I may later become interested in a singer's life if I want to know what brought him to the point of writing the songs he's written but I still don't want the information in song form.

I much prefer songs that give each of us in the audience some insight into our own lives or into our world. I enjoy songs that make me laugh and songs that express universal thoughts in a fresh way. I enjoy songs that bind the singer and audience together, not songs that force the audience to become voyeurs for the singer. I tend to be embarrassed for a singer who writes intimate but otherwise pointless songs.

Music is such an ethereal thing. I might like a song because of it's instrumental accompaniment, the melody, the rhythm, perhaps the vocal harmony and even the story it tells as long as it's universal. It just seems to me that a lot of singer-songwriters write songs for the same reason an auto worker performs his particular operation on the next unit to come down the assembly line … it's either that or find another line of work.

Lead Belly's “Mr. Tom Hughes Town” is a personal song yet it's completely universal and totally captivating. Many of Bill Monroe's songs are personal but what he shares with the listener are the universal aspects of events. Greg Brown's songs are often personal but always universal.

Just my two cents worth.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: EBarnacle1
Date: 02 Dec 02 - 04:11 PM

I recently listened to a live recording of Harry Chapin at a concert we did. It was damn depressing. The songs are all about sadness and loss. In person, he made the difference in his songs. He carried the material. The material is enduring but so down that one or two at a time are enough.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: SINSULL
Date: 01 Dec 02 - 03:54 PM

Aw crap! Now I bet you'll write a song about it and the resulting diarrhea, right?


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 01 Dec 02 - 03:10 PM

I did start a thread, Bert... gave people ten songs to choose, as five is too tough.... the thread title is Two Top Tens. I'd make a blue clicky but I don't know how to cut and paste. I always ate the library paste as a kid..

Jerry


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Jim Krause
Date: 01 Dec 02 - 03:02 PM

What makes the difference between people who can pull off this sort of thing and those who can't?

In my own opinion, part of the answer lies in two areas; the craft of lyric writing, and the skill of the composer of the melody. The lyric should be personal enough to be believable, yet general enough so that the audience can say "I've been through that." or "I can imagine what that's like." At the same time, the story sould be compelling, or told in a compelling fashion. It should have the audience wanting to know what happenes in the next verse, or how the story ends, or the Eternal Question the song presents.

The melody needs to be as interesting as the lyric, too. It's no good to have a great lyric and a melody that goes nowhere, or is bland. Ideally, I should think that the songwriter wants to find a melody that everyone will leave the concert humming.

Just my musings.
Jim


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Don Firth
Date: 01 Dec 02 - 02:11 PM

What I was talking about in my note to alanabit (by the way, I was contrasting what I hear all too often at open mikes and songfests with songs he has written, which are darn good!) was the sort of thing that denise and Sinsull described in their posts—having to endure songs that seem to be little more than the singer/songwriter indulging in a long bout of emotional purging. These songs may have a universality about them (who hasn't been dumped by a lover or been fired from a job or lost a friend or loved one at one time or other?). But then, who hasn't swallowed something they can't keep down and have had to barf it up? It's often comforting to have a friend there to hold your head at such times, but it's hardly something one should save up and do in front of an audience. Just because it's one of your encounters with the vicissitudes of life doesn't necessarily make it of vital interest to the public at large.

I would certainly never want to discourage anyone so inclined from trying their hand at it, however. Some people can bring this sort of thing off, often coming up with songs that are deeply moving. But it takes a unique combination of sensitivity and creativity which, unfortunately, is not something with which everyone is equally endowed. Droning on about how you feel about something doesn't make the point. A vivid description, in concrete terms, of the whatever it was that engendered these emotions allows me to bring my own emotions to it. That's what makes it universal.

Two points:—
Woody Guthrie wrote thousands of songs. Only a dozen or so are sung much today. Woody is said to have used the "shotgun technique." If you write a lot of songs, now and then you might just turn out a good one, just by accident. This seemed to work for him. He wrote a lot of crap—a lot of it—but he wrote some really great stuff, too. When he'd written a new song, he'd try it a few times in front of an audience and note the reaction. If it didn't get the kind of response he wanted, he retired the song.

I had an old friend named Ric Higlin. Ric was an artist. He was also called on from time to time to select paintings for a small gallery. This meant that he had to reject some paintings as well. He told me that this experience of having to judge other peoples' work taught him a very important principle: "Probably the most important tool an artist has is a wastebasket—and knowing when to use it."

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Bert
Date: 01 Dec 02 - 01:05 PM

...tell me you five favorite songs or groups, and I'll tell you when you were born...

Come on Jerry, you've just got to start a thread on that.


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 01 Dec 02 - 12:20 PM

A song needs to tell a good story succinctly and, even more importantly, have a tune that's fun to sing (and listen to). If people don't walk away humming it, it'll never live.

I'll sing songs with wimpy lyrics if the tune is good, but not vice versa. And if nobody is ever going to sing the song but the writer, leave it in the journal and don't subject other people to it.

The best "singer/songwriter" stuff emulates traditional songs that have stood the test of time.

Linn


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Subject: RE: The personal song - Who does it well?
From: SINSULL
Date: 01 Dec 02 - 11:06 AM

I recently paid too much money to be tortured by a woman with four songs and three guitars. Three of the four (songs, that is) were rambling, mediocre trash about the death of her child. I got less sympathetic by the minute. She finished by saying that she had written these and countless others as a personal, private effort to exorcise her grief BUT she had now decided to put out a complete CD of the dirges. A pile of sophomoric, self indulgent trash.

A few weeks later, I was treated to another pile of tripe that a singer at a coffee house had written at the birth of his son. He immediately followed it with another about his daughter's birth and included a tribute to his father in the same song. Wore me out. But given that it was an open mike he had the right to sing whatever he chose. He also had my respect at even attempting to write a song - a skill which evades me.

On the other hand, I have recently discovered (would have known sooner had I read the liner notes) that several songs I thought were traditional had been written by Gordon Bok and Dave Mallet recounting their personal experiences. No doubt, my recent move to the beautiful state of Maine colors my thinking.

And finally (sorry, I am going on) I was privileged to hear Jeri's song written as an exercise for a songwriting workshop. A simple but brilliant account of a long drive alone. No navel gazing; no trite pulls at the heart strings. But when it was over there more than a few "wow"s.


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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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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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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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