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What can you Not write songs about?

alanabit 13 Jan 06 - 07:22 AM
JulieF 13 Jan 06 - 07:45 AM
George Papavgeris 13 Jan 06 - 07:48 AM
Paco Rabanne 13 Jan 06 - 08:07 AM
GUEST,saulgoldie 13 Jan 06 - 08:16 AM
freda underhill 13 Jan 06 - 08:27 AM
alanabit 13 Jan 06 - 08:29 AM
Bobert 13 Jan 06 - 08:36 AM
alanabit 13 Jan 06 - 08:36 AM
Tootler 13 Jan 06 - 08:44 AM
freda underhill 13 Jan 06 - 08:53 AM
greg stephens 13 Jan 06 - 08:58 AM
freda underhill 13 Jan 06 - 09:00 AM
SINSULL 13 Jan 06 - 09:01 AM
SINSULL 13 Jan 06 - 09:01 AM
freda underhill 13 Jan 06 - 09:02 AM
freda underhill 13 Jan 06 - 09:15 AM
Flash Company 13 Jan 06 - 09:39 AM
Genie 13 Jan 06 - 09:46 AM
JulieF 13 Jan 06 - 10:00 AM
GUEST,Baz 13 Jan 06 - 10:01 AM
number 6 13 Jan 06 - 10:01 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 13 Jan 06 - 10:15 AM
Genie 13 Jan 06 - 10:26 AM
number 6 13 Jan 06 - 10:30 AM
George Papavgeris 13 Jan 06 - 10:32 AM
Paul Burke 13 Jan 06 - 10:37 AM
number 6 13 Jan 06 - 10:39 AM
George Papavgeris 13 Jan 06 - 10:40 AM
Big Al Whittle 13 Jan 06 - 10:48 AM
alanabit 13 Jan 06 - 10:50 AM
Genie 13 Jan 06 - 11:11 AM
number 6 13 Jan 06 - 11:20 AM
Genie 13 Jan 06 - 12:56 PM
M.Ted 13 Jan 06 - 01:11 PM
Genie 13 Jan 06 - 01:18 PM
GUEST,Val 13 Jan 06 - 02:03 PM
McGrath of Harlow 13 Jan 06 - 02:11 PM
GUEST,Songster Bob 13 Jan 06 - 02:13 PM
alanabit 13 Jan 06 - 02:31 PM
GUEST,Whistle Stop 13 Jan 06 - 02:34 PM
TheBigPinkLad 13 Jan 06 - 03:49 PM
Fullerton 13 Jan 06 - 05:35 PM
McGrath of Harlow 13 Jan 06 - 05:48 PM
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frogprince 13 Jan 06 - 09:38 PM
Peace 13 Jan 06 - 09:40 PM
bobad 13 Jan 06 - 10:20 PM
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Stephen L. Rich 14 Jan 06 - 04:42 AM
Don(Wyziwyg)T 14 Jan 06 - 04:49 AM
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Jeri 15 Jan 06 - 12:17 PM
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Genie 15 Jan 06 - 09:31 PM
Little Hawk 15 Jan 06 - 10:00 PM
Stephen L. Rich 15 Jan 06 - 10:34 PM
alanabit 16 Jan 06 - 04:51 AM
alanabit 16 Jan 06 - 08:11 AM
HuwG 16 Jan 06 - 08:57 AM
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Subject: What can you Not write songs about?
From: alanabit
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 07:22 AM

I know most of us would abhor any form of censorship. Folk songs can show the world through the eyes of outlaws, slavers, whalers, murderers and adulterers. Novelists have long been able to show the world through the eyes of paedophiles, (Petronius's "Satyricon" and Nabokov's "Lolita"), a Nazi war criminal (Martin Amiss in "Time's Arrow") and a young fascist (Sartre's "Boyhood of a Fascist").
We songwriters seem to be a little less brave. I read Dylan's masterpiece "It's Alright Ma - I'm Only Bleeding" as an attempt to see the world through the eyes of a moralist, who is going mad.
How many songwriters do we hear though, who try to get inside the head of a war criminal, a serial killer, or a child molester? Does this problem arise because singers tend to be identified too closely with the characters, whom they portray? I am coming up with more questions than answers here. Would we understand the Holocaust better if we tried to understand the disaster from the point of view of those who filled out the grey paper forms, which made it all happen?
I am being the Devil's advocate here, perhaps. But if we are to have songs relevant for the age, should we not have songs, which portray the very bad as well as the very good?


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: JulieF
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 07:45 AM

I think it depends who you are.   

In the same way that it is more legitimate to make fun of your own community and beliefs than it is to make fun another community that you do not have the understanding of ( and dare I say - much , much funnier), then it must be more legitimate to write songs about the dark areas that you have some sort of association with rather than the ones you just read in the paper.

There again there are many difficult songs that do not come from the communities that were dealing with those issues. The one that immediately comes to mind is Stange Fruit.

So discuss. I'm off to find out why the update we sent out last night is causing all the computers to crash. I may be some time.

J


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 07:48 AM

I have already written some songs on the subject of war from the warmonger's point of view (Thieves of Innocence is already published, and A Traitor's Love might well end up on album No 7). I do agree with you alanabit that trying to understand the mentalities we abhor is beneficial - from the point of view that one can better guard against them, or against becoming like them.

Yet there some things I don't find it easy to write about, certainly not from the negative angle: Paedophilia is one such. My brain simply finds the desires of such people inexplicable.

But for the majority of crimes and vices (theft, murder, jealousy, greed, head in sand/"not my concern" etc) I don't think it is too hard to take the part of the evil-doer. That is because I believe that the "monster" is in all of us, and not too deep under the skin either. Indeed, most civilised society depends on people controlling their antisocial drives/urges, and provide rules and laws to that effect.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Paco Rabanne
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 08:07 AM

Difficult. The song form is somewhat stunted compared to a book. A song will barely stretch to one side of A4 paper, and has to rhyme, whereas a book can go for a 1000pages and doesn't need to rhyme.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,saulgoldie
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 08:16 AM

It is academic, since I cannot write a song, period.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: freda underhill
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 08:27 AM

I have an old copy of a song called "maid of australia" - recorded from a radio show of Alan Lomax collections. The Maid of Australia from memory describes a sailor coming ashore and raping a young aboriginal women. This is a good example, I think, of what not to write songs about.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: alanabit
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 08:29 AM

Interesting points from everyone - and thankfully not a hint of flaming.
Falmenco Ted's point about the time you have to get the idea across is one, which occurred to me too. It is hard enough to make a good film from a good book. The song is even shorter.
El Greko is tackling the point, which I think is the most essential. We do not wish to become like some of the characters, whom we betray. I recall one actor saying that the comedian portrays the person, whom he most dreads becoming.
"The Long Black Veil" tells a story from the point of view of an aldulterer, who is executed, because his only possible alibi, would have been that he was sleeping with his best friend's wife. We can sing that one, because it is identified as being safely stowed away in history somewhere.
I wonder why no one has yet had the nerve to try to enter the mind of one of the butchers of Srebrenice? I am not interested in trying to whitewash the indefensible, but I want to try to understand why it happened.
It sounds like I should try and catch up on some of your back catalogue one day George.
Any more comments folks? I am not flaming, but I do wonder if we writers have been a little timid.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Bobert
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 08:36 AM

"There's a man on TV
He's killed 23
Burned their bodies
and collected their teeth...

Seperatem pair of rights
lead to separate lifes
Woman on a talkl show
wants to be his wife
Another man decides
to purchase his knife
The court decides
he's got the right..."

(from a "Golden Smog" song entitled "I Don't Want to Walk Where He Walked", or something like that...

So, even the sick mind is not out of bounds when it comes to song writing...

Actually there ain't much that can't be written about but there are a few topics that will sho nuff sink the song. Like:

1. Songs that glorify racism...

2. Songs about bodily funtions...

3. Songs in praise of the Iraq War...

4. Songs about having sex with yer grannie or mom...

5. Songs boasting of one's wealth...

6. Songs about plots to commit crimes...

7. Songs that are intended to hurt another song-writer (Think Lynard Skinnard's song where they put down Neil Young... I thought that was tasteless...)

8. Songs about your late wife named "Honey" (think Bobby Goldsboro here)(makes one reconsider one's stand on capital punishement...)

I'm sure there are plenty more but those come to mind this morning...

Bobert


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: alanabit
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 08:36 AM

I wonder Freda. If the song disgusts you and makes you want to defend the aboriginal woman, it may have a positive effect. Isn't the problem more one of how it is done?


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Tootler
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 08:44 AM

This is a good example, I think, of what not to write songs about.

Why not, Freda? I don't know the song you refer to. It may or may not be a good example of its kind, but is not writing in the sailor's perspective one, perfectly valid, way to try and explore and understand why such things were done and to ask questions about the morality or otherwise of such acts?

The previous poster has a valid point.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: freda underhill
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 08:53 AM

I'm going to have to find it and listen now. You all have good points, but i haven't learnt the song and sung it.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: greg stephens
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 08:58 AM

Freda Underhill:
are all versions of this song about a rape? I seem to recall it as more consensual, but I may be misremembering.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: freda underhill
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 09:00 AM

Now i've gone hunting and found the lyrics, and it's not rape at all. It's a good song and can be found here

It's a sailor song where he goes away and nine months later she has a baby, but " we frolicked together in the highest of glee,
In the finest Australia you ever did see."


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: SINSULL
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 09:01 AM

No rape here, I think, Freda.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: SINSULL
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 09:01 AM

Sorry. Try Here:
@displaysong.cfm?SongID=6656


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: freda underhill
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 09:02 AM

you can listen to the MP3, and this is the same one I have on tape somewhere. - yes, i think I'll have to learn it now!


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: freda underhill
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 09:15 AM

these are the words of the version i have linked to, Sinsull

The Maid of Australia   
Sung by Harry Cox.

Recorded by Peter Kennedy and Alan Lomax in Catfield, Norfolk, England, in 1953.

As I walked down by the Hawkesbury banks,
Where the maids of Australia do play their wild pranks.
Beneath a green shady bower I sat myself down,
Where the birds sang so gaily enchanted all round,
In the forest of native Australia,
Where the maidens are handsome and gay.
Additional verses:

[As I sat a-viewing this beautiful scene,
When a pretty fair damsel I happened to see.
She must be going swimming, or so it would seem,
For she laid down her clothing beside the clear stream,
By the stream of her native Australia,
Where the maidens are handsome and gay.

She stripped off her clothing, before me she stood,
As naked as Venus that rose from the flood.
She blushed with confusion and smiling said she,
"For these are the clothes that Australia gave me,
The day I was born in Australia,
Where the maidens are handsome and gay."]

Now, she dived in the water without fear or dread
Her beautiful limbs she exceedingly spread
Her hair hung in wringles, her colour was black.
"Sir," said she, "you ivill see how I float on my back
On the stream in my native Australia."
Where the maidens are handsome and gay.

Now, bein' exhausted, she came to the brink,
"Assistance, kind sir, or I surely shall sink."
As quick as the lightnin' I took hold of her hand
My foot slipped and we fell on the sand.
Then I entered the bush of Australia,
Just as the sun went down.

Noiv, we frolicked together in the highest of glee,
In the finest Australia you ever did see.
The sun it went down and the clouds did resign,
Then I left the fair maid of Australia,
Theft I left the fair maid of Australia,

Just as the sun went down.
Now, six months being over
and nine being come,

This pretty fair maid, she brought forth a fine son.
O where was his father? He could not be found,
And she cursed the hour that she lay on the ground,
In her native, the plains of Australia,
Where the maidens are handsome and gay.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Flash Company
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 09:39 AM

A guy I knew some years ago (Tim Norfolk) wrote a song about the hydrogen bomb, not as a 'Ban the Bomb' song, but from the viewpoint of a small-time dictator who was delighted with his bomb. He wanted to drop it on his neighbour!
Can't remember all of it, but the last verse was the sting in the tail:-

I've let off my hydrogen bomb,
I did it with utter aplomb,
A tale to be told when I'm wrinkled and old,
To my little grandaughter & son,
I watch them outside as they frolic and play,
But they may not be there at the end of the day,
For I hear that the fall-out is blowing THIS way,
From my little hydrogen bomb. BOOM!

As the man said, for every action there is an equal and opposite re-action.

FC


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Genie
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 09:46 AM

Well, there's always "Sam Hall."

Also a song Hoyt Axton sang called "Water For My Horses."   IIRC, both those songs are sung from the unrepenting perspective of a convicted murder.

(I do think that it may be easier in a novel than in a song to make it clear that the narrative is from the perspective of someone other than the author.   Maybe because the song is sung more often than the novel is read aloud.)

Bobert's got a that "there ain't much that can't be written about but there are a few topics that will sho nuff sink the song. Like:

...8. Songs about your late wife named "Honey" (think Bobby Goldsboro here)(makes one reconsider one's stand on capital punishement...)
LOL

Not sure if I fully agree with some of your others, though, Bobert.

"...
3. Songs in praise of the Iraq War..."   
Tell that to Toby Keith.

" ... 4. Songs about having sex with yer grannie or mom..."
Well, how 'bout that Scots song that goes
"Oh, ye canny shtoop yer grannie on a bus ..." ?

" ... 6. Songs about plots to commit crimes..."
Hmm... I think it depends on the crime.

The Dixie Chicks' song "Goodbye, Earl" and Martina McBride's song "Independence Day" are both about "crimes" (already committed), but crimes where the public is likely to empathize with the "perp."

And, of course, trad, folk song is replete with songs sung from the viewpoint of murderers of one sort or another.

Genie


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: JulieF
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:00 AM

Its - you canny shove yer granny off a bus

or at least it was in my day !

J


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,Baz
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:01 AM

Oranges, since nothing rhymes with them. Everything else is up for grabs though.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: number 6
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:01 AM

Good thread Alanabit.

Steve Earl's song John Walker Blues comes to mind with this subject .. took a lot of guts for Steve to write and record it at the time he did.

"I'm just an American boy raised on MTV
And I've seen all those kids in the soda pop ads
But none of 'em looked like me
So I started lookin' around for a light out of the dim
And the first thing I heard that made sense was the word
Of Mohammed, peace be upon him

chorus:
A shadu la ilaha illa Allah
There is no God but God

If my daddy could see me now – chains around my feet
He don't understand that sometimes a man
Has got to fight for what he believes
And I believe God is great, all praise due to him
And if I should die, I'll rise up to the sky
Just like Jesus, peace be upon him

We came to fight the Jihad and our hearts were pure and strong
As death filled the air, we all offered up prayers
And prepared for our martyrdom
But Allah had some other plan, some secret not revealed
Now they're draggin' me back with my head in a sack
To the land of the infidel

A shadu la ilaha illa Allah
A shadu la ilaha illa Allah"


sIx


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:15 AM

Reading this thread, I think the question is really "What shouldn't you write a song about?" You have the "ability" to write a song about anything. My fifth grade teacher would be proud of me. For me, the question is neither of the above. It all depends on why you write a song. And who you are writing the song for. What do you want the song to do? Do you just want to shock people, or disgust them? To what purpose? Do you want to educate them? Do you want to activate them? Do you think that writing a song about child molesting will reduce the activity?

Finally, it comes down to how you write it. In the long run, that will determine whether the song has any chance of motivating people to work for change, or just disgusts them.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Genie
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:26 AM

Good points, Jerry.

I think also a lot depends on the intended audience.   There are a lot of "Rugby Songs" and other bar songs that go over really well when your audience is a drunken lot of rowdies but that even THOSE folks wouldn't sing in other settings.

We have a rather lengthy thread here about "Songs About Farting," and I must admit I rather enjoy a lot of those songs.   That said, I've rarely found a setting where I can "share" those songs without fear that at least one person in the group (audience) will be offended.
(Guess I'll have to look up some of my old Rugger pals.) ;-D

Genie


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: number 6
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:30 AM

"motivating people to work for change, or just disgusts them. "

... or providing 'food for thought'

sIx


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:32 AM

alanabit,
you mentioned Srebrenica. Funny that - this was not about Srebrenica itself, but about that whole period. The three incidents referred to are part of history now. It tackles the "revenge" explanation for continuing vendettas between clans, which is one of the causes at the back of the troubles that eventually ripped Yugoslavia apart.

Revenge ?
George Papavgeris, July 2001

What turns a man into a beast?
What makes an enemy from friend,
A butcher from a farmer?
What causes man to fire a gun,
To separate father from son,
The baby from the mother?

We learn to take, and not to give,
And to accuse, not to forgive.
We learn of rights, and not of dues.
For those who're weak we have no use.
From jackals we're no better.


Who thought to go and buy some food
And pay for it with their own blood?
That's not what they were hoping.
Who sent the rockets into town
In blood the marketplace to drown?
Whose hate was there no stopping?

Who knew their names and who were they
Who won't see another market day?
And who decided, you or I,
That eighty people had to die
The day that Death went shopping?


We were eighteen and so in love
But I had God and you Allah
The crime we had to pay for.
We used to meet among the dead
The cold stone pillow for your head
But you were always playful.

You thought to dance among the graves,
The bullet caught you unawares.
What blasphemy and what disgrace
The sniper's cross upon your face -
A mark of love so dreadful.


He used to play with the other boys,
Their wooden guns their favourite toys,
Their legs like sticks from hunger.
He'd learned to cross without a noise
To get the water from the hose,
But he'll go there no longer.

Who saw a child crossing the road,
The water cans his only load,
Who saw my son and saw a threat?
Who aimed and shot to cut him dead
And thought his manhood stronger?



What makes a mob of decent folk,
What makes you hate the other bloke
And think his life is cheaper?
Is it religion, is it creed,
Or politics all mixed with greed?
No - revenge goes much, much deeper!

So is it just my human fate
To spend my life in vengeful hate?
And am I blessed for being meek,
If love, and not revenge I seek -
Or fodder for the Reaper?


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Paul Burke
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:37 AM

I think Leon Rosselson's song "Vile Violation" gets a bit near the bounds of tolerability:

As I roved out one morning on a trip to reconnoitre
Through wind and weather carelessly I flew,
I spied a pleasing prospect that caused me for to loiter
And I moved in closer for a better view.

"It's a vile violation of my airspace
and I warn the intruder to withdraw,
It's a vile violation of my airspace-
such aggressive acts can only lead to war"

It was written as a satire on Khrushchev's response to the U2 incident, "like an outraged maiden aunt" as someone put it. But taken as a whole, the song manages to make light of rape and nuclear war in one merry little ditty.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: number 6
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:39 AM

Good analogy Paul ... thanks for posting this.

sIx


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:40 AM

And of course Tom Lehrer wrote about dropping the bomb (We will all go together), and incestuous love (Oedipus), and masochism (Masochism Tango), destruction of animals (Poisoning pigeons in the park), mass murder (My home town), drug pushing, you name it. More often than not from the point of view of the evil doer.

And he did it to educate.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:48 AM

Fiddle about on Tommy was about the child molester

I've written a murder ballad in my time

I'd say McTell's Bentley and Craig identifies with murderers pretty closely.

round here there is the ex-home of the skinhead band leader of Skrewdriver - a sort of shrine for nazi thugs

I think its out there - if we look.

but the rosy cheeked maidens, and hairy arsed miners (as long as they're not like that), and rambling sailor boy crap. well its most peoples choice for a good night out, and a folk radio prog.

Some of Randy Newmans work - my life is good , for example, is a very thoughtful and interesting look at the kind of citizens who screw everything up for everybody else.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: alanabit
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:50 AM

Good point El Greko. I know and love those songs too. They are easier to perform though, because they make the perpetrators look absurd - and that is one of the reasons that the songs are so very funny. I liked the song you quoted and I very much enjoyed reading the lyrics of Steve Earle's "John Walker Blues". That is very much the sort of song I want to hear more of.
It is good to see this thread throwing light rather than heat onto the subject. Thanks to everyone, who has written in so far.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Genie
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 11:11 AM

Earlier, I said it depends on the audience & setting.   I'd take it a step further and say it depends on whether hearing the song is, at some level, satisfying.   It makes you laugh, makes you cry (but doesn't make you distraught), makes you think, makes you grow -- something like that.   But if it JUST makes you mad or depresses you makes you sick, you probably don't want to hear it again.

That's prob'ly why there aren't a lot of songs about vomit. Or gangrene.

G


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: number 6
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 11:20 AM

Good point in mentioning Randy Newman weelittledrummer.

Some song's by Newman that punch out some thought in us and are worth mentioning in this thread:

Rednecks

Sail Away

Politcal Science

In Germany before the War

I suggest if anyone is interested to go an google the lyrics.

sIx


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Genie
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 12:56 PM

Thinking of Randy's songs, I'm also reminded that sometimes you get in trouble just for a song TITLE or a single line taken out of context.

Randy's song "Short People" was grossly mis-characterized by way too many people, including the media, because of lines like "Short people got no reason to live."

Satire and irony are all too often totally MISSED, especially when it's subtly done.   Or when people tune out as soon as they hear an "offensive" word, phrase, or line.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: M.Ted
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 01:11 PM

For your consideration, here are the lyrics to a song by the Bloodhound Gang, who are a contemporary, and rather popular rock band. Does this song go to far? If not, how much more do you want?

A Lap Dance is So Much Better when the Stripper is Crying


        I was lonelier than Kunta Kinte at a Merle Haggard concert that night I strolled on into Uncle Limpy's Hump Palace lookin' for love. It had been a while. In fact, three hundred and sixty-five had come and went since that midnight run haulin' hog to Shakey Town on I-10. I had picked up this hitchhiker that was sweatin' gallons through a pair of Daisy Duke cut-offs and one of those Fruit Of The Loom tank-tops. Well, that night I lost myself to ruby red lips, milky white skin and baby blue eyes. Name was Russell.

Yes a lap dance is so much better when the stripper is cryin'
Yes a lap dance is so much better when the stripper is cryin'
Well I find it's quite a thrill
When she grinds me against her will
Yes a lap dance is so much better when the stripper is cryin'

Well, faster than you can say, "shallow grave", this pretty little thing come up to me and starts kneadin' my balls like hard-boiled eggs in a tube sock. Said her name was Bambi and I said, "Well that's a coincidence darlin', 'cause I was just thinkin' about skinnin' you like a deer." Well she smiled, had about as much teeth as a Jack-O-Lantern, and I went on to tell her how I would wear her face like a mask as I do my little kooky dance. And then she told me to shush. I guess she could sense my desperation. 'Course, it's hard to hide a hard-on when you're dressed like Minnie Pearl.

Yes a lap dance is so much better when the stripper is cryin'
Yes a lap dance is so much better when the stripper is cryin'
Well I find it's quite a thrill
When she grinds me against her will
Yes a lap dance is so much better when the stripper is cryin'

So, Bambi's goin' on about how she can make all my fantasies come true. So I says, "Even this one I have where Jesus Christ is jackhammering Mickey Mouse in the doo-doo hole with a lawn dart as Garth Brooks gives birth to something resembling a cheddar cheese log with almonds on
Santa Claus's tummy-tum?" Well, ten beers, twenty minutes and thirty dollars later I'm parkin' the beef bus in tuna town if you know what I mean. Got to nail her back at her trailer. Heh. That rhymes. I have to admit it was even more of a turn-on when I found out she was doin' me to buy baby
formula.

Yes a lap dance is so much better when the stripper is cryin'
Yes a lap dance is so much better when the stripper is cryin'
Well I find it's quite a thrill
When she grinds me against her will
Yes a lap dance is so much better when the stripper is cryin'

Day or so had passed when I popped the clutch, gave the tranny a spin and slid on into The Stinky Pinky Gulp N' Guzzle Big Rig Snooze-A-Stop. There I was browsin' through the latest issue of "Throb", when I saw Bambi starin' at me from the back of a milk carton. Well, my heart just dropped. So, I decided to do what any good Christian would. You can not imagine how difficult it is to hold a half gallon of moo juice and polish the one-eyed gopher when your doin' seventy-five in an eighteen-wheeler. I never thought missing children could be so sexy. Did I say that out loud?

Yes a lap dance is so much better when the stripper is cryin'
Yes a lap dance is so much better when the stripper is cryin'
Well I find it's quite a thrill
When she grinds me against her will
Yes a lap dance is so much better when the stripper is cryin'


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Genie
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 01:18 PM

Chansons de verité, peût etre?


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,Val
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 02:03 PM

My own pet theory... it's not so much about WRITING the song as PERFORMING the song. Performers are often (not saying always) more intimately identified - in their own mind & the mind of the audience - as the narrator or primary character in a song. Most of us do not wish to regularly put ourselves in the mindset of someone whom we abhor in order to get a good performance, and do not want to give the audience the impression that we actually support some ideas.

Parodies, satire, songs about witnessing evil, or songs where the evil-doer gets his/her due (even if sung in first person) are a different sort of thing - you're not putting yourself out there as if you're promoting the act. But if you sing about something like killing innocent people, sing as if you really mean it, chances are you'll at least get watched closely by the FBI and maybe locked up "for the public good".

A novel, in addition to having much more time to explore the subtleties of a mindset, also tends to be more dissociated from the author. Perhaps even written poetry can have that same sort of separation - the reader deals with the words as he/she wishes, without directly involving the author. A song, which is intended to be performed, is an immediate and involving experience that links performer & audience. That's part of why songs might arguably be more powerful than poems or prose, but also why many people avoid some topics.

~Val


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 02:11 PM

It's not the topics the raise the probkem, it's what you are saying about the topics, and what you are trying to achieve.

Genocide, rape, slavery, lynching - there are songs about all of those which would have the effect on encouraging people to oppose all those things, and that could apply just as much if they were written in a way that was looking through the eyes of the perpetrators. Irony provides us with a ranbge of powerful tool.

Where there is perhaps a problem is when it comes to songs which seem to line up on the other side, maybe presenting some act of violence, for example, as somehow justifiable or heroic. I'm thinking, for example, of some traditional ballads, which can be seen as glamorising rape and murder.

I don't think that would justify excluding them, since there's normally a moral ambiguity which means they need not be seen as doing that, but there is a problem. And I know that there are more recent songs, for example some maverick Country songs, and some Rap material which both in content and performance seem to explour and encourage hatred.

And behind all that there is the question whethwer it is possible to hacve a song which is aesthetically a good somg, but ethically repugnant. And I think that the answer there is probably "yes".

But, regardless of the aesthetics, I don't think I can see myself writing or singing or even listening to a song like that (not listening more than once anyway. Some things are more important than aesthetics.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,Songster Bob
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 02:13 PM

Well, a friend of mine has the first line to a song that isn't much likely to get any further (at least not from me). It's a blues:

"I got a good woman, but my man don't want her around."



SongBob


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: alanabit
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 02:31 PM

I crossed posted with WLD, or else I would have said earlier that I agree that Randy Newman is a contemporary artist, who treads the ground I am talking about with wit and skill. The song by the Bloodhound gang, quoted by M.Ted, is another. I know nothing about the act, but although the narrator character clearly comes over as repulsive, the last thing most people would do is to identify with him.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,Whistle Stop
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 02:34 PM

Yeah, I was going to mention Randy Newman, but others beat me to it.

As for Steve Earle, I don't know about "John Walker's Blues"; I think that was an attempt at something different. But some of his other material certainly fits the profile. One of my favorites is called "All That I Can Do," which sounds at first like your basic love song, until you realize that it is basically written and sung from the standpoint of a stalker (You say you're gonna call the cops/But I ain't gonna run/'Cause you're the only one/And there ain't no way I can live without you, etc.).

Another person worth mentioning is Richard Thompson; some of his work is positively chilling, and he makes no attempt to sugar-coat it or add in a moral. For a good example, listen to "The Uninhabited Man"; spooky.

Personally, I think this can be some of the best songwriting there is. It's relatively easy to write something that echoes all the platitudes we've been taught about how we're supposed to behave; it's much harder, it seems to me, to write from inside the mind of a criminal or degenerate, and show how much that person has in common with the rest of us.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: TheBigPinkLad
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 03:49 PM

I would think you can write and perform any song in your head, but not necessarily in public. That said, I'll bet there's an appreciative audience somewhere for every song no matter how purile the content. Sad.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Fullerton
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 05:35 PM

Nobody is writin' dee songs about dee gay old life on dee old plantation.

Good thing too.

Good riddance - nice tunes here & there though.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 05:48 PM

But it would be perfectly possible to write a song about life on the plantattion, as it actually was. (For example, starting with this picture from South Carolina in 1856.)

It ain't what you write about, it's about what you write.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,Uncle DaveO
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 06:02 PM

Freda Underhill told us:

I have an old copy of a song called "maid of australia" - recorded from a radio show of Alan Lomax collections. The Maid of Australia from memory describes a sailor coming ashore and raping a young aboriginal women. This is a good example, I think, of what not to write songs about.

At least in the version of this with which I'm familiar, it's not a rape; it's a jolly consensual romp.

Remember that the Polynesians (with whom I'd classify the Maoris in Australia) in the early days of European contact, had a very free outlook toward sex. It's quite believable that the Fair Maid was as pleased with the incident as was the sailor.

And remember, of coure, that it's unlikely that the incident is factual. It sounds like erotic wish fulfillment, to me. If so, the songwriter/narrator is entitled to be believed in what he says happened. After all, it's HIS daydream.

I see/hear nothing in this song that suggests rape.

In case someone tells me that the Fair Maid, this being Australia, would more likely be Australian Bush(wo)man than Maori, I expect the same comments apply. In any case, the wish-fulfillment song comment seems to me highly likely.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 06:05 PM

I don't think you find that many Maoris in Australia, apart from tourists these days. At that time about as many as you'd have found in the Home Counties.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,Ingrid Frances Stark
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 07:11 PM

Many of the things I thought of when I first heard this thread name have already been covered. I still have some other reactions to the topic, though.

First of all, I think the question Alan really wanted an answer to is "What can you not perform songs about?". Most of us who are songwriters and/or poets have written a lot of things we would not consider performing. Some because they are just not really good songcraft.
One of the ways you get the good ones is by going ahead and writing whatever comes through, if only for the practice.

Also, some songs won't let you NOT write them.
I wrote one a few years ago about a friend's husband, who went down in the basement one day and blew his brains out. I have performed it exactly once, and will likely never do so again. But it needed to be written. I needed to write it, because putting it into the framework of a song/poem was the only way I could deal with the issue.

I have, over the years, written many poems and songs about issues that make people uncomfortable in themselves. In part, the writing is a personal catharsis. But almost every time I perform one of them, someone comes up to me later and thanks me for reminding them they are not the only one to feel that way. Often I've been told that I put words to something thay had been unable to say for themselves. Or that they now feel differently about an issue for having heard another side of it.

Whether or not to perform a given song is a personal decision, and should take both audience and message into account. Whether or not to write it? Doesn't your creative self have enough blocks without adding more? Besides, that very creativity is what can keep you alive in extreme situations. I know several songwriters who have written very painful songs about pain, seperation, loss, death, or illness in their lives. Often the very act of writing the song is what helps get you through that stuff.

I would say, go ahead and write! Edit later.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: frogprince
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 09:38 PM

I wrote a lyric a few years ago, "For The Unnoticed Heroes", which included my respects to some people I knew personally. As originally written, I included a reference to a pediatric nurse I once dated, who went through some rough patches with multiple little patients dying. As originally written, a couplet went, "Some heroes spend all their days caring/ for kids who won't live to get well". After a little thought rewrote the line, as I felt it could actually put some poor listener "on the floor" emotionally. It was performed as "Some heroes spend all their days caring / for those who will never get well."


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Peace
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 09:40 PM

"Often the very act of writing the song is what helps get you through that stuff."

Ain't THAT the truth.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: bobad
Date: 13 Jan 06 - 10:20 PM

I was going to say appendicitis but then I remembered "The Martin Hartwell Story" by Stompin' Tom Connors

"Oh, Mr. Hartwell," said the nurse
"I pray that you will guide us
To save this woman with her child
And the boy with appendicitis."


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Genie
Date: 14 Jan 06 - 02:19 AM

Well, I said nobody writes about vomit, too, bobad. Then I remembered this little gem from my younger days:
(First part is to the tune of My Bonnie; second part the tune of Old Black Joe)

My stomach all in confusion,
My head is over the rail.
I don't want to dirty the ocean.
Won't somebody please bring a pail?

Come up, come up,
Come up, my dinner, come up, come up.
Come up up, come up,
Come up, my dinner, come up.

I'm coming, I'm coming,
For my head is bending low.
I hear those gentle voices calling:
(spoken)
"Hasten, Jason,
Bring the basin!
Urrrrrpppp! Slloppp!
Too late! Bring a mop!


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Stephen L. Rich
Date: 14 Jan 06 - 04:42 AM

Getting back to Alan's original question, it's a balancing act. Such songs SHOULD be written. Not to write them inhibits not only discussion of issues, but the individual artist's creative process. The question is how to write them to achieve the clarity of the artist's vision and insight. Two fine examples can be found (if you can find them at all) on the Album Tom Paxton 6. "A Thousand Years" is quoteing the drunken ravings of a man who seems covinced that the Third reich will rise again very soon. It is, of course, the ravings of a fictitious character. Although its structure and presentation make the character chillingly believable, I doubt that anyone would accuse Tom Paxton of wanting the return of the Nazis. Equally chilling (and from the same album) is "Good Morning, Mr. Blue"; a song about Orwellian mind control as told from the point of view of the controller. He crawled around inside that midset with terrifying effectiveness. Do we,then, claim that Paxton was advocating mind control? Of course not.
    We need songs, stories, movies, and all other types of art which humanize rather than demonize terrorists, pedeophiles, etc. Understanding them as other human beings is the only effective way we will have of understanding and dealing with such peolple and the problems that they and thier internal demons create. When discussing this with my wife, Ingrid, she pointed out that a more important question might be how, when, or where should such song be performed?
That is a much more delicate balancing act. I'm not sure that I have an answer for that one. does anyone else have thoughts on it?

Stephen Lee


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Don(Wyziwyg)T
Date: 14 Jan 06 - 04:49 AM

I am fortunate in writing mainly comic songs, which lets me write about almost any subject. But I draw the line at producing material which will give the audience the impression that I have issues regarding race, religion, or gender. Politics, however is fair game.

I admire those songwriters greatly, who can write sympathetically on the most potentially sensitive issues. I cannot, however emulate them.

Those who know his work, will agree that Ron Trueman-Border writes songs about the seamiest side of humanity, with such delicacy as to make the listener reassess attitudes to the subjects.

Songs that spring to mind are

"I've Got a Valentine", a chilling peek out at the world from inside the mind of a stalker.

"Rosie on a Sunday", A lifer's story of the working girl who is paid to visit him in jail once a week.

Others too numerous to mention, on a host of subjects most of us would leave alone.

It takes insight, courage, and a refusal to look down on others, no matter how sleazy their actions. and not all of us have got it. For those who have, there is nothing they cannot write, and sing, about.

I'll just stick to what I do best, and hope my audience like it.
Don T.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: alanabit
Date: 15 Jan 06 - 11:15 AM

I am going to refresh this thread, as there are Mudcatters, who may not have seen it yet, but who have interesting input to offer.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Jeri
Date: 15 Jan 06 - 12:17 PM

Thanks, Alan. I'd written something and my browser crashed, then Mudcat went down, then my power went out.

It's a razor's edge a writer of such songs must walk. If they do it right, they have something rare and pointed. If they miss, the results are too messy and painful to listen to and are just embarrassing. Sometimes it's the song, but sometimes it's just the way it's performed that makes people squirm.

Tom Paxton is one I know of who can write a song about anything. Why he's able to do is interesting to think about. He never portrays people as entirely evil or entirely good. Anybody who portrays the murderer or pedophile as someone who couldn't be your next-door neighbor or your cousin, is just leading the mob to grab their farm implements and go burn the monster's castle down. It's the easy, mindless way to go about writing a song. Writing one that acknowledges and understands the humanity of such a criminal is walking that dangerous edge, because all some people want is a song that can focus their anger and hatred. THAT song is probably going to be a hit on the country charts, but it's going to lack the respect of those who can see through the 'rah-rah' stuff, and it's safety. It's easier to tell people what they want and expect to hear than it is to make them think and challenge their beliefs. Maybe it's because such songwriters risk disapproval, but I think the biggest risk is that those who challenge others must first challenge themselves and what they believe. They must ask themselvesm "Am I REALLY right? What if I'm not?" Many egos can't deal with that.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: alanabit
Date: 15 Jan 06 - 04:51 PM

I think you are right all the way Jeri. I see a lot of the purpose of our sort of songs as giving a voice to those who are not normally heard. They can be good guys and bad guys - or more often, as you say, a mixture of both.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 15 Jan 06 - 09:03 PM


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST
Date: 15 Jan 06 - 09:16 PM

FREAKS

Pinheads, mongoloids, retards, miscarraged abortions that lived..... whites singing about "people of color" using/abusing the system. Ill-eagal, eagals working for less than minimum wage/paying little tax but reclining on the schools and medical community to provide. Amputees, grossly fat folk, body-oders, diabetes, onanism, blindness, "cleansing of the population" of the jew, gyspy, and stealer. Blue-Card handicapped spaces.

Sick folkies, seeking sick songs, to shock the sences.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Genie
Date: 15 Jan 06 - 09:31 PM

Quote ( " Stephen L. Rich )
...
    We need songs, stories, movies, and all other types of art which humanize rather than demonize terrorists, pedeophiles, etc. Understanding them as other human beings is the only effective way we will have of understanding and dealing with such peolple and the problems that they and their internal demons create.   ...[My] wife, Ingrid, ... pointed out that a more important question might be how, when, or where should such song be performed?
That is a much more delicate balancing act. I'm not sure that I have an answer for that one. does anyone else have thoughts on it? "


Well, that's one area where opera and musical theatre can "get by" with performing songs that are written and sung unabashedly from the vantagepoint of the character, no matter how "villainous."    Because it's in the context of a play, the audience separates the views espoused in the song from those of the playwright/composer and the singer/actor.

Of course when those songs "have legs" and are performed outside the context of the musical/opera, the lyrics often get modified to make them more "politically correct."


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 15 Jan 06 - 10:00 PM

Marmite.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Stephen L. Rich
Date: 15 Jan 06 - 10:34 PM

Little Hawk -- WHAT?!?!?

Genie -- Sad, but true.

Guest -- hey! i've got to have SOME fun on this job.;-)

Stephen Lee


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: alanabit
Date: 16 Jan 06 - 04:51 AM

LH: You should ask McGrath of Harlow to send you a copy of his brilliant song about Marmite...


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: alanabit
Date: 16 Jan 06 - 08:11 AM

A good example of someone, who can walk that line with skill is Ray Davies, formerly of the Kinks. His eighties song, "Art Lover" sounds at first like a song about a man, who stalks children in the park.
"Sunday afternoons are very special - it's just like another world
Jogging in the park is my excuse to look at all the little girls".
But it goes on:
"I'm not a flasher in a raincoat - I'm not a dirty old man
I don't want to snatch you away from your mother
Oh NO! I'm an art lover"
What is brilliant, is that you can simultaneously see the way that others regard him as a menace to children, even as you hear what is going through his mind. In fact, the jogger is just a father, who has lost access to his own children:
"I'd like to take you home with me - but that can never be
You're only a substitute for what's been taken from me."
As others have pointed out here, it takes consumate skill to walk that line between showing the character and identifying with it. I want to hear more of that type of song though. I had it up to hear with twee songs about people's romantic lives or their self absorbtion in their sexual traumas.
Maybe I have just reached that "certain age"!


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: HuwG
Date: 16 Jan 06 - 08:57 AM

"Delilah" (Tom Jones) got pretty close to the knuckle; and I wasn't convinced of its plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

The tentative conclusion is that you can get away with a lot, with the big record labels backing you.


("They're coming to take me away, ha ha, ho ho, hee hee" by Napoleon XIV covered the same subject rather better, I thought.)


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 16 Jan 06 - 09:28 AM

I find it hard to understand how people can have such difficulty in recognsising that there is a distinction between the person singing (or writing) the song, and the character who is contained in the song, even when it is in the first person.

But they do. Time after time you get discussions about some songmaker or singer in which people leap to the assumption that it's all first person confesional stuff. Even on the Mudcat.

Obviously there are times and somngs where people are making a personal statement. But equally there are others when that's far from being true.

It's similar to the way you find people working up a head of hatred (or adulation) for some actor on account of what a character they play in a soap or a film gets up to.

I suppose it can be seen as a kind of tribute to the quality of the acting or the singer and/or songwriter.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Severn
Date: 16 Jan 06 - 10:49 AM

The same reaction that happened with Steve Earle's John Walker song happened on the FolkDJ list a few years ago with Peter Rowan's "Ruby Ridge", a Bluegrass song from the viewpoint of one of the besieged. Although songs like Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd" and Harry Chapin's song from the point of view of the Texas Sniper had been become known without too much controversy, one fictionalizing a criminal's life to make a Robin Hood charactor for people in hard times, and one as an attempt at getting into the head of a criminal mind, I guess the genre it was written in and the fact it was unlike anything else, including all those glamourized drug smugglers, he's ever done, shocked not a few of the folks who give out the airplay.
It was interesting to see who came out on what side in that teapot tempest while it lasted.

When you've already established your songwriting reputation as a primarily a satirist like Lehrer, a storyteller, like Guthrie, Paxton, Thompson, Chapin etc., or do it as least as much as Newman does, it's easier to pull them off, I guess, without shocking your constituancy.

Oh yes, and as far as writing about people's physical limitations, try Richard Thompson's "Smiffy's Glass Eye" on the "Hokey Pokey" album or "Rambling Hunchback" on Patrick Sky's "Songs That Made America Famous", an entire album based on stretching the limits of taste, subject matter, and Folkie preconceptions.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 16 Jan 06 - 01:38 PM

DAVE BULMER. Any song about him would be too bloody depressing - terminally so for the dozens of folk musicians he has had "under contract".


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: alanabit
Date: 17 Jan 06 - 02:34 AM

I share MoH's bafflement that so many people cannot distinguish between the singer and the character of a song. It probably has something to do with the culture of dumbed down television and films and the ghoulish need that many have for more personal details of performers' lives. The culture of celebrity has probably had the effect of throwing more emphasis on the artist rather than the actual work.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Genie
Date: 17 Jan 06 - 04:41 AM

I just remembered the song "Timothy," which was popular on radio in the 1960s or early '70s. (I can't recall who sang it.)   It told the story of 3 miners (?) trapped beneath the ground. One dies and the other 2 had to resort to cannibalizing him to survive.

It didn't take long for the censors (or public outcry?) to force them to change a few words in the song, thus changing the 'meat' of the story. (Pun noted but not intended.)

The original line was, "... One is enough to eat for two ..." and it was changed to "... Water enough to drink for two ..." intimating that the two survivors had kept the water for themselves, thus causing Timothy's death (but removing the cannibalism reference). I guess the original lyrics suggested that they had killed Timothy and then eaten him.

The hook line of the chorus, IIRC, was
"Timothy, Timothy,
Lord, what did we do!!??"

Anyway, this one seems to lie in that area of "things you can't sing about" -- unless you want to turn off most of the listeners.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: YorkshireYankee
Date: 17 Jan 06 - 09:18 AM

I've enjoyed reading the many thoughtful responses. Most of what I'd say has already been covered, but I will say (at the risk of repeating others) that -- as with so many things -- I don't think it's really what you write about -- but rather how you write about it. You can write about love, or heartbreak, or even how much you hate homework, in a way that other people can relate to, or you can write about it in such a self-absorbed, navel-gazing, and/or trite way that it's of no interest to anyone. There are many ways to make it interesting: humour, a 'new' angle, a twist to the tale, wit, a lovely new metaphor, or the kind of insight that others can relate to themselves.

When a topic is a "difficult" one, the same "rules" apply, but you have the added risk that if you do not write sensitively enough
(and sometimes even if you do) that people may not understand what you're doing/trying to do and will take offense.

It could be argued that the greatest songwriting sin is being boring -- if your song is not interesting enough to get folks to listen
to it, then does it really matter what it says? Think of it as a variation on the "tree falls in an uninhabited forest" discussion.

Anyway, one of my fave songs is Phil Ochs's Outside of a Small Circle of Friends; taken at face value, it makes the case for apathy. Here's the first verse:

Look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed
They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends.

What I particularly like about this song is the way it starts off "small" (i.e. more personal) and works up to "larger", more political incidents. When you hear the first verse, you may think, "Well I would do something"; by the time you get to the last verse or two, you may well start to think, "Am I doing anything?"

Absolutely brilliant!


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 17 Jan 06 - 09:22 AM

I know I will not make many friends by saying this, but no subject should be off limits.

Which is to say, there is no topic or treatment you should NOT write about, because it's all part of the human experience.

Which is also to say, you should be very careful who you sing it to. Pick your audience. And if you pick wrong, expect fireworks.

Interestingly, I was just reading on the "Two Magicians" thread that John Roberts and Tony Barrand gave up singing that wonderful ballad because women in the audiences experienced it as a "rape song." Didn't matter that it was actually erotic combat between two shapechangers engaged in a sort of ritual game that arguably was meant to end in fusion -- the casual female listener heard it as a Rape Song, and so the song tanked, and hurt their feelings as well.

I'm all for NOT hurting people's feelings. But "Maid of Australia" is scarcely a rape song except in a very large cultural conquest sense, any more than, say, "Little Mohee" / "The Indian Lass" is. "Maid On the Shore" is a slightly darker example of that sort of thing.

Still it's a song about what happens. It's not saying you SHOULD go on shore and exercise erotic sway over the natives, still less beat them to the ground and rape them. It's a news report, if you will, sort of like an item in the papers, like the Central Park Jogger incident, legitimate news in a musical framework. If you don't want to hear it, turn to the next page, but don't write to the papers and tell them not to report the news.

Traditional and nontraditional song can get very bad, I agree, very loathsome, cruel, the sort of thing you don't want to hear. So don't listen!!! (As has been said to those who complain about the very modest amount of sex on TV, your TV remote has an OFF button.)

There are many such things I prefer not to hear, and I consciously avoid them. But I don't try to erase them from the world.

For a very nasty and hard-to-stomach example, there was, in the 1920s and after (and it still exists today, as virulent though smaller) an audience for Ku Klux Klan songs, and recording these was one of the many small side custom jobs legitimate recording studios did (and do).

Disgusting, no? We'd all like to think this doesn't happen, but it does.

However, I do not think there can usefully be any "shoulds" in creative work, that is to say, in art. For a very well known example, I don't happen to care for fisting photos, but you can look at Robert Mapplethorpe all you wish, and it's not my business to say you shouldn't.

Write and sing what you please. In performing, exercise judgment by all means -- if you don't, you're stupid. Do not needlessly offend. Remember there will always be delicate ears, and think about that. But you cannot make yourself into milk-and-water, because there will always be hypersensitive ears that will be offended at the most innocuous things, and that's ... isn't it? ... their problem.

Another example: I love risque songs but I wouldn't sing them to my fundamentalist friends (even though some might actually dig them, I think that's a chance not to take). Appropriateness is the key. You don't sing "House Of the Rising Sun" at a Christmas chorale -- even if you happen to think it might be improved thereby.

But do NOT self-censor. Do that, and you start narrowing your mind, and a narrowed mind is something we already have way too much of.

(Sigh. I know what I've said will be misunderstood. Please take it that I wish to be chary of other's feelings, that I believe kindness and considerateness are in too short supply and we need more of them, and that public performance is a whole lot different from private songwriting and singing. Take these as givens, but don't self-censor.

And, it goes without saying, try your best, would you, not to censor others or let your anger at a personal offense get in the way of your judgment?)

Oboy. Well, let the arrows fly.

Bob


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 17 Jan 06 - 10:47 AM

A friend of mine ( A VERY good songwriter) has a song about a Paedophile - Damn good song , but I wouldnt sing it - Robb Johnson wrote a very well crafted piece about the Gulf War deserter Vic Williams - I wont even join in the chorus ! And Huw and Tony Williams have written superb songs about handicapped children !
As several posters have said , it depends on where and how the song is sung ! I think we ALL stopped singing Irish Rebel songs when the troubles erupted in '69 !
NO Taboos !! But please respect your audience !!


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Jeri
Date: 17 Jan 06 - 10:57 AM

Bob, I think you may find more agreement than not. I DO self-censor, but in the way you talk about. I try to write songs I think people would want to hear, but sometimes I write just to get things out of my system, just to see if I CAN, just to get started or find out what my ideas are. Sometimes, these things just don't seem worth developing. Other times, one that seems horrible is one that, down the road a bit and with some work, might make the best song. My songs usually don't make it out of my computer, though.

I once read a discussion in a newsgroup that, no matter how it started, wound up being about folk songs as history. Somebody, I think it was Dick Gaughan but I can't prove it, said something that made a lot of sense to me. The following is my opinion, but I give him credit for presenting the idea so I could think about it.

Folk songs are not historical. (Most history isn't historical.) They can allude to historical events, but every last one of them is told from the perspective of the songwriter. The perspective of the songwriter is influenced by society at the time: laws, morals, taboos, religion...basically anything about which a bunch of people can share belief.

This becomes a problem, because societies change, beliefs change, but songs that come down to 'now' after being plucked out of time, don't change. They can, but they're often just dropped, as John & Tony did with the Magician. Some songs can be altered to be less offensive. Other times the offended really need to be altered, but that isn't practical or legal. The bottom line is that, while songs can't be taken as history, they're a very good indicator of how people FELT about what happened.

Without going into specifics, I'm sure everyone can think of things that offend us now that society took for granted when the song was new. Name an 'ism' - the growing-up of the western world seems to be find us in that phase where we question our 'isms' and spend a lot of time offended about what we think we should change. I figure, as a species, that makes us teenagers.

With really sensitive subjects, the icky, 'not-with-a-10-foot-pole' ones, humor (even if only sarcasm) and poetic obfuscation/metaphors are some ways to soften the dead-on, in-your-face, shock of some subjects. This last may be something the songwriter wants to do - to grab people and shake them up. That's what it seems like Ochs was doing in Yorkshire Yankee's example. The problem with that is that, for a small number of listeners who don't have good reactions to the finger-wagging, lecture type of songwriting, no matter HOW goood, it's going to turn us off. Some people love it because they're sure it's aimed at Other People. I know better.


Genie, I believe I heard an interview where the writer of 'Timothy' said he was a mule. (Timothy, not the writer.) In this case, the song was a huge hit and the belief it was about cannibalism probably helped it. There are lots of traditional folk songs about people who eat people. If they aren't about some significant event, they're about sailors since they're more apt to be stranded without food. Well, except fish, but you can get tired of fish pretty fast.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,Whistle Stop
Date: 18 Jan 06 - 08:15 AM

Songwriting is a creative medium, no less than the visual, dramatic and literary arts. Topics such as murder, rape, torture, incest and so forth are routinely covered in these other art forms; if they were off-limits, neither Shakespeare nor Michaelangelo would be venerated today. True, some people may be offended when watching a production of Hamlet or viewing a painting of the crucifixion; they are free to avoid these things. Similarly, audiences are free to listen only to songs that concern "happy" topics. But I cannot see why these audience preferences should dictate the subject matter that we write about in songs.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 18 Jan 06 - 02:40 PM

"I know I will not make many friends by saying this, but no subject should be off limits."

I think if you read the thread Bob, you don't actually find many people disagreeing with that.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Genie
Date: 18 Jan 06 - 07:19 PM

Jeri said, "Genie, I believe I heard an interview where the writer of 'Timothy' said he was a mule. (Timothy, not the writer.)   In this case, the song was a huge hit and the belief it was about cannibalism probably helped it.   There are lots of traditional folk songs about people who eat people. If they aren't about some significant event, they're about sailors since they're more apt to be stranded without food. Well, except fish, but you can get tired of fish pretty fast."

Interesting, Jeri. It makes sense, and I'm sure you're right that the uproar over its perceived subject matter brought it increased publicity and thus more airplay. But that uproar was because the lyrics didn't make it clear, at least to the casual listener, that Timothy wasn't a man.

Of course, even if you do make things clear, you can't count on your audience to listen carefully -- and patiently -- to the whole song.   Especially if you're singing in a coffee house or bar or anywhere else where people are walking in and out and talking. Or where people may take offense at an early part of the lyric and tune out.
The song "Sweet Joan" comes to mind. There are audiences I play for who would LOVE that song IF they'd sit and listen to the whole thing before freaking out.   But I know that too many people in some of these settings would get upset when they heard the line about "there's one thing I crave and it lies 'twixt your legs" and that would distract them so much they'd never let me "get to the punch line."   Gotta know where and for whom you can sing a song.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 18 Jan 06 - 08:39 PM

Sweet Joan (a sister song to the better known Lovely Joan)


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,thinkids3
Date: 09 Feb 06 - 08:33 PM

nice song


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,thinkids3
Date: 09 Feb 06 - 08:35 PM

nice story


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Kaleea
Date: 10 Feb 06 - 07:14 PM

my old (Lord rest his soul) Music history professor always said "there's nothing that hasn't been written before."


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 29 Nov 11 - 05:46 PM

Ah well, thank the hacker for reviving an interesting thread.

Not many songs about menstruation that I know of.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,Dr Bob
Date: 29 Nov 11 - 06:20 PM

>>Not many songs about menstruation that I know of.

Is the period at the end of that line ironic?
Thinking about it, is the loss of blood ironic or non-ironic? I was never sure.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST
Date: 29 Nov 11 - 06:23 PM

I have always thought that 'Pretty Polly' is a pretty bizarre thing to write a song about. I like the tune - my wife would not consider singing it

But songs like that get explained away as being part of a tradition

Mighty weird to me


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: michaelr
Date: 29 Nov 11 - 08:09 PM

You know when you've taken a crap and twenty minutes later your ass starts itching and you have to go wipe it all over again?

Yeah, me neither. But I wouldn't write a song about that.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,banjopicker
Date: 29 Nov 11 - 08:46 PM

I dont think a song about menstration would go over to well unless your at the michigans womens fest. They sing about some pretty random and stuff sometimes.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 29 Nov 11 - 09:05 PM

(tune: Michael Row Your Boat Ashore)

Michael wipe your arse again,
Hallelujah,
Moistened tissues will ease the pain,
Hallelujah.

Vindaloo it burns like coal,
Hallelujah,
Tingles the throat but it shreds your hole,
Hallelujah.

Eat habanero, you just can't stop,
Hallelujah,
Then clench your buttocks with every plop,
Halleujah...


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Ross Campbell
Date: 29 Nov 11 - 10:09 PM

Michaelr:- I can't remember if there's a song in it, but there's definitely a thread in the Mudcat archives about how to wipe your bum.
"wipe" in the search box produced this from about five years ago:-

BS: Toilet paper dispensers: Height?

Can't remember how I found it originally - probably back when the search facility allowed you to go back forever (or at least to the start of Mudcat). Nowadays if you set the "Age" parameter to anything beyond a month, you still only get to see the last 1000 post topics (about a month's worth).


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: GUEST,Paul Burke
Date: 30 Nov 11 - 01:59 AM

You can definitely not write a song about the steam tables.


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 30 Nov 11 - 03:00 AM

You can definitely not write a song about the steam tables.

Wrong! There is a "well known song hardly anyone remembers" in a few frat songbooks at more than one engineering school, dating to the '40s apparently. (Keenan & Keyes Steam Tables 1945 was the last revision, but the original came out ca. 1936) In fact, Dr. Keenan once made reference to it, with a short quote from the lyric, in a lecture I attended. Quite a few sang along.

I have not, thus far, heard of one about the Gas Tables (Keenan & Kaye 1948), but it probably exists. (Maybe Spaw could consult if he would read the book.)

The lyric, unfortunately, was not sufficiently memorable for me to be able to quote any of it, although I recall references to enthalpy and entropy, and possibly some babble about "the critical point" somewhere in there.

Somewhat similar, although a little more complex, to Lehrer's "The Elements," now some dozen (or more) verses short due to new discoveries.

From very early in this thread: no one has yet had the nerve to try to enter the mind of one of the butchers of Srebrenice? ???

On a lesser scale perhaps, but still genocide(?), one might suggest The Rape of Glencoe relating the story of the complete annihilation of the entire clan of Mac Donald. (Although I recall running into a few remnants who must not have been home at the time.) The song is from the viewpoint of the victims, but the historical records I found certainly get into the minds of the malefactors, and "the other side of the story" might be quite feasible under some circumstances.

The hard ones seem more tenable as they move further into our past(?) - or farther from our homes(?).

John


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Subject: RE: What can you Not write songs about?
From: Howard Kaplan
Date: 30 Nov 11 - 11:09 PM

Responding to some earlier posts, I'll point out that Marie-Lynn Hammond has in fact written and recorded "Period Piece (The Rag Song)", which is about menstruation. It's on her CD "Impromptu", and she's posted the full lyrics here. Here's a brief excerpt:
    ...now some clever soul's discovered yet another problem
    though some think that to discuss it is in quite poor taste

    But that has never stopped me in the past so I will tell you
    that it has to do with women and our physiology
    and those tampons, pads, and plastic applicators that are
    monthly blocking sewers, clogging landfills and polluting the sea...


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