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Thursday, 28 July 2011

Who are my singer-songwriting heroes and why?

In no particular order:

Loudon Wainwright III Your Mother And I

Boo Hewerdine Footsteps Fall

Jackson C Frank Blues Run The Game

Bert Jansch Blackwaterside

Tim Hardin Black Sheep Boy

Leonard Cohen Famous Blue Raincoat

Harry Nilsson Without Her

Bob Dylan Desolation Row

John Renbourn and Dorris Henderson Winter Is Gone

Joni Mitchell A Case Of You

Van Morrison Ballerina

Chris Wood Hollow Point

Steve Earle John Walker's Blues

Neil Young Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Tell me if you'd like more...

Thursday, 14 July 2011

How self-absorbed is too much?

Like many writers, I have a small group of trusted friends that I use as a sounding-board. They're people whose opinions I value, who I know will tell me the truth about my work but who are sufficiently sympathetic not to be too blunt. (He's a sensitive soul, the artist.) You could describe them as critical supporters.

Here is an extract from an email I sent to them recently along with the lyrics to a new song, asking for their thoughts; 'No-one who writes in the hope or expectation of having an audience applaud them is without self-regard/absorption. What's uncomfortable is when that self-regard/absorption becomes too apparent.'

In much of my writing I'm a singer-songwriter in the 1970's sense of 'confessional, self-analysing, self-reflecting'. What I and those like me hope is that there's enough in our solipsistic musings that's universal and will have meaning for our audience, perhaps acting as a window through which they can look anew on their own life or experiences (many singers have affected me on that level). There's a sense in which all artists function this way, but of this particular group of songwriters it is especially so. The epitome of this is the early work of Joni Mitchell.

The song in question wonders about whether it's OK to draw on the grief of others as subject matter for a song and tries to offer a justification for doing so. I wondered whether it's OK to write about the process of writing as a form of self-confirmation. Then there are the questions of whether these wonderings will be in any way interesting to an audience and if they're too, well, self absorbed.

The song is called No Going Back. In the end, it got the all-clear. If you like, you can form your own opinion. (See lyrics below.) You may even come across it in performance at some point.

What this discussion reminds me is what I've always known: to practise as an artist is an act of saying 'Hey, look at me, I'm interesting!' It's not the most comfortable place to be. We walk out on thin ice each time we put pen to paper and when we record or perform. And, because we are always seeking your approval, our self-worth is in your hands.

One of those I asked replied, saying 'Even solipsists need love'. It's true.

No Going Back

It got too much for Luke, he wanted off the hook
So he found himself a railway track
He didn't have a voice so he made himself a choice
Now there really is no going back
No going back
No going back

I'm lying here in bed and what's running through my head
Is, what's giving me the right to write?
Is the story mine to use just to satisfy my muse
Irrespective of the poor boy's plight?
The poor boy's plight
The poor boy's plight

I do it to insist, to prove that I exist
Evidence I otherwise would lack
So I give this one to him, whose evidence was thin
Because there is no going back
No going back
No going back

See, watch my fingers move
There's something I have to prove
These words scan, make some sense
Not past, future, but present tense
There's rhythm, rhyme and harmony
It's a monument to me being me
I may be a solipsist
But for the while I'm doing this
I'm absorbed, devoid of fear
And pretty sure I'm really here

No going back
No going back
No going back
No going back