Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lyrics: my four cents

Today I began reading Daniel Levitin's The World in Six Songs. It's interesting so far, and it got me thinking on some of my own ideas about music and lyrics and emotions and our brains. I want to get them out here now, just in case Levitin mentions anything along the same lines. If I read that before posting my own thoughts, I'll feel like a copycat.

Here's what I think about happy song lyrics: they're often fun to sing along with. They can be great for parties. If you're happy and you hear a happy song, all is right with the world. But here's the thing - and maybe it's just me, so I'd love to hear other opinions. If I hear a happy song when I'm not happy, it doesn't make me happy. In fact, it's more likely to piss me off. If I hear a sad song, though, strangely, it can improve my mood. It's comforting. Sad songs don't necessarily make people sad. Sad songs can make people happy. They make people feel like they're not alone. Happy songs can be alienating.

Here's what I think about direct song lyrics: they can tell great, evocative stories. But in an odd way, songwriters who write direct lyrics - despite potentially making things less complicated or confusing for the listener - also take a greater ownership of the song for themselves. Making things ambiguous has the side effect of letting people pour more of themselves into a song. The meaning isn't immediately clear, so they can project more of their own feelings and interpretations.

However, is this beside the point? Maybe it's true, and maybe it's not, but maybe it isn't a songwriter's job to care. Maybe a song is whatever it is: happy or sad; direct or ambiguous. I wonder, though, if any of this gets considered.


BeeKay said...

OMG. Pages 132-133 of the book: exactly what I said regarding happy vs. sad music. Complete with neurochemical research to back it up. I swear I just read it now. I was on page 8 when I wrote this entry, and I'd had a draft of these thoughts sitting around for more than a year.

Allison said...

I absolutely agree about the sad song thing though - I love wallowing in them. It makes my problems seem like they have an eternal romance to them.

Hi-D said...

I love the way you put it Allison: "It makes my problems seem like they have an eternal romance to them." That is so true.

B, I forgot to ask you about the book you just finished. Voluntary Madness? I think that was the name, anyway. Did you like it? I read a lot about it after I saw it on your page - was tempted to get it, but haven't...

BeeKay said...

Allison - exactly! It lets you romanticize your problems.

Heidi - don't buy it, but it's worth checking out from the library. It held my interest, and wasn't a chore to finish at all, but the author annoyed me. She's very big on self-reliance and her stance is essentially, among other things, that drugs for mental illness are only a crutch. That if you really want to get better or function with schizophrenia or depression (if those things are even real! Sometimes I think she's not sure) you just need to pull yourself up by the boot straps. I don't disagree with everything she says; I know drugs are prescribed much more frequently than is truly necessary. And that we don't know exactly what all of them are doing in the brain and why they work or don't work. But I think it's pretty rich whenever someone without any scientific training or scientific research background decides they KNOW something like that. There were various other things that annoyed me, too. Basically, I think I just don't like her.

The story was interesting, though. As were the differences between her experiences in each facility.

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