At The Coop

At The Coop

Friday, January 6, 2017

Another True Story (That I Made Up)

     "Imagination running wild ever since I was a kid
       I could tell you crazy stories about things I never did
       Spinning tires, breathing fire, dancing on thin ice
       You'd have thought I'd done it all and seen most places twice..."

     There is a great debate (often more like an argument) between certain segments of the songwriting community over "authenticity". One camp espouses the notion that any song that is not written directly from the writer's personal life experience is somehow flawed and "fake". There is another side (where I reside) that believes that as long as you can make it "real", it is a true story, whether it actually happened to you (or anyone for that matter). If I truly lived all the songs I wrote, I would have already been dead many times over. I'm fairly certain that John Steinbeck didn't live every page of "The Grapes Of Wrath", although he did a masterful job of making them come alive.
       Sometimes a writer will create a song based on a story they've heard or read, fact or fiction. Take the song "Taneytown" by Steve Earle. It's a compelling story song about a young black man who went to town "to see what I could see", and got jumped by some white boys. He stabbed one, and left his knife behind where someone else found it. That person got lynched in a case of mistaken identity, because he was caught with the bloody knife. You can be certain that Steve didn't live that story, but it didn't keep him from writing a great song about it in the first person.
       I'm sure it can be confusing to the non-songwriting community. If they believe that the writer is telling the literal truth about an event from their own life in one song, how can they justify another song that is written from a different perspective? A lot of people don't seem to realize that a many country artists don't write all their own material. The listeners merely accept the character that is presented to them as realistic depiction of who the singer is, whether or not that depiction is based in factual reality. It seems to me that any serious songwriter should know better. I have written a dead Grandpa song called "Inside That Box" that would work for any number of different people to sing. It is not based on a true story that either my co-writer Dave Gibson or I have lived through, but it is colored by life experiences we have both had.
        A good novelist builds multiple good characters. I don't see why a good songwriter can't do the same. Presenting more than one point of view in a single song is problematic, but creating different characters to be the voices of different songs shouldn't be. Maybe I'm just trying to justify all of the different voices in my head, but I don't think there is anything wrong with writing songs that are not based on actual events in my life. I once had someone try to convince me that every song I wrote was about me in some way. I disagreed with that person, but there may have been a bit of truth in what they were saying. I'm sure that every song I write is colored by my feelings about the subject, but I don't think every song is about me or what I think.
     Don't get me wrong. I have written songs like 'The One Hundred Letter Word" and "(I Thank Jesus) I Married A Jew" that are based on my real life, but I have also written songs about things that I have not personally experienced. When I perform my song "I Recall My Daddy", people always feel sorry for me because my father died in the war...only he didn't. Somebody's (many somebodies') father(s) did, but not mine. If I can write a song well enough to convince people that he did, I feel like I have done my job.
       I have been sober for well over thirty years, but I can still write a drinking song like "(A Man Can't Live On) Beer Alone" or "Hard Times (Call For Hard Liquor)", because I did all that research. But because I did all that research, I can also write songs like "The Writing On The Floor", which is not a literal depiction of my battle with the bottle, but a true story nonetheless.
       I could go on and on with examples, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think a song can be valid whether or not the writer has experienced the events described in the story. And to anybody who would denigrate my writing as not being "authentic" because I make things up, I would truly say "I've got some nether regions you can osculate."
       Y'all have a nice day.


  1. I believe everything in this blog!!!

    1. Haha! You'd better.
      Thanks for reading (and commenting).