On Songwriting

One day this past summer, the kids and I were driving around town, listening to Lou Reed. It was a few weeks after he had passed away and I was feeling, well, sad. As we were listening, I was telling the kids that one of the things that made Lou Reed wonderful and important was that he wrote songs about people who are invisible to many of us—drug addicts, the homeless, transsexuals—and was able to give them dignity and honor by telling their stories.  After I was finished with my lecture, we all just listened to the music and then my daughter, from the back seat, asked a question that was actually more of a statement, “Dad, we aren’t going to be together forever, are we?”

This was a Lou Reed sort of question in that it forced me to stop and consider something that I don’t really like to think about, namely, being separated from my children.

Over the course of that summer, as I was writing songs for The Original Cosmonauts’ February cd, I would often think about my daughter’s comment and wonder how people write songs that make people stop and think about their lives and the things that really matter to them.

There’s a song on our new cd, “Stars at Night” that comes from that place of searching and wondering.

“The Stars at Night”
The stars at night Give me a fright
I wake up and see the light
All my life It appears
That whisperin in my ear
I get up go and see
What this world means to me
Shut the door fall to the floor
Can you take it anymore?
(Chorus)
Well I’m gettin older
And your getting older too
But we’ve got each other
And lots of things to do.

You keep tellin me baby,
To handle you with care
And I keep crossin the river
But I never find you there
Each day I dove
In the sea of love
Secrets in your eyes
Imagine my surprise

Here is a link to the actual song: https://soundcloud.com/theoriginalcosmonauts/stars-at-night

One of the things I like about writing songs is that they give me opportunities to think and write about my internal world without actually saying, “I did this and I did that.” That is, the songs I write are rarely about my own exterior life but they are very much about things I think about. That said, this song actually begins with a fairly typical experience for me. I often wake up in the middle of the night and look out the window at the night sky. These are melancholy moments. I’m not particularly frightened, as the narrator in the song is, or says he is, but there is a pull there—a pull and a reminder of mortality, of being alone even though I am surrounded by my family and an uncertainty of the future, even though I know I’m probably going to make it to see the morning. I like the line about whispering in the narrator’s ears. We all have that—the stories that we tell ourselves over and over–and they generally turn up at night either before we go to bed or, like the narrator, when we wake up at night. When I was thinking about the chorus, I started thinking about Neil Young’s song, “Long May You Run,” so I played on a second hand emotion to get a much inferior sentiment compared to that joyful melancholy of Young’s great tune.  I don’t really like that chorus, but I couldn’t really come up with anything else and in retrospect, I like how that emotion of contentment plays against the anxiety and uncertainty of the rest of the song. The first part of the second verse is really just a passing sentiment to get to the last four lines—my favorite of the song. I like the soft rhyme of “love” and “dove” and then the way the song turns sort of terrifying at the end as the narrator realizes through a glance—not words—that the thing he had been counting on and believing in is not true.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s