Dumped by my own back door…

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I find it interesting how a short question/comment from someone unknown can spark a train of thought as you answer:

Stranger: The lyrics are really personal… how do you start writing a song from something so personal?

Me: Errmmm….

Actually, yes, they do, some of these lyrics… they do feel personal. They have come from me, they are sharp and pointy some of them. Some are thoughtful and melancholy, and some are downright weird.
But personal doesn’t necessarily mean autobiographical.

Now that in terms of songwriting I have a Body of Work, I can actually see a methodology that is in fact very similar to the way I might start a textile piece from a garment. I start with a phrase or word or snatch of overheard conversation. I take the garment/phrase and look at it and extrapolate. The things I extrapolate might well have a very close meaning or relation to me personally, at least to start with. With applied imagination, fed by watching and listening to the world around me, at a certain point it stops being about just me, my life, my family…. and takes on its own identity. Sometimes the song joins up with the piece I’m stitching and that feels great, like I’ve really got down to the nitty gritty of someone, or an aspect of life that needs ferreting about in. Sometimes the songs and the textile pieces are a person in their own right, they have their own life to live/have lived… I usually like them. But occasionally the most interesting results come from me NOT understanding how someone else ticks. Then the work becomes a way of understanding… stating, describing, and making an outline becomes the means to find a way in.

Now… what REALLY floats my boat is if this way in actually flicks a switch and the way in proves to be somewhere else within myself… whoa… freaks me out! The whole thing has turned in on itself and I find myself dumped drunk and reeling by my own back door!

The personal has come back and slapped me in the face. I could point out bits of songs that have done this… not always immediately, but maybe a few weeks later upon revisiting the early song sketch. The stuff is in my head… has to come out somewhere I suppose…
Occasionally I see something so strong that its description writes the whole song. That’s not usually the end of it, because sometimes the structure needs a bit of a wrangle, but it’s a sketch. It can be difficult to wrangle songs like this, because somehow every word seems sacred… even if it doesn’t fit properly. There have been occasions when I insist on crowbarring a phrase or word into the end of a line…or even making a fifth line in a four line verse pattern. The musicians have been known to twitch a bit… but often it works. And I think my fellow writers and band members are getting used to it now. Those weird bits are the bits that give character and knock the shape about. This is how I see the songs, they are real people, not supermodels with every syllable in the right place… they have gaps, lumpy bits and rushed bits. They have character. They say what they have to say… I prefer the rhythm of conversation and borrow from that over the mathematically poetic rhythmic and rhyming conventions any day!


The light creeps through the leaves
To the gap in the curtain
To leave a triangle of flickering shadow
Where you lay

The song I can hear on the radio
Through the walls from next door
Is the song that was playing
When I met you

My mind wanders off on the journey
That we never took
Because we didn’t know
How we should start

You’ve not been gone long
And my hand feels the warmth
That you left to remind me
Without having to say
This might have been our only chance
To say what we mean without using the words
We shouldn’t say
They mean more unbroken

You’ll stay in my heart and you’ll stay in my body
My head will try to move you aside
From the place
Where you say
This might have been our only chance
To say what we mean without using the words
We shouldn’t say
They mean more unbroken
They say more unspoken

(Copyright Elena Thomas 2016)

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