Friday, January 11, 2013

My Pop Deficiency

I was once reading a book by Neil Peart -- it might have been Ghost Rider -- in which he mentioned something about having, as part of him, an "inner teenaged girl" -- or something to that effect -- who craved the sappiest of pop songs. Neil, of course, is the drummer/lyricist of the great progressive rock trio, Rush, so this was surprising to me to read. I was also pleasantly surprised by his affinity for Frank Sinatra. (Why I would be surprised, I don't know -- we do tend to over-simplify our reading of people, don't we?)

Anyway, I know what he is talking about. I just posted this the other day on Facebook:

"I keep trying to write straight-forward pop songs, but it always feels like kissing with one lip."

I have to say, I am often moved by a simple tune with a great "hook." There's something to that kind of writing that is admirable. But I just can't seem to bring myself to write "baby I miss you so much" lyrics and I tend to find myself wandering in more experimental directions, involuntarily, in terms of harmony and song structure. Still, part of me wants to write for my "inner teenaged girl."

(Okay I do realize how weird that phrase sounds, just for the record, but it makes the point...)

I guess that is the difference, at least for me, between writing prose and writing music. I cannot spin things when I write music. I can't dress up as Peter Gabriel or...anyone else. If I am inspired by anyone else's work, I might set out to write something similar, but it turns into something quintessentially me by the end. That's not to say that one can't hear influences in my work, but...I just can't pose when I write music.

So, I find myself in that place, sometimes, of setting out to write a poppish, hooky song and arriving at something much more experimental. If I go any other direction, I feel...wrong; dishonest. Maybe music is just too dear to me. Maybe it is a good thing I don't have to rely on "selling" my music. I would have been, I think, profoundly sad as a rock star. Which is good to know, especially in my obscure musical place.

Sometimes, though, pop songs do cross the bridge. They remain "pop" but manage, at the same time, to be deeply musical. I suppose it is a musical quest I'm still on: to write that sublime, marketable masterpiece.

Here is one from a guy who continues to impress me, even though I never have been a country music fan. (Of course, country isn't all that country anymore.) I'll let him play you out of this post; beautiful tune -- that's all that really matters, right?



  1. Odd to read your 'inner teenaged girl' quote, just after reading this tweet from a local comedienne called Zoe Coombs Marr (Zoes will rule the world one day): "Often I feel like a woman trapped inside a woman, trapped inside a woman, trapped inside a woman, painted with Russian folk art on a shelf."

  2. Rise of the Zoes! I like it.

    From that tweet, her humor sounds a little like one of my faves, Stephen Wright.