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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
Sunday, 7 December 2003
Coffee Cup Ring
footnotes
I don't know what a scholarly dissertation would make of song. There must be a reason why theorists are not keen on examining a single song in any exhaustive detail. A typical review is more likely to mention a trend to mawkishness than to do a Walter Benjamin on chorus and verse.

But before I mastered hypertext [chuckle] I did seriously think of putting footnotes on the printed versions of Postmodern Tension and One Vinyl Time. In the first song because I wanted to render it as nerdishly close to the prevailing sentiment it espouses/exposes, and in the second because most of the music acts namechecked were obscure at the time they released records in the late seventies and early eighties i.e. the dying days of vinyl as it was.

Now I like to build multiple meanings into my songs and poems so explaining them would defeat some of that purpose by needlessly telegraphing too much. And, besides, there is a real sense in which the Death of the Author is true. If you craft a piece well then it should lose overt authorial intention and become owned by whoever gives it so much as a sideways glance.

The creator of any piece which possesses something artistic, or is cast in that light, has to know when to give up their baby. They must forego their fears of being hopelessly misunderstood in intention or outcome, or both; of having their best moments overlooked on superfluities or compared unfavorably to artists with whom they feel no kinship. None of this matters compared to the work itself. It has greatness or it does not; it speaks to us or remains dumb. It cries to be released and find both praise and scorn - anything but anonymity.

I never wrote anything good until I learnt how to release the clutch - slowly - how to squeeze the trigger - gently - over time

Didacticism is dull; no matter how worthy the cause or how earnest the speaker. Yet I would not want to bury my message in ellipsis and allusion. Perhaps the message(s) just one part of a larger idea and can be weaved in.

II
So how to describe the process? Here the artist is caught between a concern to explain their work (if not themselves) and to preserve the opportunity for the critic or the puzzled observer to engage with the text (and here if nowhere else I mean text as any semiological construct; anything that projects meaning)

III
More on the process of songwriting, or leastwise lyric writing, to follow (but only if you write in)

Meanwhile a key to One Vinyl Time as a literary text (and many song lyrics work supremely well without being the least bit literary) is to bear in mind that the bands mentioned are just names for the most part:

I don't own any XTC but I share my enthusiasm with those who do. The reference here (apart from being a handy pun) is to the many XTC albums that keep the X section from getting lonely; not to any raving I've done with anyone about how good "Dear God" is or what a great pop act they are.

I've never heard anything by The Lurkers or Human Sexual Response though their use is both relevant and convenient to sentiment and structure.
A musician would not try to rhyme Human Sexual Response - limited rhyming possibilities and untidy syllables.

Of course not even I could wedge Bingo Reg and the Screaming Jeannies into the narrative. And that was despite a few sunny lunchtimes in the park musing this as joggers went by. Turns out they never released anything anyway so they exist only dimly in the memory of a few sozzled punters with a penchant for jolly sounding live acts.

And just as novelists report of characters taking on a life of their own so song stories develop beyond my thoughts on how to control them. It's the happy confluence of rhythm and meaning that makes the writing process such a joy.
It also has the potential for misunderstanding: the irony wasn't apparent, you hid the satirical intent. Maybe it wasn't the idea to work with the primary meaning OR against it but to build in different, conflicting narratives. Here I think you need another guide to tell if it 'works' or not.

I do like One Vinyl Time as a rare example of a song of mine that is not written in first person; it's all observational. And I write my fair share of downcast songwords but have a soft spot for the stuff written in a more positive voice. One Vinyl Time is nothing if not affectionate.

Posted by berko_wills at 10:07 PM EADT
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