Archive | August, 2012

Originality and the Love Song

17 Aug

I am an artist. I express what I am compelled to express. My art might be shit. It might be great; The main thing is that I express whatever the concept or thought might be, in an attempt to articulate and communicate the idea. Expression of a thought is as important a human function as breathing, eating or taking a piss. If you don’t satisfy the urge, it doesn’t go away. Pressure builds until the need satisfies itself in an often catastrophic outburst. It is my belief that un-satiated creative urges are at the root of a lot of mental health issues. I know it was for me for quite some time.

Recently I have been writing a prolific amount of love songs; or at least love has been the central theme given that most of the songs have been inspired by my own profound feelings of pain and loss following a failed relationship. I have been doing this purely to help me pick my way through the inevitable emotional debris, of which there is apparently quite a lot. It got me thinking about  how many love songs the world already has and whether the world really needs any more of them.

Certainly there is a general backlash against the theme by a lot of artists because they find the topic trite. I recall listening to an interview Dudley Benson gave on New Zealand’s National Radio in which he said that he actively avoided writing love songs because he felt the topic had been covered comprehensively by so many artists for so long that there was really nothing more to be said on the subject. This was my own feeling on the topic for a while, as was the general opinion of most of my artist friends – though we all broke the unspoken pact from time to time.

But why? If love songs as a product are so played-out, why can’t we help ourselves but produce them?

I have been haunted by something I’m pretty sure John Mill said about originality and the human experience. That just because someone has experienced something before, it doesn’t lessen the significance of that experience to anyone who subsequently goes through the same thing. There are countless experiences that we all go through as human beings significant and insignificant, but they all inspire the same feelings in each of us when they happen to us. Grazing your knee as a child, eating something for the first time that blows your mind with its deliciousness, the death of a loved one etc. We empathise with each other when we talk about our common experiences. They are equally significant to each of us not because they are original but because of the strength of feeling we attach to those experiences. And love inspires the most profound feelings of all.

When each of us has gone through a break up, countless songs come to mind that seem to succinctly describe what we are feeling. My brother thought my father was taking-the-piss when every song that came on the radio the following day seemed to apply to what he was going through. Of course it wasn’t Dad’s fault, but the radio was switched off for at least the next week and a half. I myself could rattle off a list of songs that I believe accurately describe what I have been through and what I felt at each point in time, when listened to in say a playlist.

So why then do I and countless others persist in writing songs about love and the loss of a loved one, when I can quote the applicable song titles? Because my urge is my urge. Quoting “Train in Vain” by The Clash doesn’t have the same emotional effect as singing what I’m actually feeling at that point in time, in words that I have put together to reflect my thoughts with musical accompaniment that evokes the approximate emotional tone of what I’m experiencing. Any line or chord may not be original when taken on its own, but when arranged in a way that expresses exactly what the artist feels at that point in time, it transcends the unoriginal to join the ranks of the innovative. Of course inovation is measured on a scale, but its a far fairer standard by which to measure art than that of true originality. It has been said countless times before, that there is nothing original under the sun; but within anything that is the slightest bit innovative lives a kernel of originality. The usefulness of the love songs must be to help others perhaps to create a more accurate playlist to reflect their own emotions and experiences. (Remember when we used to be discerning about what music made it into our personal collection – why was that?).

What I suppose I’m saying is that using originality as the yard stick by which you measure a love song’s value is to use the wrong tool. The correct tool to use is your own heart to measure the significance of how a love song reflects feelings you have had or are currently experiencing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a song to write.