ache, and art

One of the remarkable things about being a musician is that there are no rules. There’s no right way or wrong way to be one. You can experiment with every aspect of making up a song, and there’s no one way to listen to it.

ache

But I do follow one rule: to honor the difference between an ache and a work of art.

An ache in itself is just that. It can affect you or you can ignore it.

But the art that treats the experience that made me ache is something altogether different. The aching is transformed, it’s alchemized: by a period of sensitivity, a moment of clarity, and a certain objectivity that doesn’t surrender the emotion but gives it form.

I could write a song about something that has gone wrong in my life, but it would not be a good song until it went through this alchemy. Otherwise, it’s not a song, really, it’s just complaining.

All my songwriting is an attempt to talk about the aching, whatever the cause. I never want it to ease; I don’t believe it’s meant to. I don’t care to master it. I just want to free it:

It’s up to the song to weep all my tears, and embrace everything with its ache.

audible

Sometimes words are just music themselves.

Like “Strawberry” is a very musical sounding word to me. “Dandelion” is another.

I like “Honeysuckle” and “Hurricane,” too. And “Hallelujah.”

Standing on the edge of the vowel forest, I also encounter:

A blossoming almond tree.

The thicket grown loud with nightingales.

Skin and heart. Bed. House. Heartbreak (and with it, the tentative hope for happiness).

And a cloud of starlings.

Sometimes I think that my main instrument is idiom, my voice is just a dialect, and my actual purpose as a songwriter is simply to report on the human heart in the most musical of observational terms.

To make the notes audible in the key of English.

opening sounds

What something sounds like can’t change what it is:

The sound of a drawer opening …

The north wind on the telephone lines …

A motorbike along the lane …

Lilacs crashing through old barn walls …

The key turning in the door to an empty house …

Footsteps retreating.

Yet sound opens sound. It taps the spot that’s inside me with a lyric or melody, and the door to music opens:

The sound of clothes being emptied from the drawer by a departing lover …

The sound of the dangling farewell …

A biker who falls and in his fall hears his bones cry out …

The young sound in an old heart …

The hollow echo of the voice inside the door …

And me, walking beside you … humming like the air.