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Why does everyone write about loss, lonelieness and despair?

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(@surly)
Trusted Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 62
Topic starter  

Hi everyone, i regularly browse the forums and read/listen to peoples songs and lyrics. Its dawned on me a while ago how many peoples songs are about some vague notion of confusion, emptiness that they feel encompasses their lives. Not like a specific bluesy 'i lost my job, my car broke down' song but more like general feeling of despair and futility that they cant quiet put their finger on.

I was just wondering. Is that how we all really feel? I mean, lets be honest, we've all written songs like that (I know I have) but when I think about it, thats not really how I feel (or at least, i write those songs disproportional often to often how i feel those feelings). But it just seems like those type of lyrics flow out easily, wheras if i want to write about something else (or god forbid, write a happy song) I have to concentrate a bit harder. It feels like the 'whats the point, empty life, so much pain, darkness within' sort of lyrics are like the default value and everything else requires a bit more effort. The other type of song which is like this is of course the love or love lost song.

The reason i bring it up is that, Ive always held this beleif that the lyrics in popular guitar music (if you want to call it that) were more 'real' than say Hip Hop because it was dealing with real emotions, but if 70% of rock music is just about despair and or love, then are we actually writing what we feel or are we just writing a song about despair because thats what guitar players do and thats the mood that permeates popular guitar music. It makes you question the whole emotional highground that we take.

i guess what im trying to say is that we think that our lyrics are more real than say, hip hop because most hip hop just deals with money and sex but if most popular guitar music just deals with despair and loss then who are we to judge?


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(@davidhodge)
Member Moderator
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 4485
 

Great subject to bring up and I expect there'll be a lot of interesting answers. Speaking only for myself, almost anything I wrote before turning twenty would have fallen into this category. My songwriting took a big turn for the better when I started writing more as what I'll call a "writer" than a "keeper of a journal." Writing songs where someone different than myself was the narrator. Part of it arose from performing my songs in public more (both as a solo performer and as part of a band) and part of it came from challenging myself to write more outside my normal parameters.

Waiting For Nancy, the writing of which I detail on the "Songcrafters" page here at Guitar Noise, was a very big turning point in my (hopefully continuing) maturity as a writer. Even though it dealt with some of the same feeling of confusion and emptiness, it involved a very different narrative style and I like to think I did a good job at it. Chan, some of the writing process I wrote out in "Group Therapy" (found on the Songwriting Page here at GN) took this a big step further by simplifying the lyrics a lot.

I think that why someone writes tends to be a big part of what makes it as a lyric. When someone starts out writing song lyrics, more often than not they want to communicate their feelings and, our perception of life being what it is, we not only find sadness, loss, not being understood, emptiness, to be so strong, they are also easier to write than happier feelings. I don't know of many writers who are good at making strong statements about happiness without coming across as sappy. But they are out there.

Personal growth usually follows right behind that. My second biggest step as a songwriter came from deciding to stop taking myself so seriously and inject more of the humor I use in everyday life into my writing. So in a way, this is a contradiction to what I said earlier because through humor I tend to put more and not less of my natural self into the narration.

Sometimes good lyrics came from trying to find a different way to explore a subject. The Sunday Songwriters' Group is a good tool for those trying to build up and add to their writing skills. It's not only interesting to try to come up with a new twist to a formula, but you also get the added help of reading how others rise to the occasion. Again, there are a good number of articles about this on our songwriting page and (because I know the author pretty well ) I'll go out on a limb and recommend "Finding the Right Words," because I think it covers a lot of the ideas I've mentioned here in a better way.

Sorry this is a bit of a ramble, but I also hope it helps.

And I'm truly looking forward to reading more thoughts on this subject.

Peace


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(@greybeard)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 5899
 

There's an old saying "A trouble shared is a trouble halved". Perhaps this is the reason we do it, perhaps we feel better, if we can "dump" our negativity into a song? Banish the blues, so to speak?

I started with nothing - and I've still got most of it left.
Did you know that the word "gullible" is not in any dictionary?
Greybeard's Pages
My Articles & Reviews on GN


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(@elecktrablue)
Famed Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 4389
 

Exactly. Loss, loneliness and despair are some of the deepest human emotions, and releasing them through a song is a very cathartic thing! Not only for the songwriter, but for the listener who has felt or is feeling the same emotion as well.

..· ´¨¨)) -:¦:-
¸.·´ .·´¨¨))
((¸¸.·´ .·´
-:¦:- ((¸¸.·´ -:¦:- Elecktrablue -:¦:-

"Don't wanna ride no shootin' star. Just wanna play on the rhythm guitar." Emmylou Harris, "Rhythm Guitar" from "The Ballad of Sally Rose"


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(@ghost)
Prominent Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 833
 

There's an old saying "A trouble shared is a trouble halved". Perhaps this is the reason we do it, perhaps we feel better, if we can "dump" our negativity into a song? Banish the blues, so to speak?

Therapy or better yet mental therapy is a good word for why I write about what I write. It really does make me feel better overall.

"If I had a time machine, I'd go back and tell me to practise that bloody guitar!" -Vic Lewis

Everything is 42..... again.


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(@surly)
Trusted Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 62
Topic starter  

i know im gonna getta lynched for saying this but I just feel like the 'falling so fast/will this pain last?/reaching in the dark/cant touch your heart' lyrics have been done so many times they have lost all meaning. Yet they seem to make up the backbone of so much guitar based music.

I was just challenging the assumption that these types of lyrics are somehow superior than say hip hop because they deal with 'real' emotions. I dont know whats so 'real' about tens of thousands of people singing the same thing in the same way. I suppose, if the songs are just for your own personal therapy then its cool, but ive always thought of good songwriting as telling a story, getting people to see something a different way or getting people to feel what you feel. Hammering them with the same old 'where am i?/no wings to fly/all at sea/just want to be free' just isnt good songwriting, in my opinion.

I think David makes a good point of songwriting from a story teller perspective as opposed to a personal emotional outpouring. But as you say, if the point is to be cathartic then I suppose personal emotional outpouring is the whole point.

Greybeard: As i said in the first paragraph of my first post, i think blues music is kinda immune to these criticisms because it is blues music. It unashamedly built around feelings of despair. I dont feel like im attacking blues music and im not trying to, but maybe i am.


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(@ignar-hillstrom)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 5384
 

You are 100% correct in what you say, but it's not the theme that's bad but the level of songwriting. People who write those crap lyrics would have written equally crappy lyrics about other subjects. If you listen to the old blues masters it doesn't sound corny. Listen to some lesser gods and it will make you puke. Same chords, same theme, just less text-writing talent.

Personally I'm too much of a chicken to sing about personal emotions, besides I highly doubt people living thousands of miles way really give a crap about me being happy or not. The result is that my songs are about missing shoes, onions and such subjects, not too sure if that's that much better.

Ah well, emotions are lame anyway. We'd be much better off without them...


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(@misanthrope)
Noble Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 2268
 

Heh, any song about missing onions I've got to hear...

ChordsAndScales.co.uk - Guitar Chord/Scale Finder/Viewer


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(@manontheside)
Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 179
 

Hrm... After I read the first post I just wanted to add my usual "Humans love to whine"-theory... But, to change it up a bit, graybeard wrote that we could "dump" our negativity into a song... You need to be -really- happy in order to dump happiness into a song... Just imagine what you could spend all that dumped happiness on!

On the serious side now, I agree with dhodge. It is much harder to write happy-tunes for some weird reason. Going back to the unserious side somewhat (here it comes, here it comes!) humans love to whine. (generally speaking, of course) In order to clarify this, I usually use a quote from Fight Club that at least I feel is somewhat related to the issue of whining (though I was never one for interpretation)
Tyler Durden: Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very p** off.

...

I've spent the last three minutes wondering how to close this up. I'm wondering if I should just have gone with writing "Humans love to whine..." and I think I will.

Anyway, this became a whooole lot of rubbish from me. I'm working the nightshift and intellectually, I would probably be much better off sound asleep in my bed. I hope you at least found some of this entertaining. If you disagree (rest assured, you have every right to), I'll whine about it somewhere else on the nightshift tomorrow

*stifled yawn*
-man (Hiya's to everyone, only one hour to go!!!)

"I wish there was an over the counter test for my loneliness"


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(@coatbutton)
Active Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 14
 

For me, songwriting is a private thing. I was terrified to show any of my songs even to my best friend. It isn't difficult to tell people that you're happy or excited, but it can be harder to explain your feelings of loneliness or despair. (How can you tell someone you're lonely if you're alone?) I think people tend to write songs about things they wouldn't be able to say out loud. It also might be people subconsiously imitating what they're exposed to. If you turn on the radio and hear songs about love and unhappiness, you're more likely to pick up your notebook and write when you're unhappy or in love.


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(@dneck)
Honorable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 632
 

I think to say something like "you shouldnt write songs about love and loss cause everyone has already done it" would be like saying "how can you paint a picture of mountain, so many people have done it be original"

You can't just disreguard an entire subject matter because maybe your gonna paint the best darn mountain this worlds ever seen, that being said, you probably won't get famous drawing mountains all the time. As long as you have an original idea that your song expresses anything could be great.

And personally, the only songs i write about loss are when i really did lose something and i just feel like i have to write it down so i can stop thinking about it. And I agree that cliche love songs are easy to write, but there is something that makes those great love songs different.

"And above all, respond to all questions regarding a given song's tonal orientation in the following manner: Hell, it don't matter just kick it off!"
-Chris Thile


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(@anonymous)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 8306
 

feelings of hopelessness and futility permeate my existence


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(@dneck)
Honorable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 632
 

Oh and in psyc i learned that "a state of moderate tension is ideal for creativity"

And I read another Chuck Palahniuk book called diary that was really intresting. Its all about how artists get inspiration, he talks about the same thing. Its an easy emotion to feel but check these lryics out.

http://www.leoslyrics.com/listlyrics.php;jsessionid=DEC71FC72BD0EC3AD2ADC280BA0D6FF4?hid=aSwiiIOMcn8%3D

To understand this you have to look at the title "A man/me/then jim" the first verse is narrated by a man, the second me(Jenny Lewis) and the third Jim a guy in the song. Really the song is about love and loss, but its completely original and awsome.

"And above all, respond to all questions regarding a given song's tonal orientation in the following manner: Hell, it don't matter just kick it off!"
-Chris Thile


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(@manontheside)
Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 179
 

Chuck rocks!

"I wish there was an over the counter test for my loneliness"


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(@ignar-hillstrom)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 5384
 

Oh and in psyc i learned that "a state of moderate tension is ideal for creativity"

Yeah, I learned the same. Ofourse, when I asked my prof if he would describe the huge depressions that led some of the worlds greatest composers to write spectacular music as 'moderate tension' he had no idea what to say. Most of these psyc-science things are fun to talk about but have terribly little to do with the actual real world. People have written superb music with the widest variation in tension, from ultra-relaxed to almost-collapsing-from-agony.

Ofcourse, statistically the chance a great piece is written by someone in a state of moderate tension is fairly large, mostly because the average human experiences that state most of the time. It's like saying 'having two legs is ideal for creativity'. :D


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