Music and Lyrics…unfortunately, not the 2007 hit film with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant… this time
Well, Hilton’s back at it doing another blog. I did a lot of soul searching and realized that the important thing is putting the information out there—ego be damned. If viewers prefer watching old men walk around while theatrical music plays in the background more than listening to me pontificate on music, so be it. (Feel free to click on the link if you haven’t already, someone might as well get some views today) The question I had to ask myself was would it all be worth it if I could get through to just one person by writing this, and the answer of course was clear…no it wouldn’t be -- not even a little bit. But when has uncle Hilton ever let something like a lack of a fan base stop him before? We once played a Chinese restaurant/bowling alley to less than ten people, and nine of the ten were family. And did I mention it was a two-night stint? That’s perseverance my friends.
Here again and determined to say my piece, I present the first blog of the new year. The topic… music and lyrics…and no, I’m not talking about the 2007 classic starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore—though I’m now thinking that may be a future topic. I’m talking about how I personally have historically viewed tying together lyrics and music during the writing process. Having considered myself more of a Rogers than a Hammerstein through my songwriting career (that’s Dre to Eminem for you younger lads out there), I’ve always been driven more by the pure emotion I feel in a melody or sequence of chords than in the specific words. To me, it’s that moving arpeggio scale or walking bass line counter melody that sets off the feeling of creativity and ownership that leads to a new piece of music. Pretty sure I still don’t know what Kurt Cobain or Joey Ramone were yelling about most of the time, but I know I liked yelling along too. The words, to me, had always been secondary…. a thing for Auggie to fine tune after I gave him the broad strokes of the picture I was looking to create. Unfortunately, I’ve never considered the story that develops past that point. It was for Auggie and the other lyricists to fill in the blanks as the recordings progressed.
Trying to take a more active role lately in the lyrical writing process, however, I’ve come to appreciate the methodical nature and important connection between the words and music. I’ve often argued that Living on a Prayer would have had the same success even without the perfect lyrics and story it tells based solely on the emotion and energy of the music, but I no longer feel that way. The song still would have been catchy either way, and likely the same earworm it is today, but it is also true that it was the visualization of Tommy and Gina trying to “hold on” that struck an even greater chord with a broader audience. Don’t get me wrong, I still get upset (lots of yelling) with Auggie for trying to dress lyrics up too much, especially when he starts telling stories about Dougie and Carrie on the boardwalk, but I have come to find the intricate balance between lyrics and music to be much more critical than I once thought.
As a novice writer of fiction and non-fiction, I’ve always greatly valued the written word and paid tedious attention to detail in choosing the right way to say something (clearly this is evident in my illustrious, Shakespearean prose), but at the same time, I’ve never enjoyed the lyric writing process. Frankly, I viewed it as incidental, the fine layer of sheen on the real work of art, the music. I know nothing about cars or mechanical things (I’m forced to live vicariously through the Fonz), but I imagine I would have enjoyed working on the frame and structure of the car much more than putting the final gloss on the outer layer. Turns out, the lyrics are more akin to the nuts and bolts that hold the frame together than they are simple gloss. All this has been my roundabout way of saying, “I tip my hat to the creative, clever, and articulate lyricists out there,”…let’s hear how you balance your two pieces of the puzzle…write in and share. If not, here’s that link of old men walking to epic music…again.