I love how words move their meaning around. Like a living thing.
I have often been known to quote Terry Pratchett. I think it comes from having had a teenage boy when Pratchett was at his most prolific. I read the books after my son, or at the same time as he left them about the house. One of the great things about TP is the way the books mean more, the more other stuff you read. And the other stuff you read has a light shone on it by TP… Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare… Jane Austen… Conan Doyle….
I digress, but a common theme in Pratchett is the power of words (“The truth shall make ye fret”). Moveable type is considered dangerous, as it is thought the metal remembers the meaning of one thing, when being rearranged to make another.
(I love this… It fits with my work so readily!)
About six months ago I wrote some lyrics….Thanks to the training of my songwriting mentor Dan Whitehouse, all my written ideas are dated and titled. Even if they are written on my phone or on the back of an envelope, as soon as possible they are transferred to my handwritten notebook and organised. Even if they consist of just a rhyming couplet. I think this is why so many of my songs have single word titles, because their conception is sometimes small and insignificant, a key word is used, and sticks.
Anyway… I digress again…
Six months ago I wrote this song, well the lyrics at least. I thought it was about the small amount of words it takes to wreck a relationship… The title is “Five Words” (not one word, and not five, but two).
It turns out to be about something slightly different. The five words uttered end the relationship, but are now spoken by the other party. They have moved to a different mouth. I prefer this. It is stronger. The truth is suddenly exposed, the fog has cleared…
The words have moved, their meaning has changed. The song is a living thing. As I sing it (my wonderful band mates have found the perfect melody for it) my emphasis is different. It’s now not sung with a sad heart but with a chin held high and determined. Excellent news.
A note about the handwritten notebook: In the absence of pen and paper, I have spoken into my phone, or tapped the words into my phone notepad, but nothing works quite as well as real ink to real paper. It has to be ink. Pencil is too easily erased. Ink in the wrong place can be crossed out, but remains there, either to be resurrected for use in the missing bridge or chorus (I’m crap at writing choruses, they interrupt my narrative)… Or they might be the starting point for a different song.
There is also that direct connection from brain to page… A creative stroke, mark making… Often a word is chosen for the way it looks on the page, handwritten, not just for its meaning. I like that.
At songwriters circle this week, Jonny said he didn’t like my opening line for the song “Jealousy”. He didn’t like the word “droop” in the line
“My eyelids droop, but I won’t go to bed”
He said it jumped out, jarred… Disturbed….
Other options? Closed, fell…? No. They drooped. In that way eyelids do when you battle sleep.
Being disturbed by a word can be good… It puts you on alert for the next thing… Keeps you awake…
Some words pin down exactly the feeling you want…. Until of course, they decide to change their own meaning while you’re not paying attention….