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Saturday, April 15

Real Life Diagnostics: A Look at Song Lyrics

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and I diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Eight 


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through June 10.

This week’s questions:

1. Overall, what do you think?

2. In the second verse (second line), I use the word whom. Do you think that’s a bit rigid? Conversely, in the third verse (ninth line), I use the word ain’t. Do you think it’s too casual?

3. Building on the previous question, I think I should either go with whom and haven’t or who and ain’t. Which do you think is better? (Or, would I stay with whom and ain’t and try to pass it off as creativity?)

4. Does the poetry speak to you? Can you relate to it? (Or worse: does it just seem like nonsense?)

5. If this written for young adults (say 28 years old), do you think any of those people would see themselves?

6. Would younger people just turn off and go somewhere else before they finished the first verse?

7. Would older people remember with kindness or contempt—or not at all?

8. Do you think these lyrics have any commercial value? If yes or maybe, any thoughts about where or to whom I should try to peddle this?


Market/Genre: Song lyrics

Note: we’ve got something completely different here today, but I’m up for the challenge. Any songwriters or poets out there, this is a diagnostic where your feedback will be especially valuable.

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

There’s so many thoughts
Tumbling through your mind.
You’d like to get to know yourself,
But you haven’t got the time.
You seem to be pulled apart
By so much wondering;
You’re part of the morning
As you go foundering.
Go out and say your prayer for victory,
And dance
With the pastels
Of reality.

There’s so many prophets,
You don’t know whom to believe.
Just when you think you’ve arrived,
You find it’s time to leave.
You’d like to go inside yourself
To find what’s really there,
But you take time for the dead
Because you really care.
Is it any wonder you’re hung up by security?
As you play
With the pastels
Of reality.

There’s no one beside you,
You’d really like to know.
There’s no words in your mind
To present what you know.
You feel stranded on the stage,
Yet you play the game,
And smile at the people
Who want more than your name.
You ain’t time to sing the songs of misery
As you cling
To the pastels
Of reality.

You know you’re gonna die,
Yet you’re so alive.
It must be life that’s pulling you.
What else could have the drive?
You can feel something bigger
That surrounds your cells,
But it’s only little people
Playing with your hells.
Go find another blanket for the company.
There’s no color
In the pastels
Of reality.

My Thoughts in Purple:

There’s so many thoughts
Tumbling through your mind.
[You’d like to get to know yourself,
But you haven’t got the time.] Nice reflection on how everyone is always way too busy
You seem to be pulled apart
By so much wondering;
[You’re part of the morning
As you go foundering.] I don’t understand this part
Go out and say your prayer for victory,
And dance
With the pastels
Of reality.

[There’s so many prophets,
You don’t know whom to believe.] Nice look at how it’s hard to trust or believe so much of what we hear
[Just when you think you’ve arrived,
You find it’s time to leave.] Nice look at how the definition of success is always changing
[You’d like to go inside yourself
To find what’s really there,
But you take time for the dead
Because you really care.] I feel like these lines relate to each other (the but connects them) but I don’t understand what it’s saying
Is it any wonder you’re hung up by security?
As you play
With the pastels
Of reality.

[There’s no one beside you,
You’d really like to know.] Nice look at how we’re disconnected from each other, or it could be a reflection of “why am I alone?”
There’s no words in your mind
To present what you know.
You feel stranded on the stage,
Yet you play the game,
[And smile at the people
Who want more than your name.] I don’t understand this
You ain’t time to sing the songs of misery
As you cling
To the pastels
Of reality.

You know you’re gonna die,
Yet you’re so alive.
[It must be life that’s pulling you.
What else could have the drive?] Nice look at “what’s my purpose in life?”
You can feel something bigger
That surrounds your cells,
But it’s only little people
Playing with your hells.
Go find another blanket for the company.
There’s no color
In the pastels
Of reality.

The questions:

Note: Before I answer the questions, I just want to offer full disclosure that I am not a poet or a songwriter, and the last time I analyzed anything remotely like this was high school English, so please take everything I say with a shaker of salt -grin-.

1. Overall, what do you think?

This strikes me as a song about struggling to find your place in the world, but feeling outside it as well. Life isn’t “real” (hence the pastel reality, as in, “faded and not bright”) and it’s so conflicting it’s hard to make sense out of it. It’s sad and a little hopeless, but not too dark or depressing. It feels like it’s more about being disenfranchised than in despair.

2. In the second verse (second line), I use the word whom. Do you think that’s a bit rigid? Conversely, in the third verse (ninth line), I use the word ain’t. Do you think it’s too casual?

I have no problem with ain’t, and it fits the beats of the line and gets the idea across. Whom is a bit tougher, because it depends on how you say (or sing) that line. To me, whom drags it out more and adds an extra pause to get the M in there, which doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as who.

3. Building on the previous question, I think I should either go with whom and haven’t or who and ain’t. Which do you think is better? (Or, would I stay with whom and ain’t and try to pass it off as creativity?)

I’d go with whatever feels right from a rhythm and beat perspective. This isn’t a grammatically correct sentence, but a use of language to evoke emotion. But I’d agree with who and ain’t in this case, because it feels right for the rhythm of the song.

4. Does the poetry speak to you? Can you relate to it? (Or worse: does it just seem like nonsense?)

It’s not aimed at me, so it doesn’t speak to me, but I can remember being young and unsure about my place in the world, and I think everyone feels that at some point in their life. It is relatable from a growing up and maturing perspective.

5. If this written for young adults (say 28 years old), do you think any of those people would see themselves?

I can see people I know who are that age in this, so yes. I think it does capture some of the struggles millennials are going through.

6. Would younger people just turn off and go somewhere else before they finished the first verse?

I’m not in your target age group so I can’t say (younger people chime in here). Personally, I’m not one for poetry so I wouldn’t read it normally, but I love music, especially songs with poignant lyrics, so if it was a good song I’d listen.

7. Would older people remember with kindness or contempt—or not at all?

Both and neither. What someone remembers is based on who they are and what their past experiences were. I had a pretty average childhood and adolescence, with not a lot of craziness going on in the world. My brother and sister are much older and had to deal with some very serious social changes when they were growing up. I have friends who were teens and young adults during 9-11 and faced challenges others never did.

8. Do you think these lyrics have any commercial value? If yes or maybe, any thoughts about where or to whom I should try to peddle this?

I have no idea whatsoever (sorry). I’m sure there are songwriting blogs and sites out there just like fiction sites, and probably a songwriting version of Fiction University someplace. I’d suggest looking for those—Goggling “how to become a songwriter” will probably get you a lot of places to start looking. (Readers who know, chime in here).

Overall, there are some nice lines and imagery in this, and with the right music I can see people liking it a lot.

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress (many by new writers), not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

9 comments:

  1. Janice,

    Thanks for reading this and indulging a wanna be. You sell yourself short on your ability to analyze and pontificate on works like this. Your comments are astute, insightful, and (probably most germane) helpful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    The line you said you did not understand had a typo in it. Sorry. It should have read “. . . as you go floundering.” The truth is, the night before I sent the song to you, I sent “floundering” out late at night to get some yogurt. On the way home, it got the L beat out of it. It’s doing well now.

    Bob

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  2. [And smile at the people
    Who want more than your name.] Loved this. I understood it exactly, since I have older people in my life that have dementia and aging. Very nice poem.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Lori

      When I wrote that I was not thinking about dementia. I was considering a young adult’s quest for general comprehension. However, I think your conception is a good fit. Thank you for the insight. I may do something with it. Dementia, I think, could be a good subject for poetry or fiction. Just never thought about approaching it before. Like I said, thank you.

      Bob

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    2. Hi Bob, I interrupted the poem to be a person reflecting on their life. Goes to show how people get different meanings from things. Good luck with your project.

      Delete
  3. I may hop about in my thoughts here, so bear with me...

    On the use of "ain't": it cannot stand alone like this, it needs "got". To say, "ain't time" doesn't make sense.

    I would use "who", as formal-speak doesn't fit with lyrics, unless the entire song is full of formal-speak.

    If this piece were simply poetry, I would easily accept the many places where esoteric thought pushes through disconnected concepts -- because poetry is meant to be considered, ruminated on, percolated in the mind to find that personal connection. Since it is presented as lyrics, your presentation of a concept per verse, which should build as it goes forward into the 'point' of the song. This 'point' is usually supported by a chorus, which allows the listener to 'get' that main idea/'point'.

    You have several good lines that do produce very specific ideas, which Janice pointed out. Where I see a problem is that the second 'half' of each verse (lines 5-9 basically) doesn't build on the first half, yet also doesn't oppose strongly enough to help us see that opposition. Such an opposition is just showing the counterpart of the first idea, which is like: you want to know yourself/your life doesn't allow it.

    As with any story, after listening to a song, people should have a 'vision' of what the song is about. This song has no feeling of ultimate liberty or freedom for the proposed subject of the song. It also has no ultimate doom. Young people approaching or in the throes of their late 20s/early 30s might grasp the seeming overall concept of entering or being in a time of their life where things are moving too fast, life seems transitory, values are questioned, authority and the 'right way' to be soulless.

    My first read-through found each verse to have an instance where I had no idea what was being referenced or projected. This meant that some of it felt to obtuse to grasp, especially for a lyric.

    Lyrics, more than poetry to me, must! have a story to tell. The minstrels of old were the story-tellers and that hasn't changed. The particular words you use (whom/ain't) are not the issue here. Rather it's the lack of story.

    I will add to Janice's suggestion that you find the lyrics of songs you liked, songs that resonated with you and your ideals. You will see that even with the wonderful lyrics of Bob Dylan or the words to 'Purple Haze' or many Lady Gaga songs, there is a type of story and the listener is led forward by repeating and supporting and defining that story.

    Your song seems to be one of disillusionment, which is a rather soft target, so I suggest working to get your comparisons/oppositions strongly in place to give the listener a reason to keep listening.

    And finally, just like in writing a novel or anything else, including a lyric: you must take care not to assume knowledge or understanding by the reader/listener. As Janice mentions, her experience was one thing and her siblings another. Widen your 'version' of disillusionment and create more stark lines between the concepts of reality and what we perceive. Make your imagery clearer, but broader, so people can apply the concept of the song to many points in their lives.

    On selling a song...that's a tough one, but is best achieved (usually) by being a singer or musician and performing your songs to obtain grassroots support. If the music can cross genres, all the better. There are also song contests and some labels have 'open' submission dates (or they used to) for new artists.

    Just like any writing, there is a ton of work before getting someone to notice your song/book/poem. I wish you luck and strongly urge you to get 'in there' with other songwriters and musicians to find out more about your path to the public ear.

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  4. Wow Maria,

    I appreciate the respect you’ve shown me with the seriousness of your comments and helpful suggestions. Clearly, you’ve provided much more than I can comprehend in a single morning.

    Your professionalism comes shinning though, and I appreciate it. I hope others thinking about song content read your comments. They are a generic lesson for all would-be lyricists as well as a considerable help to me personally.

    Thank you for giving me so much of your time and expertise. I can assure you I will be reviewing and considering your comments over the next several days.

    Bob

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    Replies
    1. Hi Bob --
      :o) Thanks... wasn't meaning to overwhelm, but got on a roll and kept thinking of other things. I wrote songs through my 20s and 30s, was a singer and surrounded (by good fortune) by musicians. If the passion is there for song-writing, it will carry you away --
      So glad you see that your songs can affect everyone differently, which is what is so beautiful about music/songs. You can't see what everyone else will see, but if it rings true for you, it will ring true for others.

      Good luck!!

      Delete
  5. Maria was spot on and insightful. I've written new lyrics to existing songs for parodies and programs and I was trying to figure out which of your lyric segments were the bridge and chorus. I assume the "pastels" section is the short chorus, but which part of the "poem" did you anticipate for the bridge?
    Are you also a singer? Did you write the music to this? If not, I would suggest you might consider pairing with same to hammer out the pacing and "filler" lyrics(Maria made one notation on this with the words ain't got). I think it would prove most helpful to make it perfect. It's really quite good and I think the theme is great...and I'm old...haha!

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  6. Hey oldie,

    Thanks for the support and suggestions.

    I thought Maria made excellent points, but I don’t have the expertise to quickly evaluate her thoughts. I appreciate the confirmation. It will be helpful as I digest her thoughts and try to improve my writing.

    As to the bridge: you’re right “pastels of reality” are the bridge. Janice caught a lot of this in her comments, but let me try to elaborate a bit.

    The “reality” of the song is not the things you can touch and see. Rather, it is the amorphous reality that is at the core of our being. In my mind, there are multiple stages of maturity. Beyond the chronological, beyond the physical, comes the time we define our essence.

    I saw something a couple of days ago that caught my attention because it seemed to capture what my song is about in a cute way. (This is not a quote, but a paraphrase of what I remember): There comes a time when you realize your mother was right, but your daughter thinks you are wrong.

    This song is about a people in their late 20s making the transition. In the struggle to understand themselves, explain themselves, etc., they are frivolous with their reality (“dance,” “play”), afraid to move on (“cling”), want to do best for themselves (“security”) and others (“care”), but eventually come to the conclusion their pastels (tinges of substance) lack empirical collaboration; i.e., “there’s no color” in them.

    Anyhow, I’m trying.

    Bob

    ReplyDelete