Five Songs I Wish I’d Written
There have been a few times when I’ve had my feelings hurt by omission. A friend once put out a list of his favorite albums of the year and mine wasn’t on it.
It’s hard to be out there making art. You are putting your hopes, fears, sadness, and joys out on display. They are your precious thoughts and ideas on life, and it sucks when they aren’t appreciated in the way you expect they might be.
Nonetheless, as I have grown, I am less and less affected by what other people think of what I’m doing. Lately I have realized I have no perspective on the songs I’m writing. They are just my art, and they’re neither good nor bad. You can’t let anyone else’s opinion of your art affect your ability to continue making it. That being said, my apologies to all I must omit, here is a list of songs I wish I wrote:
“Stained Glass,” by Danny Schmidt
This song is a tour-de-force parable on the duality of life. The beauty and the ugliness, the pain and the joy, the futility and the purpose. I was in the New Folk competition with Danny the year he won and when he played this song, I felt like some songwriters packed up and went home. This is a masterwork.
“Concerning the Lincoln and Douglas Debates, or Love Found Lost,” by John Elliott
The first time I heard John Elliott play this song was in my parents’ living room. We were both in tears by the end. This is a moment in time, the story of the end of a relationship and all the free-associated thoughts that go with that. This song makes anyone an instant fan of John’s particular brand of song collage.
“Clouds,” by Joni Mitchell
There are so many Joni Mitchell songs I wish I wrote. So many lines she has written that so clearly state what I am feeling but unable to say in words. Like the sunset you cannot describe with metaphor, or a painting that just needs seeing, singing about it will never do it justice. Joni has this amazing ability to do these huge things justice. “Clouds” is as simple as it gets, and equally as profound.
“Coyote,” by Jonathan Byrd
This song is a quiet moment in time where the narrator sees a coyote on the road, which then slips away into the underbrush. The chords and melody are the wood and match that allow the smoke of the words to rise up into the heavens. Each are a part of each, allowing for ultimate combustion. The listener is left in unexpected ashes. After this song is over, I want to hear it again and try to figure out why I am so moved.
“School Night,” by Ani DiFranco
You can hear her heart break into a million tiny bits in this song. You can hear a relationship dissolve into memories in this song. The closing line sums it up so succinctly, how hard it is to close your heart off to other people while remaining open to the world.
I guess that this is the price
that we pay for the privilege
of living for even a day,
in a world with so many things worth believing in.
As I was writing this list, I realized that I could pick out at least one song from every songwriter I love and explain to the world how brilliant and useful each song is. It may sound naive, but I believe that songs can change the world. As Matt The Electrician says in another song I wish I wrote: “If we can change the subject, then we can change the King.”