Hope in the Bridge

During the short time I was in college (majoring in beer), my circle of friends thought I was the most brilliant songwriter they had ever heard.  They puffed me up all the time, listening to my oh-so angsty songs of loneliness and social inequity.  I bought into it, and mentally prepared myself to be the next Dylan.

One of the people in this circle of friends (at the time a roommate of a longtime friend of mine, annechen ) was a Recording Industry Management major, and pitched my songs to a publisher in Nashville as part of a project.  I was secretly hoping for validation of my brilliance, maybe even a publishing deal.

What I got, instead, was a harsh mirror showing just what a mess my songs were.

Forget the sloppy phrasing, the broken narrative, the forced rhyming, the unimaginative chord structure.  Yes, the executive let me know about all of these things.  But what stuck with me, what sticks with me to this day, was the criticism that my songs didn’t let people up for air.  I held the listener underwater until they drowned, emotionally.


There is a rule (or at least there was) in Nashville songwriting that goes like this: it doesn’t matter how down you take them in the verses and the chorus, but you’ve got to give them hope in the bridge.  It doesn’t matter if it’s one line, or part of a line, an effective song never, ever goes without giving at least a glimmer of hope.

So, I started listening to songs on the radio, and in my album collection, and there it was,plain as day.  Sure, there were exceptions (He Stopped Loving Her Today comes to mind), but I was amazed at how many successful songs followed this formula.  And how songs I hated did not (Eve of Destruction – has there ever been a more stupid song?  I’d rather listen to Macarena).

Being angst ridden, one of my favorite songs at the time was the old Carpenters hit, “Goodbye to Love”.  Check out the opening lyrics:

I’ll say goodbye to love
No one ever cared if I should live or die
Time and time again the chance for love has passed me by
And all I know of love is how to live without it
I just can’t seem to find it.

The song goes on like that for 3 minutes. But, check out the bridge:

What lies in the future is a mystery to us all
No one can predict the wheel of fortune as it falls
There may come a time when I will see that I’ve been wrong
But for now this is my song.

I knew that the publisher was right, even though I refused to accept it because my ego had been so bruised.  When I finally did start writing again, I incorporated this rule, not just into songs, but into sermons, short stories, blog posts (for the most part).

So anyway, I thought of that when reading this post by John Lamb at Hispanic Nashville.  He gets it. He understands how to be an effective activist, evangelist,salesman, whatever you want to call it.  Yes, he spends 80% of the post highlighting a problem:

It’s only a matter of time before the misery strategy moves the Doomsday Clock to the time when we wake up and see how awful we have become.

 but then he includes this:

If we are willing to listen, however, we can be inspired to change our laws without such suffering. From USA Today:

“The pope can’t change the laws of our country,” [Bishop Thomas] Wenski says. “Hopefully he will touch the hearts of many people in our country.”

You see what he did there?  He let us up for air.  He not only made us look at our own shame, he gave us something to aspire to.

This post would not be counted in the Schleprock Index, because he included that one line. 

Think of your readers.  We know what the problems are.  You’ve told us over and over and over again that we’re on the Eve of Destruction.  What do we do about it?  You’ve told us how things suck, now tell us how to not make them suck. 

You’ve told us ad nauseum how bad Pepsi is.  Now, we’re ready for the pitch.  Tell us how good Coke is.

Everybody remembers Frank Capra’s happy endings.  But 80% of his movies were about awful stuff happening to people.  Why, then, do we tend to think of his movies as inspiring?  Why do we, every Christmas, watch a movie about a man’s life falling apart, about his dreams never coming true, about his despair to the point of suicide? 

Answer that question, and you’ll get to the heart of what I’ve been getting at.


2 Responses to “Hope in the Bridge”

  1. bridgett Says:

    Right on. You got to call people to the altar. Unfortunately, there’s a rather deep divide in belief that often tangles us up. There are some of us who deeply believe that humans are the means that God chooses to use to remedy human suffering and that this is how we come to understand elements of mercy, redemption — the “laboring with” that we’ve talked about before. There are others that believe that humans are born to suffer and God ordains the world as it is for reasons we can’t know right now — that it’s a fallen place where evil will be and that God is sufficiently powerful to fix whatever He wills to fix. If you’re of the first persuasion, it’s your calling to get bizzy. If you’re of the latter persuasion, well, the world is what it is and the only thing that really matters is to concentrate on eternal (not temporal) matters. A person in the first camp would see in “It’s a Wonderful Life” the miracles that can happen when people help those struggling in their midst to create a “beloved community.” Those in the second camp would see a different and far more Providential film, one that essentially argues that God’s running the show and that all bad things happen for a reason that humans can’t know and shouldn’t try to question.

    By the way, Frank Capra thought “It’s a Wonderful Life” was the worst movie he ever made. He thought he had sold out by being pressured to add in the supernatural bit; like all of his movies previously, it was originally going to be about the power of humans helping each other to restore the fabric of community and to redeem the fallen individual to social usefulness. His critique of unfettered capitalism as a destructive force in American democracy and as a way to estrange neighbors was so stringent that his films (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Grapes of Wrath especially) could not be shown out of the country during the Cold War.

  2. nm Says:

    Why do we, every Christmas, watch a movie about a man’s life falling apart, about his dreams never coming true, about his despair to the point of suicide?

    Because the studio that made it failed to maintain their copyright in the work, so no one has to pay to broadcast it. True story.

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