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:
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.