It’s been a minute. For some reason February has gone by in a flash. I’m in a café right now where they’re playing an instrumental version of “Rock the Casbah”. Every now and then some backing vocals will pipe up “Shareeeef”, then “…the Casbah! Rock the Casbah!” It always seemed to me to be the most confusing and ridiculous thing to write a song about. I didn’t understand what Joe Strummer was saying for about the first 20 years of my life, then when I finally got the meaning of the lyrics, it still baffled me.

This raises something I’ve been thinking about lately. Lyrics are quite a mystery, really. Some songs are entirely direct, like “Imagine” by John Lennon, for example. The whole song is like a sermon – each line has a point, a specific meaning. If you can’t understand it, if you didn’t speak English, say, you’re probably missing out on a lot of the song. Other songs are entirely cryptic. Right now that Talking Heads song with the famous synth part at the beginning (“This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)”) is playing. I can’t understand a word of the lyrics, but I still have a definite feeling from the song. I could tell you whether I liked it or not. As if to prove my point, it just entered a section where the vocals are just ‘awoooo, awoooo’.
Writing songs directly from your point of view, or with a specific, unambiguous message is dangerous for a songwriter. It leaves your opinion and sentiment at that particular moment completely naked. Without any creative masking or ambiguity, you run the risk of becoming detached from the song if you later feel differently. It’s also possible, or even likely, that the song will be misconstrued, and you will feel detached from the person listening because they don’t feel what you felt.

Recently I’ve started allowing myself to write somewhat more abstractly. Not all the time, but part of the time. I find that it brings out strange connections between things I wouldn’t necessarily have made if I were being entirely direct.
Here’s a poem I wrote on the bus recently:

morning prayers
under a waking sky
ramp signal on
make two lines
bus is late
making up time
thinking of my Valentine