The Trouble With Love Songs
The chorus, in fact, is lifted directly from a soliloquy about Isabella by Angelo:
What, do I love her
That I desire
To hear her speak again
And feast upon her eyes?
I was telling my wife about it (I'm not even sure she's heard the whole song at this point) and she remarked that everyone would likely think it was a song about her.
I've been thinking about love songs ever since, partly due to this and partly because I'm using a lot of love songs for the current production of As You Like It. In fact, I'm finding myself writing a boatload of love songs over the past several weeks. This is quite unusual for me; I have scores of songs in my catalog but very few of them could be qualified as "love songs," and precisely two of them are about my wife ("A Simple Man" and "You Are Home").
It's actually problematic to be married or in a committed relationship and write love songs, for a couple reasons: 1) Not a lot of great music comes out of being happily in love, as opposed to the brilliance that often arises from conflict, frustration, and unrequited attraction, and 2) Everyone assumes everything you write is about your current significant other. There's a third, universal problem with love songs, as well: 3) It is also assumed that your love song is about a real person or situation in your life.
This last is a particularly baffling issue. Peter Gabriel was able to write "Intruder" without actually breaking into somebody's house; John Lennon wrote "Norwegian Wood" without being an arsonist; none of the Who were deaf, dumb, and blind like Tommy; and Harry Chapin was a bit too young to have the adult son of "Cat's in the Cradle." Yes, I'll concede that most of the greatest art is created from a place of honesty and personal experience. But an artist who can't add a substantial element of pure invention is less a creator and more of a diarist, isn't s/he? Isn't making stuff up most of the fun of being an artist?
Tennessee Williams used to refer to his plays as "emotional autobiography;" the events weren't from his life but his feelings about the relationships in his life fueled the stories. I've held to this theory in my playwriting in particular: the guilt-ridden heartbreaker in The Blizzard of '93 and the son who fears that he and his father have nothing in common in Awake in Pennsylvania. It's much more prevalent in my songwriting, and in my love songs in particular. I have written songs and plays that are inspired by real people and events in my life, but I'm generally not telling, unless it's funny (Michelle Kwan in "Hero") or very important (Steve Irwin in "Unafraid").
Perhaps no kind of writing can be as stream-of-consciousness as lyrics. Often I'll just come up with a turn of phrase, like "Stream of Conscience," which ended up being a song about accepting guilt, or "She Is a Match" (another new song, just finished yesterday), and the rest of the story will flow. "She Is a Match" is a great example; it's got some really specific lyrics (again, more than a little bit inspired by Measure, but taking off quickly in another direction) that certainly bear a scent of reality. It doesn't necessarily follow there's a "she" in the world that correlates with the song; in fact, the first-person voice certainly doesn't have to be me specifically. Of course, there might be a she, and I might be the me; that's the mystery, isn't it? Maybe the real trick is to see if I can write something honest enough that you're fooled into believing it must be autobiographical. And at least some part of it always is, or else I wouldn't care enough about the subject matter to write the thing in the first place.
What may be more important is trying to capture the spirit of the experience of someone who might hear your song or see your play. After all, it's for the audience isn't it? My actual romantic life has, with a couple exceedingly painful exceptions, been quite tame. I dated my high school sweetheart for three years until she dumped me, then I rebounded for a few months with a younger girl with the same kinky hair and same first name. I left my college girlfriend because I met Karen and it was pretty obvious the way that had to go. Everything has, for the most part, been tales of long-term commitment; I never dated around, and I seldom pined for someone I couldn't have. I've had my heart broken a couple times, and I severely broke one myself. In other words, I'd pretty much mined the depths of my ability to write autobiographical songs of heartbreak by age 30.
Which brings me back to the original question: why the sudden flux of love songs? I blame Shakespeare. Measure for Measure was a pretty hot show, and As You Like It is absurdly romantic, with four couples getting married at the end. I guess I'm just feeling amorous about love in general.
Of course, everything I just wrote could be a pack of lies, as well... ;^)
If you love love, then love loves you, too. --Bruce Cockburn.