Tarago Diaries #30 – Feelings

Mark reflects on songwriting.

Author:  Mark Seymour.

Date: 20 April 2020.

Original URL: https://www.facebook.com/MarkSeymourOfficial/posts/2583311815108475?__tn__=K-R


Article Text

How do you write a song? Millions do it. Right now maybe more than usual. Given idle hands. But am I doing it right?

There is no ‘right.’

Of course there’s structure. You can learn that. There are workshops. I’ve been in them. Tin pan alley, the ordering of parts, chords. A white board. Squiggled arrows. What comes first? Anecdote, commentary, singable words, sayings. Irony and innuendo.

But knowing you’ve landed a goodie. That’s belief. You can’t teach that.

I can describe my process. But I can’t tell YOU how to do it.
You can write about anything though. And do it anywhere for that matter. Which is encouraging.

I’ve done it at 110 db. Blokes pouring through doorways, bellowing over out of tune guitars, a blizzard of cigarette smoke, drums checked and checked again. The snare pounding insanely. Unwashed coffee mugs. Some deeply un-interesting dialogue about aeroplanes, cows, or the Geelong Football club.

Sorry? What was that? Oh. Right. I’m being told something not particularly useful. Where was I? Listen back. ‘Not bad.’
But never the question, ‘How did that even happen?’
What would be the point? Job’s done. Move on.

I used to panic at the sight of gear. The overwhelming accumulation of stuff. Great black boxes of artillery to fill the room with loudness.

Where was the song in all of this?

These days I take great delight in working with very little. Mumbling works. The chin pressed over the rim of the guitar. The sound of bird song through the open window. But that’s ok.

You can always turn it up later.

One thing’s for sure. Song writing’s a social activity. Retreat into your garret all you like but there will be a reckoning. Did it fly when you played it? Were they genuinely impressed? Or did they stand around and say stuff like.. “Oooh.. that’s cool.” And then later, “He’s nowhere near as talented as he thinks he is.”

You still have to play it though. To someone. Otherwise, what’s the point? But knowing when you suck, that’s the test. Then go back to the trough and have another crack. Can you be bothered? Or is the wound of self-discovery too painful?

You need to learn how to be your own worst critic. That way a lot of self-deceipt can be avoided. And deceipt from others as well.

But here’s another clue. See, whatever the trigger, there’s got to be feeling attached. I must look at the world in a particular way, with anger, desire or deep sadness, to know there is something real to hang the effort on. Words mark the way but feeling is the driver. And the point of arrival is the distillation of that feeling.

I wrote a song once called ‘Throw Your Arms around Me’.
About thirty-five years ago. Many have a take on it. But it’s true meaning? Who knows? I know where I was. Who I was with. What my intention was. I wrote chords. Words. A melody. The song was all of that, enacted. Fortunately it endured long enough to reveal that only the reaction ever really matters.

That said, once you engage with feeling, you are living dangerously. You must walk the razor’s edge between the story and self-destruction.

Feel it, then park it when the work starts.

Any paramedic will tell you. You can’t have feelings while you apply the bandage. Carry the water, build, stitch, rivet, wash, burn or shoot then, after the work is done and only then, can you return to self-pity, or whatever the feeling was that got you started.

Creativity is invisible. The struggle moves silently behind your eyes. You line the words up in your mind. Then suddenly they spill from your mouth. A burst of clarity.

Know when to strike. Be believable. That’s the target. If you aren’t believable, no one will care, or quickly lose interest.

because really, it’s all about them. Not you. It’s the reaction.

You’d be amazed how many artists don’t get this. Or don’t want to. Because it’s hard. To feel intensely, identify the feeling, then step away.

Instead they cling to the safety of a delusion which runs like this:

‘My feelings matter to me, so therefore they must matter to you’.

Sorry. Believe in that and your ego will be crushed.

See, people aren’t interested in your feelings. They’re interested in theirs. But, if they hear your song and believe it could be about them, you’ll be ahead. It’s a game. You’ve won it.

Some may find this cynical. But see I’m not talking about life. I’m talking about ART. The most unoriginal part of the creative process is the feeling itself. And yet, it is the most crucial. Feelings are like cars. Everybody’s got them. You can rely on that! So use it..

It’s the way you apply the bandage that matters. Not the wound itself.

Here.. Try this anecdote. It might be of interest.

A song called ‘Kliptown Mud’.

We were in South Africa. Took freeways across the waving veldt to a place called Kliptown on the edge of Soweto, stumbled through the mud and drizzle, the open sewers and public showers, the stench of diesel and shit. Ushered into a two room shack. An old woman sat with an infant in her arms. A vase on the table. Red proteas in full bloom. We Australians, crowded together, shuffling, looking sideway, down, then into her eyes. Her deep glistening gaze. The guide didn’t hold back.

“So, now how do you feel?” he said.

Humbled. Scared. Flooded with feeling.

Thought followed.

Boy. Does poverty put power to shame. All these trite little ‘issues’ we carry ‘round with us. What say you of my glass half full? All you YouTube jockeys preaching self-help? There’s a guru on every corner spouting pronouns of contempt. But what of her in her Kliptown shack? What of her children and the children before them, who have woken before dawn to ride the lifts down into the mines to feed the breathtaking wealth of ruthless pricks who have farmed their money into the grotesque condominiums and flesh pots of the western dream? She had the eyes of history, that old woman. Looking hard into mine.

I stood up the back and jotted lines into my phone.