Songs as Sources of Inspiration

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I guess every point of refuge has its price
- The Eagles, Lyin’ Eyes.

 

Song lyrics - go figure.

Like many new writers, I first started my chapters with song lyrics - the embodiment of the idea I wanted to express. Like most writers, I got over it, but still, for longer works, I do usually have a playlist that represents moods or concepts, if not ideas, that I want to express. These aren’t necessarily favourite songs by any means. They just capture, or evoke in me, an aspect of a story that I want to share.

Leonard Cohen is a god, there is no doubt. The line “We were guided by the beauty of our weapons” in First We Take Manhattan speaks to a creative hubris that could spawn a thousand stories. But do you need to telegraph that idea to your readers by including the lyrics that inspired you?

Sometimes a song just captures a mood - A Toronto-based band called FM put out a concept album called Black Noise. Their song One O’clock Tomorrow somehow captures an essence of the wistful romance of deep space travel. I’d like to capture that too. So the song goes into a play list.

Some songs just embrace character well. Take for example, The Waterboys, Don’t Bang The Drum. The song starts with:

“Well here we are in a special place
What are you going to do here? (...)
What show of soul are we going to get from you? (…)
If I know you, you’ll bang the drum like monkeys do.”

A lot of their songs are harshly critical observations about conformity and self-involvement. It makes for great character conflict.

Compare that to Glass Tiger’s (Watching) Worlds Crumble, where the narrator is apparently more important than those suffering from his actions:*

Look at me, I'm watching worlds crumble
Look at me, I'm making walls tumble
Take my hand, oh, Lord, it's all I've got
Look at me, I'm watching worlds crumble.

Makes you want to scream “Do something.” But then again, the idea of a helpless protagonist is common in many genres, and the idea that you can’t always stop the consequences of your actions is a bit of a theme in my writing. I don’t know if the song inspired the idea or just gave voice to something inside me.

Once last one for you. The Alarm, a band who tried to make pop-punk, with some success, had a song called Where Were You Hiding? There’s a line in it that I often think about without ever actually feeling inspired by it: “They say all good things come in threes, well here comes the third degree: Where were you hiding when the storm broke?” oddly enough, whenever I listen to that song, I feel critical - the lyrics are so …  witty but staged and shallow: “The truth is the truth or the truth is surely a lie.” Very anthemic, great for stadium rock singalongs, but not nearly as deep as it pretends to be.

The price that song lyrics claim for their refuge? if you haven’t internalized the idea, you haven’t taken ownership of it. Inspiration comes from everywhere. I wrote a short story once after watching a turtle cross the road. Readers don’t need to know that. To borrow the butcher’s analogy, you don’t show how the sausage is made.

*My interpretation. Yours may vary.