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I can’t remember where I learned about furniture. It could have been in the UCLA songwriting class taught by Phil Swann or it may have been while studying with the extraordinary Harriet Schock. I do know that after it was explained to me, I started noticing that all of the most evocative and moving lyrics I’ve heard have furniture. So, when it comes to songwriting, what is furniture?
If you walk into an empty room, you’re not given much information about who used to live there. You can assess the size measurements and judge the light. Not much information. BUT, if a room has 2 pieces of furniture, you can actually tell quite a good bit about it’s owner. The furniture they have chosen gives a glimpse into the owner’s mind and may indicate quite a lot about the personality of the owner. The same goes for “furniture” in lyric writing.
I’ll give a few examples of “furniture”. For instance, if you want to write a song about loneliness, you might sing: So lonely. So lonely. So lonely. The Police – #6 Official Charts Company in UK, 1979. It works. It’s obvious. There is no doubt that the songwriter is trying to tell me he’s lonely. But, that is not the part of the song that evokes anything. It tells me something but I don’t get to really feel it. These verse lyrics, however, say much much more:
Now no-one’s knocked upon my door / For a thousand years, or more
All made up and nowhere to go / Welcome to this one man show
Just take a seat, they’re always free / No surprise, no mystery
In this theater that I call my soul / I always play the starring role, so lonely
That word landscape is entirely evocative. I can clearly picture someone sitting dejected – dressed in full make-up and stillettos – with another free chair – empty, save for the self-pity collecting from the room’s sole occupant. It’s exaggeration. It’s ego driven. It’s lonely angst at it’s finest. It’s furniture.
Another example is a lyric that shows this kind of lonely: I miss you. Like the deserts miss the rain. – Everything But The Girl #2 Billboard Top 100, 1994 It is no wonder that Everything But The Girl had a worldwide hit with the simplicity and effortless cinematography of those lyrics. If you’ve ever seen the desert, or even a picture of the desert, you can understand how much she misses who she is singing to. The verses add even more drama in that it becomes clear she is singing to herself or a phantom. Haven’t we all been there?
A more current example and an entirely different type of lonely is Need You Now – Lady Antebellum – five weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs 2009. In these lyrics you’ll find both the show and a bit of tell:
Picture perfect memories,
Scattered all around the floor,
Reaching for the phone cause, I can’t fight it any more
And I wonder if I ever cross your mind
For me it happens all the time
It’s a quarter after one, I’m all alone and I need you now
Again, I can perfectly picture the scene and easily place myself in it. That is the beauty of the “furniture” – you can be IN it. It puts the listener inside the song.
I am committed to teaching students (and reminding myself) that the best lyrics show us as opposed to telling us. There is nothing wrong with a bit of tell. However, furniture (the showing) helps a listener’s imagination recall a feeling (i.e. – loneliness) by creating a word landscape that is cinematic and immediately recognizable.
It’s been a long time since I wrote my 1st song – “me, Steve and the Bear”. I was 14 and had a visceral, heart-trobbing, tear-jerking, knee-knocking crush on Terry McKenna (i.e.- Bear). I plunked it out on the piano & recorded it on my boombox. I might still have the tape? It was amateur and awesome. It was full of so much sappy sauce that you got stuck in it. I remember singing it a bizillion times (to myself – never played it for anyone else) – and not being able to get it out of my head. I knew it was juvenille but I loved it so it was good. It said exactly what I thought about him. Big, bold ideas of love – like a mylar boquet … delivered with a PopTart.
Cut to today. I have written so many songs that I think I’ve forgotten how to meet the songwriting challenge with utter incompetance. With complete novice. With ridiculously rambuncious enthusiasm and lack of coolness concern. I’ve started and thrown away and judged so many of my own creations that I seem to be forgetting the ground zero of creativity — HAVE FUN WITH IT!!!! Love it! Enjoy the fact that I can do it! That I want to do it! Then, record it. Badly. With contagious enthusiasm! With the ego of a kindergartener! Look what I did!!!!
I’m gonna try it. I’ll let you know how it goes. I might even video a selfie of me playing it (probably not – since I have no idea how to post a video selfie). I’m going to pretend it’s my first song. It’s gonna be good.
In the mean time, this is a video of me ‘n Dirty Mercy practicing another song … I wrote it. Both of them. Look at what I did!!!!
It’s been almost a year now since we lost our cherished, cynical, ridiculously smart and perfectly tart double bass player, Sanderson Poe. He was a musician’s musician – a rebel through and through. A man that knew his mind and was not afraid to say it. He was also one of the sweetest, most dear people I have ever had the good fortune to work with. Loyal and musically adventurous, he added spice to our Dirty Mercy. He wanted the band to be called Rusty Tears. Sanderson. I still miss him badly. I think of him so often and with much love. We still haven’t added a new bass player to the mix. I feel like we all think he’s on vacation .. but, he’s not. Sure would love to hug him again.
Missing you, Sando Kalrizian!
May you have time to hug, connect, laugh with and make wonderful music with the people you love!!!
Cheers and all good to you!
Who likes change? Not me. At least not to my computer/phone/fax/twisty-turny-button filled things that are supposed to work better and quicker and smarter (and do, but only after you have spent 26 hours re-learning how to make them work!!!).
I just got a new device. A new work computer. It has taken me an obscenely long time to figure out how to print a Word doc on this new, very quick and stealthy PC. Even longer to find where the fonts are hidden. I don’t like the changes to my Word. I am a #7 newbie and I’m not super fond of Window’s changing my little clicky thingies up top. I’m not even sure I like this big, bright, white screen. I may be a Luddite in FaceBook disguise. In another life, I was probably one of those pain in the butt people that wanted to keep Mass in Latin.
But, in the whole of life, I don’t mind change. It just takes me a little bit of crankiness to get used to it. In fact, I’m a HUGE change/ paradigm shift/ new pair of goggles type of gal when all is said and done. Here are my top 5 favorite types of change:
1) Trees – I like when the trees change from empty ~ Tim Burton-esque – to little globs of buds aching to get out – then rustling, shady, even flowering, bursts of jubilant green – to yellow and orange and purple and golds and then back to empty. It feels honest and real. And, every year, the tree grows taller. It’s constant and consistent, reminding us that even when everything seems dead, there is the possibility of a change coming.
2) Sheets – I absolutely love to climb into fresh new sheets just out of the dryer, with a fresh new pair of jammies. Delight! Even better when I’ve just had my toes done and my legs are shaved. That is a good way to go to sleep. All clean and buffed on sweet 600 thread count cotton!!! It is one of the simplest kinds of change and I swear, changing sheets changes dreams and then personal commitments and then lives. A sales clerk at Dillard’s just told me that the amount of money that you spend to make your bed/bedroom comfortable, it exactly how much you care for yourself. He’s a sage. I bought 8 new pillows. I convinced myself that I am caring for myself even though they were all on sale.
3) Guitar Strings – I find it kind of hard to change guitar strings. It’s not quick and I usually end up poking myself with one of the super sharp clipped ends. PLUS, I’m never certain that I’m doing it right although I’ve done it 50 x’s or more (the same goes for jumping a car – I just do not feel like I know what I’m doing!). But, no matter how uncomfortable it is to do, my guitar just simply sounds better. And when my guitar sounds great, I’m more inspired to be creative.
4) Hair Color – I’m not even sure I need to explain this one. It is magical. Even my wrinkles seem less visible. Anyone that can make a person feel more beautiful whether it’s by doing hair, or just giving a kind complement is straight from heaven. People that make you feel beautiful are angels in skin suits.
5) Re-potting Plants – Every time I re-pot a plant it reminds me that every single one of us gets root bound. It’s hard not to stay stagnant in circumstances that are too tight. You stop growing … lose some of your luster … maybe even die back. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to have to fling myself over and crack my pot out from under myself (messy, sharp, dirty and potentially dangerous to me – the plant) just so that I can keep expanding to my full growth capability. And, sometimes I just need someone to notice that I’m looking peaked and might need a little help getting out of my old pot and into better soil. I would like to thank the last 6 people that have helped me into better soil – who have noticed that I need a change and helped remind me that change is possible : Laurie Lambert, Patty Sughrue, Jes Fyall, Christina Winch, Sam Winch, Laura Mancini and Suzie Pollard.
All I really needed was someone to remind me. Who has reminded you?