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How can I laugh, when I know I'm down?

Eric VB

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As a songwriter, do you change your mood to write a song with a different emotion than the one you currently feel?


Sure, it's supposed to work the other way around. You feel happy, so you write a happy song. Great!


But what if you're in the dumps? Sure, you can probably write a wonderfully depressing song. And tomorrow, and the next day, when you still don't see any sunshine? If you can't snap out of the funk you're in, can you at least do it long enough to write one happy little tune?


How about an angry song? You were probably really pissed off at someone at one point to write an angry song. What if you don't finish it right away? Can you go back to that emotion with the same magnitude as you originally had a month later? a year later?


As a performer, I think it's a little easier. It's a bit like acting. When the song comes up on the set list, or you open up the sheet music, you have at least a moment to prepare yourself emotionally for your "part". Put aside whatever you're currently feeling, because next up is "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Elliot Del Borgo, based on the poem of the same name by Dylan Thomas. "Rage, rage against the dying of the light". Grief and death. Next up is something more upbeat, so put on your happy face. You can at least go back to the emotion the song brought out of you the last time you performed it.


Is it all right to keep writing in the same vein of thought and emotion? Is it cool that Alanis picked up the moniker of "angry little white chick" because all her songs came from the same place inside of her? Or should she have explored a wider variety of themes and emotions on "Jagged Little Pill"?


I tend towards dark and brooding. I can start a song with the happiest chords and most cheerful lyrics, and somewhere along the way something tragic eventually happens. Heaven forbid if I start in a minor key; the latest attempt there has brought me to write about alcoholism and drug abuse.


So what's the problem? Well, let me give an art analogy. There's a comedic way of looking at some of the obstacles an artist faces, usually expressed as a list of things not to do if you want to be successful. One of them is don't paint hens (roosters are more popular).


I think the same thing goes for music. What kind of music do people want to listen to all day? Love songs, happy songs, funny songs, songs that make you feel good, songs that make you want to dance. Those are the roosters. Every now and then people will put up with a hen, but typically only if it is spectacular: sad songs, angry songs, songs about death and dying, songs that remind you just how much your life really sucks.


So, if you notice you're always painting hens, what do you do to switch to painting roosters?

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Is it all right to keep writing in the same vein of thought and emotion?
I'd say yes, as long as you still have some new insight about that vein, thought, or emotion to share, and as long as you feel compelled to share it.


I'd venture to suggest that Johnny Rotten didn't necessarily feel compelled to write sentimental love songs. Of course, he's out on the fringe anyway, but even there he's got an audience.


You do run the risk of being seen as a one-trick pony after a while.

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