necessarily equal and one often requires the suspension of the other. This may not be
the case in higher math or on Wall Street (or, actually, it may work there as well, but I’m
clueless about that) but it is an immutable “truth” in art and music that facts are not
necessarily the best indicators of the deepest human experience.
The table where you found the suicide note, the cup of coffee that turned cold because
you were distracted in a painful reverie staring out the old wavy-glass window at the rain
dripping off the eaves, the seashell left in the coat pocket from the last time you were at
that favorite spot at the ocean, when it all came clear that you were at the right place
with the wrong man, the letters, the photos, the marbles and jewels -- all these physical, material, real-world artifacts carry poetic weight and should be used liberally.... These are the facts that convey truth to me. The exact words he said, who was right or wrong, whether he relapsed on the 7th or the 10th, why exactly she does what she does, the depth and weight and timbre of the feelings, whether Love Heals Everything -- these aren’t facts, these are ever-changing blobs of emotional mercury, and when you are working in rhyme, it can be much more powerful and resonant to write about the shards of the coffee cup than about the feeling that caused him to throw it across the room. You are better off moving the furniture than you are directly analyzing the furniture maker....
We are so deeply limited by language, and so ennobled by it. Songs are the attempt to
convey what is under and behind language, and so it is counter-productive, if not
counter-intuitive, to clutch at exactitudes of circumstance that retreat further in meaning
the more desperate we become to quantify them….
But in the space where truth and fact diverge, a larger question arises: if the facts don’t
lead us to meaning, what does? Perhaps a willingness to live with questions, not
answers, and the confidence to ascribe meaning where we find it, with our own instincts as guide. I should approach my writing as if I am meeting someone for the first time, and have no idea what he will say or what kind of mood he is in. If you already know entirely what you want to say, and want to document an “honest” rehash of what
happened and why, then I still maintain that you are better off taking up jurisprudence. I
appreciate my readers’ instinct to protect my songwriting students and their attempts to
stay honest, but in songwriting, as in painting, photo-realism is only one style; it is not the litmus test for everything else. In many great songs a larger, universal modicum of truth is revealed and resonates on a personal level with the listener, even when the facts make no sense at all. Sometimes especially when the facts make no sense at all. And, if everything goes well, you can also dance to it.