by Chris McGinty
Dear lyric writers everywhere, and their kitchen sinks,
I am writing to openly apologize for my former friend Miguel’s recent hateful articles concerning lyrics and his point of view that they are utterly unimportant in the musical process. He’s a fool. A fool I tell ya!
Love and kisses (and the occasional rhyme),
Eh, I guess I should elaborate, or Miguel will just think I’m talking smack that I can’t back up. Consider the rest of this one hell of a post-script.
Miguel starts out with a link to an NPR program. I have downloaded this program and will listen to it at work tonight. If there is anything relevant I’ll fit it in here somewhere, and probably write it backward just to confuse you.
I really am not writing an argumentative piece as I do when Miguel writes something stupid. This is a subject that really has very little to do with being right or wrong, because really there probably is no “most important” part of music. Nonetheless, I will counter a couple of his arguments, because I think he misses a couple of important points.
First of all my position: I don’t really believe there is a “most important” part of music. If this was the case then all music would have absolutely one thing in common. You could say notes, or rhythmic time, or maybe key (even if the key changes throughout the song) but if all music uses these factors then they would all have to be the most important. And this doesn’t even account for experimental noise used as music. I do think lyrics are important though, and clearly I believe they are more important than Miguel believes. But don’t take my word for it, we can simply attack Miguel and take his word for it and prove him wrong.
Miguel brings up a quote on You Tube. The author of the quote was perplexed that people only cared whether the song rocked or not, but were unconcerned with the message. Taken with the lyrics as a positive this could mean that there are some amazing lyrics out there and you’re missing it. Taken with the lyrics as a negative this could mean that you’re listening to a song that may sound cool, but is about things that are socially irresponsible (like glam rock’s presumed objectifying of women) and by listening to it you’re promoting that irresponsible attitude. Allow me to illustrate this in two ways, both that stress lyrical importance.
My dad told me the other day that he didn’t like rap. He conceded that he liked Run DMC and other rap from that era. It was just at the point that lyrics started discussing “killing people” and cussing all the time that he got turned off. I did ask him what is the difference between discussing it in song and discussing it in books and movies. He said there was no difference, but nonetheless there is a whole genre of music that he doesn’t really like because of the lyrics.
I saw Gene Simmons interviewed on The Henry Rollins Show. He discussed why it is that rap is the most popular music now. In his opinion, rock ‘n’ roll lost much of its audience when it stopped discussing scoring sexually and making lots of money. He said that rock and roll stopped, and rap started, and that’s the kind of thing that appeals to audiences. I don’t know if he’s right or not, but it does give you a reason to stop and consider what he’s saying.
As a counterpoint to the comment on You Tube, my old friend Mike Ratliff who appeared in Sniffles (sniff) Episode One as the guitar playing native, felt that Smashing Pumpkins became a lesser band when Billy Corgan started concentrating more on being a lyricist than being an instrumental song writer. Another way of putting it may be that the songwriting became a little more straightforward and that the sprawling musical interludes were less and less prevalent.
Not surprisingly, I’m sitting somewhere in the middle of all this mess. I love well composed lyrics. I love straight forward verse – chorus – verse music. I also love songs that stretch out to eight, ten, twenty minutes, you know whatever, that have amazing and lush musical fills that go all over the place.
Funny enough I played “Blame Hoffman/Rosetta Stoned” by Tool for Miguel, and he was like, “Tool has this problem where they start playing, and then realize they’ve misplaced the ending of the song, and it takes them a half an hour to find it.” This is possibly my favourite song that Tool has ever written, and for me it’s a combination of its flawless instrumental execution and some of the best lyrics I’ve ever had the joy of looking up to figure out what the hell he’s saying.
In paragraph two of Miguel’s Part One… oh boy. Yeah, I’m probably going to have to do this in parts. To be fair though, as I go on there will be less points to make paragraph to paragraph, because some of what I say will be general and I won’t have to go over it again. Miguel brings up the classical music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and others. It’s his way of saying, “See how can lyrics be the most important thing in music when these timeless classical peeps is all kickin’ it instrumental?” What Miguel fails to do, because it’s counter to his particular point (mind you he is right) is to look at the other side of the equation while he’s at it (mind you I’m right with what I’m about to say too.)
The fact is that long ago song was used as a way to pass down stories, it was called oral tradition or something like that (see I’m so researchical.) Whereas lyrics are counterproductive to instrumental music, in these old traditions, lyrics were crucial.
I think the actual point of Miguel’s articles is that he doesn’t appreciate lyrics as an art form as much as some folks out there. He uses the lyrics of popular music to show that lyrics that are sometimes lazy, unimaginative, uninspired, and sometimes even lacking consistent theme, can be sung as though they are all of these things and more. In part two (or three or four or twelve) I’ll examine some of his examples, and make some points concerning lyric writing.