Had two opportunities this week to reflect on the power of words from genres I don’t happen to write in. At a coffee-house open mic that’s dominated by young folk singers and rockers, a slam poet stood up toward the end, walked to the front of the space, and went right into a lengthy spoken-word/rant about the decades-long decline of MTV. He followed it with a moving piece about his gruff old father-in-law.
A couple of nights later we drove down to the Berkshires for a show by iconic Canadian Gordon Lightfoot. Fifty years after his first songs were released, he’s still in fine form. He was among a small handful of singers whose lyrics I actually listened to (and tried to figure out) when I first started paying attention to the radio back in high school. I listened to lots of music with my friends, but most of it just washed over me in a flood of Led Zeppelin or the Velvet Underground. At home, listening to quieter stuff like Gordon Lightfoot or Harry Chapin forced me into introspection. I needed both things at that point – unconscious release and focused inward thinking. Guess which style had the bigger influence?
Some nights when I have trouble writing, I just go to YouTube and seek out songs I love but haven’t heard in a while. It invariably inspires me and gets me ready to write. I have no musical ability myself, but it’s funny that music, especially the lyrics, always helps me in writing prose.