Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The following is an exerpt from an email from Chris Greenland. It's a response to our discussion on the declination of songwriting talent with age or success. There are some good thoughts here. I agree with just about everything except his describing Apple Venus as brilliant. In fact, I am tossing Partridge in with the pile of great writers who aren't doing so good anymore - but that's just me.

"- In addition to Brian's argument about money changing the writing style of pop/rock artists (The Who, Bono, Sting, Paul McCartney, etc.), I submit that simply age and circumstance does this to one person.

To quantify this even more microscopically, specifically I'm referring to the lessening of conflict that comes with age. If you become happily married, it's harder to write either pro or con love songs. A few years later you've become a dad. Your biggest worries are your mortgage, watching for diaper rash, and wondering what the hell your neighbor is doing with his chainsaw at three in the morning. Your biggest love is your new kid. Most songwriters instinctively know they're not a good enough writer to cover those topics with enough competence to make it interesting. And by that point, they have an audience that hems them in a bit with certain expectations. They want more fake-blues numbers, or elongated vocal notes in the chorus, or more mug shots of the artist in snappy shades.

There are, of course, artists who are either too talented for their own damn good to begin with, or either get conflict reintroduced into their lives on a regular basis. Andy Partridge's strike, divorce, loss of hearing, binge drinking, resulted in the brilliant Apple Venus albums. In the same seven years, Colin Moulding became a glassmaker and wrote five songs, then dropped out of songwriting nearly completely. Elvis Costello is another excellent example. The man is never without conflict for long, or a drive to do something he hasn't before and the audience be damned.

There are some people who seem to defy this law, but do not remain the better for it. (Paul McCartney's soulmate dies, out comes "Driving Rain"???)

Also...and this is somewhat tied into the lack-of-conflict reasoning...sometimes you just run out of things to say. The less imagination one has, the more this plays out in their songwriting."

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