Friday, March 11, 2011

Searching for My Elton John: "Heaven"

This is my third post of lyrics, but the first one that is actually making its world premiere on WPFF. That is, these words have not been made available for human eyes other than my own until this moment. If you need me to drive over to your house and fan you like people sometimes do to themselves when they feel like they're going to faint from excitement, please let me know ASAP.

I decided last minute to add some extended pre-thoughts to this post, but it's looking like they are going to be posted as post-thoughts tomorrow. However, I will edit this post and insert them tomorrow in this spot right below this paragraph, so that they will seem to have been pre-thoughts all along, which they kind of were, since they are in my head already. So check back tomorrow.

added 3/11:
Back when I preached sermons, someone once said to me, "Never apologize before a sermon.  You undermine everything you're trying to say."  And disclaimers, this person said, were a form of apologizing.  I thought it was good advice.

Fortunately, today's post is not a sermon, 'cause I'm in a disclaiming mood.  Though I don't have enough readers on WPFF that very many people could ACTUALLY be asking these questions, I still kinda feel like addressing them prior to my post.

"What's with all the poems and lyrics?"
It's just what I've been doing lately.  Well, for a while, really.  I probably have about 2 dozen poems and lyric "starts" and even more fragments.  I'd like to finish a few before I start some more.  Part of the reason for WPFF was to give myself a kick in the butt to finish some of these.  If I could finish (and, as would naturally follow, post) say, 1 a month, I'd be pretty happy.  Add the "vault factor," i.e., me posting an oldie-but-goodie, about 1 time a month, that's about 2 a month (for an aspiring poet, I've always been very good at math).  Two posts a month out of nine--yeah, I can see how that's disproportionately slanted topic-wise.  But it's just what I've been working on.

"For a non-musical person, you sure do write a lot of so-called 'song lyrics'--what's with that?"
First off, I like you--you've got spunk.  Secondly, good point.  For a while, I've felt like a musical person trapped inside the body of a non-musical person.  As a result, I write songs, but the least musical part of them: the words.  Some of them have melodies attached to them, and I can peck out some of those melodies on the keyboard.  And the end result is half--or MAYBE two-thirds--of a song.  With "end results" like that, who needs middles, right?  But if any readers of WPFF have always thought of yourself as an Elton John looking for your Bernie Taupin--well, let me know.  And if you want to write music to any of these lyrics and run the finished product by me, I'd love to hear it.  If I like it, and you can secure a vocalist and a recording contract, I will be willing to split the royalties with you.

"In the meantime, why don't you just write more poems and fewer lyrics?  And is there a difference, even?"
Sometimes there is a difference, sometimes not so much.  If the lines and verses of a lyric that I'm writing get long, then--POOF!--it often magically becomes a poem.  And if  poem seems extra rhythmical, and if I find myself returning to an image or line repeatedly in a chorus-esque sort of way?  Maybe you see where this is going.  So, in a way, I kind of feel like the classification of what I write is discovered by me only as I go.

I read once in a "how to write songs" book that the words to a song are NOT just "poems set to music."  To some extent, I see what they are saying, but the author seemed a little absolute about it for my taste.  Dylan, Jim Morrison, some Springsteen--folks like that strike me as poets who are also gifted musicians, and in another life they could have been unknown poets rather than well-known musicians.

Which brings me to the other reason I've been leaning toward lyrics more than poems: I, and most other people, like songs more than poems.  There is poetry that I like, but I don't play readings of poetry on my stereo while I'm driving down a winding country road with the windows down.  Poems sung to complimentary music impact me in a greater way than just poems.  Not everyone is like me, of course, and I'm not trying to offend fans of poetry-sans-musical-accompaniment.  The feeling (to use a woefully generic yet effectively shorthand word) I get from a lyrically and musically profound song is likely the feeling that ANY artist in ANY medium aspires to inspire in their audience.  Other folks I'm sure experience and strive to impart that same sort of inspiration through paintings, stories, and what-have-you.  I suppose the method of expression that artists prefer usually corresponds to the method that they themselves are most inspired by AND are most gifted at (e.g., gifted painters are inspired by paintings and prefer painting as their artistic means of inspiring others).  Not always, of course.  And not so much in my case.  Hence, in my notebook is a strange stockpiling of shivering little lyrics, cold without a blanket of music to wrap them up in. 

"OK, so that addresses form--what about theme?  Your lyrics or poems or whatever (including 'Heaven' in this post) often seem kind of gloomy.  Can you do something about that?"
Probably I can.  This thematic bent is something I'm aware of.  I struggle with being not-joyful-enough more than I struggle with being too joyful, and that's obviously reflected in what I write.  This both a personality and a theological leaning.  Theologically, we live in a time when Jesus has come already and introduced his transforming power into the world; but in a time where he has obviously NOT finally, once-and-for-all done away with evil and suffering.  The phrase professional theologians have coined for our current condition is "already, not yet", short for something like, "We have already experienced the power of Christ, but not yet in its final fullness."  I tend to focus on the "not yet" half of that equation--yes, to a fault.  I need to remember to rejoice in the "already" without getting obsessing with the "not yet."  I think "leanings" one direction or the other are good, God-designed, and important, and this is part of the reason followers of God need community, so that the "already's" and the "not yet's" can challenge and encourage each other.  But my leanings sometimes turn into fallings.
I have intentionally started (and occasionally even finished!) poems and lyrics that intentionally lean the other direction in the "already".  Maybe I will re-strive to do that more deliberately.

As an aside: I do not believe Springsteen professes to be a follower of Jesus, so his concept of "already/not yet" is obviously framed differently than, say, mine is.  But it's curious to me that my first in-depth with familiarity with Springsteen was through his "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town" albums, which seemed to be his first self-conscious attempt to overcome his obsession with "not yet" and dive into the "already".  You can hear this in songs like "Real World," "Living Proof," "Leap Of Faith" ("heartache and despair got nothin' but boring"), and "Better Days" (the whole song, the lyrics to which you can read here).

The lyric in this post in particular is about as "not yet" as you can get.  The lines just came to me.  So I wrote them down over the course of weeks.  I considered inserting a bridge that acknowledges the "already" aspect of our existence.  I still may.

Why'd you go all e.e. cummings with the lower case letters in 'Heaven'?
It was an afterthought.  I typed it in that way, and just liked the way it looked.  I capitalized the "H" in the title.  Perhaps it was a subconscious, backdoor reference to the joy that we can "already" know.  Because even "when" (quotes to reference the exact word beginning each verse) things appear as they do, they are ultimately struggles of the lower-case variety compared to the capital-letter joy and hope of Heaven--the same joy and hope that can, indeed, trickle into our present existence.

That's all for today.



when joys fade like a rainbow,
shoved away by daily pains no
one can take away and no drug can heal or dull.
when by me friends’ lives orbit
too slow to just ignore but
too fast to grab and pour into and nourish both our souls

I know I will go be with you
I’ll be with you
yeah, I know I’ll be with you in heaven
and the things of this world
will grow dim, strangely dim
when I’m standing before you in heaven

when dreamers wake up early,
dreams aborted prematurely
gone, but drifting in the shadows like some undiscovered cure
when prophets dot the landscape
weeping, doubting that they can make
in this crowded, lonely world a speech to challenge or assure

I know I will go be with you
I’ll be with you
yeah, I know I’ll be with you in heaven
and the things of this world
will grow dim, strangely dim
when I’m standing before you in heaven

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