Song is our subject this week. Song, a complex and simple thing that goes from the ear straight to the heart – a primitive, sophisticated, tribal, private, joyous and tragic thing. For our purposes, there are at least three ways of tackling it.
1 Write about the act of singing. A ragged family rendition of Happy Birthday, a drunken get-together when you sang your way home, a lullaby, a familiar hymn…. Perhaps you joined the rugby club in a rousing version of Eskimo Nell, shared the tribal holler of a football chant or overheard a little child singing nursery rhymes. Maybe your grandmother, like mine, was a Methodist with hymns hard-wired into her bones. Singing can also be a glorious relief from the suffering which can’t be expressed in words.
2 Write the song itself – or more precisely, a poem which calls itself a song. In poetry the word implies a mood, an intention, rather than a very metric and repetitious form. You don’t want your elegy to sound like a Gilbert & Sullivan number. Even so, a song usually has repetition and structure, no matter how simple and joyous it is. Yours may be a battle song, a song of loss or of praise for your new hoover; an exhortation to a friend to come through a hard time. It can be an anthem for a cause, more memorable than a politician’s soundbite; a moment from myth which unfurls into comment on the contemporary; or a moment of perfect silliness – though examination of this famous piece may reveal something more than nonsense.
3 Write about a recorded or famous song that has meaning for you. Our Song; the national anthem; the moment when Kate Bush took to the stage. Beware: this approach is a minefield of sentimental tosh. “Do you remember that fantastic moment at the Bob Dylan concert when we all sang together…..?” Nope. So make it matter to the reader who wasn’t there, as well as to the writer.
Off you go, with a pen in your hand and a song in your heart. But not this one. That belongs to my dad.