How we write songs

Chris and I didn’t write songs like other people write songs because we didn’t have access to the language (aka code aka slang) that every other artist has been using, nor knowledge of the framework around which this language hangs – framework in which Chris and I were actually centered. The set up may be depraved but you have to admit it’s clever.

Other artists code things in layers – even coding nonverbal sounds, beats, and chord progressions. Chris and I had no conscious access to any of this and so we wrote in a more straightforward manner. That said, there is still some complexity. For example, Chris wrote the songs on his 1986 album Moving To And Fro generally from the viewpoint of a teenage boy or young adult – but in a song like “Monster” he was actually writing from the viewpoint of a disapproving adult commenting on this teenage boy who spends all his time “drawing weird pictures” and playing electric guitar. Chris felt the phrase “electric guitar” was quaint and old fashioned – like I might think of the word “hyperlink” as quaint and old fashioned. There’s a line in the song about “smoking acid” which is I think an old cliché about people who don’t actually know how LSD is ingested. And the bit about “big red eyes moving to and fro” is about being stoned on marijuana. In coded language, the “red eyes” would indicate surveillance. Chris didn’t have that in mind writing, but others might have it in mind listening, because their background is different.

I think sometimes Chris would put in lines that sounded good, where he liked the rhyme, but in which meaning was secondary. I remember asking him to explain a line from his song “Unworthy” – “Tell me something true, and if it comes from you, I will believe the truth is all you knew” – he tried to explain it, but I think it was hard to explain. I think the sentiment was that – this song being likely directed toward his second wife, Denise – he wanted to believe this idea that she was radically honest and her example could make him a better man. In reality, she was not what he thought she was. Chris tended to self-blame a lot, and to absorb blame from others, and I think part of this was his heavy church upbringing and part of it was his way of being courageous and taking responsibility for everything that went wrong in his life. But part of this line might have just been about the way the words rhymed and flowed together. Chris was very musical.

I wrote the same way as Chris, except that I tended to rewrite and rearrange and try out different words, etc, whereas Chris would write out a song fully formed. Both of us tended to write from personas or different parts of our personality and/or as characters. I have a song called “minivan mom” for example which was about how I was feeling, but not at all about who I was or who I thought I really was. I think the term for this is “implied narrator” – in other words, the narrator of the song is a fictional persona. This I think is pretty standard. Where we differ from other songwriters is that we were unaware of the strange structure that were were born into, the language used to describe it, and the layers of deception within or cloaking around the structure and the language.

It’s weird to have gone through college and gotten a Masters Degree in English, as I did, without having this basic information about the use of coded language in art and music. It’s weird to have slogged through pages of critical theory where all minutae of text is analyzed from every angle, without this ever having been overtly discussed. I imagine if I were to go back to these analytical texts I’d find the coded language in them as well – code language analysis of coded language texts with all these meanings and motifs being analyzed all the while the code itself is never overtly discussed. Trying to comprehend this – what appears to be a fundamental dishonesty in higher learning – is one of the many challenges I’ve faced in recent years. At first I thought that this was the most radical thing about the structure around us – the near complete co-opting of language and it’s deep integration into western art and culture. Now I see that there are bigger issues, like global genocide.

As for the language issue, I eventually concluded that the symbolic coded language must have become ever more deeply engrained because of the nature of the situation. It’s not something that must be the way it is – it’s something that is the way it is because it serves a function. Part of the function is entertainment, but much of the function is secrecy, cover up, or exposure – but coded exposure. Usually a planned (or in progress) crime is exposed too late for it to be stopped.

To a large extent the code is the way it is because of what amounts to violent suppression of free speech and expression, and rewards offered for participation in and cover up of crime. Artists have information about crimes they are not able to share. If they did share this information, nothing would be done to prevent the crime, and the artist might endanger him or herself. This suppression of free speech and the associated patterns of crime should be of great concern.