We watched The Grammy’s the other night.
I have never watched the Grammy’s.
It was weird.
But the Fella and I were invited to a friend of his roommate’s to watch The Grammy’s and “The Walking Dead” (another program I have never watched). And the roommate’s friend was going on and on about how much she hates Taylor Swift and how amazing Adele is and how Adele’s latest album is so spectacular because she drew from her own pain after a horrible relationship/breakup and wrote those amazing songs. While I’m not arguing with her entirely plagiarized assessment of Adele’s music, this is what makes “21” so powerful – the music is amazing and the lyrics mean something to the person singing them, and nothing is more powerful or moving than raw emotion, but it got on my nerves and it got me thinking about Life Experience.
Taylor Swift writes bubblegum pop country music mostly not based on her own life experiences. She’s twenty two and she’s been working in the music industry since she was fourteen and she started trying at eleven. How much real actual life experience did she have before she became famous? Probably not all that much. Her early stuff is very high school. “Picture to Burn”, “Teardrops from my Guitar”, “Love Story”…. they’re little more than a teenage girl’s angsty, dramatic fantasy. I haven’t really heard any of her newer stuff, hopefully she and her music are maturing. Only time will tell. But she’s still a sweet, unassuming girl who certainly doesn’t deserve the criticism of a bunch of assholes shoveling back chili and beers in a NY apartment while she’s performing at the Grammy’s.
But that’s not the point: the point is, the best songs out there are based on real actual life experiences — doesn’t matter if those life experiences were silly or sophomoric or juvenile — if it happened to the person who wrote the song/is singing it then has power. The entire bus ride home from NYC I listened to female singer/songwriters starting with Adele and moving to Ingrid Michaelson, Bess Rogers, Jenny Owen Youngs, Allison Weiss, Garfunkel and Oates, and Leigh Jones. Most of these women, I am convinced, write music because they can’t not. They write to express themselves. They write to share their emotions with the world. And I thank them for it.
Leigh Jones has a song called “Old Guitar” in which she says she wishes she were his guitar, holding her in his arms. She wishes he’d touch her, love her like he does his instrument. I certainly hope its based on a real crush she had once in her life because it feels real, wistful and hopeful when you listen to the song. Allison Weiss writes most of her songs based on actual events in her life. She even titled one the date it happened. On her live albums she shares the stories and events, somewhat reluctantly, that inspired songs such as “July 25, 2007”, “Time” and “I Don’t Want To Be Here”. Bess Rogers’ song “Favorite Day” is very clearly about some dude she dated. Garfunkel and Oates sing about a guy who always brought his buddy on dates in “Me, You and Steve”. And Jenny Owen Youngs couldn’t have captured the shocking feeling of realizing you’re in love in quite the same sarcastic way if it hadn’t happened to her. I love these songs and these ladies who wrote them and their impact on me. They are honest and fair and true. I highly recommend each and every one of them whether you’ve heard of them or not (whether you can find them or not).
What does this have to do with me and my writing…. I started thinking about these women, many of whom are younger than I am, and how amazing their music is because of life experience and how I didn’t go to Grad School for writing or anything else because I realized at twenty two that I had no Life Experience outside of academia, and I had nothing to write about. I decided then that I needed to start doing something in my life and gain some knowledge of the world so when I write I am actually saying something, not just writing silly school girl fantasies.
It’s five years later and I have worked for four different companies, dated a few different guys, lived in four different states, made a ton of friends who are scattered across the world at the moment, fallen in love, fallen out of love, had my heart broken, and learned more about myself than I did the twenty two years previous. I feel now that I can realistically comment on life and growing up and growth and society and injustice and everything I see around me because of what I’ve experienced. For example: There was a college girl on the bus on my way to New York this past Friday who, amongst other things, sounds like she’s in a Dude Situation very similar to one I let happen to me a couple years ago and it was all I could do to not reach forward and give her some unsolicited advice.
I’ve come to realize a thing or two about myself and how I relate to both the world around me and how I interact with other people. At the moment I live with a couple in their 30s and their 2year old son. They are not where I am in my life. This weekend I spent it with early/mid 20s in grad school and extended adolescence. Neither are they were I am. I am somewhere in between and I am happy about being somewhere in between. I am happy to have had the experiences I have had and I’m happy Grad school hasn’t been one of them yet, I’m happy “the dating scene” in a large city hasn’t been one of them, I’m happy living in NYC hasn’t been one of them. And I am happy to feel inspired to write again…. all because of a weekend trip to see this man I like and watching the Grammy’s.