How do we build a new societal construct which works?
My thoughts go along the lines of- ok none of the old models have worked… but what nobody has tried yet (apart from some people in Denmark in the Netflix program called Happy which I’d recommend!) is deliberately forming community. Not off grid, not too big, with people having autonomy to a certain extent, and, very important, their own private space in their house. People now are living in amongst populations so big they are choosing their friends (often online) but don’t know their neighbours. The people still would have jobs (although maybe living wage could be utilised a bit too) but they wouldn’t have to cook very often, and when they did they would cook for everyone and they would eat together. People with children would have a) instant bank of potential babysitters and b) a great way of getting a bit of space while the children play together. It has been proven that people live longer with strong networks of friends. In today’s youth obsessed culture we are desperate for our elders but we don’t know it, meanwhile as people age, being subjected to the ‘concensus reality’ of the absurd media farce, are becoming more and more fearful of whatever the media is telling them to fear This time! What older people’s minds do, when not being subjected to right wing propaganda from all angles, is they think more broadly and far more lovingly than ever. It does still happen, these days, but generally only when they know they will die. They come back to what really matters in their lives and that is their connection to love, their community, usually just family by that age because life isolates old people now. We need them. They need us. I don’t understand the separation.
Human minds are only really ok with remembering and being close with about 120 people at any one time. That’s why I suggested building intentional communities. Not to go and live in a tree with no internet shitting in holes like fucking twats, but to actually think about what we DO want. A new structure we actually do want from society. And we need to start it small, because global structure is far too big. We have the internet for that. We are lucky because for the first time there is a collective human consciousnesses. For the first time we don’t need to conquer anyone in order to spread our ideas. We just need to make sure our ideas are of high enough quality, well enough expressed, that they get spread around. I do actually really like the idea of growing my own food though, regaining control over what is going into my body. I’m sure parents would feel similar if they knew about Monsanto or any of the modern farming practices in which poison is used to grow our food. Look at how broken the meat industry is. Pet pig, anyone?
New paradigm can be anything we want it to. Now the old system is blatantly failed. So we build it ourselves. And community is a necessity we are being told to forget. If we went to intentional community, as maybe a city or just a trial in a village somewhere first, I would worry about fighting or a sort of feudal competition between communities, but because of the internet now, we can all be linked. We could have an online voting system for justice. (Like jury service but you wouldn’t have to be there, you could Skype, perhaps.) The prison system needs massive reform to be effective.
The thing that puts people off about intentional community is the old idea of a commune. That too is part of an outdated paradigm. We are modern humans. Nobody I know wants to give up the internet to go live in a tent! (Okay actually Kimwei wants to live in a tent but she still has an iPhone.)
Point is, things can be totally doable now off grid anyway. Solar panels, wind blah blah, point is, we can do free/cheap energy now. A gym could power us for Christ’s sake! There are ways we can sort it out with a very good quality of life for everyone. How about we do work on certain projects in shifts? For sewage work, for example, which nobody in their right minds would choose to do, maybe we could rotate so each adult between 18 and 40 does 4 weeks a year or something. On rotation with other jobs which are nicer but just as necessary. Growing crops. Tending to animals. Watching out for the children. Cleaning everything. Running a drama project or an entertainment schedule for everyone. Taking on an apprentice in any of these fields when you’ve specialised for a few years. You could even have a rotation where you just have a month of no pressure, do whatever you want, or nothing, or work on being creative somehow. Shorter work days.
Anyway, that’s my idea. I have no idea how to tackle the corporate/elitist/fascist beast that controls our planet, but I have an idea how to take our power back as individuals and communities, and with that, people will have what they need. That is enough for now I think.
How do we build a new societal construct which works?
Before I realised that the identity and entire personality is a (completely necessary) construct, I believed in myself.
That is to say, I believed in what I perceived as myself, but in fact I believed in my personality.
I had no self-belief though, which I would categorise as something utterly different these days. I still don’t know about self belief actually. Maybe it’s something to brainwash myself with in meditation, or maybe it will never happen. Maybe, to believe in the ego self, the personality construct, is to believe inherently in separation from source, the whole: to believe in “otherness” as opposed to duality. Maybe though, self belief comes when one lets go of the idea of otherness entirely, something I’m trying to do but still finding difficult because I’ve only got other people’s word for it, essentially. Maybe I need to take some drugs and sort that shit out. First hand, as they say. Or maybe I could meditate and somehow get there without any assistance. I don’t really like the drug plan though, in honesty. It feels like I need to get there first on my own, and then the rest is playtime, drugs or not. I’m not big on narcotics apart from chocolate.
Somehow, somewhere along the road, I decided to ditch an idea that I’d had floating around in my subconscious mind that I was responsible for the contact in all of my friendships, and that if I wasn’t the one to make contact, I would lose these people entirely. In essence, a neediness in regards to social identity. Unfortunately perhaps, in letting go of that layer of my internal-personality-onion, it meant I had to also shrug off the idea of being nice by default and the idea of being liked. This has meant that, for the last year or so whilst this has been playing out in my varying degrees of consciousness or lack thereof, I have been utterly without the protection and safety of what I would call “a social identity.” Basically the social side of my personality just up and left me, (or maybe I left it?) and the rest wasn’t enough to keep me afloat in potentially awkward situations.
Now, for those of you who have known me over the last 12 years or so, you might find that quite difficult to believe… I used to give the impression I was somewhat unflappable and I used to pride myself on being able to defuse awkward/potentially awkward situations with ease, so much so that I would play with it and seem shameless. It was genuinely funny and was always done with a loving attitude, but nevertheless it was a compensation for the neediness aspect that I kept hidden as best I could.
Now though – NO idea how to do that. No idea how to behave unless I put a social mask on. Occasionally the mask will either slip (oh god oh god I’ve got to say something here what is expected of me right this moment what would be polite oh my god what would a normal person say what would I used to have said what would someone funny have said I once said something similar here shall I say it again would that be appropriate in this situation oh god the moment has passed and now there’s a weird halting gap in the conversation and the timing is off have they noticed maybe not probably they have oh god) OR the old mask will very briefly take over, let me say something WILDLY INAPPROPRIATE and then FUCK THE FUCK OFF, leaving my paddle-less self half way up shit-creek.
So that explains why I’ve been freaking out so badly before and after gigs. (Dread, tears, but weirdly not nerves. It’s actually fine when I get on stage because I have confidence as a musician.) It explains why I’ll fully intend to go out and see people and then bottle out just before I leave. It explains why basically I haven’t left my house unless I really had to.
The fact I left my social identity also explains why, on a few occasions I have met up with people… It’s like I’ve forgotten how to speak… I’m just listening, enjoying their company in the moment, vibing with them, but not having any output myself other than on an energetic level unless I make myself say things, and even then, those things are different to what past versions of myself would have said.
So. I’ve been hiding. Snake without skin. Observer.
The realisation came in piece by piece that my personality was not the enemy. The part of my personality that is nice by default is a really useful piece of me. I just don’t need the part that needs to be liked all the time! Nice by default is good, actually, but I don’t Have To Be Nice if it’s not sitting right with me in those circumstances.
But now, my friends have contacted me… as I feared they would not. I have shed the part of me that fears their loss. It’s more like I know they will come and go now, and that’s good. I know their lives will change and move and so will mine, and that is as it should be.
Gradually, not all at once or steadily, the personality self is coming back to me. Patchwork now. I can choose the design this time. Each piece a choice. Washed clean by attention.
But bear with me, all my loves, because it is a patchwork in progress and some of the pieces are in shadow.
I Don’t know why I used this image, but I really liked the weird little metal nipples… Anyway, on with the blog post!
How not to be stuck in a rut? If your songs are suffering because you keep repeating old formulaic devices you always use, how the heck are you gonna get interesting again, damn you?!
I’ll suggest a few things now that will hopefully blow your crazy little song-wig.
- Just play. That is absolutely essential for music to have the freedom it needs to breathe. Kids are SO creative when they play, because they don’t impose any boundaries on themselves, and there are no such things as mistakes – everything is learning. So if you make a “Mistake” whilst going through your song, try and remember what you did, and make “Playing Music” be music at play, not some super-serious rehearsal. Dick around more. Do more stupid shit that might not work. Don’t worry because everything’s gonna work out fine, even if you don’t get anything ‘Productive’ done for that session. You’ve been building your skills that whole time, and there is no such thing as wasted time when it comes to creativity, as long as you’re playing.
- If you usually do one thing to start writing a song ~ do another thing! If you usually write chords first, try making up a riff. If you riff first, start with a bare acapella melody, or lyrics. I find when I’ve just got home from work and nobody is in ~ I have a little sing to myself in my kitchen while I’m making myself a cuppa, and sometimes it turns into an actual song! (Mostly it just makes me think about key changes though.)
- Don’t spend all your time polishing a frankly exhausted turd, go do something else! The turd will go fertilise some roses you can show off at a later date. Flogging a dead horse is a really good way to become covered in rotting viscera. (You may quote me.)
- If you play guitar, mess with the tunings. DADGAD is great, so is open D Major – (DADF#AD) DADF#GD is pretty fun too but not for the faint-hearted! Also, get a spider capo or a 3 or 4 string capo… The possibilities are so limitless! Because you might not be used to those tunings, working by ear becomes the dominant way of doing things, and therefore chord progressions become more instinctive and less habitual or formulaic.
- Don’t overthink.
- Go for a walk, tidy your kitchen, have a nice relaxing poo, do some free-writing, go spruce yourself up a bit, or give your pet some smooch-time for ten minutes and get your brain out of expectation mode. If you’re anything like me, creativity comes out of freedom, not obligation. Do something that is different from your normal approach to writing.
- Let the ideas cook. Don’t even try unless it’s ready, when you’re writing lyrics. Do riffs instead and work on instrumental skills. I have been finding more and more that unless I have something particular I want to say, it’s best not to say any old shit that springs immediately to mind. Having said that, for over 12 years of songwriting, I HAD to say any old shit that came to mind, because I tended to believe everything my brain threw (up) at me, and I didn’t know what I thought about XYZ unless I’d either said it to someone or written a song about it. (Duh. God life was so hard when I thought I had to believe all my thoughts! I guess that’s the difference between an external and internal emotional processor.)
- Don’t let the Internal Critic have its say until you’ve got loads of ideas down ~ then you can cut your song down to size. There is no point in being precious about keeping a verse that just doesn’t quite work. Get rid of it. If it wants to be said (and it has to be in that particular song) you can always edit it into shape. What works best for me is getting quantity, rather than agonising over quality, and then making sure that the cream of the crop is used to show your song off in the best light. (Wow ~ overuse of sayings. Don’t over use sayings. Ha!)
- One thing I did that really inspired me to write some of my best songs is just to write a really long list beforehand. I wrote down every single thing I could think of about a certain subject ~ The Elements ~ But starting with half a page of words for water, then moving onto everything I could come up with to do with air, then earth, then fire. By the end of it I’d managed to get my brain into puzzle-solving mode, and I came up with a couple of my best metaphors ever.
- Along the same lines, either research a topic that catches your interest already, and just make a notes page in your notebook about it, or just use your notebook to doodle in, and write inside the doodle, incorporating it into the structure somehow. This is also sort of getting your brain into puzzle-solving / free creativity mode, and it works wonders to shut the internal critic’s shitty little face hole. If you rely on writing to happen, that’s a really good way of accidentally telling it to fuck right off. It’s like herding cats. But I do hope those are some nice ways you can get the songs to come to you, so let me know how you get on in the comments!
Hope that helps, song-buddies! Until next time.
Remember you are love.
Confidence, like grammar, is the difference between
knowing your shit
and knowing you’re shit.
As someone who doesn’t necessarily find confidence easy to come by, as a musician or in general, I often find that when I am actually confident, I fear that I’m coming across as overtly narcissistic and rubbish as a human. This week however, I’m struggling with the opposite end of that particularly slippery spectrum… I notice that my confidence crumbles if I don’t perform enough, and unfortunately, through chance and circumstances beyond my control, my last 3 gigs have been cancelled.
I realised a while ago that in order to be confident, I need to make sure I have given myself the best opportunities possible to actually be good at stuff. This means, as I said in my last post, practise as much as I need to. This also means put myself in places emotionally that make me feel good about my music. I recommend going to open mic nights for this, if you don’t have much of a chance to do regular gigs. I notice personally that if I haven’t performed for a week or two, suddenly I forget that actually I feel natural on stage now, and I revert to my default state of ‘self-conscious-and-rather-chubby-stuttering-paranoid-15-year-old.’ If you’ve never been one of these, I really recommend that you don’t try it any time soon. When I was said painful adolescent, however, I was lucky enough to receive the very best advice about manufacturing confident behaviour that I think I’ve ever had:
“Fake it until it’s real.”
This is actually backed up scientifically by an amazing Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy: ‘Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,’ which I sincerely recommend for anyone who might get nervous about anything ever in the world.
Also, I’ve been super confident at some stages of my life, and at those times I’ve thought to myself: “Yasssss!! I’ve finally managed to be confident! I’m going to be like this for EVER!!”
And gone around in some variety of glowing chutzpah haze until the next time I don’t perform for a while (or indeed until maybe I look at a picture of one sad kitten too many on the internet, and find myself quivering in paroxysms of self-doubt for seemingly very little reason.) The thing is, mentally I haven’t done much differently than when I’m a radiant picture of self trust and certainty.
Cultivating a mental attitude of confidence is always going to be a work in progress.
The same very wise and dear man who gave me the wonderful advice on confidence when I was a teenager had something more to tell me in my early twenties. He said that even he (as a successful musician and composer for many years) constantly has to monitor and encourage his own confidence. He said it is a lifelong thing. ~ This newsflash, coming from someone whose work I really value and respect, (who has a collection of rather bodaciously shiny gold disks on his wall) and who I really see as a musical success, works as the ultimate validation for me in times of anxiety.
So actually, the first picture I posted was a big fat lie. Everything isn’t necessarily going to be okay… Confidence will be a constant struggle for some people, and may be a piece of piss for others. There is one thing we can do though ~ we can make it okay in our own minds, by accepting that it will always be a challenge, and that this is normal even for very successful people. So in that respect, everything is going to be okay.
Remember, you are love.
(If anyone has anything to add to this, or has any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment!)
To celebrate my first double figured blog post, here are my thoughts about how to perform like you have just become a marvellous and transcendent unicorn.
I’m writing this as if I’m writing it to myself ten years ago, so I apologise if some of this is basic…
Firstly ~ and blindingly obviously ~ you practise like a fiend. You practise like an absolute fucker. If you don’t practise enough, you will have not given yourself enough of an opportunity to be as awesome as the transcendent unicorn you know in your heart you are capable of becoming. This could ultimately affect you psychologically, probably more so than the lack of actual practise.
You practise until your facial and vocal muscles know the songs better than your actual memory. Then you practise more than that.
You make sure you have newish strings on your guitar or you will keep going out of tune on stage, and that is always a bugger. Remember to stretch your strings a few times and then tune back up until they stay tuned. Always have a spare tuner on stage. That goes for capos and plectrums and strings.
You make sure that you have sung for at least 45 minutes the day before, and for at least 45 minutes earlier in the day before the gig. Then somehow magically your voice is still a bit warm from the day before, and it is much easier to control. If it is a big gig, practise more. Don’t strain your voice though. Try not to smoke, you penis-breath!
Remember that when you are on stage you will never be faultless. You are human and that is great. Your songs are also relatively unknown, so if you fuck them up, generally only you will have a clue, which leads me to my next point.
I’m so glad I got good at looking like nothing has gone wrong when everything has gone wrong!
If I’m playing solo, and I cock up a chord sequence, I can just do that shit again and people will hopefully think I’ve done a segue into some avant-garde, hyper-intellectual jazz… Unless they know me, of course, or have read this ~ in which case they know I’ll be playing it twice because I’ve bolloxed it up.
I’m so glad that if it’s obvious to everyone that I’ve totally screwed up on stage, I can do a little cheeky smile, carry on, and people will remember how hard it is to be a live performer and hopefully not think that I’m massively shite generally as a person. If I personally start to think I’m massively shite generally as a person, it means I haven’t meditated enough and I’ve forgotten how to feel fantastic. I can say things like this with some authority as I have been slacking lately and it’s really obvious to me because of how shitty I feel.
Meditate. Come ON.
Chakras open before you get on stage.
The on stage banter is planned, to some extent. You will work out anecdotes for your songs and deliver them fluently as if off-the-cuff. Quite a big difference between professionals and hobby performers is their comfortability talking to an audience.
Take no shit.
Remember to acknowledge people properly when they pay you a compliment. Their comment is more for them than for you. It is best that you nod and thank them gracefully, even if you felt awful about your standard of performance. The urge, I know, is to reflexively elbow them in the throat and screech: “Did you not even HEEEEAR me?! I was performing at the musical standard of an arid and dried up mud-flat in sub-Saharan wilderness! That wall over there is far more entertaining than me! I have had POCKET LINT with more stage presence!!” But it really is rather better for everyone if you refrain from active self-sabotage, look them in the eyes and thank them. Eventually this becomes genuine.
In order to really become the magical space-chicken you truly are, practise making the atmosphere. It may sound strange, but as the focus of the attention of the audience, you can be responsible for holding the space for them. You can focus on unfolding big angel wings and encompassing the space, or you can build the love and energy in the room by imagining that this shape (toroid)
is circulating the mood you want to create out of your heart. I’m sure that some people do this naturally. When I discovered this circulation system that the planet uses with the energy of its magnetic poles, it seemed logical at the time that people could also use this shape to circulate their own energy. This is also the shape of the magnetic field of your heart. I tried out imagining the shape when I was writing the song Strong, particularly the chorus, and it seems to help me perform it… When I remember to think of it!
Applause is best acknowledged for a few seconds as well. You can tell the difference in experience between a performer who ends their song abruptly without acknowledging applause, and someone who lets the audience show appreciation, and appreciates the audience back.
Remember, you are love.
I was curious to see what my friends wanted to know about songwriting, so I asked them ~ Here’s what I found out!
Bill B ~ What part does mystery play in your writing?
What a grand question to start off with! Mystery is always present in any art that grabs my attention. This counts for everything! TV shows I enjoy have to have a bit of intrigue otherwise I can feel my mind rotting as I watch them. I like to think that most of my work has a level of ambiguity to it that makes the subject(s) of the songs applicable to anyone who is willing to engage with the music.
Adrian B ~ What are your influences?
Like I said earlier, the musiocians I know personally are my biggest influence, however I do totally have a big sloppy great song-crush on Ane Brun, who is just always going to be miles ahead of me with everything she does. It’s really amazing to discover that a songwriter (whose music I like) is on a similar path psychologically. Well. I say that… But how could I ever know, right? Because I’m just projecting my own stuff on her work. But yeah, it sounds quite similar, and very much helped me to realise a few epiphanies along the way. She gives me a goalpost to head for in terms of which place to write and live from. ❤ Other really great influences of mine are Imogen Heap, Sia, Ani DiFranco, Tom Lehrer, Kirsty McColl, Dolly Parton, Cole Porter, The Beatles, Agnes Obel, Portishead, Bob Marley, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Regina Spektor, Macy Gray, and my cats.
Ulrika ~ What would be your feelings about other people singing your songs? I recently had someone tell me (after the fact) that they had sung one of my songs in a folk club and I had this odd mixed feeling. Feeling flattered but at the same time “but it’s myyyyyyy babyyyyyy”. Kind of leads on to what emotions, memories, thoughts charge your songs. Would love to know your take on it 🙂 xx
I would be really interested to hear other people’s takes on my songs. I’ve had a couple of really great singers do my songs before, but I’m not sure they were doing it because they were emotionally invested in the music itself, so it’s hard to judge it. I would love it it someone did a really analysed and emotionally integrated version of my songs. There really would be no higher form of compliment. I’d be fascinated to see where they take it! If there’s anyone reading this who really wants to do a cover of one of mine, please do!
Sue A ~ where do you get your best ideas?
I pretend that I am someone who inspires me, and I write as if I am somebody who is a better writer than I think I am.
Joe B ~ Not many songs are happy, why is this?
Not many people are happy when they write I guess. (Not many people are happy?) Most often for people songwriting is a cathartic way to express hidden messages from the subconscious, and the subconscious generally doesn’t wax lyrical about how marvellous it all is because it’s probably trying desperately to tell them that they are neglecting themselves in some way that needs some attention. Because happy songs are great, but they don’t necessarily inspire growth and change in the same way that a classic weepy does, whatever form that may take. I want to listen to, and write, music that expands the whole fucking universe inside me.
Remember, you are love.
If you also have a songwriting question you would like me to feature on the blog, either contact me by email or post in the comments and I’ll see what I can do!
Thank you to everyone who asked me questions! I have had a really good time answering them!
A good song is like an ecosystem. It supports growth.
Although obviously ecosystems are vastly complex, and have various symbiotic systems in place to keep equilibrium, they do what great songs do. Every element comes together to create the right environment for every other element, and the cycle of life perpetuates.
Do excuse me if I am overtly verbose this evening, I’ve had a few drinks.
There are rhythmic choices you can make which influence the meter of the lyrics, the meter then affects which kind of melody you can use, which affects the chord choices, thus pretty much affecting the whole songwriting process. And that’s without going into how changing the melody has an effect on the song’s meaning, and emphasis on certain syllables / words rhythmically can totally change the ‘grammar’ of how the song comes across, without changing a word of the lyrics.
Some say I think about this too much. And they would of course be right. But also, other people think about sport this much. Or taxidermy. So.
Anyway, about the thing.
What makes a mediocre song.
If there is too little in the way of melody, or if the melody is too repetitive, then I get bored easily. If the rhythm is lacking in drive, same thing, however this doesn’t always have to be the case. (With any so called ‘rule’ in songwriting, the opposite can often be just as true. It’s a personal preference thing really I guess, as it is with all art forms.) If the chords are too obvious, I tend to think I’m listening to Oasis and I start to want to stab pens into my eardrums, however, a two chord song is one of the hardest things you can pull off as a songwriter, and I thoroughly recommend that you try it! If the lyrics don’t quite catch my imagination, because they are not as visual or sensory as they could be, or they just repeat or bumble around a topic without any real insight or self discovery, I get bored. Basically, I get bored of songs really easily. What makes a GOOD song, then, is something quite rare.
~ On a side note, I just called my cat a “little Honklehooter.” Just thought that was a particularly good term for that reprehensible animal as he bit my sleeve. If you should need it, I give you my express permission to coin the term. ~
What makes a good song.
If the song supports growth in the listener, it has done what it is supposed to do. If it has connected the listener to a previously unacknowledged aspect of their emotional reality, and increased their insight just a little, however consciously acknowledged that may be, the song is working. If the song makes someone happy, it is doing a good job.
All of the elements of the song supporting each other, but still leaving enough space for it to breathe.
Unless of course you DO live more than once, but that’s not a good enough reason to cop out, so just get on with it already!
Balance is key.
Art reflects life innit.
More alcohol for me. My cat has shunned me. I think I got sweetcorn on him.
The Test Of Time.
If you can get to the stage where you can write from a place that is so true to you that you can engage emotionally with the song EVERY time, for years, then you have won at life. If you find your songs going in and out of relevance, that’s fine, as long as you can convincingly deliver them with consistent emotional presentation. If you find other people’s songs that resonate with you in a consistent way, then THEY have won at life and you need to try and figure out just how the shiny great fuck they did that! I guess my advice for figuring out how to write coherent and emotionally congruent songs would be: Get to know yourself better. Simply that. If you can meditate, do that as often as you think of it. If you can’t, don’t worry. You’re already doing what you need to do. Just write as much as you can. Be where you are in life and try to hold yourself in equal regard to your loved ones.
Remember, you are love.
My cat has fallen asleep on my feet.
Symbolism ~ a really good way to say what you mean without being super obvious.
Since I was a kid, I have been fascinated with hidden meanings. It’s always seemed to me that there is so much MORE to the world if you just take the time to look for it. That could be summed up by the phrase: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” And I both love and hate not knowing things. I suspect that is because I am a human.
When I was 16, one of my teachers was showing us how to analyse TV adverts. He said that the script, the colour schemes, the little pauses in the speech, the font and size of writing, the choice of camera angle, lighting, music, background sounds, the race, age, costumes and face types of the actors had all been designed specifically, methodically and deliberately in order to target the emotions of their purchasing demographic ~ to get their audience to want to buy their product. Now, I realise that in one way, this is a totally fucking obvious thing to say, but at the time, the idea, to me, that so much thought could go into something that taps into people’s minds on a subconscious level was a total revelation. It seemed way more significant than my previous understanding of advertising, which, until that day, went like this: “Here’s a thing! Buy the thing!” The fact that psychological human truths were being exploited by these companies to say such fucking stupid materialistic bullshit blew my furry little mind. They can affect people on an emotional level very easily. For me, it’s mainly their use of music. That was the day I began to discover what a big, powerful (and terrifying) machine the media really can be. Over the course of the next decade, watching the media affecting people in various ways (6 years ago my TV broke and I haven’t missed it) I had one thought which has surfaced again and again regarding symbolism and its affect on people, namely: “If the media can do it, so can I.”
I will never forget that day at school, or the teacher who helped me to open my mind.
Another person who really helped me open my mind was Ane Brun. I met her at one of her gigs in Feb ’16 and did a fairly passable impression of a stuttering twat. She is a Norwegian singer and an excellent songwriter, and her work is the most influential art I have ever had the privilege to experience. I don’t fangirl all over the place too easily, so here’s why I mention her. The woman uses the most open language possible, and English isn’t even her first language. Wherever they are emotionally in their lives, she writes in a way that allows the listener to project their own version of events over whatever she is saying. It’s phenomenally skillful. It also only works as songwriting providing the listener already shares a certain level of understanding with her. If the listener isn’t receptive in the right way, it can totally turn them off. I was one of those kinds of listeners when she brought out her It All Starts With One album. Before she had released that, she wrote perfectly nice songs. She has a distinctive voice and a way with visual imagery and melody/harmony and key change that I found very pleasing as a fellow songwriter. When I didn’t understand the album at first listen, I felt disappointed. None of the obvious images were there, and if they were, they didn’t create a linear structure of narrative, they just sort of hung there, awaiting confirmation, disjointedly. Or so I thought at the time. My own misanthropy had led me to such a dark mental place that I could no longer experience the symbolism from her work that I had so thirsted for as a kid. In order to interpret Ane’s new album for myself, my whole life had to be rearranged. This was in 2012.
I went away to another city for a weekend, and in the process had the most profound experiences I could ever hope to acquire! One of those was that I realised I had to start meditating. I’d tried meditation before, but had always hated it and given up within minutes because it seemed pointless. Now, when I tried it, I really needed it. My mind was working at such a pace that I could be having two conversations with the same person at once and they wouldn’t notice. Or maybe I was just going a bit crazy. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The point is, in meditation, I realised that if I focussed my attention on my individual Chakras, (for the non-hippies, this means certain energy-centres within the human body) I could get a whole load of information from them about what was going on with me, physically, mentally and emotionally. The colours of the Chakras revealed themselves to me at the time as well. Suddenly everything made sense about what made each Chakra relate to each colour. Colour symbolism played a big part in my life then. To this day I let my eyes decide which is their favourite colour on which day. It gives me an indication of which areas of myself and my life I need to focus on. That is an example of how symbolism helps me write. If I ever use colours in songs, that will be why. I won’t put the colour meanings I found here, just in case they are different for you if you decide to meditate on (or just think about) them. I’m sure not everyone’s perception of purple is what I would call purple after all, because actually, I’ve decided that my job here is to let you discover this stuff for yourself. If meditation isn’t your bag, then I guess Google can take care of what the colours mean to you!
I was having a kind of mental breakdown/breakthrough/awakening at that time, and Ane Brun’s It All Starts With One album helped me change my life so much for the better! I gained the understanding of myself that was necessary to understand her album… Or maybe the album helped me to understand myself… I’m not sure which! All I know is that there were revelations clicking their way into place in me that I had long since given up on. I still get something new out of that album nearly every time I listen to it. I really, honestly felt like I was reborn back then. Given a fresh start and a hundred thousand new perspectives… And let go of being who I thought I was. Let go of being anyone, really. Since then I have never looked back, and I have even started creating songs which, at least to me, affect me in a similar way and remind me of what I learnt during that time in my life. I had needed more from life than I was allowing myself to experience back before this shift in my perception of reality… And before I stopped taking myself so seriously! (I can’t believe I haven’t said shart for WEEKS!)
Another type of symbolism I love to use is elemental. Air = Thought, Water = Emotion, Earth = Body + Physicality, and Fire/Light = Awareness/Spirit/Consciousness. This gets used in nearly every song by me these days! It’s such a wide field, I love it!
I am also quite a fan of using animals as symbolic elements in songs. There is so much in the realm of animal symbolism that I won’t be able to put it here. There are too many animals for a start! I love using birds, as they are such a perfect mixture of thought, emotion, and body.
Buildings can be used as a good metaphor for the self. A castle, particularly, can be useful, or two castles could represent both the conscious and the unconscious minds of the writer. All of this is dream symbolism as well.
I am constantly attempting to learn more about symbolism, so I may post more about it in the future. If you have any suggestions of your own, or any comments about this post, I would love it if you left a comment at the bottom! If this post was a little “far out” for you, I hope you got something out of it anyway!
Remember, you are love.