The instinct is a mystery. We can't justify it, can't explain it, or defend it. We just feel it. A song pulls us into itself before we have time to over-analyze what we’re doing. It’s the mysticism of songs that compels us to search for new ones. We discover something that reflects the beauty of the world as it appears through our idealism and we call it a song. The whole universe would sing it, every star in the night, if only it were perfect.
We second guess the instinct. We tinker with the spontaneous “unseen logic” (as Emerson refers to it); those will-o-the-wisps of connection too serendipitous to be planned and too recent to be mapped. In the process of seeking critical approval, seeking the elusive cut, we lose something. The logic has become visible and the mystery goes out. It's so subtle it would be invisible under a microscope.
Why do you love your favorite songs? Search in vain for the definitive reason; you can't name it, can't point to it, can’t analyze it, you just feel it.
If pushed for a critique some would say the Beatles song "Yesterday" needed more attitude and imagery in the lyric. I can imagine being a young McCartney trying to sell that tune in Nashville today. Good luck, Pauly. The song defies this kind of criticism because we feel the tug of the soul when we hear it. Do you trust that mysterious instinct, that soul-tug, or do you trust the ever-logical criticism?
Like the illusion that the earth stands still as the heavens move around it, “right” is sometimes just a way of seeing something that could easily be proved wrong eventually. If a song sends a shiver down your spine, you don’t need to ask for someone else’s opinion of the shiver or the shape of your spine. Better to ask why there’s no shiver produced by the other songs. And that’s probably a simple question to answer: because there’s no mystery in them. They are laid out like assembly directions. Welcome to contemporary hit radio...
I turned a friend of mine onto one of my favorite songwriters this week, Bruce Cockburn (last name rhymes with "slow turn"). I discovered Bruce back in high school when a copy of his first LP fell into my hands out of a discarded radio library. Such luck rarely repeats. He has a lot of wonderful songs, but there's one in particular I love called “Pacing the Cage”. It has a verse in it that could be the creed of every serious songwriter:
I never knew what you all wanted
So I gave you everything
All that I could pillage
All the spells that I could sing
We are in the advantageous position of offering something, everything that we are in song. We can weave spells. The spell is part of the mystery; the incantations of the spirit. I’m skeptical of things that appear "right" when they ought to appear mysterious. I’d rather a song lift me off the earth than grasp at my ankles.
copyright 2009 by craig bickhardt