On occasion, I receive some very kind correspondence regarding this blog. On others, not so much: Last Thursday, a scathing missive from Rhonda in Omaha jumped out at me from my inbox like a demented hedgehog. Rhonda, in a most decidedly post-Shakespearian English, detailed the ways in which the opinions expressed here were providing no help whatsoever to either her or any other songwriters. She claimed that my “uppity words” and general vagueness were confusing, and that her thirteen-year old son knew more about writing a good chorus than I ever would. She felt that my occasional profanity was unnecessary and unwelcome on her browser. She thought that my choice of songs was lacking, and seemed exceptionally irritated that she’d never heard of me. She pointed out that the paucity of comments on the blog obviously indicated a general lack of interest in it. So why was I even bothering?
One of the most important skills a songwriter must acquire is the ability to properly handle rejection. After reading Rhonda’s email, I passed a few hours downtown at a tiny Vietnamese brothel tucked into a hidden alley behind Lifeway Publishing, then took a nice stroll down to the Cumberland to reflect. Observing the slow progress of a stout little tugboat as it pulled a massive barge downriver, I remembered that, when faced with the inevitable dismissals and renunciations to which any work of art will be subjected, there is only one rule of survival: Never, ever, ever take this shit personally.
Whether we songwriters are performing our songs in a club, submitting them for placement in a film or merely attempting to convince Taylor Swift’s A&R person of their validity, we have to consider that fact that our intended audience is rarely looking for the best song; they are only looking for the right song. Like a theater director at an open-call audition, the listener wants our songs to play a specific role in their universe, to satisfy a need for which only they can understand. The club patron, music supervisor or corporate suit that we are intending to win over has a particular agenda for which our latest masterpiece must be appropriate. If it works for them, great; if not, “Next!”
It is nearly impossible for one song to be the right song for everyone at every time. When someone hates your work, take it as a complement and be happy that you have, if nothing else inspired an impassioned reaction. Old songs fade in and out of relevance to our own lives just as new ones seem immediately attractive or terrible. For example, I can go for years without feeling the need to hear a Beatles song. Considering the massive amount of impact that their work has had on my life, it seems odd that I might bear to be without it for very long. Then again, at this point in history, nearly every song in the pop lexicon has at least a little Beatles in it; I can go for quite awhile without hearing a note of Revolver, but I never really get that far away from it. Regardless, a crystalline moment will eventually materialize, perhaps whilst reclining on the weathered floral divan of a house of ill repute, in which the introductory chords of “Taxman” pop through a haze of opium smoke. Suddenly, I’m on the floor, hips gyrating in a gloriously inappropriate fashion, feet crushing tea cups, arms flying at odd angles, lost in the joys of pure auditory satisfaction and a fine mist of Mace raining down from the ladies on the balcony. Let me tell you how it will be…
What the hell was I talking about? Ah, the river.
As the setting sun pinkened the water under the Woodland St. bridge, I heard a monstrous truck engine rattle to a halt in the parking lot behind me. There was an ominous moment of silence before a monstrous E chord shot out of the truck window, over my head, across the water and smack into the football stadium, where it began spreading out over the entire city, a dark cloud pulsing with thunder, its power unmatched, its majesty unquestioned.
Soon a demonic vocal was ripping into my consciousness like the blade of a chainsaw, and I realized that the central theory of my entire afternoon was not entirely concrete. Maybe Rhonda was right; I don’t know what I’m talking about.
For there is one song that is pretty much perfect for every occasion. Morning, noon, night, barroom, bedroom, cradle, grave, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, at your best, at your worst: AC/DC’s “Back in Black” is always the right song. It operates on a level that defies analysis, and you will find none here. But allow me to offer a tender dedication to you, to Rhonda, to everyone out there suffering the temporary tragedy of disappointment:
Back in black
I hit the sack
I’ve been too long I’m glad to be back
Yes I’m, let loose
From the noose
That’s kept me hanging about
I keep looking at the sky
‘Cause it’s gettin’ me high
Forget the hearse ’cause I’ll never die
I got nine lives
Usin’ every one of them and running wild
‘Cause I’m back
Yes, I’m back
Well, I’m back
Yes, I’m back
Well, I’m back, back
(Well) I’m back in black
Yes, I’m back in black