Sunday, August 06, 2006

Personal or Public??

Well, by now some of you would have read on Jiggy's blog about the Rockwiz dvd launch and my potential faux pas when in a moment of being awe-struck by meeting Tim Rogers, I chose to ask him what was the meaning behind one of his songs, which in a moment of awkwardness he revealed it was about his ex wife.

Since that instance though, it got me thinking - when an artist (be it musician, painter or whatever) releases work into the public domain, do we, as the general public, have the right to want to understand what its about, or do we just have to accept what it is and put our own interpretations on it?

There are some famous examples, most notably Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" and Shaun Mullins' "Lullaby" where fans and journalists alike have tried to speculate who these songs were about. Carly Simon has held steady and refused to divulge any information about it. I imagine every time she would do an interview, she would have to contend with the inevitable "was it about Warren Beatty"? question.

Such speculation can then take on a life of its own. Think of the many fans that would pour through Beatles music for hidden meanings, or those that have tried to synchronise Dark Side of the Moon with the Wizard of Oz, so they can ask themselves was it deliberate, or were Pink Floyd trying to tell us something?

Some would say, so what, who cares, if the song gets your foot tapping, it really doesn't matter what its about, but i disagree. Knowing what a particular song is about can be important in helping you to understand the context of the song, what it is trying to say to you, and help you to decide whether or not you like it. For example, ABBA's "The Winner Takes it All" was written by one band member, who was breaking up with his wife, about the breakup. The only thing was his wife happened to be the bands singer, and she had to sing his thoughts about the breakup. What a situation - and knowing this makes me appreciate the power of the song so much more.

Then again, think of a band like Midnight Oil, a band who had something to say. Sometimes the message was quite subtle, but most of the time it wasn't. However, do you think the majority of their fans that flocked to to the taverns around the country in the 80's to hear the Oils play really understood what it was they they were wanting to say? Did it really matter anyway? They still had a good time....

Just to cloud the waters a bit more, then there are the songs that people assume they know the meaning of, but actually don't. Think of Green Day's Time of Your Life, which is a song about breaking up, however I would shudder to think of the number of people that have chosen this as a wedding song! And I doubt they were being sarcastic or ironic.....

Given that I don't have a creative bone in my body, I guess I don't really understand the artistic process that well, but I am led to believe that songwriting can be a deeply personal experience and it is often those painful personal experiences that produce the best songs. Hey, I have even read posts from fans on the Sheryl Crow fan forum suggesting that they would prefer her to be unhappy because she writes better songs!!! So maybe that is why artists are so guarded about it - to protect the people they sing about, or themselves. Then again, maybe some of the references to various things in songs are just so personal that no one would really understand them anyway, ie. they are "in jokes" or such.

Some would argue however, that if they really don't want the public knowing about their personal lives, then don't write personal songs.....I am not entirely sure that I agree with this point of view. From my point of view, I think its just a case of being a fan and wanting to get to know our musical hereos a little better.

Would be interested to know what others think about this topic......

PS - this is the second time I have tried to post this blog posting, after i accidently lost it all first time around. I think I have cut out some of it from what i originally had written, so apologies if it doesnt really flow coherently.....


At 10:07 pm, Blogger BrettMcBean said...

I think most great music has some degree of that artist's life in it. Inspiration comes from life and experience, so it's almost impossible for songs not to reveal something about the writer. I definitely think it makes a song richer by knowing what it's about - but of course you can still enjoy a song without knowing fully what the singers singing about (I'm still not sure what half the Doors song are about, yet they're my favourite band). I don't think it's wrong for fans to want to know more about an artist's life, what inspired certain songs. If an aritst doesn't want their music analysed, then don't make the music public, don't record the music and make it for sale.


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