Love ‘Em Don’t Leave ‘Em: falling in love with bad songs

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Welcome to For a Song, I’m Cari Ray, and lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about love. Now thinking about love is a far cry from the all-consuming, trembling, breathtaking experience that is being in romantic love. And it’s not even akin to the warm, brother-and-sisterly agape sort that I learned about in Sunday School. It’s just thinking…which uses your mind, not your heart…and everyone knows, you can’t love with your mind. Or can you? For years, experts have worked to pin down the mix of science and sorcery that amounts to falling in love. Some assert that it’s merely chemistry and timing, others tiptoe in the realm of soulmates and splitaparts…destinies and the meant-to-bes. I’m not really sure what the answer is, and the older I get, the more okay I am with not having the answer…about this and a myriad of other topics…being in the question is much more fun.

So I want to play with this concept of love for a bit as it relates to music. What constitutes music you love and music you hate, and is it worse to hate a piece of music, or be indifferent about it? At least if you hate something, it’s commanded a response…and a passionate one at that. At least its creator has struck a nerve of some sort. And what of music that  you love? I’m guessing you love different artists, albums and songs for different reasons. For example…I love the Lucinda Willams song “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” for the way it connects me to my childhood…I love the Jason Isbel song “Elephant” for the masterful way it moves me emotionally by telling the stories around a story instead of the story itself…I love the Brandi Carlile song “The Eye” for the tight and interesting use of vocal harmony…and I love my pal, Chris Wolf’s song “Spotless” because it rings all my bells around clever wordplay. In fact, if I sit with it for a minute, I can likely tell you the reason for loving any song I love…with a little focus, I bet you can too.

But sometimes, it seems that my own songs can be the hardest to love. Maybe I’m too close to them…maybe some are just not that lovable. If you are consistently working the craft of songwriting, you will write bad, unlovable songs. In fact, a long time ago, I made it a personal rule to finish every song…even if…especially if…I think it’s a stinker. Why? Because choosing to fall in love with a bad song means you will stay in relationship with it and learn its lesson. At best, it will have elements that you can incorporate into later works, or may plant the seed of an idea that leads to something really great. And at the very least, it’s practice working the craft, and it’s that work that sharpens you, expands you. This is not a concept that is singular to writing. Here’s what painter, Kristine Moran had to say about bad work. “I would say out of all of the paintings I make every year, only a very few stand out as truly good and I think this is true of most artists, historically and contemporary alike. It takes many bad paintings to get to the one good painting.”

As a young man, my dad played in his share of euchre tournaments. For those of you non-Hoosiers listening, that’s a card game somewhat akin to Hearts or Spades where players try to call and win hands…and when they fail, it’s referred to as getting euchred. In these contests, all parts of a player’s performance were tracked. Over time, he noticed something that winners had in common besides winning. They often were also the player who had been euchred the most.

Not every song will be the love of your creative life…that’s okay. Press forward anyway…find ways to love them all…even if you feel you’re sitting in a growing pile of self-made creative refuse. Bad songs don’t make you a failure…quite the contrary, they might just make you a winner.

I’m Cari Ray, wishing you Godspeed and hoping you’ll join me next time on For a Song.