Kill Your Darlings: Even if You Love It, Let it Go

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Welcome to For a Song, I’m Cari Ray. Have you ever loved something but realized you had to let it go? I’m not talking here about testing the old, faithful “If you love something, set it free. If it comes  back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.” No, we’re not going to wax that poetic and romantic for this installment. I’m talking more about letting go of things you love but realize, maybe, don’t serve you. I’ve arrived at that crossroads many times in this life. In my 20s, I was engaged, but realized that in that relationship, I didn’t grow, but shrank. For the sake of the woman I wanted to become, I had to set him free. In my younger days, I smoked. I can’t say I ever really loved smoking itself, but rather the ritual of it, the glamor. Maybe I watched too many old movies growing up. You just put your lips together and blow…works for more than whistling. I liked to smoke european and exotic cigarettes in fancy, layered packaging, enjoyed the sight, smell and sound of my vintage zippo lighter (I still carry one, just because), even tried a cigarette holder for a while. It was a phase, I suppose. But I knew that for the sake of my health and my voice, I had to let it go. And so I did. Sometimes these decisions are easy, sometimes they break your heart. Before moving to Brown county, I was living what most folks would call the American dream. Great job, great home, good neighborhood in suburbia, good friends. But the compromises I had to make about who I am and how I spend my time to live in that existence did not support my creative passions and my determination to live a life centered around music. So I had to let it go. These decisions are sometimes over life-altering things, and sometimes over a Krispy Kreme.

These decisions often come for me in the process of songwriting. Many times, it’s over a single line or couple of phrases. One I may really dig standing alone…maybe it’s a really clever turn, or particularly poignant, but doesn’t quite fit the melody, song part, or song as a whole. Sometimes I can work it in somewhere else…maybe in a later verse, or perhaps in a bridge. But many times, I must sacrifice it all together. I have a little graveyard file for these snippets, hoping to call upon them at a later date, for a later song…but many are destined to remain silent forever.

Currently, I’m facing this songwriting dilemma in a bigger way than ever before. I’ve been working on a song that I’m really excited about. The structure is a little off the beaten path…a series of verses with no chorus. In its place is a line that repeats at the end of each verse. When I timed it after the first draft, it was really short…too short. So I decided I should write another verse, but not just to fill space, it had to also support and further the story. So I set about the task and wrote a verse that fits into the song perfectly and brings the song to a more respectable length. In fact, standing alone, it’s arguably the strongest of the lot, So where’s the problem, right? Well, one of my core principles is that my songs are easy for the listener to personalize, and this verse adds a layer of detail to the story that makes it more specific… challenges that principal a little. I’ve been sitting with it for a few weeks now…playing it with and without the extra verse. I’m still not sure where I’ll land with this one, but I am sure about this.

Art imitates life, and there are times when attachment to a small thing is bound to spoil the whole thing. So choose wisely friends, and, in the end, if they don’t serve you or your art, be willing to kill your darlings.

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