I can’t exactly work out why but I feel quite uncomfortable when I find out that songs by people I like are written directly about very personal events in their life. Today I was reading the lyrics for I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain by Tim Buckley which was written about his son Jeff and his mother. On the one hand they are really great words, but I feel really uncomfortable that he puts this song on an album and uses it to sell records.
Another example is Brick by Ben Folds Five, which is about when his girlfriend had an abortion. Again, I love the song, but I just feel that it isn’t appropriate to sell this song to make money and get recognition.
It’s not that I don’t think you should write songs about this stuff – quite the opposite in fact, I think you should write about things that are personal to you. Also I don’t have a problem with people selling their songs normally.
Regina Spektor is a really interesting example of someone who writes songs with really good stories but they aren’t based directly on her life. I am sure she uses her experiences to write, but it’s (at least) one step removed. She says:
“I think that it’s more exciting to use my imagination or explore other people’s lives rather than sit there and write about my own rather limited life,” she said. “It’s much more gratifying to me.”
She admits, however, that songwriting is a very personal art, and that over the course of time it would be impossible to write music from a completely objective point of view”
I don’t know, maybe I am just being hypersensitive or something. I guess it’s similar to people who sell their diaries and autobiographies. Feels like selling your soul.