Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Another Crying In Your Beer Song


"Songwriting's a weird game."

~Keith Richards

Years ago I was sitting in a cafe in San Francisco with a couple of friends. It was a small place, maybe eight to ten closely spaced tables. We were trying to have a conversation but were distracted by a young woman playing the guitar and singing not ten feet from our table. She was singing her own compositions, all of which were incredibly depressing and self-absorbed, and she was emoting all over the place. Eyes closed, head lolling forward, she sang as if she were unconscious of her latte drinking audience. It seemed to me we should leave this poor woman alone. Or hook her up with some serious antidepressants. Never one to have clear boundaries, I blushed with embarrassment for her. I think we all wanted to light a cigarette when she finally finished her painful set. And none of us even smoked!

I'm sure I was embarrassed by this woman's performance in part because it hit a little too close to home, reminding me of my own self-obsessed song writing and moments of emotional over-exposure. Take, for instance, the time I met a guy on a flight between San Francisco and Santa Barbara and then later scared the crap out of him by writing a lovesick ballad about him. Talk about drama and self-absorption.

I was 23 years old, about to fly home to Santa Barbara for Christmas. While waiting in the airport, I spotted this cute guy about my age and we began engaging in some serious flirty eye contact. We didn't talk to each other, but the electricity between us was definitely sparking. Finally it was time to board the plane and I found my seat, hoping maybe I'd run into this guy when we reached the Santa Barbara airport. The next thing I know, he was standing in the aisle next to my seat, literally double checking his ticket in disbelief. By some miracle of United Airlines ticketing, we were seated right next to each other. Neither of us could contain our excitement. We immediately launched into a conversation and, by the time we landed, we had exchanged phone numbers and planned to meet in San Francisco in a few weeks. I felt like I was in a romantic comedy.

Well, leave it to me to take a moment right out of When Harry Met Sally and turn it into a scene from Wuthering Heights. In the weeks leading up to his visit, I wrote the most depressing, obsessed song about meeting someone on a plane in the history of the song writing world. I'm sure the lyrics and minor chords made me sound desperate and emotionally unstable. Of course I WAS desperate and emotionally unstable in those days, and song writing was a good release. However, it was definitely not in my best interest to play this particular depressing song for a young man I hoped to win over with my romantic charms. But play it I did. And the awkward silence that followed my performance left me wanting to plunge to the pavement from my 5th floor apartment. Fortunately I DID smoke back then, so I lit a cigarette instead.

That song (which was called "The Next Flight Out") was one of the last songs I wrote before laying down my song writing pen for about 25 years. But several months ago, inspired by a friend, I picked that pen back up and dusted it off. Since then I have written eight or nine songs. I have even performed one or two of them at open mics and, most recently, at church.  And here's the thing. Almost all of them are sad love ballads. I can't help it. I'm a sucker for a weepy love song. They are just so darn satisfying to sing. And, let's face it, anyone who's over the age of thirty has plenty of relationship-gone-wrong material to draw on and embellish.

Given that the vast majority of pop songs, country music, and arias are love songs, I guess I am not alone in my need for these songs. They are cathartic to listen to and to sing. They help us reach down to our deepest most human longings. I think that's a good thing. I've learned a couple of things in the past 25 years that I hope show up in my songs though. Unlike my 23 year old self and that poor young woman in the cafe, I know that feelings of  longing, desire, disappointment, and loss are not unique to me, and they are usually not terminal. They are part of the human experience. And I think  music is one of the best ways to share that experience. When I sing a weepy love song, I promise I will share it with my eyes open. And if it makes you want to cry in your beer? Well then, the first one's on me.