“I like him because he shows me different ways of looking at things.”
A friend said this to me while attending the Todd Snider concert at the World Café Live in Philly. I agreed and realized I had forgotten that in my head, that simple truism of how the best songs make you see something, and it could be something you already know or feel, and turn it all on its head for you a bit, showing it to you from a different angle. We have bird’s eye views and we also have song’s eye views. I love being there when you have a room full of people digging on this and singing along or with lips closed making an appreciative faint “hmmmmm” accompanied with a gentle nod.
Todd Snider is a favorite of mine. He has a song where he takes on the voice of a stressed out middle age father at a fast food take out window pondering maniacally about having to get his daughter the car she wants and another in the voice of a tree who has been cut down and turned into a newspaper. It got me pondering songs that are favorites of mine and why it is I like them so. “My First Lover” by Gillian Welch is a particular one and there it is again with making you see and feel something differently, a song of the story of her first lover with the song that was playing in the background as they rolled around on the floor the centerpiece of it all.
Sometimes the centerpiece might be buried in a barn, or lying along side you, or in your pocket or up pressing along the inside of windowpanes of a house you fly by on a road. I think Joni Mitchell bringing my focus in on a frying pan in My Old Man is classic and I’ll never forget John Prine’s Spanish Harlem in which he goes to a strip club and turns the chorus of the song into what the exotic dancer is telling him to do while leaning into his ear…..
Go into the country
Eat a lot of peaches
Try and find Jesus
On your own.
I think it’s important to stop and consider why you love the songs you love. The best ones always inspire me to go out and find my own centerpieces. The worst just make me want those other songs.
Once in a review a writer compared me to Eudora Welty, an American writer of the 20th century whom I had never read. My friend got me a book in which Welty writes about her beginnings and I really liked something that she says, and I feel it touched on something about all the greatest writers and songwriters as well,
“I suppose I was exercising as early as then the turn of the mind, the nature of temperament, of a privileged observer; and owing to the way I became so, it turned out that I became the loving kind.”
Long live the loving observer.