Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Kudos: Colin Penter: Joe Henry on 'Songwriting'

"What is important, what has meaning, is the journey… [and] journeys are through history as well as through a landscape" 
Theo Angelopoulos

"The obsession's in the chasing, and not the apprehending"
Tom Waits

'Kudos': entitles my first mumblings in recognition of kindred spirits; folk who are treading a familiar path; in search of beauty, truth and the perfect chord.
The web is a winding road that never leads you to your expected destination. Whilst trawling for info on yesterday's 'Tom Waits for No-One' piece (regarding his song 'Diamond in Your Mind'), I came across a blogsite written by Colin Penter entitled 'Always Keep a Diamond in Your Mind.', an obvious reference to the Waits song; more of which later.
Penter describes his interests as "dispatches on everyday life, social and political realities, the cycles of history, the complexities of civil society, political poetry and song and the struggle of being a good citizen whilst resisting corporate hegemony (and having a laugh) from one of the most isolated cities in the world." 
I'm unsure which isolated city he calls home (Perth?) but Penter writes beautifully, chronicling the mundane and the mystic, often citing the poetry and wisdom of the good and the great; quotes as disparate as these two:

“For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”
James Baldwin

"Enjoy every sandwich"
Warren Zevon

Those of you who pass through these pages will probably know that I'm a huge fan of the work of Joe Henry, whose 'Invisible Hour' I recently reviewed here.  It's currently top of my pile for 2014.
My eye was initially drawn to a piece that Penter posted about Joe Henry's thoughts on songwriting, particularly in reference to Solomon Burke for whom he produced the fine album 'Don't Give Up on Me' in 2002.
I hope that Colin doesn't mind (I'll remove it if he does) but I've lifted much of that piece for you to read below.

See Colin's excellent piece in situ here:

Penter writes:

Henry writes beautifully and movingly of Solomon Burke, but it is the insight he provides into the wonderous craft of creating and delivering a song that is most intriguing. Henry writes how Solomon Burke was able to interpret and deliver one of his songs in a way that enscapulated precisely what he intended as a songwriter, but in a way that was different to the lyrical content of the song. Of Solomon Burke's interpretation of his song Flesh and Blood Henry writes:

"As a lyric oriented songwriter, it is worth noting that the track taught me a lasting lesson about the power of vocal delivery to impart not just emphasis and texture but meaning."

Apparently Burke changed the lyrics of the song to be the exact opposite of what Henry (the songwriter) had written, but his delivery of the song was such that the emotional intent and experience conveyed by the singer was precisely what Henry had meant. Writing of Burke's performance Henry writes:

"He bore down on those four words again and again and by force squared them with my intention and made them mean exactly what I'd meant, and the exact opposite of what he'd literally sung....And I started in that day to think differently, in a veryconcious way how a lyric released to the air is different from the written word"

The game of language- the physical sounds of words, how they couple and disperse- is what inevitably leads me to meaning......... Songs are, indeed deliberate inventions that we are frequently wont to adopt as gospel; and I am timid to explain mine, probably because they leave me at a loss. I know they Mean, I just don't always know what they mean.

Joe Henry has also written an illuminating description of how the song 'Our Song' (from 2007's 'Civilians') was formed, crafted and delivered. It is intelligent and insightful writing about the songwriter's craft. Henry describes how the song started with a single line and then emerged more fully formed from a series of events, daily happenings and reflections on the larger social and political context. Henry writes that:

Songwriting for me has absolutely nothing to do with self expression and everything to do with discovery. I write to find out what I am writing about. I may, after the fact, discover that something personal and known to me has indeed been expressed but the desire to do such is not what propels me forward, nor would personal fact, inadvertently revealed ever be part of what might make a song successful in my estimation.

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