Life Lessons From Songs

TSP bought the DVD of Love Actually on Ebay last week. I’d seen it before, but watched it again. I quite like Richard Curtis, despite thinking Four Weddings was largely nonsense, and Notting Hill suffered from the much-publicised lack of black people in a very heavily black part of London. I like the fact that he wrote Blackadder – that’s a good thing. And I like his commitment to the Make Poverty History campaign.

Anyway, this isn’t meant as a review of the film (though it must be said, the scene where Hugh Grant disses the American president is a blinder… sad that he had to be inspired to do it by the pres. hitting on his tea-lady, rather than just out of some kind of moral response to the evil horse-shit that American presidents are so often involved with, but viewers can’t be choosers, and it’s a sweet moment, nonetheless). the interesting bit of the film is in the extras.

Richard Curtis does a little talking head slot about each of the featured songs in the film, and makes the comment that he’s spent his life learning about emotions and being instructed in human relationships by female singer/songwriters. And it was a point that struck home. Particularly because two of those he picked were Joni Mitchell and Mary Chapin Carpenter – two of my favourite singer/songwriters, and also lyricists that I’ve learnt loads from.

So I’ve just been listening to ‘Come On Come On’ by MCC, which features the first song I ever heard by her, ‘He Thinks He’ll Keep Her’, which I bought on single when I was 18 or 19, and played to death. I think the album was one of the first CD albums I ever bought, and I’ve been collecting her stuff ever since. But I was struck by the lyrics, about bored housewives in loveless marriages finally having enough and leaving, and the husbands being all surprised at the end of the relationship. And it made me think, made me aware to some degree of how things are. As did so many other songs by her, and a whole host of other great female songwriters – Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, the Indigo Girls, Jonatha Brooke. Some times the lessons were political, like ‘War’ by Jonatha Brooke. Sometimes just about feeling alive, like Gallileo or Watershed by the Indigo Girls. But all of them vital lessons.

And then it got me thinking about what happens when that isn’t there. Where instead of strong, intelligent female figures, you’ve got faux-feisty soft-porn-alikes, telling us that a man ain’t no man if he ain’t buying me bling, or coming out with imbecilic horse shit like the Pussycat Dolls. ‘Don’t You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?’ – no, you moronic, corporatised, tragic shell of a human being, I don’t wish my girlfriend was anything like you at all.

Lads are growing up with this as their lessons from women. was it much better in the 80s? Who were the equivalents of these totems of fuckwittage that parade across top of the pops? Mel And Kim, the Bangles, Janet Jackson before she apparently went on the game, Salt And Pepper, Kylie, Bananarama… a mixed bag, for sure, but not half as bad as the genetic detritus that passes for celebrity today. Who is there to save the day? KT Tunstall, at least. She’s fab.

So if you’ve got kids, get them into singer/songwriters. Buy them some Joni CDs, and Mary Chapin Carpenter, James Taylor and Paul Simon, Carly Simon, Bruce Cockburn, KT Tunstall, Suzanne Vega, Jonatha Brooke, Kelly Joe Phelps – story tellers not clothes horses, observers of the human condition not shills for the corporate dollar.

In a world where the bardic tradition is all but lost, we need surrogate poets and story-tellers, mythic historians and reflectors of who we are, who we want to be and who we can be if we get it together. And it’s not even about them being amazing people – John Martyn’s a disaster as a human being, but a great weaver of poetic magic. James Taylor was a violent smack-head when he wrote ‘Shower The People You Love With Love’. We just need story tellers to show us the way.

So, a comment thread – favourite songs for telling how it is, should be or could be? at least one from each of you, dear bloglings, thankyou. ;o)

2 Replies to “Life Lessons From Songs”

  1. Everyone you mentioned in this blog is what my mum brought me up on! hahaha, she was well chuffed and smug when I told her you like Mary C C!

    Joni Mitchell is supreme in every respect.


  2. I have a house full of amazing singer songwriter albums, tapes and children reject them all….one of my all time favourite songs is 17 by Janis Ian…..

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