Craig Cummings Music

Joni Mitchell – Why She Matters To Songwriters, Part III
April 8, 2015, 10:45 am
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , ,

Craig at El Nopalito_rev

In prior installments of this series I explored how Joni shows songwriters the way in providing the proper amount of details in songs so that they are authentic and resonate with the listener (Part I), and how her words have inspired artists to continue to create even when they feel no one is listening, or watching, or reading (Part II). Today, in Part III, the focus is on the importance of being economical with words – and how Joni could be a master at showing songwriters the way.

I went to see a friend tonight
Was very late when I walked in
My talking as it rambled
Revealed suspicious reasoning
The visit seemed to darken him
I came in as bright
As a neon light
And I burned out
Right there before him
I told him these things
I’m telling you now
Watched them buckle up
In his brow
When you dig down deep
You lose good sleep
And it makes you
Heavy company
I will always love you
Hands alike
Magnet and iron
The souls

Joni Mitchell – from Lesson In Survival

Although this lyric is coming from a particularly feminine point of view, as a man I’ve always loved how it portrays a scene in which one approaches a lover intending to bring a positive light, only to fall flat on one’s face during the attempt. That one act play is gender neutral – we’ve all done it. But what is most memorable about this verse is how the last 8 lines ring so true to anyone who has been in love, gone through a trying time, and come out on the other side…”When you dig down deep, you lose good sleep, and it makes you heavy company. I will always love you. Hands alike, magnet and iron the souls.” If there is a better way of telling that story, I’ve not heard it.

Songwriters are storytellers. But unlike griots and other raconteurs, who often use a rambling style of discourse to tell the tale, songwriters are always striving for economy, because most often, we have to tell the story within the confines of a 3-4 minute pop song. Joni told this last part of the story in 8 short lines – about 15 seconds. She shows us that as songwriters, we can tell our stories with an economy of words and the truth will not be diminished.

In Part IV of the series, I’ll discuss how well-written songs are built around some universal truth and how Joni shows songwriters how to do this while making everyone want to sing along.



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