It’s been my theory that fans of bands fall into one of two camps:
1) They like the music.
2) They like the lyrics.
Of course there’s some overlap, but I think generally one wins out over the other.
As a writer, lyrics draw me in. My favorite type of musician is the singer-songwriter. I admire the way these poets can create meaningful lyrics and set them to music.
I like the “oldies” — Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot. But in the past 20+ years, here are my favorites, in order:
1) Morrissey. I realize he’s a lyricist and someone else sets his words to music. But in terms of identification with and admiration of his songs, he tops my list.
2) Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit. The sensitive genius from Glasgow.
3) Elliott Smith. The sensitive genius from Portland.
Elliott Smith died in 2003 under questionable circumstances. Some say he was stabbed by his girlfriend, others say he killed himself.
And today, I woke up to the tragic news that a body they think is Hutchison’s was found in Edinburgh, after he was missing for two days.
If you listen to the lyrics by all three, you will hear a lot of darkness and depression. All three poured their lives and experiences into their words, which is exactly what draws me in. There’s no veil, there’s no holding back, there’s no falsity or pretending that things are perfect and sunny and cheery because whose life is like that? When things aren’t going well, it’s always such comfort to turn to those songs and know that someone was working through those issues, too.
But today is another reminder of the flip side. If you struggle with demons, songwriting or writing in general is one way to deal with it. But it doesn’t eradicate those demons. The people who can write with such sensitivity live their lives with that same sensitivity.
I know that my favorite lyricists struggle (or have struggled). They were able to turn their pain, at least for brief moments, into such beauty and works of art. Though Elliott and Scott are gone, their music lives on. Let’s treasure the gifts they’ve given to us.