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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
reggie miles Are all folk musicians political? (164* d) RE: Are all folk musicians political? 07 Feb 21

If a political folksinger sings a song in the middle of some backwoods tree covered hollow and no one is there to hear it, does it make a difference? Most songwriters write from a perspective of appeasing their own personal muse or demon. Even if they are the only ones to ever hear the song, the writing and singing of it to an audience of one can be enough to sooth the savage beast or nagging feeling within.

Songs are, in many ways, the way in which we, as songwriters, come to terms with the world in which we find ourselves. They are wakeful dreams, a means of wrestling with the challenges we face. I would argue that the lyrics of any song are important enough to the songwriter to write them and that's enough. "... actually important, relevant, or meaningful...", those are abstract subjective notions. What might be "important, relevant, or meaningful" to one person certainly may not be the same to someone else but who is the judge? Who becomes the arbiter of importance, relevance, or meaningfulness?

I recently found out that one of my political folk songs, has been being sung by other performers for years, in an area of the country I've never visited, Nashville. Those singing it weren't even aware that it was my song. They attributed me as who they heard sing it but they weren't aware that I wrote it.

I haven't sang the song that much myself. I have so many of my own songs, that it's a challenge to give them all enough time, sharing them during performances. And I am always writing new songs. Something has got to give. I let some songs slide, as I endeavor to work up new songs, or songs to which I've previously given less of my time.

I gave the political folk song in question plenty of my energy and it reaped some rather unique attention, having made its way into an MTV B-Sides music video. Still, I saw no particularly significant resonance, at least not from among listeners in the region where I primarily perform. Who'd a thunk that somehow my song would find its way to Nashville and reap so much attention? I certainly didn't envision any of that happening. Nor did I knowingly have a hand in any of that happening. It just happened.

As the writer of the political folk song, I certainly felt the song was important, relevant and meaningful. I wouldn't have written it, if I didn't feel that way. But I cannot control the way any given listener responds to it. In this particular instance, it seems that location played a primary factor in the song finding the resonance it needed to survive. Somehow my political folk song found its way into the souls of those it was written about and they helped to bring it to the Nashville area.

I found out all of this after being contacted, about a month or so ago, by a Nashville resident, who shared this with me. He told me that I have many fans in the area because of my song. That was and still is such a strange revelation to hear.

I've noticed that many of the songs I write resonate with listeners below the Mason Dixon Line. That's likely due to the particular finger style pickin and bottleneck slidin that I use when I play. It's made me feel as though I'm living in the wrong part of the lower 48. I've attempted to make some inroads to perform more in the Deep South but thus far, I've had little to no success in that endeavor.

So, who deems a song "important, relevant, or meaningful?" Perhaps it's whether the song finds resonance among those listening. I played an open mic once and when I stepped away from the stage, I was approached by a young woman who was working in the kitchen. The kitchen was located in a separate room in the back, behind the bar. She told me that she couldn't get the words of one of my songs out of her head. I wasn't even aware that I could be heard from way back there in the kitchen. Does getting one's lyrics stuck in the heads of listeners qualify as relevance? Well, if you're a songwriter, that's an important quality to include in your songs. You definitely want to be able to write songs that will stick with listeners.

I'd offer that considering universal themes in your songwriting is important, if one's goal is hoping to find resonance and relevance in the hearts and minds of others. But to circle back to what I stated earlier, I think that first and perhaps foremost, songwriting is a personal journey in which the songwriter searches for truth, understanding, and meaning in a world that can often make those concepts challenging to find. To thine own self be true.

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