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Writing about people's private lives?

Marion 26 Jul 03 - 01:08 AM
GUEST,.gargoyle 26 Jul 03 - 02:48 AM
GUEST,jennifer 26 Jul 03 - 03:27 AM
Bonnie Shaljean 26 Jul 03 - 05:36 AM
alanabit 26 Jul 03 - 05:52 AM
harvey andrews 26 Jul 03 - 06:02 AM
GUEST,Wolfgang 26 Jul 03 - 06:12 AM
Gurney 26 Jul 03 - 06:58 AM
McGrath of Harlow 26 Jul 03 - 08:58 AM
GUEST,Frankham 26 Jul 03 - 09:20 AM
Liz the Squeak 26 Jul 03 - 09:35 AM
GUEST,Boab D 26 Jul 03 - 11:45 AM
Deckman 26 Jul 03 - 12:18 PM
M.Ted 26 Jul 03 - 09:40 PM
Marion 26 Jul 03 - 10:33 PM
GUEST 26 Jul 03 - 11:04 PM
Deckman 26 Jul 03 - 11:18 PM
Bert 27 Jul 03 - 02:10 AM
Amergin 27 Jul 03 - 02:17 AM
open mike 27 Jul 03 - 02:36 AM
Amergin 27 Jul 03 - 02:37 AM
Stilly River Sage 27 Jul 03 - 03:00 AM
GUEST,celtaddict at work 27 Jul 03 - 11:08 AM
sharyn 27 Jul 03 - 11:47 AM
GUEST 27 Jul 03 - 02:19 PM
Deckman 27 Jul 03 - 02:26 PM
open mike 27 Jul 03 - 11:50 PM
Marion 28 Jul 03 - 01:11 AM
GUEST,KB 28 Jul 03 - 03:14 AM
Wilfried Schaum 28 Jul 03 - 10:01 AM
GUEST 28 Jul 03 - 11:40 AM
GUEST 28 Jul 03 - 12:50 PM
McGrath of Harlow 28 Jul 03 - 01:14 PM
Marion 05 Aug 03 - 01:21 AM
Kate 05 Aug 03 - 12:26 PM
Marion 26 Sep 03 - 02:35 PM
Rapparee 26 Sep 03 - 02:49 PM
Liz the Squeak 27 Sep 03 - 03:43 AM
GUEST 27 Sep 03 - 05:30 AM
GUEST 28 Sep 03 - 12:07 AM
GUEST,Clint Keller 28 Sep 03 - 03:38 AM
Liz the Squeak 28 Sep 03 - 03:57 AM
The Fooles Troupe 28 Sep 03 - 07:51 AM
GUEST,Different Guest 28 Sep 03 - 09:02 AM
Jeri 28 Sep 03 - 09:23 AM
Amos 28 Sep 03 - 10:00 AM
GUEST,Different Guest 28 Sep 03 - 10:06 AM
Jeri 28 Sep 03 - 10:29 AM
GUEST 28 Sep 03 - 11:06 AM
GUEST 28 Sep 03 - 11:08 AM
s&r 28 Sep 03 - 11:25 AM
GUEST 28 Sep 03 - 02:00 PM
pattyClink 28 Sep 03 - 03:41 PM
GUEST 28 Sep 03 - 04:09 PM
Wilfried Schaum 28 Sep 03 - 04:37 PM
s&r 28 Sep 03 - 06:18 PM
GUEST 28 Sep 03 - 06:29 PM
s&r 29 Sep 03 - 06:16 AM
GUEST 29 Sep 03 - 07:17 PM
Marion 01 Oct 03 - 03:49 PM
GUEST 10 Oct 03 - 08:26 AM
s&r 10 Oct 03 - 11:29 AM
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Subject: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Marion
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 01:08 AM

Hello all. I recently heard about a friend of a friend (I've met the girl a couple of times, but don't know her very well) who just had a stillborn baby. The circumstances of her pregnancy and birth were moving to me, and I was inspired to write a song, from the point of view of the mother singing to the baby.

However, now that I've finished the song, I'm feeling uneasy about the appropriateness of doing so. My uneasiness isn't really a question of privacy - naturally, if I performed or recorded the song I wouldn't give identifying details. But is it maybe a little callous, or exploitative, to hear about someone's private tragedy and get a song out of it?

For what it's worth, I doubt I'd have any guilty feelings if it were happy news... or if I were good friends with the mother... or if it were a long time ago... or if it were a mass tragedy like a plane crash.

So what I want to know is: have any of you had similar misgivings about true-story songs? How do you balance your respect for the people's feelings and privacy with your need to write and sing about what's on your mind?

I suppose the quick and dirty solution would be to just put the song in a drawer for a couple of years...

Marion


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 02:48 AM

Post it here.

A lot of Mudcatters live vicariously.

Would it go to the tune of Barnacle Boll the Sailor?

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST,jennifer
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 03:27 AM

If I'm listening to a moving song I don't think "how exploitative of the writer". There are things that need to be written about and we can't wait forever for them to happen to people who can write effectively about them themselves. Look at the Ewan MacColl radio ballads for example. I can't answer your question about how you square this with yourself as a writer and maybe I'm in a naive minority, but I generally give writers credit for writing because they care about an issue, and admire and value them for it. Especially something like the birth of a stillborn child which is so isolating and still generally swept under the social carpet.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Bonnie Shaljean
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 05:36 AM

I totally agree with Jennifer. One of the great strengths of good art is that it's universal, reaching beyond the immediate circumstances that inspired it to communicate and find response in people whom the creator will never meet. Unless the details are so specific that the original person can be identified, I don't see any reason for feeling guilty. The need to "write and sing about what's on your mind" is the very wellspring of song.

So sing it, Marion - for heaven's sake DON'T let it languish in a drawer! You never know what other bereaved parents may take comfort from it.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: alanabit
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 05:52 AM

Interesting question Marion. I think you can say that the song focuses on the issue rather than the personality. In that case, there is nothing intrusive or disrespectful about it. Oddly enough, the title song on my own album described the childhood and early adulthood of a man I know well. I wouldn't dream of identifying him to an audience. It is a plus for me that he likes the song very much. I think what you are doing, is allowing your knowledge of a person's private life to spark off a song about an issue. In the end, most writing is like that. We use what we know as a starting point for the rest and build it up from there. Nothing wrong with using your imagination. It worked for your Barnado Boy song, didn't it?


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: harvey andrews
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 06:02 AM

As long as the main characters are not identified I have no problem with taking a real life issue and making it into a story, after all, that's what fiction writing is all about.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST,Wolfgang
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 06:12 AM

With slighly different words the same message:

Marion, as long as you don't write about people's private lives (as in your title line) but inspired by people's privates lives it is o.k.

Wolfgang


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Gurney
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 06:58 AM

I think I would wait a while and then sing it to the lady first. Then ask if she would mind if you did it in public.

Your sensitivity is well-mannered, in my opinion. You should consider, however, that some people are likely to speculate that YOU are the unfortunate lady, if you can't say "I asked permission..."

I'm out of my depth here, as a bloke, but when I wrote in a similar tragic vein, I never performed it. But then, I am uneasy with any kind of exposure of intensely personal experience. Famous people often aren't....


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 08:58 AM

A "friend of a friend" is maybe getting distant enough so that it's not really about this particular person, but about an imagined person - you heard the story, and you imagined how it would be if it happened to yourself. It could just as well have been something you read in the paper or in a book, so I can't see that privacy issue scome into it.

This is a tragedy that happens in a lot of people's lives. In any audience there is almost bound to be someone who has been touched by it, so you need to be sensitive about it, but that doesn't mean nkt singing it.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST,Frankham
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 09:20 AM

So many songs are based on experiences with people we know. As long as the person is not identified unwillingly, no problem.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 09:35 AM

Well if Elton John can do it, why not you?

Actuallly, you should do it BECAUSE Elton John did it. Because I'm sure you won't:

a) be making lots of money out of it despite what he told the press.

b) be singing it just to say, hello, I'm here on TV being emotional in public to show what a great and caring guy I am and I was really her best friend you know.....

c) have made such a syrupy, saccharine-loaded, self pitying load of shite out of it as he did.

If you think it's a little personal, just have a look at some of the other songs doing the rounds... they are just as personal and some as tragic as the one you have. Only the passage of time and familiarity have really made them less painful; but do you remember how you felt the first time you heard something like 'He Fades away' (There's a man in my bed, I used to love him), or 'Rosemary's sister' (Rosemary came out crying but her sister never did)? Those are deeply personal and very tragic songs, but they are still being sung.

Sometimes, turning an event into a song or a poem is the only way it will be remembered, and sometimes, it needs another person to do it.

LTS


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST,Boab D
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 11:45 AM

Well as long as no-one is mentioned personally then I think thats fine. I think that when you write a song, or whatever, it's your own way of coping with what has happened to the lassie and her family. OK she may not be a close friend but she has changed you forever and I suppose the song is a way of expressing how you are feeling just now.Then puting yourself into that position. However I think the thing would be for you to ask your friend and see what she thinks of it and wether or not she thought that it would be acceptable for you to sing it to the woman who lost a child. Only thing being that it's such a painful thing for those who have been affected by it. It may lead to a negative response especially if the lassie doesn't know you that well she might feel an intrusion to her grief. But for me being a guy I don't think that I would but then again we think differently from women.
I hope you choose wisely
Dylan


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Deckman
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 12:18 PM

You have certainly received some very good suggestions. One concern I'd have, and this is about ME and perhaps not you, is my ability to sing it, without the emotions getting away. Bob


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: M.Ted
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 09:40 PM

Marion writers must write about what they witness and experience--first so that others can know about it, and second to give voice to experiences that everyone has, but few are able to share.

It is the special duty of artists and writers to witness and to testify--In cultures other than ours, the duty is often regarded as a sacred and holy obligation. We don't tend to put it that way, but the sense of it is still part of the language we use to talk about art and creativity: gift, talent, calling,the artistic vision--

Anyway, all that aside, you've picked a very difficult subject, and one that is very seldom approached, at least these days--The loss of a baby involves emotions that are intense and terrible--most people avoid the issue, and don't appreciate hearing about it in an entertainment context--People either fall into formulaic cliches or resort to uncomfortable jokes(as illustrated by Gargoyle's post) when the have to deal with it, and they like to move on quickly--

As a writer, it can become a different kind of problem for you, because in your efforts to deal with it honestly, you have to open yourself up to the emotions every else is trying hard to avoid--and you have to stay open as long as it takes you write what you need to write. On top of that, after it is done, you'll have to open everything up again when you learn to sing it--

The worst thing is that if you have started to work on this song in your head, it will haunt you until you have finished it--even if you set it aside and try to move on--songs have a life of their own--


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Marion
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 10:33 PM

Thank you for your thoughtful responses, everyone.

Jennifer said: If I'm listening to a moving song I don't think "how exploitative of the writer".

I don't recall ever having that response to a song either, but I have often thought it about prose, especially in newpapers or magazines, where I sensed that the journalist was using people to get a good story. This is why I wonder where the line is.

LTS said: I'm sure you won't be making lots of money out of it despite what [Elton John] told the press.

No, I wouldn't expect the song to bring me fame and fortune... but I do think of each decent song that I write as another feather in my cap, so there is some little element of turning the story to my personal advantage.

McGrath said: it's not really about this particular person, but about an imagined person - you heard the story, and you imagined how it would be if it happened to yourself.

That's a very good point.

M.Ted said: It is the special duty of artists and writers to witness and to testify--In cultures other than ours, the duty is often regarded as a sacred and holy obligation.

That's very interesting - what cultures are you referring to? I've never really understood Big Mick when he talks about being a capital-B Bard, but I think I see what he means now.

Anyway, I think I'll take Gurney and Boab's suggestions and first run it by our mutual friend, then assuming she thinks it's a good idea, send it to the mother and ask how she'd feel about me singing it to other people. Assuming it's OK with her, I'll eventually post it here and explain the rest of the story.

Love, Marion


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 11:04 PM

Holy Bee-Jeeeesus! Anything to make a buck!!

Damn explotative capitalists!


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Deckman
Date: 26 Jul 03 - 11:18 PM

Looks to me like some idiots got nothing to do on a Saturday and is looking for a fight! Why don't you go piss on your neighbor's fence and leave us alone! Bob


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Bert
Date: 27 Jul 03 - 02:10 AM

You wrote the song because you had to. You couldn't NOT write it. Sing it to the mother and I'm sure she'll like it. It came from your heart. As painful as it may be to her, it is a song for her that she needs to hear.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Amergin
Date: 27 Jul 03 - 02:17 AM

I want to see this song, Marion....and I hope I will get to meet you when you come through and hear you sing it...


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: open mike
Date: 27 Jul 03 - 02:36 AM

and i hope it is an electric fence


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Amergin
Date: 27 Jul 03 - 02:37 AM

nah....our dear guest may like that....

hhave him go piss in a crocodiles mouth...


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 27 Jul 03 - 03:00 AM

Marion,

It's a tough call--but look at it in the context of the Song as an entity that now exists, expressing an emotion You experienced upon hearing this story. While it started with someone else's grief, it's your song. If the mother doesn't like it, does it make your grief less valid? Would you offer to change the song? I wouldn't change it, so I guess I wouldn't feel obilgated to somehow ask permission to sing it. Give the song a few airings, get a feel for it yourself. Perhaps sending a recording of the completed song to the mother would do two things: it would be a comfort to her, something she can listen to when she feels the urge (I asked about songs of grief last year and several good suggestions from Mudcatters became wonderful outlets for my saddness at the passing of a good friend). By sending a recording instead you're not trying to figure out how to ask for approval that might end up compromising the song, or make it seem less your work of art.

I say that even though I know that "art" can wound, and can serve malicious ends. A song that expresses the sentiments you say you felt, what can be the harm? I think it could only help.

SRS


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST,celtaddict at work
Date: 27 Jul 03 - 11:08 AM

Marion, some of the most moving songs around have not come only from the experiences of the songmaker, but have happened to others and have been given a voice by someone who has the ability to give feeling a voice. Not everyone can. Sing the song. I agree that it might not go in all contexts, but many singers have songs they use, say, on a recording or in a concert mode but not in a pub gig or singalong circle. For a widely recognized example I respect a good deal more than the one given above, consider how many of Eric Bogle's songs deal effectively with a tragedy in someone else's life. Some of his are his own story (and some of those, such as "Scraps of Paper" are even after all these years painful to hear performed live), some are people he knows (the "Rosie" songs), some stories people told him (such as "Elizabeth's Song" about a cot death), and some he read ("Daniel Smiling" about child abuse, or the devastating "Claire Campbell"). If you know well the woman involved, sing it for her. If you do not, make her a recording and send it to her with a letter to the effect that you heard her tale and your heart goes out to her, you had to write of it and hope your song can possibly give some comfort to her and to others in a similar situation. A line in "Elizabeth's Song" mentions that while people sometimes refrain from mentioning a tragedy and "reminding" the sufferers, they certainly have not forgotten and speaking of it does not make it cut any deeper but can only help them heal. You will eventually find out if it is a song you (or others) will continue to sing after this event has receded. Sing the song.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: sharyn
Date: 27 Jul 03 - 11:47 AM

The issue for me is whether you get the details right: is the song grounded in your own experiences of grief or motherhood or something? Is it authentic? A reason to run it by the bereaved mother at an appropriate time would be to see whether you have captured the experience or whether you have missed something big.

Why do I say this? Some of you may have heard my diatribes on songs about people with disabilities. Sometimes one of these songs comes along, becomes popular and is touted as a model song of its kind and it is obvious to me, as a person with a lifelong disability, that the songwriter didn't have a clue what he or she was talking about. I think it is important to have a clue -- dig into your own life, talk to the bereaved mom, or do some research if need be


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 Jul 03 - 02:19 PM

Marion, you have received excellent advice here. But I guess I would ask a few questions of you. First, you obviously have some level of uncertainty and/or discomfort about publicly performing/recording this song. What/why exactly is that? Are you afraid of doing harm to the person the song is about? Are you afraid to ask permission to use the song, for fear they may say no? Are you afraid of appearing to others as if you have exploited this person just for the sake of a song?

Now, by asking those questions, I am not trying to suggest that any of the above possibilities are the reason for you asking this question, because I don't know you. But in order to put yourself at ease about it, I think some honest self-examination is in order, so you are clear about what is making you feel uncertain or uncomfortable about all this. Once you know and have admitted that to yourself, it will be much easier for you to make a good, confident decision about performing/recording the song.

You have to satisfy yourself first, as a writer. Writers SHOULD feel uncomfortable when righting about living people whom they make characters in their work. It is that feeling of discomfort and unease that acts as a check and balance against being exploitative, manipulative, libelous, etc. It is that place of unease from which springs the integrity of the artist.

Good luck with it. Thanks for starting such an interesting thread.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Deckman
Date: 27 Jul 03 - 02:26 PM

I'm VERY impressed, but not surprised, with the quality of the posting here. Good stuff. Bob


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: open mike
Date: 27 Jul 03 - 11:50 PM

I hope you do write and share that song.
There is a line in Bird on a Wire
that says:
"like a beast with it's horn,
like a babe still born,
i have torn every one
who reached out to me"
A birth is meant to be a joyous
event and when it is not, we
are not prepared to respond.
I had a sibling who was still
born, and consequently i lived
the life of an only child.
This event changed my life
forever, and my families' lives
as well. You will be speaking for many
others in your song. I hope I get to
hear it. Laurel


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Marion
Date: 28 Jul 03 - 01:11 AM

Thanks gang.

Guest, I saw your post earlier today and realized that I hadn't been very clear here about what disturbed me, and this was because it wasn't very clear in my mind either. So I have put some more thought into it, and this is what I realized:

Of your questions, the one that's closest to home is: Are you afraid of appearing to others as if you have exploited this person just for the sake of a song? But it's not a question of appearances: I'm afraid that I have in fact exploited her for the sake of the song. Even if it does her no tangible or intangible harm, and even if nobody else sees anything exploitative about it... I'm worried about what it says about me if I can look at a person in pain and see a character.

This year I've been on a songwriting roll and am actively seeking true stories to write about; I'm reading history books, and encouraging people to tell me their family stories. The letter from our mutual friend asked for my prayers, but my immediate response was not to pray but rather to think, "Hey, I should write a song about it." And now that response strikes me as callous.

Having said that, now that I've put my concern into words, it seems a little absurd: if you're worried about being callous, then you're probably not, eh?

Anyway, Guest, I was reassured by your third paragraph and hope it's true that Writers SHOULD feel uncomfortable when writing about living people whom they make characters in their work.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST,KB
Date: 28 Jul 03 - 03:14 AM

Marion - I have reread your original post, and in it you say that the song you have written is from the point of view of the mother singing to the baby. It seems to me that you are writing the song in the abstract then, rather than specifically about the lady whose experience sparked off the inspiration. You aren't seeking to reproduce exactly what she, personally, was thinking & what she, personally, would express to her child. So I think you are in no way exploitative. You heard her story, and it inspired you to explore that situation emotionally and to build a song - but that song comes from your emotional response to the concept, not hers.

I don't think you should tell her that you have written this song about her - I think you should tell her that hearing about her tragedy made you think deeply about the loss of a stillborn child, and that those thoughts inspired you to write a song. You could ask her whether she thinks the song is appropriate - but then maybe she might not like being put on the spot like that.

In any case you are likely to tug at some very strong emotions with this song - so you need to be aware of that when you sing it to people. For some it might be very painful, and of course there's always the possibility that some audiences will be put off by such strong emotion & will just switch off - so you might have quite a polarised audience!

Best of luck with whatever you decide to do with the song


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Wilfried Schaum
Date: 28 Jul 03 - 10:01 AM

Marion - let me encourage you. If you feel you must write this song then do it.
I'm with a similar problem. My youngest daughter was born on December 23, a fine Xmas present to the family.
Years later I found in the family history, that we had another birthday on this day, in the 1790s, but a stillborn baby. Imagine the terror I was in - it might have happened to my daughter, too. And imagine the parents' feelings of despair on Xmas! It's now for some years that I try to write a song about it, but I still got only a few verses till this day. I don't know whether I shill finish it sometimes.
Your song is about a human experience not so rare, and it fits the only three themes good poetry is concerned with: birth, love, and death (R. Graves). Nobody will know the persons about whom you write, and in no matter you should be ashamed to write, especially if you do it well.

Wilfried


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Jul 03 - 11:40 AM

Marion,

I'm pleased and honored you found my questions useful. I think Guest KB has hit the nail on the head though, with:

"You heard her story, and it inspired you to explore that situation emotionally and to build a song - but that song comes from your emotional response to the concept, not hers."

IMO, this is what you have actually done. I also think Guest KB's suggestion...

"I don't think you should tell her that you have written this song about her - I think you should tell her that hearing about her tragedy made you think deeply about the loss of a stillborn child, and that those thoughts inspired you to write a song."

...is also the most sensible advice for interacting with her, but only if you actually want to contact her. I don't believe that as a writer, you have any obligation to have contact with her.

The artistic process is somewhat odd in that real life stories, whether recent or long past, are often the inspiration for the work we do. Sometimes we actually channel stuff, and don't really know where it comes from, but that is less common. Of course, we always prefer the latter, because when it comes, it is easy--all we have to do is get out of the way! But when you are doing the hard work of writing something you KNOW is good stuff, you have to accept that you will be uncomfortable. That's why most people never end up doing the difficult work of being an artist. Artists live on the edge of society, are always peering and leering into center of society and people's lives for their inspiration. But the actual work that comes out of it is CREATION not exploitation.

Be that as it may, it doesn't mean that everyone who hears the song will react to it the way you would like them to! No artist worth their salt wants to be perceived as manipulative, exploitative and all that other nasty stuff. But for most of humanity, who aren't artists and who don't live with the discomfort of creation and giving birth on a routine basis (which includes creating and giving birth to the characters and personas in songs and poems inspired by the real life the artist themselves experience), they do often view artists as all those bads things! Hence, the need for artists of integrity to grow very thick skins. Comes with the territory of being a pro.

If you know it is one of your great songs and you want to get it out there, I say, get it out there, and let it go. You can't control people's reactions to it. Not everything you write will make you feel this way, but like I said, this is one of the circumstances that should make you feel uncomfortable. That is A Good Thing. It shows you have integrity, a good conscience, a functioning moral compass, all that. But at the end of the day, you are a songwriter and performer. This is one of your babies, all grown up and ready to fly. So let it go, with a little prayer, like we do with all our babies, and you and the baby will be fine!


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Jul 03 - 12:50 PM

Marion, after ruminating a bit more about what you wrote, I thought I should come back with this. You said:

"I'm worried about what it says about me if I can look at a person in pain and see a character."

That is what sets you apart as an artist though. It is a bit of a burden to bear, but hey--nobody in life gets off that easy. Artists can do that, regular folks can't. That is why society is uncomfortable having artists around. Artists hold the mirror up to society. Or as Kurt Vonnegut put it, "artists are society's canaries in the coal mine". Now, if you work in a coal mine, the canary is a creature you always want near you, because they keel over and die when the gases start to build up to levels that will kill you. They warn you that it is time to save yourself, and get the hell out. But you can also understand the discomfort with the messenger--it isn't that easy to love someone who makes you feel that threatened, that vulnerable, that humanly frail.

You also said:

"Having said that, now that I've put my concern into words, it seems a little absurd: if you're worried about being callous, then you're probably not, eh?"

Weeelll...I'm afraid we can't get ourselves off the hook that easily. Actually, you can still be callous, even when you are concerned about being callous. It is probably more likely though, that we worry about being perceived by others as being callous. The latter circumstance actually helps keep us more in check. But it also makes us more manipulative and deceptive, when we want to get trick others and ourselves, to get around that pesky, nagging thought about our own callousness.

Like I said, no easy answers for artists. Which is why most people don't become artists. Too much contradiction, paradox, ambiguity, etc. for most people to be comfortable with even occassionally, much less as a way of life.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 28 Jul 03 - 01:14 PM

"Guest, I saw your post earlier today" It's best always to remember that GUEST isn't necessarily the same as GUEST, evidenced in this thread. (That's a serious reason not to post as just GUEST, but that's another matter, not for discussing further in this thread, I hope.)

I take sharyn's point about caution in imagining yoursef into someone's life, when you can't know what it's really like. But that's what anyone putting a story together has to deal with, and different people are affected in very different ways by what on the surface might sound like the smae situation.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Marion
Date: 05 Aug 03 - 01:21 AM

Thank you for the further responses, all.

I've just mailed a letter and a copy of the song to the mother.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Kate
Date: 05 Aug 03 - 12:26 PM

I just wanted to say that the fact that you felt a strong urge to write the song shows that you empathise with this woman. It seems to me that if you empathise so strongly with her then you're not exploiting her, particularly when you continue to question your moral responsibilities to her. You said - "The letter from our mutual friend asked for my prayers, but my immediate response was not to pray but rather to think, "Hey, I should write a song about it". This seems to me to be your way of thinking about her - isn't that pretty much what prayer is? I don't think you're exploiting her, but I do agree with KB saying that you must be aware that when singing the song there may be people that it's particularly painful for.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Marion
Date: 26 Sep 03 - 02:35 PM

An update, now that I have permission to share the song:

The part of the story that I didn't tell you is that halfway through the pregnancy, they learned that the baby had anencephaly, i.e., no brain, and could not live long if at all after birth. Although many people would opt for an abortion given this news, they decided as Christians and pro-lifers to continue with the pregnancy. The parents felt it was their calling to take the best care of him they could as long as they had him. The courage and faithfulness behind this decision were what moved me to write about them. River was the baby's name.

So, by request, and with permission:

RIVER'S LULLABY (to the tune of Coventry Carol)

Lully lullay, my tiny child,
By by lully lullay.
Lully, my son, my baby mild,
By by lully lullay.

Long have I yearned to see your face,
Hoped for and feared this day.
Long shall I wait to hear your cry,
By by lully lullay.

River, though you were marked by God
Treasure in broken clay,
To love and keep you was my joy
Long as he let you stay.

Your father too, he cared for you
Though all our dreams and plans
Have come to nought since you were caught
By your other father's hands.

The summer night I brought you forth
Not into life, but death
The pure light met your opening eyes,
Heaven your eager breath.

But woe is me, dear child, for thee
Sorely I weep and pray.
To see you part has torn my heart,
By by lully lullay.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Rapparee
Date: 26 Sep 03 - 02:49 PM

That's lovely. Share it, sing it.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 27 Sep 03 - 03:43 AM

My God, what a song!

And what a story.

Thank you for sharing them with us.

LTS


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST
Date: 27 Sep 03 - 05:30 AM

Have just read this thread and your song and it has me in tears. What a brave woman your friend is and what a very fitting tribute your song is to her and to her baby.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 12:07 AM

Such a simple song to parody:



Lully lullay, my Christian marters,
By by lully lullay.
Lully, mistaken fees for the doctors,
By by lully lullay.

Born with no brain
But medicare took the pain
To the Christin marters
Of the Democratic party

Needs some more work, but perhaps it can be an anthem at the upcoming conventions.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST,Clint Keller
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 03:38 AM

A lovely song, and true

clint


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 03:57 AM

Well I see GUEST #2 is back on form... and it's M A R T Y R S.

Go back and see Teacher.

LTS


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 07:51 AM

A Song is a form or style of Poetry.

Poetry is Emotion Recollected in Tranquility.

Robin


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST,Different Guest
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 09:02 AM

I don't think the pro-life leanings of the real life characters on which the song is based, is even relevant to the song, to be honest.

It seems odd to suggest that the decision of the parents was determined by their religious-political beliefs. Such decisions tend to go much deeper than that in my experience. In fact, as I heard the background story, it reminded me of two birth stories, one with a tragic ending, where both mother and baby died during delivery, after similar sorts of news as the couple in the song had received. The other, where the mother was informed in her last month of pregnancy that the fetus had died. Rather than have the c-section immediately, she chose to allow the pregnancy to run it's natural course, and the baby was born about a week after she received the news. They named the baby, had a funeral, the whole thing.

Birth is a very complicated process, and as I said, that river runs much deeper in us than any political or religious belief. While I understand the couple made a decision based upon the dictates of their religion, I very much doubt that had they been members of a religion which did not dictate that the fetus be allowed to develop to full term and be born (as the Catholic religion usually, though not always, does), that their decision would have been any different.

There are serious medical risks to the mother in many of these circumstances, so I wouldn't think it wise to try and canonize and heroicize (is that a word?) the decision, beyond the personal (rather than political and/or religious) choice the couple made.

As to the song itself--it strikes me as maudlin. I also now understand your concern about it being exploitative. If you are putting a political/religious right to life spin on it, I would say it most certainly is exploitative and manipulative, regardless of what the mother says.

So, I don't know that


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Jeri
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 09:23 AM

I fail to see any political spin in the song, and the religious content only seems to be the mother's belief in God and an afterlife. I don't see anything preachy. I see you portraying one person's feelings about their loss. I don't see any intent to heroicize the parents.

I see lyrics written by someone who seriously cared about trying to understand what the mother felt and seriously cared about expressing it gently, in song.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Amos
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 10:00 AM

When you get right down to it, if you are not writing about people's private lives, you're being something other than an artist -- maybe a technical writer at best...


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST,Different Guest
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 10:06 AM

I didn't say the song was political. I was commenting on the story behind the song that Marion provided. Often, musicians put that story in liner notes to albums, and introduce songs with story behind the song, in public performances. I'm sorry if I wasn't clear about that. I would find it extremely exploitative and manipulative if this song was "introduced" either in CD liner notes or a public performance, with the background Marion gave above, which does put a political spin on the circumstances, big time. So I made the point that many people make these sorts of decisions about birth and death all the time, and those decisions rarely are informed by the abortion debate. Hence my suggestion to leave out the "pro-life" spin, and make it a much more compelling human story.

I have no problem with the song itself, and the mention of God is perfectly appropriate. I do like the theoretical concept of using a lullaby tune for the song, because that is a genuine and authentic way to represent the emotional attachment the mother feels to her dying baby. But *reading* the lyrics does make the lyrics sound maudlin to me. I think my view that it sounded maudlin may well have been influenced by Marion's politically spun background story though, where she said: "Although many people would opt for an abortion given this news, they decided as Christians and pro-lifers to continue with the pregnancy."

That really put me off, and made me feel that the song was exploitative and manipulative, like an attempt to turn the parents' experience into a political right to life anthem of sorts. Especially in the wake of what we had as background in this thread, ie Marion's discomfort at the idea that the song might be exploitative. Marion's statement above also suggested to me (even if she didn't intend it) that she the songwriter believes that anyone who would have chosen differently wouldn't be faithful or courageous, which I think is an absolutely preposterous statement to make.

What would not have put me off at all, was this much more emotionally honest statement: "The parents felt it was their calling to take the best care of him they could as long as they had him." That allows us to view the song in a human context which transcends anything remotely political or religious about their decision, because it makes their decision one every parent can empathize with, even if they wouldn't have chosen to make the same decision.

Any decision in circumstances like this are incredibly gut wrenching for the pregnant woman, her partner, and family and friends of the pregnant mother to be. When something isn't right with a pregnancy, there can be serious, life threatening consequences for both mother and baby. In my experience, those life and death concerns immediately become the central factor in making these sorts of gut wrenching decisions, and concern for the health of the pregnant woman and the baby often overrides the religious beliefs of the couple.

The story I told of mother and baby dying during delivery above, was similar to the story behind this song, except that the fetus was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, which wasn't discovered until late in the second trimester. The husband of the pregnant woman (who was a friend of mine's cousin) had wanted her to have a c section (what the doctor recommended as the safest course of action)immediately to terminate the pregnancy. And sadly, it is obvious in retrospect that his instincts were much better than the mother's judgment, as it was she who insisted on carrying the baby to full term and delivering, even if the baby died or was stillborn. She really didn't hear what her doctor was saying regarding her own life being at risk as well as the baby's. Her decision had nothing to do with her religion, though she was partially Catholic--one of her parents was Catholic, one Jewish. But she wasn't a practicing Catholic or Jew, and her decision was based on what she wanted to do to gain a sense of completion to her pregnancy, and do right by her baby.

The hormones of pregnancy are extremely powerful, and can cause pregnant women to make some pretty irrational decisions. Sometimes they turn out as well as can be expected under the circumstances, which is what I would say happened to the couple and their baby in this song.

I understand that everyone will want to run to Marion's defense because I have criticized her work, and that is considered to be an inexcusable violation of manners in many people's minds. But in this thread, I think it is very appropriate, and a continuation of the discussion begun by Marion herself, which was looking for feedback. I assume she is looking for feedback now about the song itself, so that is what I gave her. Don't overlook the fact that I may well have done Marion a favor professionally by pointing out to her that the story behind the song that she gave alienated me to the point that I reacted negatively to the song. Now, if Marion is on the right to life side of the abortion debate (she hasn't actually told us where she stands in this regard, and I think it is the central issue as to whether or not this song is exploitative and manipulative), perhaps that was her intention with the song--to provoke people who disagree with her opinion about abortion.

On the other hand, if she was really moved to write the song because of the choice the parents made (and not the justification given for it) and the way they responded to the devastating news about their baby, then she need not bring the right to life justification for their decision into it at all. In fact, to do so would be to potentially poison the reaction of audiences to the song every time she performs it with that right to life introduction, because many people WILL view that as exploitative and manipulative.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Jeri
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 10:29 AM

On one hand, you have someone trying to tell the mother's story, and I believe she DOES have to take her subject's beliefs into consideration no matter whether she agrees or not.

You haven't criticized Marion's work. You've criticized what you think she might do but hasn't done. In short, you've created something to criticize. (Deja vu...Hi Janet)

From an average listener's point of view, comments about the song by the author would probably have effect on whether or not I liked it. From the point of view of a singer looking for good songs, I'd have to see what the song is or can be on its own and whether that song - and nothing but the song - says something I want to express. But that's a whole nother thread topic!


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 11:06 AM

I agree that there is a difference between the criteria used to judge a song between audiences/listeners, and singers who might choose to sing the song, so you will get no argument from me there.

And I did criticize Marion's work--I said I found it maudlin, and that if it was written in the abortion debate context she provided in her introduction to the song here, that her worst fears about the song being exploitative and manipulative, were fully realized. That's what this thread has been about. She didn't provide the abortion debate background when she started this thread. She merely provided the information about the couple's choice to have a full term delivery, and keep the baby with them as long as it was alive.

I would also argue that if you aren't parents yourself, you really wouldn't be able to fully grasp the implications of the decision (well, ok if you are in obstetrics you could), nor empathize completely with the agony of receiving such devastating news, or about the gut wrenching pain involved in making the decision on how to proceed. Any suggestion that deciding to try for a full term delivery is more noble and courageous than choosing to terminate the pregnancy as quickly as possible (especially in these medical circumstances, where it is absolutely certain the fetus would never be viable outside the womb), is pretty despicable and appalling. I'm sure I'm not the only parent who would react to such a suggestion as that--especially if the songwriter and/or singer of the song has never been pregnant themselves.

Please Marion, tell me you have been pregnant yourself?


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 11:08 AM

And please Marion, tell me you aren't a pro-lifer?


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: s&r
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 11:25 AM

I have to respond to this thread. The feelings that different lobbies hold on abortion etc are no doubt sincere, but seem to miss the tragedy that accompanies the real life decisions.

I read that Marion was moved by a human situation - this is normal, and I didn't read it as political.

Some years ago our daughter felt that her child was no longer moving in the womb. This was confirmed: Christopher John had died before he was born. She asked me to write a poem for his life; this I did, and will post a copy in due course.

It was read at this funeral; some of the words are on his gravestone. A copy of the poem remains in the "grieving room" at the local maternity hospital, where I am told it provides some small comfort in that grief is not alone. It has been shared by many.

Write on Marion.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 02:00 PM

s&r, it was Marion who brought the issue of abortion into this thread. You said:

"I read that Marion was moved by a human situation - this is normal, and I didn't read it as political."

I didn't either, because when this thread was first started, Marion made no mention of it, and it never came up, until Marion herself refreshed the thread to update us. Please see that post of her's above, from 26 Sep 03 - 02:35 PM where she said:

"The part of the story that I didn't tell you is that halfway through the pregnancy, they learned that the baby had anencephaly, i.e., no brain, and could not live long if at all after birth. Although many people would opt for an abortion given this news, they decided as Christians and pro-lifers to continue with the pregnancy."

Marion introduced the topic of abortion into the thread there.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: pattyClink
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 03:41 PM

Very touching lyric, Marion. I'm sorry your thread got hijacked by jackals.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 04:09 PM

pattyClink, this thread hasn't been hijacked by anyone, and you are pretty damn rude and obnoxious to engage in childish name calling.

I will give you the benefit of the doubt however, by presuming you are one of those people who believe an artist should never be given critical feedback, because it isn't nice or polite to hurt their feelings.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Wilfried Schaum
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 04:37 PM

Marion, me dear - I have revisited your thread and am deeply moved by your song. Yeah, that's the feelings I must share remembering the near death of one of my daughters, and the family's stillborne baby I wrote about in my former post.
Forget the theoretical posts sent to you here -

In tears
Wilfried


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: s&r
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 06:18 PM

Christopher John

Somewhere there is a happy land
where we can walk the walks we planned
where we can wander hand in hand
and we can watch you grow

But you might have to wait a while
'til we run our allotted mile
So just look down on us and smile
a long long way below

We only knew a distant charm
we felt you push with leg or arm
we kept you safe and free from harm
but it was not to be

We hoped for more than you could know
we love you more than we can show
you are our first born child although
ourselves you will not see

You never heard us speak your name
you know we love you just the same
Nobody's fault; no one to blame
There was no one to warn

You lived close to your mother's heart
A separate life but not apart
Too short: we had no magic art
You died ere you were born

And yet you walked around the farm
You heard your daddy in the barn
You felt the sun and heard the storm
The wind blow through the trees

You shared the tears upon our face
You felt the warmth of our embrace
You leave in us a special place
Sleep now sleep in peace


Our daughter now has two husky little farmhands: Christopher John is never forgotten


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Sep 03 - 06:29 PM

Now THAT is an excellent piece of writing. It is easy to see why so many others have found comfort in it.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: s&r
Date: 29 Sep 03 - 06:16 AM

Thanks Guest.

It was the hardest thing I've ever written - it was requested by our Daughter, and I wrote it in the breaks between sobbing my heart out.

I think when the emotion is high the words often reflect it

Peace


s&r


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST
Date: 29 Sep 03 - 07:17 PM

Wow - that digs deep s&r


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: Marion
Date: 01 Oct 03 - 03:49 PM

Thanks for your comments, all.

Thanks especially to S&R for sharing your powerful poem. Hope you're having fun with your other grandkids.

Different Guest, it appears to me that you've taken the scant information I provided, made several assumptions, and created a whole other story about what happened and about my motives and intentions. Then you got upset about that story in your head, rather than reality. I don't have the time or inclination to straighten you out point by point. But you HAVE done me a favour, as you mentioned, by showing me how drastically my brief introduction could be misinterpreted.

Jeri, the question you raise about songs standing alone or needing background is an interesting one - and River's Lullaby is a good example of that. Those who are familiar with the Coventry Carol will recognize that I didn't just choose it for its tune, and will see the echo of Coventry Carol's first and last verse in River's Lullaby's first and last verse. And I believe that those people will appreciate the song more because of it. On the other hand, those who don't know Coventry Carol might find the phrase "woe is me" out of place. So what's the best way - assume nobody knows Coventry Carol, and leave out the "woe is me"? Take the time to explain the connection? Or just accept that some people will get the references and others might be confused by them?

Oh, and what chords are y'all using for Coventry Carol? By ear I came up with:

Am Am Dm E7
Am Dm Am Am
Dm G Em E7
Am Dm A A

but I'm not really satisfied with the third line.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Oct 03 - 08:26 AM

I didn't assume anything Marion, I asked you two specific questions I believe goes to the heart of the matter here which were:

1. Have you yourself ever been pregnant?

and

2. Are you yourself pro-life?

If you answer yes to both, or no to the first and yes to the second, then you've written an exploitative and manipulative song. If you answer yes to the first, but no to second, I'd be very puzzled as to why the judgmental crack "Although many people would opt for an abortion given this news, they decided as Christians and pro-lifers to continue with the pregnancy." was necessary, because it is certainly off-putting to many.

You began this thread stating that you had written a song you feared might offend the people who inspired it. I am not making assumptions when I question your motives for not revealing the pro-life angle you put on the story when you introduced us to the song. I am merely questioning your motives.

Looks as though you were really more interested in getting agreement and praise than critical feedback. Your choice as a writer of course, but it doesn't do much for the integrity of your writing at the end of the day.

I have never meant to offend you Marion, and it is only honest feedback that I have given. However, you are apparently offended because I didn't join the chorus praising you. Again, your choice.

Best of luck to you.


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Subject: RE: Writing about people's private lives?
From: s&r
Date: 10 Oct 03 - 11:29 AM

I remember a concert at a major Festival. The artist introduced a song about someone close to him who had felt that she had to have an abortion. The introduction and the song were gut wrenching and emotional.

Just as emotional was the response from a woman in the audience - she called to the singer that he had no right to an opinion since he was a man, and was therefore incapable of understanding.

His response was that as someone who had been a foetus he had every right to an opinion.

The tragedy that night is that two feeling and hurting people could do no better than to share their hurt.

I wonder if the various guests have been pregnant, or aborted or had stillbirths...

Love and courage is present in people whose views I do not share.

Write about anything that moves you Marion


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