The image above has something to do with this post. Give me a moment and I’ll tell you how.

I think a lot about songwriting. The fact is though, that I write very few songs, but many more tracks. What I mean by this is that the music I compose is not songwriting. To me, a songwriter writes something that you can sing. You can’t sing my songs, but I’d like to see you try if you disagree with me.

There are gifted songwriters out there. One of them, in my opinion, is Patty Griffin. Let me preface this by saying that most of those out there who think you know my musical tastes will probably not expect me to like PG or even live in the same universe as her. But I do, and musical influence is a strange animal that knows no boundaries. Not in the same way that tastes impose boundaries.

Artistic influence is about what is on the outside and hasn’t completely made it in yet. That’s the only way it stands a chance to inspire – to be different, to contrast and to show a different way of doing things. In the case of Patty Griffin, there was never much of a chance that we are remotely similar. But there is something in her songwriting that strikes a chord with me, and indeed one of her songs, “Goodbye,” is one of the few songs by anyone to have achieved a 10/10 rating on my Radio Paradise account.

Part of songwriting, to me, is writing good lyrics. This might sound obvious to many of you but I have spoken to a lot of people who do not take lyrics into consideration when they judge whether or not they like a song. If I think I like a song, I immediately look up the lyrics – this is to see if I like the message behind it all. If the lyrics turn out to be garbage, then it sours the song for me. However, in the case where the lyrics are very good, it can turn an already good song into a meaningfully good song. That is another category altogether – this is the kind of music that now has lasting power for me. I’m not going to get into what I consider to be good songwriting itself or what good lyrics are. That is far too subjective – I’d rather just say that you know when something has been written with purpose, and you also know when something was just written. And finally I’d like to give you an example of the good songwriting I am talking about.

The example I’ve chosen is a lo-fi video of a PG doing a performance of the song “Goodbye” with an acoustic guitar. This is pretty raw and in this environment I think this really shows the talent involved. Here it is:

And here are the lyrics. Maybe follow along while watching the video:

Occured to me the other day
You’ve been gone now a couple years
Well, I guess it takes while
For someone to really disappear
And I remember where I was
When the word came about you
It was a day much like today
The sky was bright, and wide, and blue
And I wonder where you are
And if the pain ends when you die
And I wonder if there was
Some better way to say goodbye
Today my heart is big and sore
Its tryin’ to push right through my skin
I wont see you anymore
I guess thats finally sinkin’ in
Cause you cant make somebody see
By the simple words you say
All their beauty from within
Sometimes they just look away
But I wonder where you are
And if the pain ends when you die
And I wonder if there was
Some better way to say goodbye

If you liked that song I’d recommend you find the studio version because it’s simply gutting with full sound – ie: bass and a bit more instrumentation, and of course you get PG’s full vocals. So what does that all have to do with the image above? Well the lyrics remind me of a couple friends I’ve lost over the years and the image above – the weightless woman – reminds me of some dreams I’ve had where I’ve died and started floating over a room. So it’s a pretty loose connection, but from where I stand that is all that’s required.

Somewhat unrelated:
How many of you out there use iTunes? If not, what do you use? Does it have the ability to subscribe to podcasts?

Join the Conversation


  1. I don’t listen to Patty Griffin myself, but this song does sound very beautiful. I agree that the lyrics really are what make this song good, otherwise it would just be okay. I think this sort of song has to have good, deep and/or emotional lyrics to be any good, as that is the crux of the whole song with this type of music (for me at least). But a “track”, such as those that you write which are purely music and no lyrics, they need to invoke emotion purely from the movement of the music. Anyways, I can see why you like this artist, there is definitely talent there and this song is definitely deep.
    As for the other subject, I hate iTunes (on Windows at least, I know you’ve said it’s better on a Mac). It’s deadly slow and when I have a few podcasts set to auto-download, it chugs even more anytime I open it. It’s a huge system resource hog and really needs a proper Windows port. So I kick it old school and just subsribe to podcasts through an RSS feed with GoogleReader, then when I see an update that I want to get (I don’t always want some of the podcasts I subscribe to), I download it manually with a good old right-click save and play it in winamp. Windows really needs a nice light-weight iTunes style application.

  2. Craig: hahaha..
    Graham: I have heard this from many people about iTunes on Windows. Too bad because the program is really quite good on the Mac side. Porting has never seemed to be very graceful, you can always tell which team had more funding..

  3. The problem isn’t just that iTunes is a resource hog on Windows, I also don’t like the GUI design much. Apple is usually very good at creating GUIs, but I found this one unintuitive at first. Now that I know it and have gotten used it, its not so bad, but I found it confusing at first. For instance, just to load a song into my ipod I first have to add my track to my library, then put it on the ipod. I don’t need or want any library paradigm, I just want to drag my file onto the ipod. etc.

  4. A lot of what you see in iTunes in terms of usability philosophy and workflow originated in a product called SoundJam, which Apple ultimately bought out in 2000. iTunes was released in Jan 2001 and it was like SoundJam but a bit better. Of course, back then, there was no store, there was no iPod, there was no video, so it all worked fairly well in the interface you see now. They’ve done a pretty good job of integrating the store and device transfer, but when it comes down to it the original interface was not built for it and it has become unintuitive when coupled with the relatively new features. I am of the opinion that iTunes is due for a complete interface overhaul considering the newer functionality, but they may be too invested in this current one to abandon it.
    Personally I like it when software developers make a new interface and give you the option of using the old one or the new one. Obviously this would be hard to maintain over time – having to maintain features for two interfaces instead of one – but it might increase market share and prevent others from just throwing up their hands and abandoning the product itself.

  5. i enjoy itunes a great deal…i use it everyday for organization, playback, burning etc…
    i was trying to convince a windows friend the other week about why i liked it but they did not understand…i guess what you say about the port may be the reason…

  6. “I am of the opinion that iTunes is due for a complete interface overhaul considering the newer functionality”
    100% agree. There are already a few GUI designs I can think of that will be way more intuitive given all the current features. I understand how the current GUI is the result of fitting all the new iPod generation features into an old design. But it’s gotta be about time for a complete redesign. It’s been quite a few years and by the time the “next” big feature needs to be implemented into iTunes, it probably makes more sense to redesign now rather than later. Unless they’ve already started a redesign. Given Apple’s UI track record, I have complete confidence they can come up with a great new design that is both simple and powerfull.

  7. I remember SoundJam!!
    Also, je remember liking it far more than the first version of iTunes for one reason or another. But hey, iTunes is what I too utilize on a regular basis now as well Davin — if there were something nicer out there, I would love to find it. I think I’ll start looking now.
    I really like the second to last stanza of lyrics in that song, it strikes me the most..oddly enough. =)

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