I was just telling a co-writer the other day about how I’ve written some stinkers over the years. I always get a kick out of running across an old not-at-all-awesome lyric. I’ll come across a piece of paper with one of my furious scribbles, and the first thing that pops into my mind is, “What were you thinking? That’s terrible!”
Such is the case with a song I started when I was seventeen which I had to record recently.
I was a sophomore in college, and I was pledging a sorority. (I know. You don’t see it, do you? I am an Alpha Gamma Delta. It’s totally true.)
Our pledge class was told that we needed a class song. I was pledging with my high school friend, Kristin, and she and I decided to take the song I’d written for our high school graduation and change it to make it fit for the pledge class. (I found out later that they hadn’t meant we had to write a full-on song. They’d meant for us to make up lyrics to a popular song. Oops.)
The song was called, “When I Say Friend.” The hook is, “When I say friend, I’ll always think of you.” I’m not even going to go into all the parts that I wouldn’t write now (teardrop? Gheesh.) For your viewing pleasure, here is a picture the lyric I wrote all those years ago:
I got an email from an Alpha Gam a few weeks ago asking me for a recording of this song. “When I Say Friend,” has been passed down from year to year, and my chapter is still singing it. They wanted a recording because a music therapist from hospice wanted to play comforting songs to a young woman, Toni, who was dying of breast cancer.
“When I Say Friend,” was one of the songs they asked for.
Toni was younger than I and we never met. I knew her name, and I knew she had been fighting breast cancer for years. I also knew that her husband died unexpectedly last September leaving her with the two boys.
I sat down at my piano that day to record, “When I Say Friend,” and the professional writer in me kept getting embarrassed at the lyric. Then, I would think of Toni dealing with the betrayal of her body and the weight of leaving her boys, and I sang. I remembered the spirit in which I wrote that little song all those years ago.
At seventeen when this song was started for my high school graduation, I was making a promise to my friends. Truth is, it was the best promise I knew how to make at that age.
As it turns out, with all it’s imperfections and naievete, it’s still about the best promise I know how to make to my friends today. I’d write it differently, but I’d still mean it.
Songwriters, write your songs with the passion of where you are in your experience. Write what you know exactly as you know it. Write your truth. Be excellent.
Songs have a way of finding their place. Even the bad ones.