Dear Someone: For the Sake of the Song

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Photo by Lobo Sucio Creative.

Walker Lukens is a musician living and working in Austin, Texas. His latest album is called Devoted. His advice column Dear Someone runs semimonthly on Pop Press International. You can send in your own inquiries by emailing Walker here or by using the submission form at the bottom of this post. He’ll give you advice if you ask. 

Dear Walker,

I am a new fan of your music after seeing you at Barons last night. I’m a musician also and the singer in a band—really curious to get your opinion about something as a fellow lyricist. My lyrics are very autobiographical and usually stem directly from my life. So since my ex-girlfriend left me to be with someone else, it’s all I’ve been able to write about. My band thinks these are the best songs that we’ve ever made and I agree. Not surprisingly, these songs are mean. I’m angry at her. The songs are angry. The catchiest song uses her name in the chorus and not in a nice way.

What’s your feeling about this? You think it’s okay to write really angry and mean songs about someone? She cheated on me. I have a right to be angry, but can I say awful things about her in a song? Do songwriters get a pass?

Sincerely,

Jilted

sad_pup

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Dear Jilted,

I’m glad you enjoyed the show. Mad thanks to The Blind Pets for letting us hop on their bill TWO HOURS BEFORE THE SHOW.

It is important to express your anger, which I know from years of not doing it so well. I’m talking about raw, unmediated rage. This is not to say you should ever direct it at someone in the moment. (Probably always a bad move to yell at someone.) Go up into the mountains around your beautiful town and yell all the impolite things that you need to yell. Feel all your feelings, or they’ll come back and bite you one day!

I wrote a lot of mean songs when I was a teenager, and I definitely got off on the fact that I had a soapbox from which to share them. My main regret was revealing who inspired the songs—passive aggressive behavior, emo-style, at it’s finest. While singing angry songs added to my generally ornery air, it did not make me less angry.  It gave a false sense of meaning to the negative experiences I had. I thought there was some sort of heroism to sharing my experiences with the world. There wasn’t and still isn’t. It did take some guts, however. It’s courageous to get in front of people and sing about your life, but it’s not an altruistic service. This overly sentimental point of view has caused me to bite my lip and put sunglasses on among musicians on more than one occasion. You entertain people at bars. Come on now.

I have no doubt that writing about your life helps you process your feelings. The content however is not making the songs better—it’s the passion and the authenticity of the narrative. If people need to know the backstory to like the songs, they probably aren’t that good.

“Fuck you, (insert ex-girlfriend’s name)’ is a hurtful thing to say or sing. From a stage, it’s only a one-way conversation and, in that way, also cowardly. I don’t recommend it. If it won’t ruin the song, you should drop your ex’s name altogether or at least consider changing it. In so much as you are trying to communicate with your girlfriend, let this koan sink in: Success is the best revenge. Acting aloof will sting more down the line than lashing out will in the moment.

Sincerely,

Walker

To submit your inquiries for Walker’s next column, email him here, or use the submission form below.





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