It’s not unreasonable to expect a personal journal to remain personal. Maybe some great-great grandchild looking for relation and meaning digs it out the attic and bases a whole bildungsroman around it. The audience is charmed. Everybody feels like they learned a little something about themselves, the beauty of belief in the self, and the unifying power of nostalgia. But besides posthumous influence fantasies, personal writing is unquestionably meant to be just that, personal. Things you’d like to say, things you wish you could’ve said, and feelings you’d like to express more openly.
When a piece of work is created, art, writing, music, etc. it’s an expression, but an expression that’s often meant to be shared and interpreted and re-interpreted with a larger audience than just the creator. Some mediums demand more presentation than others, but it’s rare that we bring something into the world to be immediately sequestered.
Maybe not so rare is when something is created with the intent to share, but from nerves or privacy, or some lethal combination of the two, it’s made then carefully put aside. The smaller the intended audience, the more likely this is to occur. If you write a thrilling, compact, plot-driven crime novel, you’re not exactly speaking to a niche following. Your audience is a proven entity, and as long as you make sure the hero triumphs and you leave room for sequels, plenty of people will be paying $28 to start it on a plane. On the other hand, if you sit down with a notebook of half-finished couplets and a vaguely tuned guitar, Garageband and the intent to get out some feelings, you may not even make it to Bandcamp.
Telling someone how you feel is not an inherently creative act. It does connote a certain amount of presentation and with that, a sense that the sentiment alone is not enough. Therefore we have things like flowers and cards, front yard mariachi bands and back yard jazz quartets and, of course, odes.
Sure, there is mass appeal in odes. Shakespeare and John Donne banked on them centuries ago, just like Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift do today and since you asked, no, I have no problem with that comparison at all, go read a book. Anyways, people love other people’s thoughts on love and always have and always will. They especially love repurposing those thoughts for their own lives and situations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we’re all just out here trying to relate. But, in the (probably) rare instances you really, really feel like Willie and Waylon could use a mulligan, you might proudly step forward to take it for them.
So there you are, Laptop open, headphones on, ready to strum the strums that’ll introduce your sad-eyed, lovelorn, hard-up wisdom to the world. You press record, and you’re off and swinging.
Five takes later and you’re basically satisfied (read: your roommate is coming home soon/it turns out singing makes you lightheaded). But after the file safely compacts its way to iTunes, what’s next?
- You could keep it to yourself. God forbid anyone hears it, hates it, and writes you off as not possessing a skill.
- You could see what the faceless, writhing masses on Soundcloud or Bandcamp or Myspace Music (if that still exists) think. Maybe they’ll be harsh, but you can be just as anonymous as them! And, out of all those billions of ears and pleasure centers, maybe someone will even like it. Then there’s no telling how far your star will rise.
- You could play it for the person who inspired it.
And those are some choppy waters.
Chances are that if you’re agonizing over whether or not anyone (specifically one person) will ever hear your song, they will not be expecting to hear a song about themselves, much less one written by you. (Unless that’s sort of your whole deal, but let’s say, for the sake of the scenario, it’s not.) And now that you’ve decided to throw caution to the wind that’s blowing through your apartment, convincing you to believe in love again, and chosen option “c,” you have to figure out how best to drop the track. This is a presentation after all. So, you know, you want something real classy, real subtle, and how smooth? So smooth!
- You, having invited said subject over, pull out the guitar. Maybe she insisted you do upon seeing it, but she almost certainly didn’t. Depending on how confident you are in your ability to handle vocal and instrumental duties at the same damn time, this is probably a pretty bad option. The best-case scenario is that, as realization slowly dawns on her face, you start playing softer and softer until eventually the guitar is tossed aside (and not gently, mind you!) and replaced with a passion, lip-and-soul-locking embrace. Not worth the risk.
- You’re driving, you tell her, obviously super casually, “Pick whatev…Oh wait, you know what? Put [whatever rad band name/song title you came up with] on.” She does so. Realization slowly dawns on her face (this is a big part of every option) and because you have such phenomenal peripheral vision, you see it happening, and in unison your hands meet over the parking brake.
- You casually mention that you’ve been making music. She immediately demands more information/for you to send it to her. You acquiesce. Then, a few days later at work, you get a text: “Which ones are about me?” This makes you feel very warm inside and can just see her face, realization freshly dawned on it. “Which ones do you think?” Hopefully she gets this right.
Maybe telling someone how you feel should be separated from your disparate creative pursuits. Maybe it’s better to just confront her and put it simply. Maybe a news breaking song or poem is best left hidden away on your hard drive or in your desk. But I like to think of it in the form of this question, if someone wrote you a love song, wouldn’t you want to know?