Truthfulness in Songwriting

How much do you, any of you, expect truthfulness in songwriting?  I’m wondering specifically about songs that purport (or maybe just seem) to be autobiographical.  Because I’ll tell you that for my part, while the emotional place they come from is sincere, a song of mine will very seldom resemble the relationship (assuming we’re talking about a love song, because let’s face it, they’re all love songs) that inspired it.  Which I think is a probably a good thing.  Some of it is artistic license in crafting a more entertaining drama.  But more often I suspect it has something to do with actually giving myself emotional distance from the real life events.  As Fancy Dan put so well in his anthem “Sing To Survive”, “Some songs will pass judgments / and yell things that you never say”.  Of my own songs, I’m thinking specifically of “World’s Oldest Profession” and “This Heart Is Not A Home”, both very angry songs written in the wake of difficult breakups.  But while I draw on a real, mostly remembered, feeling of hurt for each, I don’t feel so angry towards the people whom the songs address, and I don’t think I ever did.  It’s like the song is a vessel into which I pour the ugliest thoughts and feelings that course through me, so that I’m no longer carrying them around inside of me.

On the other hand, “Chicken Bone” is a completely factual account with no fabrications or embellishments whatsoever.

One thought on “Truthfulness in Songwriting

  1. Thanks for the shout-out Shareef! Like you said, as long as a song comes from a true emotional place, it can be autobiographical or completely made up or a mixture of both. I always think of Springsteen’s Nebraska song or Sufjan Stevens’ John Wayne Gacy Jr. where each songwriter fully put themselves in the shoes of serial killers. These songs are so truthful, which is surprising since each songwriter found a way to relate to these real killers and see from their perspectives. But basically I think a songwriter’s role is to know on an instinctual level when something’s right or not right within a particular song and their job is to find what is true for that song whether it actually happened or not.

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