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Songs about current/historical events...


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Here in Michigan, every dink w/ and acoustic guitar can play "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". A band I saw last night had another shipwreck story about a ship that just turned up after 112 years. One of my focuses this summer (during the summer of song I mentioned here) is going to be to try writing a song about an historical event or a current event. Has anyone written one? Have a favorite? How about any tips?

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These are about historical events, but they are fairly distant in time, location, and specificity, and thus don't work on the shared referent model of Edmund Fitzgerald and the like:

http://angarai.blogspot.com/2010/10/braathlid-1019.html

http://angarai.blogspot.com/2010/10/chaco-917.html

 

This one is about a contemporary news event, but it's about France and is written in French, and thus probably won't resonate with the good folks in GR:

http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=6946922

 

 

As far as good/workable models: for the former any of the Edmund Fitzgerald style folk songs (Grand Coolee Dam etc.) and for the latter I've always been fond of Hurricane by Bob Dylan.

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Here in Michigan, every dink w/ and acoustic guitar can play "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". A band I saw last night had another shipwreck story about a ship that just turned up after 112 years. One of my focuses this summer (during the summer of song I mentioned
) is going to be to try writing a song about an historical event or a current event. Has anyone written one? Have a favorite? How about any tips?

 

I don't have many, but I have this one:

 

It was nine ten of seventy five

when Squeaky Fromme did strike

a blow for the freedom

of woman and man

with a loaded forty-five


Now some folks called her a heroine

and some just called her a dope

but one things for certain

she got the attention

than she and Sandra had hoped



she said she done it for the redwoods

and the haunted and hunted pines

free all the trees was her rallying cry

and stop all vegicide


Now maybe Gerry Ford

was just an innocent fool

and did not deserve to die

but who ain't better for the ex-per-ience

of looking Death in the eyes [...]

It goes on but, well, it's extremely sardonic -- and at this point, I kind of have a soft spot for Gerry Ford, especially considering a couple of presidents who followed...

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For nonfiction dealt with dramatically, check out authors Neal Bascomb:

 

Hunting Eichmann (about... hunting Eichmann)

The New Cool (about a HS science teacher championing a new cool in science over sports in robotics contests, etc. Recently optioned by the movie "The Social Network's" creative team.

Perfect Mile (about the 3 way race to break the 4 minute mile in the 50's)

Red Mutiny (Potemkin mutiny and the subsequent Russian revolution)

Higher (the race for height and dominance in Manhattan's skyline circa 1920)

 

And Erik Larson:

 

The Devil in the White City (about the planning and building of the Chicago World's Fair at the turn of the century and the concurrent killings of a madman)

Thunderstruck (Marconi and the radio and all its surrounding drama)

 

 

The interesting thing about both authors is that they deal with nonfiction from a dramatic point of view. There's dialog. There's present tense action. There's rain outside the window. The wind blows. It's happening now. Oh... and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.

 

I love this type of history treatment and think it could go a long way toward informing some song ideas and methods.

 

Bascomb's 40 years old and achieved an amazing string of success at such an early age. His relative youth is a great study for songwriters I think. He's got a youthful voice. And Larson's just freaking great. True stories, not dry.

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The key is to pick some event that moves you, a story that tells something about the human condition. Something that people can relate to. It can be sad, or it can be happy (or even comedic). But it's gotta grab ya in some unique way.

 

. . . ,or not.

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Here in Michigan, every dink w/ and acoustic guitar can play "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". A band I saw last night had another shipwreck story about a ship that just turned up after 112 years. One of my focuses this summer (during the summer of song I mentioned
here
) is going to be to try writing a song about an historical event or a current event. Has anyone written one? Have a favorite? How about any tips?

As well as Lightfoot, many Canadian folkies have written songs about historical events. The key is to base the song on some small event or experience that may be only tangentially related to the main event. Or, to write from the point of view of a bystander or bit-player in the event. For example, Alex Sinclair wrote a song about the last hanging in Canada. It took place on a stormy winter day, and most of the song is about the weather. The refrain is "...[snow] blowing in the hangman's eyes".

For songs about current events, humour works well. We had an election here about a month ago. Prior to the election, most ridings held all-candidates open sessions where anyone could come & ask questions. In my riding, one candidate didn't show up (he feared that he'd get grilled for his poor performance). The organizers placed a potted plant on his chair on stage. A friend of mine wrote a song about "political potted plants".

It's can be a fun exercise - enjoy! :)

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Though the song Madge by Stephen Bishop is not about an historical event... its technique of personal remembrance could be used to frame an event in a unique, personal perspective, sort of way. Say, the design and building of the Brooklyn Bridge, D-Day, Wall Street crash suicide, Ferris vs. Eiffel, etc... from one man's personal memory. Small details, big event...

 

It was 1927

Had the world at my feet

A pretty girl on each arm

My family was so proud of me

 

I built a lot of buildings

Tore half of 'em down

One by one

They all crumbled just like me

But like a storm in a teacup

Like a smile sent down from heaven

Madge, I loved you then

and I love you now

 

We ate in the finest restaurants

Had the wealthiest friends

Most of them are gone now

No one left to say, "I knew you when"

 

It seems so long since I've remembered

the girl I used to know

She never saw any of my money

But she watched it come and go

 

Like a storm in a teacup

like a smile sent down from heaven

Madge I loved you then

and I love you now

 

They call this place "Sunnyside"

But I ain't seen the sun

in a long, long time

And my hands don't seem too steady now

But they're still holding onto you

 

Madge, she's probably married now

in a nice white house

and me I just sit here in my room

Quiet as a mouse

 

But I got my TV turned up loud

I'm not going to hear myself retreat

If only I'd have kept her

I'd have stayed on my feet

 

Like a storm in a teacup

like a smile sent down from heaven

Madge I loved you then and I love you now...

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Write about a small event that wasn't important. Writing about a big event everybody is supposed to care about... is corny.

 

I'd be much more interested in hearing a song about the Surprise Upset of the Humbolt County Town Town Clerk Election of 2010 than I would be hearing some tripe about how sad 9/11 was or how great it was when those Chilian coal miners got free or whatever.

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Write about a small event that wasn't important. Writing about a big event everybody is supposed to care about... is corny.


I'd be much more interested in hearing a song about the Surprise Upset of the Humbolt County Town Town Clerk Election of 2010 than I would be hearing some tripe about how sad 9/11 was or how great it was when those Chilian coal miners got free or whatever.

 

 

Like when those boys built the ladder to heaven?

 

[video=youtube;VJ_E7Vce8vU]

 

But seriously, I agree with you.

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Write about a small event that wasn't important. Writing about a big event everybody is supposed to care about... is corny.


I'd be much more interested in hearing a song about the Surprise Upset of the Humbolt County Town Town Clerk Election of 2010 than I would be hearing some tripe about how sad 9/11 was or how great it was when those Chilian coal miners got free or whatever.

 

 

I don

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You know, what I think that's all more about it: Doesn't matter what a song's about, really, long as you can either sing along or dance to it. Lyrics can be corny as hell, really, long as it's catchy. Or preachy as hell long as the melody is sweet.

 

That's why that song Luka was bearable - that melody is catchy and sweet as it gets. Plus there was something affectingly creepy about a bubble-gum pop song about child abuse. That song coulda been sung from the molestor's or beater's perspective - still probably woulda worked.

 

As it goes - a song came out a year later from Luka that has a lot in common, rhythmically, harmonically and melodically: There She Goes By the La's. Lee Mavers was a genius, in my book. Very similar tunes. I suspect they both borrow from the Everly Brothers' When Will I Be Loved. Amazing song.

 

There she goes is about heroin, as it goes. But, you know, sing it sweetly - you can get away with murder.

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You know, what I think that's all more about it: Doesn't matter what a song's about, really, long as you can either sing along or dance to it. Lyrics can be corny as hell, really, long as it's catchy. Or preachy as hell long as the melody is sweet.


That's why that song Luka was bearable - that melody is catchy and sweet as it gets. Plus there was something affectingly creepy about a bubble-gum pop song about child abuse. That song coulda been sung from the molestor's or beater's perspective - still probably woulda worked.

 

 

Hmm. I think you're overstating your stance on this. Luka worked worked for the reasons you mention. The odd juxtaposition of theme and music tone. But your point...

 

"Doesn't matter what a song's about, really, long as you can either sing along or dance to it."

 

That can be true, but in the Luka example, you're really making the opposite point. It works because of it's theme. No, it wouldn't have the impact it did if the protagonist was the offender. It would have impact, yes, but not one with a universal connection that tune had. Which makes the point...

 

...lyrics matter. As much as we want them to and are willing to use techniques to evoke emotional responses. They matter. Not automatically. It's hard to make them matter. But the great stuff is a symbiotic relationship between music and theme. Words and notes.

 

And I mean that with Katy Perry, Dre, Carrie Underwood, etc. stuff too. Thinking it doesn't matter shortchanges your possibilities.

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