Writing about real things, vs 'real things'
High school for me was a fucking drag. I've often said, I learned exactly two useful things the entire time I was there: How to type (I'm using that right now!) and the Nashville Numbering System. The latter was taught to me by a kindly band director who took mercy on my no-can-read-music self and let me stay in the music theory and composition class I naively signed up for as a freshman, anyway. It turned out to to be one of the only classes I tried in. Yes, perhaps I could have applied myself better, too.
Somehow, I graduated on time. They were probably just as glad to see me leave as I was. But one thing that got me through that ridiculous time were my friends, which included the members of my band and other music lovers. One of them, Dave, had a mother who was older, widowed and not easily offended or ruffled. We made his house -- her house, really -- our unofficial HQ for the duration of the campaign. This meant band rehearsals and beer parties weekly, and almost nightly during the summers.
One day in 2017, a song about that time just rolled out of me. It's nice when that happens, and it's no symphony, but it accurately described the silliness and desperation we felt, and the gratitude it left in every member of our crew's hearts for the sanctuary that house provided.
Here it is...
So..that dear friends is a truly autobiographical story. But really, I've written very damn few of those. Though they're special to us, the real characters who populate them, they're usually a bit dull to the outsider, which includes most of the world.
However, informing songs about "real things" with actual real things is absolutely mandatory for any storyteller. A heard a phrase awhile back from the great Epiphany Ferrell, but I don't remember its actual origins. (Perhaps another of the writers she admires). Anyway, the phrase was "the uninventable truth." It means that all stories - be it a novel, a short story or a song - need to be carefully seasoned with authentic moments and observations and feelings. The story need not be actually true top to bottom, but without this concept duly applied, it won't be true at all.
This truth, this uninventable truth, can't be faked or simulated. If you pay attention to interviews with writers you admire, you'll likely hear them referring to this concept by various names and terms. It's what makes their art soar, as opposed to others.
The more you do it, the more you're able to take, say a moment when you might be heartbroken over a child's troubles, and use that as way to write being heartbroken in a totally different context. Heartbreak is heartbreak, and it translates. But if you want to write about it, you gotta have been truly heartbroken at some point.
So there's real stuff, and "real" stuff. But there's only one truth. I can point to dozens of such instances in my songs.
If you're writer, take note of those moments, those insights, those phrases of truth you absently mutter under your breath when something disappoints or delights you. Label them and put them in your spice rack. To me, they're the essence of the whole thing.