I have a very smart songwriting friend who has been a firehose of wisdom over the years. When we first met I was writing mainly alone and sometimes the lyrics I would share were full of the anguish of the human spirit; sometimes sad, sometimes full of people with real conflict. Nothing wrong with that but she made a simple suggestion one day after I came up with one of my dark night of the soul ideas. In fact, I think it was called “Dark Night Of The Soul.” Might have been where I was at the time. Hey, write what you know - right?
Her words were something to the effect of “you could write this and still leave a little hope you know?” I admit I was taken aback and remember saying “does everything have to have a happy ending, ‘cause you know real life isn’t always like that.” I was missing her point.
Think about watching a movie, reading a book, hearing a story or a song where the hero always dies at the end. Bound to make you feel let down. What if you’re left to at least imagine that the main character has a chance at redemption? Not a bad way to leave an audience. Maybe there’s a silver lining. We all like an underdog story. I started looking at some of my ideas with that in mind and I think it made my songs that much better; to leave hope when I could. Just let the listener decide how the story might continue after the song is over.
Maybe the hope element is the lesson learned by the narrator in your song. Maybe it’s the against-the-odds story you’re telling in your lyric. You can still show the struggle but you can instill an element of hope. Every time I hear U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” I feel like he’s going to eventually. I know there are exceptions; I don’t know if Mick got any “Satisfaction” in the end, but I’m betting on it.
There’s a reason we tend to make songs of affirmation and hope into hits. They make us feel good. They aren’t so much happy-ever-after songs as songs of hope and a little hope is always a good thing.
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Check out this interview in M Music and Musicians Magazine for stories behind a few of my songs!