The difference between a hit song and something that is not can be readily detected, particularly by fans of The Artist in question. Sweeping along on the ‘shuffle mode’ of iTunes recently, brought to ear a song by the beloved band Journey that I had never, ever heard before: Lay It Down. The album it came from that I’ve held in my account for years now, never happened to select that particular track when shuffling. And long past are my days when I would listen to EVERY TRACK on a new album I purchased in view of a quiet respect to The Artist.
The song was notably not good, interesting, catchy or lyrically poetic. Yet it held all the attempted trappings of a hit song in that era: the twin guitars’ power chords, multi-harmony chorus, BIG ARENA SOUND, lyrics vaguely directed at sex and rock ‘n roll. Somehow, in the assembling of these Frankensteinian (not a word) musical appendages, they lost all appeal and turned out ugly and forgettable. I’ve never heard the song on any radio anywhere, nor has anyone ever pointed it out to me as some of the best of Journey. For a Youtube of the song, you must enter it manually as it does not come up on their list of popular hits.
Contrasting this with their ever-popular and rebooted, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” (that made for a punctuation nightmare) you find the similar formula: Keenly processed sound, voices, chords, lyrics. But what you get with this combination is, of course, ARENA ROCK DYNAMITE. Or, rebooted high school choir tribute ad nauseum/cutesy.
This made me concerned for my writing. Not because I’m worried that I have the pieces of a blockbuster hit and joined them together poorly. No, no, we’re dealing with much simpler issues such as proper grammar and how to make it. More to the point, if I ever start unearthing gold nuggets by the heapful (not a word) into my literary wheelbarrow; will I even recognize them as such, will I even know what they are?
I read a lot right now, new writers, old writers, published, unpublished, self-published, bloggers, Great American Novelists of the Golden Age Who Shat Diamond-Encrusted Prose for Dinner. I know what I like, I can hear what sounds good, even what I WANT to emulate, but at the moment my own writing voice still feels oddly unfamiliar. As the first time you heard your own answering machine greeting (remember when we called them THAT?!), self-consciousness poured over and you hit the record button again, saying nothing the next time. Letting the beep answer for you.
I don’t know if what I’m making is any good or if I can even trust the feedback I receive. If, as I suspect, it is not, will it ever be? To extend further, if the writing is not good and will never be of high quality, that feels terribly, unusefully (not a word) wasteful and tiresome to me. I think learning an ancient dead language would seem more fulfilling because at least I could say at my death bed, “Well ONCE UPON A TIME someone knew what I was talking about!” Instead of working, correcting, drafting, editing, disciplining self not to go eat something and stay at the damn laptop.
Perhaps I’ve finally found the truth of Jack Black’s dictum:
Which reminds me I need to practice my bass. Digression.
Still, if becoming a writer who writes, okay I’ll say it, GREAT writing, is something to be grasped, if it takes time, commitment, hardcore-ness (not a word), chocolate, gritty keyboard determination, frequent pots of coffee, humility in the cold, stark light of edits, good posture, a hungry mind, chiropractor visits because of not having good posture, a quiver-inducing stubbornness to just GET IT DONE.
Well, I don’t know if I have all that. But finding out, even if I’m unsuccessful in the journey, may prove more illuminating than learning an actual dead language and bearing with the inevitable requests of, “Hey, how do you say ‘Dude, that’s such b.s.’ in Phoenician?”