Kem is an amazing writer. Simple in his words. Theatrical in his vocal delivery.
So, you can imagine how wonderful it is to read, say, a novel, while listening to such an artist’s music. Sipping on sweet tea, too. The rain drizzling. I would not exchange this feeling for anything else.
For a simple reason, really: words and writing control my life.
Quite frankly, this passion has spilled onto everything written I look at. I mentally edit everything I read. It’s now impossible not to.
I recently took screenshots of a few images and captions – okay, okay… perhaps a lot – from the Apple.com website. I readily admit, their copywriter is unbelievable. Occasionally, I go through the screenshots and deconstruct the writing to understand its essence – why it works. What makes it intelligent. And why it connects with me.
In a sense, I have become a collector of words. A connoisseur. (In high school, I compiled interesting quotes and wrote them in a little black book I still have today.)
And I often say, a carpenter’s trade revolves around wood and nails; mine revolves around words and punctuation marks.
Even in the music I listen to, I build a bond with the words I hear. I deconstruct the lyrics in the songs and try and pinpoint their genius. Suss out the reason I enjoy the music. And often, I get heavily struck by the artists who are simple in their words.
Take Jazz vocalist, Gregory Porter, for instance. His music resonates with me because he is plain in his delivery. No decorations. No complexity.
His song, No Love Dying, attests to this.
He starts the song, “There will be no love that’s dying here. The bird that flew in through my window – simply lost his way. He broke his wing, I helped him heal. Then he flew away. While the death of love is everywhere, I won’t let it be. There will be no love dying here for me.”
And I have come to notice that I gravitate toward artists who bleed onto their music. By this, I mean artists who are not afraid of going where other people fear to go. And plainly talk about the things others find difficult to express themselves about.
People, if you like, who wear their hearts on their sleeves.
I love honesty.
R n B music extraordinaire, Maxwell, embodies this very well. And many other Rhythm and Blues artists, too. There are no emotions of his he will not talk about in his songs. He documents his emotional life through his work.
And to track back to a couple of decades earlier …
While watching ships do their rounds, speaking of an uneventful time in his life, Otis Redding says:
“Sittin’ in the morning sun, I’ll be sitting in the evening calm. Watching the ships roll in, then I’ll watch them roll away again. Yeah. Sittin’ on the dock of the bay, watching the time roll away. Oooh, sittin’ on the dock of the bay, wasting time … ”
Sittin’ on The Dock of The Bay — my favourite song ever from the blues man.
He proceeds, “I left my home in Georgia, headed for the fiscal bay. I had nothing to live for. It looks like nothing’s gonna come my way, so, I’m just gonn’ sit on the dock of the bay, watching the time roll away. Oooh, sittin’ on the of the bay, wasting time.”
I came across his music a few years back by pure luck while scouring Souncloud trying to source new music.
I was happy I did. The more I listened to him, the more I wanted to find out about his life and the things he did. In a sense, I wanted to know the stories behind the music.
I came to learn that he earned his nickname, Mr. Pitiful, because he wrote very sad songs. When I started listening to him, I appreciated the authenticity in his voice when he told the stories through his music.
His delivery was real. Is real. Believable.
His voice draws you in to where he was emotionally when he wrote the lyrics. I also learned that he had been through difficult times — hence his music spoke mainly of heartbreak.
Otis Redding did what I am a huge fan of. Being open. Allowing oneself to be vulnerable by expressing your innermost feelings and inadequacies. He turned himself inside out and spilled his guts onto his music.
On Mr. Pitiful, he addresses why people gave him that nickname.
“They call me Mr. Pitiful. Baby that’s my name now. They call me Mr. Pitiful, and that’s how I got my fame. But nobody seems to understand that… what make a man feel so blue. Oooh, they call me Mr. Pitiful, because I lost someone just like you. They call me Mr. Pitiful, at least everybody knows. They call me Mr. Pitiful, almost every place I go. But nobody seems to understand that… what make a man sing such a sad song — oooh, when he’s lost everything! When he’s lost everything.”
There are a few people who would be willing to go that deep into their emotions. Discuss them.
Talk about bravery.
But I also suppose one could say it due to being comfortable with himself that he was able to expose himself like that.
One of his songs connects with me. Title: Letter to Hermione. He features Bilal Oliver on it.
“The hand that wrote this letter sweeps the pillow clean. So is your head in need of a treasure dream? I care for no one else but you! I’d tear my soul to cease the pain. I think maybe you feel the same — what can we do?”
I fell in love with this song long after I had had it. And by “fell in love” I mean I truly understood it. For a simple reason, really. I had gone through a break up, and needless to say, I was missing the lady I used to see.
It was an emotionally daunting time for me.
“I am not sure what we are supposed to do. So I’ve been writing just for you.”
This is precisely what I was doing on my end as well.
I thought incessantly about her. Our times together. The memories created. And I would end up writing myself silly.
To be honest: That’s one of the ways in which I deal with pain. I write about it. I write it out. I bleed it out through my fingers onto a page and publish the stories — effectively sending it out to the world and a little out of my system.
In this way, words have become my friends. I am happy when I am close to the words. Weaving them together to create amazing experiences. I build those experiences one word at a time. One on top of the other. One sentence after the other. One paragraph underneath the moment that ncame before.
I see words, then, as living breathing things. They are alive and depending on how I use them, they have a lot of impact. Or none.
And another important nugget about writing is this. When writing something, we are all given the same amount of words. They are just there, waiting for us to use them. What is fascinating then, is how different individuals weave them together to evoke certain emotions that other people won’t be able to.
I find this absolutely mind boggling!
I work hard everyday, either by reading and writing all the time to strengthen my skill. Simply because I want to be able to build a compelling narrative from a few simple words.
And while on this train of thought, no words suffice for me to conclude with than words uttered by Patrick Stump. On Glasper’s number, I Stand Alone.
“The irresistible appeal of (black) individuality, where has all of that gone? The very people who blazed our path to self expression and pioneered a resolutely distinct and individual voice have too often succumbed to mind numbing sameness and been seduced by simply repeating what we hear.”
When I first heard this clip from the song, placed right at the end of the song, it did wonders for me. Especially in my storytelling work because as I alluded earlier: I appreciate authenticity. And that speaks also to being unique.
When I am honest about the stories I create and tell, I will inevitably stand alone. Because my stories are uniquely mine, and no one else’s.
So, in my quest to find my own voice, I chose instead to be myself in telling my stories rather than attempt to create a voice.
He continues: “… What somebody else said or thought. And not digging deep to learn what we think, or what we feel or what we believe. Now, it is true that the genius of African culture is truly its repetition. But the key to such repetition was that new elements were added each go round. Every round goes higher and higher.”
Now, if your work is somewhat intertwined with repetition, it doesn’t necessarily mean it ought to be stale. Every piece of work needs to have its own voice.
“Something fresh popped off the page or jumped from a rhythm that had been recycled through the imagination of a writer or a musician. Each new installation bore the imprint of our unquenchable thirst to say something of our own. In our own way. In our own voice. As best we could. The trends of the times be damned!”
Often, chasing down trends and bathing in them is the easiest thing to do. And if I am honest, it is helluva fun, too. You are seen to be up to date. In the know.
Indeed the trends of the times be damned, because I create my stories with a long-term view. The bells and whistles of the now will eventually be left gnarled on the wayside. And timelessness will prevail.
And, below, Patrick issues a clever point about creativity being something we are all given — nothing extraordinary:
“Thank God we still got musicians and thinkers whose obsession with excellence and whose hunger for greatness remind us that we should all be unsatisfied with mimicking the popular rather than minding the fertile veins of creativity that God placed deep inside each of us.”
All of us, whatever sort of job or career we have going on, need to nurture and train our creative muscles that we were born with.
We might have forgotten that we were once creative in how we looked at the world and that ability has been baked out of us by the world that would rather have us blindly follow instructions.
Words then, are my way of nurturing not only my creativity but rejuvenate my soul and to some extent, deal with my emotional demons.
Words are indeed music to my ears