Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stories Through Music

Dude. Dude. Have you heard of Michael Franti? He's a musician. Not the kind preteens scream at, or the kind women with husbands think about in ways they shouldn't--but he's the kind of musician that I wish lived nearby, so we could hang out and talk, and, failing that, the kind that I could just shake his hand and say thank you for the music.

I first heard of Michael Franti with his most recent, most popular piece, "Say Hey (I Love You)." It's fun and energetic and fills my soul with joy. And I can't possibly put the smile the song gives me into words, so instead, here's the music video:

Now, this is a writing blog, not a music one, but no worries: I actually do have a writing point to make with it.

See, this song--it's not about the words. It's about the feeling. Yes, the words are catchy, easy to remember, and easier to sing to. But the thing that made this song so special isn't the words that make the lyrics--it's the feeling I'm left with afterwards. And that feeling is joy. This song just makes me happy.

Part of it is the realism. This isn't a happy, punch drunk peppy love song--there's some grit to it, a tiny, tiny undertone of how the world isn't made perfect by love (although it is made better). The ghetto--such an innocuously sung word that is only briefly mentioned--is a part of the song, and a part of the music video.

And while we're on the subject of setting--part of the setting is not two perfect young adults in love--it has fat people, skinny people, ugly and pretty people. And children. And families. And the whole village. Love isn't Bella and Edward (or, for you Twihards, love isn't just Bella and Edward) and this song strives to show that it's love--all forms of love--that make this world a better place.

But that's what good writing is about--*not* the perfect ending, but the way life is made better. A real love story doesn't end with happily ever after, just a kiss and a smile and hope.

In writing, it's not so much the words you write, but the impression you leave with the reader. In this song, through the tone and the setting and yes, the words, I am left with an impression of happiness, and a feeling that even if the world isn't perfect, it's not too bad and we can all be happy, especially with love.

Michael Franti is a genius at this--at creating the impression that sticks with the reader. Consider this song:

Now the impression is reversed. In the first song, the overall impression is joyous--in this one, it's much sadder. Through setting (did you notice the garbage pile he sang in front of?), through subtle messages (like the writing on the children's hands), and through the actual tone of the song, you get the impression of sorrow. That the world is a sorrowful place despite the joy, not a joyous place despite the sorrow.

Two entirely different songs--two entirely different impressions. But the point is, when we write, what we need to do is create that impression with the reader. Make him feel--through setting, tone, words, and messages, stir him to emotion, and you're greatest job as a writer is done.
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