I love songwriters. I envy their ability to create a lyric that tells a complete story from beginning to end, in roughly three minutes, set to music. If the same person wrote the music too…oh man, am I hooked. There is something about that connection between the lyrics and music I find incredibly sexy and inspiring…as in GENIUS inspiring.
Songs, sometimes complete albums by a specific artist, have been the inspiration behind a story or an idea of a story that goes into the idea file. In today’s digital age, it’s easy to purchase and download only the current hits. I’m still of the old school of buying the complete album, listening to every track and reading every word in the liner notes. I love to glimpse inside the songwriter’s world and try to understand a bit of their mindset while creating a complete volume of work.
Most songs are relatively clear and don’t require much in the way of translation or interpretation. However there are times when a song really moves me, captures my attention with a gripping melody and lyrics that keep me guessing. When this happens I study the lyrics and then search the true inspiration behind the song.
I recently did this with a song I’ve known and loved for years. Drops of Jupiter written by Pat Monahan, the lead singer of Train, won two Grammys back in 2006. I’d been listening to the album and realized I never did go on my quest for the meaning behind that particular song. This was most likely done unconsciously on purpose because the song has inspired me in various ways for stories and otherwise. Without knowing the real story behind the song, I was left free to interpret it any way I liked. This sparking of imagination is probably what made the song such as standout back in 2006, and will ultimately make it (in my mind, at least) timeless. Of course, a kick ass melody sung by a voice that grabs your attention doesn’t hurt either.
Here is a link to the song along with my top two misinterpretations.
First, I thought it was about a relationship between a man and a woman. Why wouldn’t I? I’m a romance writer and isn’t EVERYTHING about romance? In this interpretation, he was not enough for her. She went out into the world to find herself and something better than he could offer – A shooting star, one without a permanent scar, but in the end, she comes back to him and wants him to evolve as a human being so they can be together. He sounds sad though, as if he’d like to be enough as is, and even a bit bitter about her journey. Was it everything you wanted to find, and did you miss me while you were searching for yourself out there?
The second misinterpretation is a larger dramatization. I thought this woman he was in love with was hooked on drugs while on her soul vacation traipsing away through the constellations. Now that she’s clean, he’s wondering if he can ever be enough to keep her happy and grounded since he’s never had those same experiences. In this version he’s concerned she’ll think of him as a Plain old Jane told a story of a man who was too afraid to fly so he never did land.
Both misinterpretations provided me plenty to work with from a romantic’s perspective. So, imagine my surprise when I finally took the time to discover the true meaning of the song. The group Train was in their early stages and struggling. They had one studio album under their belt with no breakout hit. They’d been traveling on tour, too broke to even have one cell phone among them. During this time Pat Monahan’s mother was dying from Lung Cancer. At every tour stop, the band would gather up all their coins so Pat could call and talk to his dying mother. Shortly after her passing, deep in grief and trying to make sense of life, he fell asleep and dreamt of her in the atmosphere with drops of Jupiter in her hair. In his dream, on this soul vacation, she never really left him. They had a conversation and when he woke, in the wee hours of the morning, he wrote Drops of Jupiter. Several hours later, he was at Columbia records performing an acoustic demo. The idea that his mother inspired this song after her passing gave me chills and warmed my heart in a way no romantic version of the song ever could.
Why am I writing about this? The song has depth and kept me thinking and guessing about it for years. As writers, isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want our audiences to remember moments of our work years from now in the same way Drops of Jupiter has stayed with me?
Another word or thought on the art of songwriting. For years, I pursued a career as a professional singer. During that time I tried and failed miserably at songwriting. As a singer, I never felt that profound connection to the material so many of my theatre friends found. I was in the wrong medium of art. In the end, I needed to be the songwriter, the creator, and not the vehicle, something I have found in writing romantic fiction.
Have you ever misinterpreted the meaning of a song, or been so moved by a song you had the urge to create some form of art on your own? What about lyrics? Don’t even get me started on the fun to be had when understanding the vocalists becomes difficult and everyone is singing along to a different lyric.