Tag Archives: music

Love is an action

Candle image from Wikipedia Commons; picture by Richard W.M. Jones

I think of myself as a sort of realistic optimist. I mean, I’m not a complete Pollyanna, thinking that everything will be just fine if you just think positively about it for long enough. Life is complex, pain is real and bad people do exist, after all. But I do think that most people are fairly decent, and that good exists in the world along with the bad.

However, I do think that, collectively and individually, the best ‘good’ happens when we do something to make it happen. We have a lot of entropy to fight against and, to paraphrase the quote, the only thing needed for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing.

I saw a few things recently that got me thinking about this idea – of ‘good’ being the outcome of active choices.

One is a post that I saw on a social media site. The original post was a note that said: They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.

The comments were filled with anxiety and distress about being lost to time, but I don’t think memory and identity need to be the same thing. I think you can have an influence in the world long after your name is forgotten.

Despite my blog joking about how my name might live on in history, I honestly think that my name is unimportant compared to the effect I might have on the people I love and the world in which I live. All of us may go on in the world in ways we never anticipated.

After you’re dead, you may not have a name, but a kind word you had for someone, a selfless deed you performed, a word of encouragement you gave or the grace you had to truly listen to someone… those actions in turn can inspire kindness, good deeds, encouragement and grace in others, and so those good things are handed on and on and on. Maybe someone in your nameless future will be stronger and happier because once, even once, you took the time to care, and that act was paid forward.

The second instance was a friend’s Facebook update stating that she was tired of feeling depressed, angry, disenfranchised and essentially powerless in the face of persistent inequalities and injustices in Australian politics, society, and the world in general. She decided that she would try to focus more on the principle of ‘be the change you want to see in the world’.

The truth is that if we decide it’s all too hard and too horrible and irredeemably awful, and turn our backs, nothing will change.

It’s only when we become engaged that we have a hope of influencing things. Maybe as an individual you can’t change the big picture – but we can act within our spheres of influence, and that can become collective. We can be advocates for the issues that matter to us and encourage others to participate in making a noise – and if we keep it up, making a change as well.

Hell, we can just engage with the people around us to be open, encouraging and supportive. Maybe we can’t change the whole world, but we can make one person’s world better than it was yesterday. We can make the time to listen, to say a kind word, do a good deed, make one choice to be the kind of person we want to see.

After all, love is not just something we feel. It’s not just a state. It’s a verb, it’s something we do as well as feel, or it should be.

And thinking about all of these things, I ended up writing something. Well, a song, to be exact.

For context about the song: in the last year I’ve been playing around with writing lyrics. I’m working on a multimedia project which involves a story about a rock band saving the world from monsters, and as a natural progression, I’ve been writing the material that they’ll sing in the book. However, I last played piano regularly around 30 years ago, so I essentially don’t play an instrument. I’m no great shakes as a singer either, but I come up with melodies so that the lyrics work as lyrics and not as a poem (they are two quite different disciplines).

For the book project, I’ve been working with my niece, Jessica Harris, since she is a proper musician, to turn lyrics into songs. This one, however, is all my own work. The melody is pretty simple

Which is all by way of saying, I wrote a song about choosing to be actively engaged in the world, even though it can be downright painful at times, and I’ve written a melody for it, which may be a bit simplistic because I’m not a proper musician. But for what it’s worth, here it is.

If you’re game, here’s an MP3 of me singing this, a-capella.


They say love is hearts and honey
It’s what we feel
We gaze at each other and we sigh
At the altar of Eros, oh we kneel

But love is not a state we are in
Love is not a wailing violin
Love is an action, it is a force
Love is a battlecry
Shout it until you’re hoarse

This is the world I love
I will fight for it
For wisdom and kindness
I will fight for it
Open my arms to the blood and the pain
And I will do it again and again and again

You cannot fight darkness with darkness, only light
The other side of fear is love and the end of night
For every act that is cruel, there is one that is kind
For everyone lost, there is someone to find
For every dark deed, there is one of grace
For the hope of all this, I will take my place

This is the world I love
I will fight for it
Compassion and courage
I will fight for it
And open my arms to the blood and the pain
Open my heart again and again and again

Love is an action, it is a force
Love is a battlecry
Shout it until you’re hoarse

You cannot fight darkness with darkness, only light
The other side of fear is love and the end of night
For every dark deed, there is one of grace
For the hope of all this, I will take my place
Love is an action, it is a force
Love is a battlecry
Shout it until you’re hoarse


The Grammar of Song

grammar-someecardsFor Melburnians who love cabaret, the dear old Butterfly Club may have been turfed out of its old home in South Melbourne, but it now has new digs in the city. The shiny new Carson Place venue is tucked down an alleyway, as all the best Melbourne venues and bars are.

I was one of many, many people who helped to fund the Butterfly Club’s move through a Pozible crowd-funding exercise, I’m proud to say. To celebrate the successful fundraising and the imminent launch of the new venue, the Club held a gala evening at the Melbourne Town Hall on 8 February.

One of my favourite acts (and there were many splendid acts at the Gala) was Gillian Cosgriff, who sang a song made of up texts from an ex-beau who didn’t know why she’d dumped him. (Hint: The texts had somethink to do with how fustrated he was that for all intensive purposes he didn’t know definately what had gone wrong.)

I howled with laughter from start to finish, evil grammar nazi that I am. I wouldn’t have lasted a single date before bludgeoning the poor man to death with a Macquarie Dictionary, no matter how pretty he was.

Ms Cosgriff’s song reminded me, however, of the fine tradition of songs about spelling and grammar, as well as the many, many songs that contain painfully incorrect grammar.

There are the famous spelling songs like D-I-V-O-R-C-E by Tammy Wynette and of course Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I’m also a fan of the linguistic creativity that brought us Take the L out of Lover and It’s Over by The Motels. There’s an important lesson in that one for all of us, I’m sure, even if it’s just that heartbreak can help you learn about ways of placing words on a Scrabble board.

I keep a soft spot in my heart for Bob Marley’s song of the definition of ‘exodus’ (movement of the people, in case you were wondering). Not many people take the time to teach you new vocabulary in a song.

The fabulous satirist Tom Lehrer actually wrote two songs that deliberately taught grammar – LY, which taught listeners how to made an adverb, and N Apostrophe T.

Of course, there are the songs whose primary purpose is to remind you of a grammar rule mainly because the songwriter got the grammar so very, very wrong.

I’m fond of you, Bob Dylan, but you should never have written the lyric ‘lay, lady, lay’. I always think she’s going to lay a big mutant egg across your big brass bed. Did nobody ever teach you the difference between ‘to lie’ and ‘to lay’? Do you not know that you can you can lie on a bed, but you have to lay your head on a pillow; that you can lie on a bean bag, but you have to lay a book on the coffee table? Well. Obviously not.

(By the way, if you don’t know the difference and would like to, if only to avoid my snobbish scorn, check out Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips on the subject.)

A lot of other songs containing bad grammar do so by ignoring perfectly good adverbs in favour of grammatically incorrect adjectives. Simple Plan, I do like you, but when in Jet Lag you sing ‘I miss you so bad’, I’m forever mouthing a silent ‘ly’ so that I feel better about singing along.

Here’s a website listing a lot of bad grammar in songs. The songs may be good musically, but beating the language to death with a treble clef is still murder, wouldn’t you say? Offenders include Fergie, Gwen Stefani, Eric Clapton, The Police and Freddie Mercury. Sigh.

Of course, writers can deliberately twist grammar and punctuation to make it technically wrong for artistic effect. I’m all for that. Well, I have to be, because I do it myself.  I maintain, however, that you have to know what the rules are so that when you break them for effect, you actually know the effect you’re trying to achieve.

I guess music remains in a category of its own in this regard, though, because songs and lyrics are not just about pretty and perfect English. They convey personality, emotional states, natural dialect and use of slang, knowing and deliberate use of onomatopoeic and shorthand spelling, and all kinds of linguistic and artistic devices to tell their very short musical stories. They also have to scan and sometimes even rhyme. Many daft things are done in the name of a rhyming couplet, and we must forgive them, especially if the melody is a corker.

Still. Don’t get me started on Alanis Morissette and all the sad or inconvenient but otherwise not actually ironic things occurring in her song Ironic.

So, good people of the interwebs, tell me: what grammatical sins in music really tick you off?