Last weekend I went to Catriona Yule’s workshop in Aberdeen about using song lyrics. And very good it was too. I’ve used song titles or lyrics in stories, poems and in my books in the past, but they have rarely provided the starting point for a piece of my work. I’ve always been a kind of frustrated headline writer and have thought it could be my dream job to concoct daft headlines for newspaper articles. I once placed lyrics in a e-book, but thought better of it and removed them in case Gerry Rafferty’s estate got on to me.
I actually started out writing lyrics, penning quite a few songs in my teens and early twenties. A friend asked me about this last week and I said it must be at least ten years since I tried to write a song. I decided to dedicate myself to what I considered my main strengths and opted for writing poetry and prose over music. But some of my favourite wordsmiths remain singer-songwriters who inspired me: Ray Davies, Paul Weller, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Shane MacGowan, Patti Smith, Mark E Smith, Morrissey and the late Michael Marra, to name a few.
Are they poets? I’ve always thought there’s been too much literary snobbery and elitism surrounding this. There are plenty (mediocre) poets who seem to look down on lyrics. Maybe some are just frustrated songwriters who can’t sing. I know I’m a bit envious. Even if lyrics of great songs often don’t look too amazing on the page, there’s something magical about words that come alive when put to music. And as last weekend’s workshop demonstrated, song lyrics can be embryos of a longer story waiting to be told.
Here are some more Smiths lyrics that that could be books in their own right.