Inspiration: Chemistry by Semisonic

This post is approximately 900 words and focuses on one of my favorite topics: Music.

Semisonic 1Oh man, I’ve been meaning to write a post like this for awhile. Ideas have been churning in my head for years. Years! I’m excited to finally get to it, and I hope this comes through in my writing! It will be the first in a series that covers storytelling in lyrics and what writers can learn (similar posts can be found here: Influencers). The hardest part, aside from finally taking the time, was choosing which song to cover first. Honestly, in two minutes I could list a hundred songs to write about, but as I listened to a playlist tonight, it came down to two: Prince’s “Starfish and Coffee” and Semisonic’s “Chemistry“.

A friend and former colleague one told me that Dan Wilson was “finest singer/songwriter ever.” As is common with people in the music biz, he said it with a fervor that would suffer no debate. And while I’m not overly familiar with Dan’s solo work, I do know a fair number of Semisonic songs. I find it hard to disagree. Because of that, this is not the only Semisonic track I’ll write about, though for the sake of diversity, I’ll probably write about a number of other songs before I get back to them.

If you’re curious, the other song would be “Singing In My Sleep“, though it lost out today for the same reason Prince did: I immediately knew what I would write about “Chemistry”. That said, I’m still a bigger Prince fan, and he’ll get a few future posts.

Using ‘chemistry’ in both its literal and metaphorical definition, the song tells the story of a young man’s dating life, during and after college. Sometimes things work out, but often they do not. If you’re lucky, you get another chance and you can apply what you’ve learned to (hopefully) avoid the same mistakes.

When it released, I was a few years out of college, married for 2 years, and a first-time dad. My ‘chemistry’ days were behind me, but the song spoke to memories in a nostalgic way. I think it was equal parts, ‘My life was like that’ and ‘What if my life were like that?’. It was instantly relatable, though perhaps to a lesser degree for me, but I loved the song because it effortlessly told us a story.

Take for instance, “I was old enough to want it, but younger than I wanted to be“. In fourteen words, Dan described what many of us have felt about young love, especially in our early years as adults. There’s an impatience, that in hindsight, might have had unfavorable results.

Further on, the song tell us, “From a fine, fine girl with nothing but good intentions and a
bad tendency to get burned“. In seventeen words, we’re already getting an understanding of the kind of girl he likes.

Describing either of these in a novel would require far more words, for good or bad. As a writer, it’s a fine, fine example of how easy it can be to convey your message to readers. As is the case here, sometimes less is more. As a writer whose manuscript currently boasts 167,000+ words, it’s probably a message I need to take more to heart.

Semisonic 2Beyond this, there are other succinct lyrics that paint a picture of the protagonist: “When I had nobody to call my own. I told her I was looking for somebody to appreciate.” Also, “…when I find myself alone and unworthy, I think about all of the things I learned“. Wrapped up in these brief phrases, we get insight into his views on dating, his self esteem, and his retrospective nature.

Similarly, he’s able to nail the analogy with similar skill. Not only is it perfect for this subject, but it’s brilliantly woven throughout the song. However, it’s a tough thing to commit to. Whether it’s a rhyming scheme, a character’s dialect, or an analogy like this, as the writer, you have to be ‘all in’ with your commitment here. You can’t rhyme for half a poem and then suddenly change your approach because rhymes that sound natural are too hard (side note: You can always tell when a writer runs out of steam, because suddenly ‘hand’, ‘wand’, and ‘began’ are rhymes.).

There are the clear metaphors, such as “conducted experiments” and “the two things we put together had a bad tendency to explode“, but to cement the analogy for the listener, there are other references to college life, such as “being amazed by the things I learned” and “I met a young graduate“. Together, it paints a vivid picture for the listener with an economy of words.

For a song that’s less than four minutes long, it’s surprisingly dense. Tight. It doesn’t have the filler that many songs have in the middle to stretch it out. It really is a master class in lyricism. And that’s what really speaks to me as a writer.

If you’ve read any advice on writing, reading a lot is always mentioned. To me, however, this goes beyond books, extending into music, movies, and games, too. Each medium offers unique views into storytelling and all provide helpful ways to tell your own story.

–Mike

Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, June 2018

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Because You’re Still Asking Me

This post is approximately 450 words. Some of them are Joss Whedon’s.

When people hear I’m writing a book, they’re usually curious about the story. Of those who survive the tempest of enthusiasm that results from a writer describing his work, many are surprised that I’ve chosen a thirteen-year-old girl as my hero. A quick glance confirms that, yes, that answer came from a forty-something man.

skeptical hippo

And while people are intrigued, I can tell that some are searching for a way to politely comment on the oddity of a forty-something man writing about a teenage girl. Yep, I get it. Looking at many movies, video games, and comic books of the last few decades, they can be forgiven for expecting that a fantasy story will feature manly men and scantily clad women in impractical armor. And while I admit I’ve enjoyed some of those things, the world doesn’t need more of them.

Quite the opposite: we need more tales about strong girls and women to counter the unnatural misogyny that pervades our culture. I believe so strongly in this, I’ve spent the last 18 months hunched over a keyboard, trying to bring these types of characters to life.

It reminds me of a meme featuring writer/director Joss Whedon. I’ve seen variations over the years, but they all say this:  Continue reading

Writing Exercise: Discovering Chris Cornell

This post is approximately 500 words. Occasionally, I write about artists who inspire me. I should probably do that more.

chris-cornell-3Today is a day much like one twenty-five years ago. I’m in blue jeans and flannel, and outside it feels like Autumn is being carried away by the harbinger winds of Winter. I’m listening to Soundgarden’s magnificent Badmotorfinger, though unlike today, in 1992 it was my first play-through, I was sitting in my freshman dorm room, and Chris Cornell was still alive.

I was fortunate to have a roommate who brought a large CD collection to college, and I recall pawing through discs to satisfy my ravenous appetite for music. I discovered three albums that I distinctly remember to this day: Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits (74-78), Metallica’s Master of Puppets, and Badmotorfinger.

 

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The Prince Influence 2 Me

This post is about 700 words.

I love the process of creating art. For me, it’s writing. I love hearing successful people talk about their own trials and influences. I could watch Inside The Actor’s Studio, Behind The Music, and the audio commentaries of movies for days. I’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing a dozen times. But I also love talking with fellow hopefuls about our own struggles.

Prince

It is in this spirit that I share a piece of myself tonight. I lost an idol today. A one-way friendship with a person unaware of my existence, although his music spoke to me as though he did.

Prince.

A single word that needs a million other words in definition. Fortunately for you, I’ll only use about 700 tonight. The words come slowly, but they come (heh, that sounds like a sentence Prince would approve of, so I’ll allow it).

He’s been one of my biggest influences and I’m staggered by his death today. I’m not a musician anymore, but consider myself a kindred creative spirit (albeit distantly related). When I say he was an inspiration, this isn’t an exaggeration or a lame attempt to connect my blog to the flood of news following his death. It’s a simple truth. Aside from family and Star Wars, I can’t think of anything else in my life that’s been as present or influential as Prince.

As I sat in stunned silence at work today, recalling fond music memories and trying to keep the void at bay, my writer’s brain started organizing thoughts. It occurred to me that I learned four very important things from him.

Prince2401141. Create limitless art. Man, he was fearless. His life seemed to be a constant experiment with music that resulted in beautiful, crazy, innovative, inspirational art. But it wasn’t only music. Look at his fashion over the years. The album covers for Dirty Mind and Lovesexy. He assembled musical groups. Created movies. He absorbed and synthesized musical styles, the results of which were distinctly Prince. His life was art and it knew no bounds.

2. Don’t compromise your beliefs. Whether the symbol-shaped middle finger he gave to Warner Music or his ongoing fight against digital music piracy, Prince stood strong for what he believed in, even if it cost him money. Perhaps more importantly, he knew who he was, what he needed to be, and when he needed to change. He reinvented the word reinvention. Despite this, we never questioned who Prince was – it was obvious. We might not have known what we’d see next, but we knew it would be 100% Prince.

3. Strive to master many different disciplines and styles. I just mentioned his style reinvention, so I’ll speak to his talent with instruments. It’s said that he sometimes showed a musician how he wanted them to play his song, the result of which would be the musician’s realization that he could play better than they could. I heard Tommy Barbarella of NPG say something similar on the radio today. He wasn’t just a brilliant lyricist with an incredible fashion sense. He was a multi-talented musician who was never restrained by the confines of definition or convention.

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