In the medieval era, there were the troubadours who traveled the country performing songs they had composed. Nowadays, that’s the life of the folk singer/songwriter.
Woody Guthrie was one of the earliest in the modern era to write songs about social issues, current events, or just everyday life. “I look through your eyes to see the hill you’re standing on,” he wrote. “My job is to tell you something you already know.” He then inspired musicians in the ‘60s folk revival such as Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton.
Paxton says, “I wanted to write like Woody, with his directness and honesty. Woody was, to me, the guy who stayed true to the tradition and brought it forward, like Pete Seeger did. But I listened to how Woody mirrored his own time and realized I wasn’t to write a folk song from 1947. The subject had to be from my life, my time.”
So what compels musicians to become songwriters? For some, it’s a way to express themselves, put their poetry to music, or talk about what’s going on in their lives. For others, it might be a chance to tell a story or to develop a certain character (see this video of Tom Paxton’s “My Pony Knows the Way” for an example).
And then there’s Paul McCartney. He explains in an introduction to the album The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC, Volume 2 that they were trying to find repertoire different from the other bands. They would listen to the radio, or B-sides of records; then he and John Lennon started writing songs. “This was the only foolproof way that other bands couldn’t have our songs. There was no great artistic muse that came out of the heavens and said, ‘Ye shall be a songwriting partnership.’ It was really just we had better do this or everyone else is going to have our act.”
If you want to know more about modern-day songwriters, come to the weekly singaround at the Golden Link Folk Singing Society (Tuesdays 7:30-10 pm, 12 Corners Presbyterian Church). Local musicians regularly attend and perform the songs they have written. Or you can attend one of Golden Link’s monthly concerts featuring touring musicians. Visit www.goldenlink.org for more information.
This story was also published on the Golden Link Folk Singing Society’s blog as part of the Arts Community page of the Democrat and Chronicle web site. Click here to view the Golden Link blog page.