Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One of My Favorite Girls

This is a post about a young artist who reminds me so much of myself that I have been stunned and awed many times listening to her. We do not pursue the exact same art, and I can't claim the fame that this young lady has. But I see so much of my younger self in the way she writes her words, the sensitive soul that she reveals even when talking about everyday subjects, and her passionate reflection on the way our shared human experience leaves its indelible mark on each and every one of us... Nope, I'm not a famous musician at all. But when I sit down to write what I write, my aim is to address the exact same type of experiences and feelings and relationships between people as she does. I'm proud to be a "fan"...

Taylor Swift! I at first felt sort of embarrassed jumping on the girl's bandwagon. I guess I felt immature and old getting into her music; sometimes I feel wrong getting into the whole "fan" situation with musicians, especially teenaged ones. However, this teenaged one has sold the most records, won a billion or so awards this year, and she's just undeniably on fire now. Until about 2 months ago, I had heard maybe part of one or two songs by her. My view of her was a sorta-cute-in-a-quirky-way teenaged country singer who is rumored to be dating the werewolf from "New Moon" (actor Taylor Lautner, who is cradle-robbery adorable). But then ...

Her music was just everywhere for me. I caught her on Oprah's show one day and was just really touched by how sweet and genuine she seemed. Her performance on that show and subsequent appearances I saw in a short amount of time thereafter really impressed me with their simple precision. There is nothing sloppy or unrehearsed in Taylor's show. Every time I've seen her sing, play, perform ... she nails it. I would love to see her live.

So I downloaded her cd, Fearless (Deluxe) and I've been listening to it a lot. I asked for her debut cd for Christmas this year, and I was amused by the fact that my father asked for "Fearless" on his list. Impressive, girl! I mean, when you can catch the attention of that wide a demographic, and throw in the fact that neither of us listens to much country music these days (I like old-school country; Dad never listens to country) ... It says a lot about the way her songs are touching people, no matter who they are. I have always believed that the ability to genuinely reach people with your art is one of the true marks of talent. Taylor's songs at first appeared to me as just sweet little ditties about her life experience, love and growing up and being a kid. And they do stand up pefectly well as that. She's only 19, but she has absolutely nailed the "write what you know" skill. She uses everything she has to work with, and proves that no matter who you are and what you have (or haven't) done, it's enough for a true artist to create amazing work.

So to the specifics ... I think my favorite song by T-Swizzle (as celebrity blogger Perez Hilton likes to refer to her) is "Fifteen." Yes, at first I was embarrassed to tackle this whole subject, let alone discuss which one was my favorite song, but fuck that. I've written about it ALL in my life on the blog, so no hiding my favorite song :) Seriously now, if you listen to and really are feelin the lyrics and the passion behind that voice singing "Fifteen," then you know everything about my heart and my experience during that time in my life. In a way, it took listening to "Fifteen" for me even to remember being that girl and feeling those things in an authentic way. There are so many life experiences that shape us that we wall up and lock away forever as we grow. Sometimes they feel too painful to recall. Sometimes we feel like we can't think about what got us to where we are today, for fear of living in the past or for fear of remembering who we used to be. Or sometimes we think that it's just plain immature to remember any of those days fondly, let alone try to decipher how they might have shaped us. But Taylor Swift's song in all of it's perfect lyrical glory, has broken that wall within myself.

Fifteen, being a freshman in high school, being a girl growing up in middle America ... I have a feeling that Taylor's appeal is due to the fact that she has clinched what so many of us felt, maybe all of us who have this shared upbringing. A beautiful and perfectly-crafted poem or song wastes not one word. It utilizes every single rhythm and connection between syllables and words to paint a picture and evoke an emotion. And when it is executed just exactly right, it's a song like "Fifteen." I could go on and on about the technical beauty of some of the lyrics on the Fearless album, but I know not everyone falls to pieces over a perfectly - crafted line the way I do. But Swift's album sales show that many of us are passionate about what those lines set stirring in our very souls.

You know how a main pointer for any good writing is to "show, not tell"? A wonderful achievement in doing so is the song "The Best Day," also on the Fearless album. A sentimental collection of stories paying gratitude to Taylor's family, "The Best Day" shows us the way it looked and how it felt and what it was like to be that girl, in that exact moment in time, exactly what it was to see her world through her eyes. She tells us a lot in that one song about her parents and brother, a bit about her faith and her upbringing, what matters to her in life, and what she used to think about as a small child ... and she does so without ever telling us at all. Rather, she paints us a musical picture so that we are not so much hearing a story about her life, but watching a memory as it is unveiled in the shadows of her own mind. Beauty.

Something that writers, myself included, bump up against is a fear of going there. It's a fear of going into that shadow, into that memory, into the farthest reaches of our mind and then not only sharing it in a story but really letting the reader know what it looked like to us, through our eyes and from the perspective of our very own personal world. If you are going to go for it and really do that, 1.) It's the only way you will write your best, most authentic work, and 2.) You should expect to feel the true terror that is vulnerability.

I've been listening to Fearless a lot lately when I am unable to sleep at night. When it is quiet and my mind is quieting down for the day, I am able to watch Taylor's stories unfold the way they do, and I am able to remember the times and experiences in my own life to which her music relates. I have to hand it to this teenager for reminding me of some very important experiences that I did not intend ever to wall away from my conscious mind; also, for reminding me that it takes this type of courage to stay true to our art. I've been writing more in the past few weeks than I had done in the past three years. So, as you might have noticed, I'm a bit rusty. But also, I'm experimenting with where I'm going to go with my work as I practice practice practice. I couldn't have been reminded of the simple and perfect beauty of a great lyric, song, or poem at a better time in my life!

My favorite line right now from Taylor's music is: In your life, you'll do things bigger than datin the player on the football team [but] I didn't know it at fifteen.

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