May 26, 2016
As part of Every Song I've Ever Written at World Stage / Harbourfront (June 9th and 11th), World Stage Scholars-in-Residence Matt, Julia and Denise recorded a discussion - which doubles as a cover version - of my song Literature.
It's never occurred to me to analyze one of my songs in this way, and I'm completely fascinated by all the insights that Matt, Julia and Denise provide, but I thought I would mention a few things I was thinking about back when I wrote the song that, having not written the song, these scholars might have missed.
The first line is "Everyone I met was writing a novel," which to me suggests that the novels the song is talking about might not be the best novels ever written. Perhaps these are wanna-be novels, amateur novels, works by young people who haven't yet found their voice. Literature and art are full of works by young people who want to be artists but don't yet know if they're up for the task. This also, of course, reflects my own youthful insecurity that I would never manage to write anything of lasting worth.
The line: "literary novels about the holocaust" definitely for me conjured the frequently quoted Theodor Adorno line: "to write lyric poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." (There are many different versions of this quote.) But it also might bring us back to the first line: by writing failed or not-very-accomplished literature about world-historical tragedies are we even further devaluing them? Are we writing to illuminate the world or only to try to escape our own lives?
The "lottery ticket" might refer to achieving literary fame or riches, but from my beginner perspective at the time it might also only refer to getting a first book published or a first screenplay produced. These are noticeably more modest goals than achieving a lasting literary reputation.
At one point Matt asks: what is a non-literary novel? A non-literary novel might be a popular novel, for example a novel by Stephen King or Dan Brown. Which a lot of young writers were also trying to do. But I wasn't writing (and singing) about them. I was writing about the more pretentious camp of which I was definitely a member.
And, yes, I wrote the song Literature in the nineties, long before 9/11. But the idea that the line "And writing or not writing, these are twin terrors" might refer to the Twin Towers is kind of mind blowing for me.
I'm sure there is so much more I could say, but a writer who answers back to every single point raised by literary critics analyzing his work is a rather pathetic creature. I just wanted to add a few extra thoughts to the conversation. Thanks so much to Matt, Julia and Denise for taking the time to think and speak about my long-ago song. It is an honour my teenage self would have never imagined possible...