I was asked recently - and have been asked throughout my songwriting career - if the subjects of my songs know that a certain song is about them. The answer is no. Maybe I have a few particularly astute muses who have a hunch, an inkling, a particularly strong feeling that a certain song is about them. But I’ve never told anyone - other than close friends - that a song is about them.
Why, might you ask? Well, first things first: I’m a coward. If you can pour your heart and soul into a diary entry and then hand a physical copy of it to who you wrote it about, not only am I in awe of you but I also fear you. As far as I can tell, most people don’t have the courage to do that. Except for Taylor Swift; that woman had more backbone at sixteen years old than I’ll ever have.
Often, the period in which a song is written is a volitile, chaotic, mess of a thing. That’s usually where my best work comes from. The feeling is rooted so deeply inside of me and the only thing I can do to get some relief is put that feeling into words. I’m also not a very casual songwriter, which means that the last thing I’m going to do is spill my metaphorical guts out to the person I’m so caught up in.
However, time does pass and it’s fair to wonder why I might not tell someone that a song is about them long after it was written - long after the passions fade and settle into memory. The answer might seem complicated, but I’ll try to explain my headspace to the best of my ability: by the time I’m in a place where I could feasibly tell someone that a song is about them, the song has evolved.
I have two songs called “Ghost” and “Bodycount” that capture two separate but very specific instances in my life. Both were written in moments of revelation. “Ghost” is about watching someone I always thought would be in my life drift away little by little. “Bodycount” is about realizing that the person I thought I was in love with would never love me back. At the time, these were fresh, aching wounds that never felt like they’d mend. But eventually, the pain dimmed to a flicker. Now, I recognize how pivotal those feelings were to creating a song I continue to sing years later.
Those songs will always be written about the same person. I’ll always think of who inspired them when I pick up my guitar to play. But the songs have grown beyond that initial inspiration. The person who helped me experience those emotions - positive or negative - is no longer the reason that I continue to sing that song. The songs are now connected to the people who tell me that a particular song is their favorite; both “Ghost” and “Bodycount” - songs I thought would be too emotional for people to enjoy - are songs people have let me know spoke to them. There are some songs I play live that others will sing along with me. The life that listeners give to songs supercede those who inspired them and I love that.
So, when it comes to my songs, I wrote the song for someone but I kept it around for me… and for you. :-)