I started teaching Songwriting 1 at the Old Town School of Folk Music in 2005. I was making it up as I went along and learning as much as the students in the process. In one of the first classes there was a woman from Guatemala who didn't play an instrument.
She loved music and was invested in the idea of songwriting. She said she made up melodies all the time and would sing them to herself and work on them through the day and as she drifted off to sleep. In class she'd sing them a cappella and they were lovely.
One of the first assignments I gave (and I still give) is to find a photograph that has some emotional tug and use that as inspiration for a song. She came back with a photo of her son as a baby, when he was first born. The lyrics to her song (I'm paraphrasing) were "You are my angel from heaven," "My life is blessed because of you," "I love you with all my heart and soul." I mean, it was just beautiful, and the class was very moved and gave her a big round of applause.
Her song was also what you and I might call "cheesy." It led to a discussion in the class about what "cheesy" means. In her opinion and experience (and culture), she said songs are, by definition, emotional and dramatic --what we in the USA often recoil from as "cheesy." That made me think…maybe it's all a matter of opinion and maybe we've been shamed and trained to judge songs through some kind of cynical, cooler-than-thou viewpoint.
The subject comes up in every single class when someone says, "I don't want to be cheesy." What if there's no such thing as "cheesy?" What if It's all in the ear of the beholder?
Let's back up for a second because here's another thought: Americans are terrified of vulnerability, tenderness, sadness and expressions of love. The only time we allow ourselves to make public expressions of feelings is at weddings and funerals. We feel fine tearing up and telling people how much we love them at these big life events, but otherwise we keep our feelings to ourselves.
One way we DO share all these feelings and vulnerabilities is through songs. Songs have become the accepted means of communications of the heart. And, as I thought about it, I realized how wonderful that is. And if that is the POINT, then the whole idea of being afraid of being cheesy is just ridiculous. So, the fear of being "cheesy" is really a fear of being vulnerable and uncool.
Think about it: the entire idea of making up a song and singing it is cheesy. So you can just let go of that worry. Yes, you're being cheesy. You are uncool. Embrace it, live it, love it. Dig in and stop worrying about it. Write about what you really think and feel - be vulnerable and let your cheese flag fly.
What do YOU think about this?
posted by Steve Dawson