It’s a shame, but it seems to me that a lot of songwriters don’t really work as hard on their lyrics as they do their music. Granted, there are exceptions, but so much of – particularly popular – music is made up of utter dreck, lyrically speaking. (Of course, a lot of the music blows, too.)
Even most of the words that are well-written are pretty lacking; they don’t really mean anything.
So I present the first in a series on songwriters that I feel deserve mention for the profundity that they display in their lyrical output. Enjoy!
Here’s a guy who was troubled, for sure. And like many troubled, somewhat misunderstood artists, he was taken from us far too soon. But most of what he left behind was so deep, so powerful… his influence on me, my songwriting, my lyrics – it simply cannot be overstated. He is, for all intents and purposes, my musical hero. His music was original, yet hooky. His engineering and production skills were legendary among his peers. But I’m especially drawn to what he said.
His lyrics could be pensive, powerful, snarky, optomistic, intellectual, sarcastic, honest, simple, and profound – often all in the same song. There is so much to be read between the often simple lines of prose; you can tell he was well-read. He was a master of allusion, wordplay and clever puns.
Here, a few of my favorite stanzas.
from Goodness Gracious (from “Thud”)
Goodness Gracious my generation’s lost
They burned down all our bridges
before we had a chance to cross
Is it the winter of our discontent or just an early frost?
Goodness Gracious of apathy I sing
The baby boomers had it all and wasted everything
Now recess is almost over
and they won’t get off the swing
Goodness Gracious we came in at the end
No sex that isn’t dangerous, no money left to spend
We’re the cleanup crew for parties
we were too young to attend
Goodness Gracious me.
from Waiting (from “Thud”)
I’m waiting in the shadows with a chain around my wrist
I’m waiting with my best friend held firmly in my fist
I’m waiting for my heroes to tell me what to dream
I’m waiting for my neighbors to tell me what’s obscene
I’m waiting for the apple, I’m waiting for the fall
I’m waiting for a renaissance to electrify us all
from City Of The Sun (from “The Shaming of the True”)
The attendant at the Texaco saw the guitar case in my back seat
and decided to impart his tragic tale
He said: “I used to play in a band like you,
we even made a record too”
and sang a bar that hardly rang a bell
Now I’m not one to make a lot
of omens and premonitions and fleeting thoughts
but I must admit that I tried to avoid his stare
‘Cause I didn’t want to see him see himself in me
with the look of an extinguished flame that might be lurking there
Kevin Gilbert was a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, singer and audio engineer/producer. He was one of the founding members of the “Tuesday Music Club” which was the foundation for Sheryl Crow’s breakout record “Tuesday Night Music Club” which won accolades and awards (though Kevin saw little positive effect of Sheryl’s ascent to fame). He also worked with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Keith Emerson, Spock’s Beard, Jonatha Brooke, and many others. His solo release “Thud” is an amazing album even today (having been released over a decade ago) and his posthumously released rock opera “The Shaming of the True” is an under-recognized masterpiece. I urge you to check out his work. Now.