The Words Get In David Byrne's Way

Talking a lot, but saying anything?

In a wide-ranging post that begins with the mention of a collaboration between David Byrne and St. Vincent, Byrne discusses the process of writing with other musicians (including, naturally, Brian Eno). The whole thing is worth your time, but this part jumped out at me.

It seems [St. Vincent’s Annie Clark] doesn’t like writing words — and she’s not alone there. Brian hates it as well. I find it to be the most labor-intensive part of songwriting, but when it works, and it doesn’t always, then the song can seem more like something that magically flowed out — something that emerged naturally, rather than something that was made in incremental pieces. But at times words can be a dangerous addition to music — they can pin it down. Words imply that the music is about “that” (“that” being what the words say literally) and nothing else. They can, if not done well, destroy the pleasant ambiguity that is a lot of the reason we love music so much. That inherent ambiguity means that we can psychologically tailor music to our own needs, sensibilities and situations — but words limit that, or they can. There are plenty of beautiful tracks that I can’t listen to because they’ve been “ruined” by bad words — my own and others. So I understand some folks’ trepidation, and my own sometime-failures.

I hear that.