Lyrical Failure


By Nate Hendley

When I was 16 me, my brother Matthew and my friend Dave decided to form a band. At last, I thought, a chance to show off the lyrics to all the great songs I had been writing over the years. Songs from my heart and soul, typed laboriously onto lined paper and stored like a treasure chest of artistic brilliance. My musings on the cold, spirit-crushing world around me as seen through jaded teenage eyes. At the first opportunity, I decided to share my trove of tunes.

As Matthew and Dave sat on the couch in my parent’s living room, I rooted through a desk drawer in my bedroom and withdrew a manila folder packed with loose sheets of notepaper. Shaking from sheer artistic exuberance, I descended downstairs and handed over the folder.

“Here are some lyrics I’ve been working on,” I told the guys. “Maybe we could use some of these for the band.”

I turned and left in a hurry. I wanted to leave Matt and Dave alone as they savoured my creative genius. It would seem like preening if I stuck around as they dug through my golden literary nuggets. I went to the basement and anxiously watched TV for a few minutes. Then, I returned to the living room, prepared to be showered with compliments. I expected to be told I was a young John Lennon in training. I certainly didn’t expect hysterical laughter.

Matthew and Dave each had a pile of my typewritten lyrics on their laps. They laughed so hard they were gagging.

“Ahhhhhhhhh! Listen to this one!” yelled Matthew, as he began reciting my words out loud.

The guys were particularly taken with a number I had written called “Cheap and Sleazy”, in which I attempted to duplicate the down and dirty lyrics of AC/DC, my favourite band at the time. The song was all about pining for a girl who was both inexpensive and nasty. Given that I was still in a pre-girlfriend state of extreme virginity, my words inspired mockery, not awe.

At the other extreme, lyrics that tried to scale the heights of profundity also amused the pair. Such was the case for “Mild” the chorus of which went, “Oh, mild, mild, mild, mild, mild, mild, mild, mild.” The last line in this number went something like “Try God, he’s mild.”

Not that I was overly religious at the time. I was trying to invoke some mystical mindset about something or other and came up rather short.

Not too surprisingly, we never used any of these lyrics for any of our songs. And I learned a good lesson. If you think you’ve written something brilliant, show it to a close friend or family member. Because if they snicker like a pair of teenage boys on a couch reading a stack of bad song lyrics, chances are your art isn’t quite ready for primetime.

(Nate Hendley is the Toronto-based author of Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers, available in paperback and on Kindle. He has also written several other works, primarily in the true-crime genre.)


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