by James Linderman
I tried to write this book review as objectively as possible and with as little nostalgic reflection as I could muster, however...
I remember the very day that I saw Writing Better Lyrics for the first time. My songwriting partner at the time brought me his brand new copy to check out.
I also remember the day, about a year and a half later, that I finally returned the book to him at his insistence (and my reluctance)... really, really, really broken in for him.
I then immediately ran out and picked up a copy of my own, which is now also really, really, really broken in.
I now have so many favourite parts of this book that I hardly know where to start so... how about if we take a look at how it begins.
The book opens with an analogy comparing how songwriters delve into their imagination for ideas, with a diver going deep down to the ocean floor in search of pearls. Pat then gets right to the task of teaching us the "nuts and bolts" of diving into our own subconscious minds for songwriting treasure.
This is a much better book than I will be able to describe it as being, but I can tell you that if you only ever got to read the first two pages of it, your outlook of song craft would be dramatically shifted into a more profound and universal perspective. It's that kind of good.
Pat's discourse on object writing as a vehicle for our songwriting treasure hunt is also just outstanding. It has just enough instruction to make it understandable but he then presents a collection of object writing samples written by his students. I find that it's very inspiring and extremely interesting to see how a group of other songwriters approached this task and get to analyze the outcome.
Like all great teachers, Pat knows when to step back and let the lesson do the talking.
Incidentally, one of the students who's writing is featured here is Gillian Welch, who has an extraordinary ability to craft wonderful songs, in my humble opinion. It will be truly fascinating for you to read her object writing prose and to think of her as once being a student in one of Pat's classes, now that she has a few recordings out and could now be considered an international celebrity singer/songwriter.
Back to the book.
Chapter two gets you a front row seat for what I think Pat teaches best: metaphors. Here is all the stuff that our English teachers tried to teach us but just couldn't seem to package in an engaging format. Pat does not have this problem; he can push and pull words around like a grade six bully at recess. Hey, that's not a bad metaphor... more precisely, a simile.
Pat is also skilled at explaining stresses and metre, and effectively teaches us how to position our metaphors to give real impact to the message in our lyric; impact that will ultimately engage our listener.
The rest of the book covers topics like: how to modify clichÃ©s, verse development, perspective, point of view, metre, form, and a "big picture" look at process.
Pat crams more into a single chapter than some authors spread out over a whole book, and he teaches (in his books and in person) in a fun and personable way.
He also teaches like he has a lot of material to cover and can hardly wait to get it covered. I believe that information and enthusiasm are certainly the key elements to the productive and purposeful sharing of knowledge.
I would have to say that Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison is a book you should pick up right away; but don't lend out to any of your collaborators... at least not until you've read it yourself.
I simply cannot imagine being any kind of songwriter and not needing to have this book.
Writing Better Lyrics - Book Review