Singer/songwriters have it easy, because they write as themselves. OK, some of them have a kind of Lou Reed/Bowie persona they like to adopt, and they have to write in that vein, but for the most part the confessional types write at their own level: if they’re banal and stupid, so are their songs (Merryl Bainbridge), and if they’re pretentious and verbose, so are their songs (almost everyone else).
I preamble in this manner because the following song is one I had to write as someone else. It’s for a character in an unfinished musical (aren’t they all, really?) who eschews the West End/Broadway sausage factory to pursue her own path in unremunerative but satisfying small scale cabaret shows. Any biographical similarity is strictly coincidental. Oh, she writes songs too.
Writing as this young woman (her name is Sam) was tricky, because she had to sound gifted, but she couldn’t be too slick; no wordy theatre lyrics full of noisy rhymes for this girl.
But I’m rather proud of something subtle. Here’s how the first lines turned out, quite accidentally:
He didn’t bow or hold the door,
But while I told the story of my life …
I rather liked how ‘hold’ and ‘told’ rhymed, but also ‘door’ and ‘story’, so I made the same thing happen in the next verse, in exactly the same places. But I tried not to draw any attention to it:
No sense I’d weigh or hold him down,
But when I told him how he filled my life …
And then, to cap things off, I did it again in the last verse:
He said, “We learn each day we live.”
He said, “What say we give this one more try?”
My thinking was that the character would sound like a natural songwriter, a born talent, but not a flashy attention-seeker.
Rosie Harris gave this song a heartbreaking rendition in the ‘On the Drawing Board’ section of OzMade Musicals, in December 2007. Then Cassie McIvor paid me the compliment of recording it while backstage, in full Elphaba makeup, in Japan.
You can say what you like about the superficial nature of musical theatre (and I do), but when gifted women want to sing your song, and one of them posts it on YouTube from a country 8000 kilometres away, it makes me, the songwriter, feel absurdly good.
He Didn’t Say
Piano/vocal chart here.