Writing about writing - for example writing the other day, as I did, about writing, and also writing about writing about writing, in places, you could argue, though I won't be writing about that - isn't always sparkling entertainment*.
It made me think of songs about songwriting, and how little I've been entertained by them down the years. There's something so awkwardly postmodern about it, it's almost gurning to camera with a twinkle in the eye and a "Look at me, do you see what I'm doing? I'm doing it, I am"** - it grates like hell. Which is my way of saying: I'm sorry if you get annoyed when I start writing about writing. But it's also my way of saying: these things might happen from time to time and I kind of feel like I need to do it, as irritating as it might be for everyone else.
Let me take you back to a school disco, around about 1986. Earlier or later if you like. Chairs along the walls. Fumbling. Red faces. That sort of thing. What was the make-out song to end all make-out songs? Yes. True by Spandau Ballet. I remember buying the album, many years later, not to recreate that sense of hesitant adolescent misery, I might add, but just because I quite liked it - and then I read the lyrics:
Always slipping from my hands,
Sand's a time of it's own.
Take your seaside arms and write the next line,
Oh, I want the truth to be known.......
Drivel. 'Seaside arms'? What the fuck?
I bought a ticket to the world,
But now I've come back again.
Why do I find it hard to write the next line?
When I want the truth to be said.......
Why do you find it hard to write the next line? I have a fair idea. I imagine you'd struggle with a shopping list, Kemp, if that's as good as it gets. And yet... we never noticed at the time. Too busy with tongues, and associated fun. You forget sometimes just how bad things are, then you re-discover them, and become disappointed. The 'writing about writing' is what kills that song. It's almost a cry for help. "Help! I don't know what to do! Seaside arms! There we go! Phew, finished!"
You've got this look I can't describe,
You make me feel like I'm alive,
When everything else is au fait,
Without a doubt you're on my side,
Heaven has been away too long,
Can't find the words to write this song,
by Corinne Bailey Rae. Or even this gem of all gems, by Reginald:
Now I've not been to too many travelling shows, but where were all the potions? I imagine that was one of the verses that got Bernie Taupin 'quite cross'; if not, it bloody well ought to have been. If I was a songwriter... but then again, will this do Elton? Good show.
I think the ultimate example, though, of when songs about songwriting become so excruciatingly self-indulgent that you want to smash your teeth out with a dirty hammer just to make the pain go away, is this delight, from Natasha Bedingfield:
Trying to find the magic
Trying to write a classic
Don't you know, don't you know, don't you know?
Waste-bin full of paper
Clever rhymes, see you later
Imagine what she threw away, if that made the final version?
Read some Byron, Shelly and Keats
Recited it over a Hip-Hop beat
I'm having trouble saying what I mean
With dead poets and drum machines
If it doesn't hurt to read that, I don't know what will hurt you.
So, to sum up: writing about writing is a pain. It can be pretty shambolic at the best of times. So I won't do it again. (Well, I probably will, actually, but I'll bear this in mind when I do.)
* And now I'm writing about that. That's a whole new level of orouboros, isn't it? Or, to put it another way - though doubtless some meandering fool would pluck it out of context and then drop it into his once-readable Independent column and use it as evidence of me not being as shatteringly intellectual as his soaring heights of "you could cut a deck of cards with her cunt"; oh if only I could aspire to climb to your lofty levels, Howard - disappearing up your own arse.
** The only occasion of that I can think of that's any good is Eddie Murphy's static-faced glance through the fourth wall in Trading Places. You can see it here and see if you agree.