Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Men’s Turn

Last week, I presented a set of music by women, and I posed two questions: What is “women’s music”? and could the songs have been written by men? I also mentioned the notion of “men’s music”. What would that sound like? It occurred to me that I should present a set of music by men for comparison. Then, I could pose these questions again. So here is my set of music by men. Could these songs have been written by women, or is there something distinctly male about them? I would love to read your thoughts in the comments.

Phil Henry: Dear Noreen


Phil Henry draws his characters beautifully, and they are a collection of men faced with unusual circumstances, who cope as best they can. In Dear Noreen, a coal miner is confronted with the possibility of his own death, and he thinks first to apologize to his wife for a promise he broke. The situation is masculine, but I’m more interested in his emotional state. Would a woman in comparable circumstances express herself this way? This is a love song from a collapsed mine, and it shows Henry’s imagination off well. Henry also makes his character totally believable by capturing his emotional state so well.

Jeff Krantz: Wasteland


Jeff Krantz writes songs that dwell on the uncertainties of love. Committing oneself in a relationship is always an emotional risk, and Krantz’s characters never lose sight of that. But, in Wasteland, Krantz has another concern. The song is a beautifully rendered meditation on aging. Krantz presents two characters, male and female, and he has them express themselves in very different ways. He clearly sees a difference between men and women. Would a woman see this difference the same way?

Josh Geffin: Time Machine Man


Josh Geffin uses spare arrangements, but presents detailed and resonant pictures of his characters’ emotions. In Time Machine Man, Geffin gives us an enigmatic lyric. Here is what I take from it. Geffin looks in on a woman who is physically separated from her lover, but whose memories of him are clear. So he is there with her and not there. The sense of yearning comes through loud and clear. A female singer could cover this without changing a word, and it would still work beautifully.

Brad Senne: Road Trip


Brad Senne is a man of few words, so none are wasted. His singing and arrangements fill in any emotional blanks in his songs. This is a strategy that works beautifully for him. In Road Trip, a couple get away for a few days, and they are perhaps surprised at how strongly they feel a sense of freedom. The song and the performance are both restrained, but the feelings come through clearly.

Ken Helman: Caught a Ride

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By including Ken Helman in this set, I am throwing something of a curveball. Helman’s have the urge to cry, but they don’t want anyone to know. The performances are emotionally powerful. In his day job, Helman is a voice coach, and based on this album, I would go to him if I wanted to sing opera, musical theater, or R&B. Caught a Ride beautifully shows off Helman’s gifts as a songwriter. It is not immediately clear what is going on. That’s because the narrator is trying to hold his feelings in, and naming the situation would make that impossible. I won’t provide a spoiler here, because the song is well worth discovering on its own terms. But I will note the mention of “his boyfriend”, when we meet the main character. In discussing gender roles, does this sexual orientation make a difference?

Final thoughts: Female singers perform songs written by men, and vice versa, all the time. Sometimes, a few words of the lyric must be changed, but not always. Even with out changing a word, however, the meaning of the song can sometimes change, depending on the gender of the singer. The most important thing, I think, is that, for me at least, both last week and this week’s songs ring true emotionally.


Unknown said...

More of the songs of Phil Henry show this emotional state of the man. Silent Grace and Holdup show more the emotion of the main character than the story being told. My Old Heart is an example of showing the feelings of a young woman. My son's empathy shows through most of his writings.