The nominations for this year’s Grammy Awards came out.
In the category of song of the year, five songs were nominated. One of them had nine names listed as “songwriter.” Another had eight names, one had seven, one had six and the last of the five songs had two writers listed.
You know how they say trust your first instinct? Well, my first inkling upon seeing all those names listed under “songwriter” was that, somehow, humanity, heart, emotion and inspiration were all systematically being wrung out and removed from the creative process. Casualties of commerce.
I get that the times change and with them so too does the technology and methodology. Horse-and-buggy gives way to automobile, telegraph to telephone, fax to email to text message, and so on, and in the process some things fade away. By some estimates, half the jobs that exist today will disappear in the next 20 years, to be replaced by computers and robots. And these are not just menial, low-paying tasks. Already, many medical tests and examinations, and surgeries and procedures are performed by machines.
The hope was supposed to be that it would free us to pursue our passions even more fervently, and focus on the things — and especially the people — that matter most to us.
But what we have found is the technological advancements that come with the digital age have contributed to people feeling even more stressed and more isolated, yearning for connection and lively sensation.
The binary code, which replaces smooth waves with smaller-and-smaller but still jagged step functions, has left us with approximations of the whole wide, wonderful world that is within and without. Approximations of life. We call it “virtual” reality.
Some say that’s exactly what art does and has always attempted to do, to express and convey real meaning through “art-ificial" means.
The difference is in the spark of inspiration that compels the creators of timeless art, in the power of their creation to penetrate our senses, thoughts, feelings and imaginings and in its capacity to endure.
The works of Dante and Shakespeare, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Picasso, Stephen Foster and Irving Berlin, have all reached us across the centuries, a testament to their enduring quality. None of them had multiple people kicking in on their creations, which is not to say that many different roads cannot lead to the same place.
After all, what of Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Rodgers and Hart or Hammerstein, Bernie Taupin and Elton John, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Johnny Mercer and whoever he teamed with? They are all among the great songwriting teams whose works endure and whose songs I love.
If I don’t have a problem with two people being a songwriting team, why the fuss about six, seven, eight or nine? The real question is, at what point does collaboration become contrivance?
Answer -- at the point that it becomes disconnected from, or devoid of, heart.
You’ve heard the saying “love begets love.” Likewise, heart affects heart. Diseases of the heart are not only the leading killer of our bodies. Maladies of the emotional heart are the destroyer of dreams, hope, empathy and compassion. We’ve become more aware of the risk factors to the physical heart, so too should we realize the threats to the emotional heart, among them conformity, calculation and formulaic production.
Just because I’m down on composition by committee doesn’t mean I am making the argument as to the superiority of inspiration over craftsmanship. It’s just a matter of taste and preference, and what I gauge to be true and great, which is what I yearn for in song, love and in life.