Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Speak Now by Taylor Swift

Those of you who pay any attention to the "music" info at the bottom of my posts may have noticed a proliferation of Taylor Swift songs lately, most of which are from her latest CD, Speak Now, which I purchased the day it came out. In fairness, the copy I purchased shows Taylor in a red dress, since I got the Target edition, which comes with a second "bonus" CD containing a few additional tracks and some video content.

I've been pondering how to write this post since the day I bought the album, and although I'm still not positive this is exactly the right angle, I will approximate what it is I've been wanting to say about it.

First, this is not about the music, per se. I happen to really like her and her music, but that is not what this post is about. It's about her sheer gutsiness in making this particular CD.

Here's part of what she writes in the opening liner notes, which also contain all the song lyrics, by the way:

Real life is a funny thing, you know. In real life, saying the right thing at the right moment is beyond crucial. So crucial, in fact, that most of us start to hesitate, for fear of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. But lately what I've begun to fear more than that is letting the moment pass without saying anything.

I think most of us fear reaching the end of our life, and looking back regretting the moments we didn't speak up. When we didn't say 'I love you.' When we should've said 'I'm sorry.' When we didn't stand up for ourselves or someone who needed help.

These songs are made up of words I didn't say when the moment was right in front of me. These songs are open letters. Each is written with a specific person in mind, telling them what I meant to tell them in person. . . .

. . .

What you say might be too much for some people. Maybe it will come out all wrong and you'll stutter and you'll walk away embarrassed, wincing as you play it all back in your head. But I think the words you stop yourself from saying are the ones that will haunt you the longest.

So say it to them. Or say it to yourself in the mirror. Say it in a letter you'll never send or in a book millions might read someday. I think you deserve to look back on your life without a chorus of resounding voices saying 'I could've, but it's too late now.'

. . .

I don't think you should wait. I think you should speak now.
Swift's songs have inspired me on a personal level. Here's why: she is quite publicly putting herself out there. One of the songs on which she really does this is "Back to December," which is an extremely public apology to Taylor Lautner, whom she dumped last December. She calls him "the beautiful boy whose heart I broke in December" in the opening liner note, and it doesn't take much to figure out she's referring Lautner, but she goes further, mentioning specific details: "your tan skin, your sweet smile . . . and how you held me in your arms that September night, the first time you ever saw me cry." Given these and other details in the song, there's no way it's not about him. She says she regrets the break-up, and would take it back if she could. She's pretty much asking him to give her a second chance in this song. To use an inappropriate term, it shows real balls. She is declaring herself in an extremely public way, and the romance and riskiness of it - personal and emotional riskiness, that is, not commercial riskiness, in being willing to put herself out there in such a way - is truly inspiring. I think it's her courage in not only writing the words, but in recording them and performing them in public (rumor has it she'll be singing it at the CMAs tonight): she's not only putting it all on the line, but she's doing it in a hugely public way, so that everyone knows that she is putting herself out there. I applaud that sort of gutsiness.

All of the songs have some sort of inspiration to them - at least, they do to me as a writer. There's "Better Than Revenge", in which she calls out Camilla Belle for taking up with Joe Jonas within days of the Jonas-Swift break-up (one of the bitchiest songs I've ever heard) and "Dear John", in which she takes John Mayer to task (as M pointed out, not only do the details in the lyrics make clear that it's aimed at Mayer, but musically there's a guitar "quote" that sounds just like Mayer to hammer the point home). Neither of these songs really says something positive, but I find it inspiring that she's willing to make a fool of herself in this sort of negative way.

It's inspiring to me as a writer to see another artist putting so much on the line. And it's got me thinking about being willing to take risks with my writing. It's something I've done on occasion, as I did in Us, a poem which is the third poem of mine posted in the current issue of Chantarelle's Notebook. The poem is not based in fact, yet it is 100% true - it is an homage to my relationship with my college boyfriend, who was (and I suppose always will be) my first true love. Did we read the Times in bed on Sunday mornings? Drink wine together? Read books aloud to one another? Nope. Yet the poem is not about the details; it's about the emotion.

I'm thinking I should do more of that, whether it's in personal poems or in my new piece of fictional prose. And I owe a big thank-you to Taylor Swift for this album, with its songs and its liner notes and its inspiration.

Gosh, I hope this makes sense to someone else.

Kiva - loans that change lives


Bobby said...

It makes more than simple sense for me....
Great work man.....i too was in the middle of writing about that album,was doing research for it....but ended up finding this....
SO my task is complete..someone did it better than me.....

Kelly Fineman said...

Thanks, Bobby, for the kind words!