minstrel: Something interesting. LONG!

Heather Rose Jones hrjones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Sun Aug 24 12:19:39 PDT 1997

On Fri, 22 Aug 1997, Melvin, Stephen R. wrote:

> >On the topic of covering you a** while criticizing the Powers That Be, I'd
> >like to offer my own method.
> >
> >Make the _target_ of the song anonymous, not the _author_.
> 	Good show!  The author may well have tried to do this.  The song only
> mentions "a" king of the middle.  The implication is that it is the
> current king, but there is no indication of it.  While your suggestions
> are excellent especially for one who has over the years learned 'how' to
> do it well, they may well be too difficult for a  brand new 'journeyman'
> level bard.  (By 'journeyman', I mean a bard who has sufficient

Well, before you get too far out on a limb in this direction, I'd like to
point out that the two songs of mine I mentioned in this context were
written when I _was_ a "journeyman" level songwriter. I'd been in the SCA
about three years at the time and had only really been writing songs for
little over one year (if you discount the dreck I wrote in high school
that no one ever saw).

> rather than critique.  For Tangwystyl, I would ask, "Please elaborate.
> Help us 'journeymen' learn how to make a song anonymous 'enough'."  Are
> any of your satires old enough that you can describe the political and
> social situation behind them and explain _how_ you made them anonymous?

Well, in the case of Black Widows, I simply wrote a "blowing off steam"
piece. In the case of "What News" the basic message was, "You can go a
long way playing on the themes of loyalty and obedience built into the SCA
social structure, but everyone has their breaking point. People will put
up with injuries to anonymous third parties, but if you screw over their
friends, look out." At the time there were some "personal differences"
between the crown and some friends of mine, which eventually led to one of
my friends being publicly embarassed in court. There was fault on both
sides, but royalty has both the power and responsibility to be gracious
rather than vindictive. I "anonymized" it by taking it out of an SCA
setting and giving it a generic medieval setting; turning the "difference
of opinion" into a charge of heresy; and exaggerating the continuing
loyalty of the viewpoint character to the king so that the break was more

> Also, how effective were they?

Well, now, that's a good question. When I wrote "God's Gift to the
Kingdom" about a local branch I happened to live in (whose attitudes drove
me up the wall) it was extremely topical, although nominally generic. Now
that time has passed, only a handful of people remember enough of the
details of that period to get the topicality, and the genericness has
increased. But I have several times had people currently involved in that
branch come up to me and say, "So-and-so said if I really want to
understand some of the lingering attitudes toward my branch, I need to
hear your song." And after hearing it, they get this weird look on their
faces and say, "Oh, ok, that makes sense now." So I guess that one ended
up as a "teaching song" or at least a "remembering song".

In another case, my point was a bit too subtle to get through the attitude
it was satirizing. When I wrote "The Oath", I wanted to satirize the
hyper-dramatic posturing of people who proclaim to the world what agonies
they are going through to keep their word, etc. etc. So I set up a
character who makes a rash promise in an impossible situation, fails (of
course), and is dismissed scornfully for his failure by the lord he made
the promise to. At yet at the end of the song, he's still proclaiming his
loyalty and how it's his fault he's now wandering in exile for having
failed either to keep his word or die in the attempt. And the people who
love the song most are the ones most guilty of hyper-dramatic posturing.
Go figure. I guess at least I captured the attitude accurately!

> 	For others, I would ask, "What pointers do you have for the brand new
> 'baby' bards as we sometimes call them?  Those who are past the level
> where they need to have a single person guiding their efforts and are
> now making mistakes on their own.  Most importantly, what mistakes have
> _you_ learned from.  I'll start:

I'd say the first rule is, try to write a song that you could sing in
public to your "target" and have them recognize the valid points you have
to make rather than simply feel personally attacked. The second rule is,
try to write a song that has lasting artistic value beyond the immediate
situation. The precise circumstances that inspired the classic anti-BOD
song "The Causes of Rebellion" are long forgotten, but it's still a damn
good song because it talks about eternal verities -- and does so without
tying itself too closely to any specific details. In the case of my song
"The Oath", I may have failed at the intended satire, but I evidently
succeeded at writing a "good song".

No matter what the medium, the best art is that which shows the
experiencer essential truths that are separate from the details of the
form or subject. And often that separation enables the experiencer to
_see_ those truths without getting caught up in emotionally-charged
contexts. But once you've learned the structure of that truth (or, if we
want to get away from judgemental words such as "truth", the structure of
that vision) then you are able to see it in everything around you.

The "truths" can be very abstract: "injustice cannot produce justice";
"the closer the blow lands, the more it hurts"; "there's more than one
sandbox in the world"; "for most people, the heart leads the mind"; etc.

Well, I could go on pontificating for a long time, but I try to keep it
short unless someone's paying me! :)


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