Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Are You Sure You Want to Delete Imagine.docx?

My handwriting is abysmal, if abysmal means page scratching so spastic it is often illegible. Never an A student in penmanship, after nearly twenty years of typing almost everything I write, pretty soon it may be a miracle if I can even manage to sign my name with a discernible letter X. The PC and email have made the hand-written letter obsolescent and anecdotal evidence at least suggests I'm not alone. Jesus, I guess I am having my Andy Rooney week.  R.I.P. Andy.

Anyway, mostly because I can't even read my own writing, I usually jot song ideas on legal pads but write using a word processor. Others write lyrics with software designed specifically for songwriters such as Masterwriter, used by (at least according to the publisher) Jimmy Webb, Graham Nash, Gwen Stefani, Trent Reznor (seriously?) and Stephen Sondheim. MW is a rudimentary word processor coupled with a rhyming dictionary and thesaurus. It can show the syllable count for each line, suggest a rhyme, etc., but beyond that, the user does the rest. You can also download a free program called Verse Perfect that does many of the same things quite well.

And yet. A yellowed page of stationary with John Lennon's hand-written lyrics--besides being worth a million bucks at auction--is a unique piece of musical history with a beauty all its own. Seeing the naked words drawn by an imperfect human hand, sometimes with corrections or doodles, feels like an intimate connection with the writer. You can see the lyrics to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" written out in Lennon's hand and imagine him showing them to the band for the first time as they begin to work on what turns out to be a deceptively simply arrangement.

But what if Lennon wrote his lyrics today using MW? (Who am I kidding--he would have used a Mac.) Had he worked they way I often do now, we wouldn't have the amazing treasure of his manuscript for "Imagine," complete with cool orange period stationary. It's easy to zip forward, adopting new technologies with unintended consequences. However unavoidable, some of those consequences suck.

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