I’ve written my fair share of songs about love (“Shells”, “Letter”). But in my songs, the love is always entangled with some other topic or theme. In “Shells”, for example, I’m exploring what it means to know a person, and how its possible to love people even if you only know a part of them.

When I say a “real” love song, I’m talking about something written purely in praise of another person: a song that describes how wonderful that person is and how amazing he or she makes you feel.

I have never written such a song. And it’s not for lack of trying – I have several stanzas of love song in my songwriting journal still waiting to be developed. But there are three things stopping me:

1. I hate cheese!

I’m vegan: I don’t put cheese in my food, and I try my hardest not to put it in my songs, either. I hate it so much, I would rather write an atonal piece for kazoo and nails on a chalkboard than write a cheesy song. But cheese has a way of sneaking its way into music, especially love songs. In fact, love songs have a dangerous potential to become pure cheese. Consider “Do You Want To Know A Secret” by the Beatles. When we were kids, my sister and I mocked this song mercilessly for its sappy melody and lyrics. I don’t ever want to write a song that cheesy. So when I’m writing a love song and it starts to go in that direction, I stop and scrap what I’ve done, for fear that if I don’t, I’ll end up with the musical equivalent of a giant block of Velveeta. (And yes, I’m aware that this is kind of hypocritical in light of my song writing motto, but I draw the line at cheese!)

2. Real love is too big to fit in a song.

It’s easy to write about heartbreaks and breakups. When a relationship is over, I can clearly see the beginning, middle, and the end, and I can look at what happened with some distance. This makes it much easier to condense the experience into a two to three minute song.

But when I try to write about people I currently love, I get overwhelmed. Love in the present moment feels infinite, like I couldn’t possibly do my feelings or the person justice with a finite combination of words and notes. I’ve tried to write about a current boyfriend before, and the best I managed was a brief guest appearance in a song about something else. Everything I tried to write specifically about him just didn’t measure up to how amazing he is.

3. There are enough love songs already. 

I like relationship songs. I’ve written quite a few of them, and no doubt I will write more. But sometimes when I listen to the radio, I hear nothing but love songs, breakup songs, and unrequited pining songs, and I wish there were more songs about something else (anything else). So I usually make an effort to focus my songwriting on topics that have nothing to do with romantic love. Sometimes I can’t help myself and a sarcastic breakup song comes out anyway, but other times I’m able to write songs I’m truly proud of that aren’t love-related at all. I’ve written about swimming pools, horrible cats, dragons, early winter in Iowa, fainting into a bunch of door beads while I had a fever … the list goes on. And these songs exists at least in part thanks to my avoidance of love songs.

Maybe someday I will write an amazing, non-cheesy love song that’s worthy of the person it’s about. I’m not ruling it out. But it’s much more likely that my next song will be about turtles, loons, or falling down the sewer. (Yes, this last one really is on my list of potential song topics. What do you think — will it be a hit?)

Until next time … and don’t forget to check out my songs! I just posted a bunch of new recordings I made with my super wonderful and talented guitarist! I’m playing cello and singing at the same time … it’s intense!

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