June 29, 2011

In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night

A stroke of the brush does not guarantee art from the bristles.

It was a summer day in 1960, as I walked past a gardenia-scented hedge in the Bronx, and entered the local mom-and-pop newsstand, which always smelled of jasmine. I walked out with the first issue of Green Lantern, and have been a fan ever since. I just saw the new GL movie in 3D and despite the amazing visuals, I was more struck by something else – 50 years and hundreds of issues of Green Lantern mythos was successfully captured in a 2-hour movie, and told in a coherent story that a non-fan (like my wife) could understand and enjoy.

When aspiring songwriters ask me where I learned to write in the cinematic, story-telling style that I gravitate towards, the answer is simple. I learned from reading comic books as a child.

Stories were told from beginning to end in 5-8 pages, with 2-3 complete stories between the covers. There was a beginning, middle and end, usually with a surprise, and it was clear who the characters were and why they did what they did. This was storytelling 101, whether it is a comic book, TV show, movie, novel or play.

Comic books are very much like songs in that they blend two different sensory inputs – artwork and dialog. Songs blend music and lyrics. There was always discussion about whether the art or the story was more important in comics, and the answer came in the late 1980's-90's when new types of paper color, printing and digital output became available. Artists began to take over the pages with big splashy spreads, and became quite well known to fans as superstars of the genre. Then they decided they wanted to write their own stories to showcase their art. That's when it became clear -- the stories no longer made sense -- being a great artist did not make someone a great writer. Prices went up as readership declined. Without great stories, a comic book was just a portfolio.

In the music world, Midi, sequencing, sampled sound, and digital editing made new production techniques available. Producers and performers, not songwriters, starting writing their own material. Being a great performer or producer does not make one a great songwriter. Prices went up, quality declined. And it also became clear --- without great lyrics and a singable melody, a recording was just a production, not a song.

Songwritng is not production or performance – it is the fine crafting of words and melody to weave a compelling, complete, and memorable story – a three minute cinematic movie. I guess it was no wonder that I was always drawn to the work of Harry Chapin, one of the greatest of the story-song writers. Singers and producers often view a song as a vehicle for showcasing their talents. But great recordings of great songs happen when the talents of a good vocalist and producer are used in service to the song.

I do my best work when in the presence of gardenias and jasmine.


Bill Pere was named one of the "Top 50 Innovators, Groundbreakers and Guiding Lights of the Music Industry" by Music Connection Magazine. With more than 30 years in the music business working with top industry pros as a songwriter, performer, recording artist and educator, Bill is well known for his superbly crafted lyrics, with lasting impact. Bill has released 16 CDs, and is President of the Connecticut Songwriters Association. He is an Official Connecticut State Troubadour, and is the Founder and Executive Director of the LUNCH Ensemble. Twice named Connecticut Songwriter of the Year, Bill is a qualified MBTI practitioner, trained by the Association for Psychological Type. He is a member of CMEA and MENC, and as Director of the Connecticut Songwriting Academy, he helps develop young talent in songwriting, performing, and learning about the music business. Bill's song analyses and critiques are among the best in the industry. Bill has a graduate degree in Molecular Biology, an ARC Science teaching certification, and he has received two awards for Outstanding contribution to Music Education.

© Copyright 2011 Bill Pere. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reposted without permission of the author. Reproduction for educational purposes is permitted with proper attribution. For workshops, consultation, critiques, or other songwriter services, contact Bill via his web sites, at www.billpere.com, www.ctsongwriting.com, and www.lunchensemble.com