How Songwriter’s And Musician’s Are Affected By Location This Land is My Land: An Analysis of How Songwriter’s and Musician’s are Affected by Location This land is your land, this land is my land From California To the New York Island From the Redwood forest To the Gulf Stream waters This land was made for you and me. -Woody Guthrie Although the above lines, from Woody Guthrie’s geographical classic This Land is Your Land, are deep-rooted in American Soil they still work as an excellent indicator of how a songwriter’s location can reflect the ideas and meaning behind the work that they produce. In Guthrie’s case, life revolved around extensive travels throughout North America and therefore the images he conjures up represent a vast cross-section of geographical landmarks and natural representatives from several locales. His was the life of the traveler, never knowing one home for very long, and therefore it is quite obvious as to why his songwriting reflected that very lifestyle. Contrasting this, it can also be said that a finer understanding of a specific area can be achieved through a songwriter’s ability to concentrate on a single area and allow it to inspire all that they write about.
Whether the influence on the songwriter is a positive or a negative one there is still something to be said for the Canadian songwriter and his ability to convey a very strong sense of place in his/her songs. Whether it is the people of a particular city, an area’s surrounding natural landmarks, or the main source of industry for a specific location, it can be said that Canadian songwriters are truly able to bring forth the true character behind their respective areas. For example, Neil Young It is very simple to listen to music without ever allowing yourself to actually hear what it is you’re listening to, and based on this it can easily be understood as to why very few people ever realize exactly how large an impact a songwriter’s surrounding’s can have on their songwriting and the tone of their music. A prime example of this for Canada would be Bryan Adams. Early in his career Adams wrote songs that seemed to convey a true sense of nostalgia for, or inspiration from, the area from where he came- Vancouver, British Columbia. In his 1985 hit, The Summer of ’69, Adams seems to be looking back fondly on his youth.
The song truly has an air of yearning to it and the tone of the song, though fast-paced, is still a pleasant one that seems more based on fond recollection than regret. When I look back now The summer seemed to last forever. And if I had a choice I’d just want to be there. Those were the best days of my life. This is a perfect example of what Adams’ songwriting was like before he became a star outside of Canada and achieved massive success in the United States. However, what he may have gained monetarily he lost in his sense of place. Now Bryan Adams, though still a Canadian, lives in Los Angeles and has homes all around the world. It has been several years since he lived in his native Canada and it shows in his songwriting.
Whereas his songs used to inspire images and evoke memories, they are now reduced to empty hits that have no sense of location whatsoever. He may write one hit song after another but he has lost something in his ability to relate to his home, mainly because he is essentially without one. This can be seen clearly in Adams’ 1997 hit song The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me (Is You): The only thing I want. The only thing I need. The only thing I choose.
Yeah the only thing that looks good on me Is you. Adams’ songwriting since his move from Canada in the late eighties has continued to become more and more laden with boring sexual innuendo and trite ramblings about his own overblown ego. Whereas he used to be a Canadian songwriter, he has, over the last eight to ten years become merely a songwriter from Canada. He has truly lost his sense of place and it shows. Over the course of this essay several Canadian bands will be used to prove just how much of an impact their location has had on their music’s lyrical content and tone, in addition to their individual sounds. To make it as simple as possible to understand the differences in sound, one band from each of three Canadian locations has been chosen for analysis.
Each location, no matter how near or how far their proximity from the others, is vastly different in many ways. From Canada’s east coast, Newfoundland’s Great Big Sea have been chosen; from the west coast, British Columbia’s She Stole My Beer; and from our own province of Ontario, Toronto’s Rush will be used. Each of these band’s, through their music, work as perfect examples of how severe an impression geographic location can have on both lyrical content and sound. When discussing or pandering the characteristics of a city like Toronto, one is consistently pelted with images that reflect a fast-paced, hectic, heavily populated, industry-laden, concrete jungle. And therefore it is not with any great surprise that a band like Rush, formed in Toronto in the early 1970’s, would make music and write lyrics reflecting that very lifestyle. Throughout their long-standing career Rush has been known to produce music of an aggressive nature.
Heavy drums, driving and wailing guitars and pounding bass lines have become known as standard fare from Toronto’s most well known trio. The sound of Rush’s music lives and breathes as a reflection of their surroundings while growing up and living in Canada’s largest and most heavily populated city. Like the city itself, their music is also cluttered with a sound that can, at times, become almost overwhelming to the listener. Although the band consists of only three members they are somehow able to produce a sound that carries the intensity of a much larger group. Within their hard-hitting style you can almost hear the sounds of the city humming in the background.
And if you listened carefully you would think that you could hear the harsh clangs, shouts and clatter of Toronto deep in the background of their music. But with a band like Rush, the effects of being from a large city run much deeper than just the music. Rush’s lyricist, Neil Peart, born and raised in Toronto, is possibly the best example of just how much of an impact geographic location can have on what kind of lyrics a band or songwriter can produce. Toronto, with a population of almost three million people, has become known, like most major cities, a being a place that lacks personability. By this it is meant that a large city does not, and can not, enjoy the same friendliness that may be the status quo in a smaller city. With a large city a serious emphasis is put on the individual rather than the group and therefore a lot of these cities force their residents into anonymity, oftentimes living as autonomous members of a massive society without enjoying the human contact that is necessary to live a healthy life.
It is this very fact that is most often present in Rush’s lyrics as Neil Peart has somehow found the ability to bring the feel of the anonymous big city lifestyle to the page. Living in a fisheye lens, Caught in the camera eye. I have no heart to lie I can’t pretend a stranger Is a long-awaited friend. Here the listener is presented with images of how limiting the city is. Although it may be large in size it does not allow for the individual to free themselves from the shackles of an anonymous lifestyle.
Although the narrator of the song feels that he is constantly being watched, constantly living within the camera eye and among others, he still feels sorrow knowing that he is surrounded by nothing but strangers whom he can never believe to be long-awaited friends. From this small section of the song we are also given a fairly decent account of the industrialization/technology that takes hold of the larger city, thereby forcing its residents to move with it and progress as it progresses; or be left behind. The song continues: He’s not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He’s a new world man. In addition to songwriter Neil Peart’s ideas of anonymity within the big city he also makes an effort to define the type of person who might make of the population of the city. For a city such as Toronto, Peart seems to feel that the population must be mainly built of people who are able to accept the progress of technology willingly.
He believes that it is these advancements that allow for such a progress, any progress, to occur in the first place. He knows that within the large city constant change is looked upon favorably as it is th …