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Speak Now by Taylor Swift

Those of you who pay any attention to the "music" info at the bottom of my posts may have noticed a proliferation of Taylor Swift songs lately, most of which are from her latest CD, Speak Now, which I purchased the day it came out. In fairness, the copy I purchased shows Taylor in a red dress, since I got the Target edition, which comes with a second "bonus" CD containing a few additional tracks and some video content.

I've been pondering how to write this post since the day I bought the album, and although I'm still not positive this is exactly the right angle, I will approximate what it is I've been wanting to say about it.

First, this is not about the music, per se. I happen to really like her and her music, but that is not what this post is about. It's about her sheer gutsiness in making this particular CD.

Here's part of what she writes in the opening liner notes, which also contain all the song lyrics, by the way:

Real life is a funny thing, you know. In real life, saying the right thing at the right moment is beyond crucial. So crucial, in fact, that most of us start to hesitate, for fear of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. But lately what I've begun to fear more than that is letting the moment pass without saying anything.

I think most of us fear reaching the end of our life, and looking back regretting the moments we didn't speak up. When we didn't say 'I love you.' When we should've said 'I'm sorry.' When we didn't stand up for ourselves or someone who needed help.

These songs are made up of words I didn't say when the moment was right in front of me. These songs are open letters. Each is written with a specific person in mind, telling them what I meant to tell them in person. . . .

. . .

What you say might be too much for some people. Maybe it will come out all wrong and you'll stutter and you'll walk away embarrassed, wincing as you play it all back in your head. But I think the words you stop yourself from saying are the ones that will haunt you the longest.

So say it to them. Or say it to yourself in the mirror. Say it in a letter you'll never send or in a book millions might read someday. I think you deserve to look back on your life without a chorus of resounding voices saying 'I could've, but it's too late now.'

. . .

I don't think you should wait. I think you should speak now.

Swift's songs have inspired me on a personal level. Here's why: she is quite publicly putting herself out there. One of the songs on which she really does this is "Back to December," which is an extremely public apology to Taylor Lautner, whom she dumped last December. She calls him "the beautiful boy whose heart I broke in December" in the opening liner note, and it doesn't take much to figure out she's referring Lautner, but she goes further, mentioning specific details: "your tan skin, your sweet smile . . . and how you held me in your arms that September night, the first time you ever saw me cry." Given these and other details in the song, there's no way it's not about him. She says she regrets the break-up, and would take it back if she could. She's pretty much asking him to give her a second chance in this song. To use an inappropriate term, it shows real balls. She is declaring herself in an extremely public way, and the romance and riskiness of it - personal and emotional riskiness, that is, not commercial riskiness, in being willing to put herself out there in such a way - is truly inspiring. I think it's her courage in not only writing the words, but in recording them and performing them in public (rumor has it she'll be singing it at the CMAs tonight): she's not only putting it all on the line, but she's doing it in a hugely public way, so that everyone knows that she is putting herself out there. I applaud that sort of gutsiness.

All of the songs have some sort of inspiration to them - at least, they do to me as a writer. There's "Better Than Revenge", in which she calls out Camilla Belle for taking up with Joe Jonas within days of the Jonas-Swift break-up (one of the bitchiest songs I've ever heard) and "Dear John", in which she takes John Mayer to task (as M pointed out, not only do the details in the lyrics make clear that it's aimed at Mayer, but musically there's a guitar "quote" that sounds just like Mayer to hammer the point home). Neither of these songs really says something positive, but I find it inspiring that she's willing to make a fool of herself in this sort of negative way.

It's inspiring to me as a writer to see another artist putting so much on the line. And it's got me thinking about being willing to take risks with my writing. It's something I've done on occasion, as I did in Us, a poem which is the third poem of mine posted in the current issue of Chantarelle's Notebook. The poem is not based in fact, yet it is 100% true - it is an homage to my relationship with my college boyfriend, who was (and I suppose always will be) my first true love. Did we read the Times in bed on Sunday mornings? Drink wine together? Read books aloud to one another? Nope. Yet the poem is not about the details; it's about the emotion.

I'm thinking I should do more of that, whether it's in personal poems or in my new piece of fictional prose. And I owe a big thank-you to Taylor Swift for this album, with its songs and its liner notes and its inspiration.

Gosh, I hope this makes sense to someone else.

Kiva - loans that change lives
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( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 11th, 2010 01:56 am (UTC)
I'm pretty certain you're correct. And unlike a lot of country stars, she writes all (or nearly all) her own songs - so she's gotta find motivation somewhere, and her personal life is where it comes from. As she says in the liner notes, the guys in her life should have expected to show up in her songs - this is her third album, and she's always written about her relationships. (And in Mayer's case, he does the same thing, so I rather doubt he'll fault her.)
Nov. 10th, 2010 10:15 am (UTC)
I haven't heard a lot of her songs, but she strikes me as a classy lady.
Nov. 11th, 2010 01:57 am (UTC)
I happen to like her songs a lot - and quite a few of them are on the playlist for my new project. She has several great "happy" love songs, which are far harder to find than ones about broken hearts or disappointed love.
Nov. 10th, 2010 12:48 pm (UTC)
I've thought the same thing about Taylor Swift. It's interesting: I'm researching Bob Dylan these days for my wip & one of the things I like about his music is how personal it feels - but he often will change lyrics to disguise that part of his songs. I understand his reticence, but I do think that one of the reasons he connects with so many people is because of that aspect of his music.
Nov. 11th, 2010 01:58 am (UTC)
So does he write the personal story to get the emotion right and then pull the identifying personal details back out? *is intrigued*
(no subject) - jenny_moss - Nov. 11th, 2010 03:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 11th, 2010 01:59 am (UTC)
Yeah, "Us" felt pretty risky to me. I'm pretty certain hubby hasn't read/heard it.
Nov. 10th, 2010 02:15 pm (UTC)
Here's what I love, almost as much as Taylor Swift: That you can write as impassioned and thoughtful posts about Taylor Swift as you can about Shakespeare.
Nov. 11th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
Smooches to you, Liz!
Nov. 10th, 2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
Well, this post has inspired ME, so thank you for that Kelly!!!

I have so few things I can put on a Christmas list, so I'm waiting to get this CD even though I am a HUGE Taylor Swift fan. It is killing me to not have the CD NOW, but I always need lessons in patience, so, I wait.

Nov. 10th, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
DEFINITELY ask for the Target deluxe edition with the bonus material. The acoustic version of "Back to December" and the song "Ours" are worth the extra few bucks.
(no subject) - lisa_schroeder - Nov. 11th, 2010 11:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 10th, 2010 02:53 pm (UTC)
Enjoyed reading your thoughts about Speak Now. I like Taylor's music, and admire her "balls," as you say. I wholly agree with the importance of saying "I love you," and "I'm sorry" when the situation merits, lest there be great regret later on.

As Jenny mentioned, some of Dylan's songs are about real people, but it's often impossible to discern who he's talking about. With Taylor, though, her "lost loves" are obvious, and I wonder about crossing the line with confidentiality -- will she become known as a "kiss and tell" artist? And in the highly competitive music business, a small part of me whispers -- "exploitation" to feed the public's hunger. It's a slippery slope, balancing the respect for privacy with artistic freedom (everything is fodder for the mill/fair game).

She's definitely part of the confessional poet tradition.

Love *your* poems, Kelly, especially the one about the peas! Thumbelina's canoe made me so happy :). And I do like how you've captured the emotion of a personal experience and made it universally accessible -- without naming names.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Nov. 11th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellyrfineman - Nov. 11th, 2010 02:05 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 10th, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
Wow, I'm impressed by those liner notes.

I think authenticity is vital -- and it can be hard for writers to hold onto because some of the time they're worrying about how they present themselves in other places. ie, they spin their online image so much it can lead to losing a sense of who they really are.

And finding out who you are is key for all artists.

Great post, Kelly.

Nov. 11th, 2010 02:11 am (UTC)
Thanks, Dot. I've been mulling it over since I got the CD, and was really uncertain I'd be able to speak sensibly about it, so I'm happy to hear I was making sense.
Nov. 10th, 2010 07:02 pm (UTC)
When public expression is easier than being real...
Interesting take on this, Kelly. I think ... that you're having an introverted / writer's take on it, mainly because, to a performer, it's far easier to perform in public than it is to be real / honest in private. Think about it: when you're in front of a crowd regularly, what does it hurt to sing a sad song? Yet, to sing that same song to someone in person ... well, allows for conversation, dialog, and conflict.

-D (http://davimack.members.sonic.net/blog/)
Nov. 11th, 2010 02:14 am (UTC)
Re: When public expression is easier than being real...
You are quite possibly right. She wears both hats - writer and performer - but you have a fine point. There are all sorts of performers who have no problem singing songs that make me sob - and even when I sang (in choirs and in a rock band) there were songs that choked me up. So maybe performers are horses of a different color.
Nov. 10th, 2010 09:55 pm (UTC)
I've heard some of Swift's songs on the radio, and even though I didn't know much about her, I immediately could sense the personal tone of the lyrics. Very interesting.
Nov. 11th, 2010 02:18 am (UTC)
I happen to like her music, though that wasn't the point of this post. She's written several happy love songs, which aren't that common, really.
Nov. 10th, 2010 10:07 pm (UTC)
Great post, Kelly. She is a gutsy kid, putting herself out there like that. Hope she doesn't lose that as she ages.
Nov. 11th, 2010 02:20 am (UTC)
To use an outmoded yearbook term, I hope she stays as sweet as she is.
Nov. 11th, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
Makes total sense. I really like "Us" and "our own playground of delights." Lovely.

Nov. 11th, 2010 02:20 am (UTC)
Thanks, Jules, on both counts. Smooch!
Nov. 11th, 2010 02:05 am (UTC)
I love Taylor Swift, and I think I get what you mean about putting the emotional element of real relationships into your work- one of the stories I started in college started to feel like it contained a little bit of every boy and man who'd ever been important to me up to that point, friends and crushes and boyfriends and brother-figures and my father and my teachers, even if the things in the story were fictional, and I remember wondering if they'd each be able to find themselves if they were to read it.
Nov. 11th, 2010 02:25 am (UTC)
She definitely writes about her life and her relationships. As do we all - even if we write fiction, we borrow a story here, a characteristic there, etc. We don't usually boost an entire person, but it's pretty common to find things in common between your characters and people from real life.
Nov. 11th, 2010 04:49 am (UTC)
Taylor is a wonderful songwriter. My daughter is obsessed with her. She has also inspired her and helped her to hold nothing back when it comes to singing from the heart.
Nov. 11th, 2010 05:04 am (UTC)
I love her music AND lyrics, but I really and truly admire her courage in how and what she writes. I'm so happy to hear your daughter has her as a role model!
Nov. 11th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC)
1. Yes, it makes sense.
2. Hugs.
Nov. 11th, 2010 03:33 pm (UTC)
Hugs back.
( 31 comments — Leave a comment )

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