I previously mentioned my perceived importance of lyrics in songs. I’ve come across many great compositions but perhaps the most impactful songwriter is Jon Foreman, the lead singer of Switchfoot. You may recognize his songs from the movie “A Walk to Remember” (Only Hope, Dare You to Move). Switchfoot began as a Christian band but crossed over to the mainstream charts while maintaining positive messaging in their music.
Jon transforms the beauty of his surroundings into lyrics by painting stimulating pictures. His eloquence bounces out of the music and into the soul. Inspiration strikes Jon everywhere and through everything. The song “Restless” was written while watching raindrops fall. Taken from an interview on songfacts.com, Jon explains the inspiration:
I was listening to the rain and watching these individual drops drip down the window and thinking that every one of them is in pursuit of the ocean, that they will stop at nothing, and gravity will eventually one day lead them to the ocean. And I began to think of my own life and wondering if I had that same drive, that same pursuit for that which is right and true. And then I was thinking through C.S. Lewis’ idea that this life, when we’re aware of beauty, it’s kind of a bittersweet thing, that it’s a transient reminder of eternal beauty, which someday we will be face to face with.
It amazes me what can inspire a song. See below for the song with lyrics.
I can’t fully explain what draws me to Switchfoot’s music. If Jon was writing this, he would perfectly describe the reasoning. Sadly, I am not as eloquent nor poetic, but I will try. It’s the emotion placed behind the lyrics. It’s the poetic voice displayed in words. It’s the extraordinary layout of phrases without feeling forced. Most songwriters wouldn’t think to combine words the way that Jon has. His songs are complex yet understandable.
When success is equated with excess
The ambition for excess wrecks us
As top of the mind becomes the bottom line
When success is equated with excess
Songwriting is a form of storytelling. It’s both literary and poetic. The most impressive lyrics effortlessly evoke emotions. Sometimes the most simplistic songs feel as if they exerted the most energy to write. If you skim the alphabet trying to find a rhyming word, you’re probably struggling to convey your message. Jon Foreman seems to write with ease. His words cascade through each song without feeling forced or unjustifiably strung together.
Simplicity doesn’t necessarily make a song exciting either. Yes, “pier”, “here”, and “beer” all rhyme, but a fifth grader could have written Luke Bryan’s “Drink A Beer” (aside from the whole drinking alcohol thing). Sometimes simplicity sells especially when listeners relate to the lyrics. The song sits on top of the country chart.
Though Switchfoot produces thought provoking songs, their lyrics are neither light nor witty. They are poems set to music filled with complexity from start to finish. If all songs left us in deep thought, we would have no way to unwind. I’m grateful for those songwriters who pen less impressive lyrics too. They let me get lost in the music without analyzing the meaning of the words. They set me free.
I am by no means an expert in music or songwriting. I don’t play an instrument. I don’t sing (in front of others). I’m a writer, including poems and lyrics, but I have no training or experience. I write for fun and when I find songs that touch me, I examine the reasons why.
I hope that one day I write lyrics as well as Jon Foreman. Not that I expect anything to become of my songs, but it will be a personal achievement to convey my words as effortlessly and eloquently as he.