In part 2 of this series, I went over how I turned a personal experience (/tragedy) into a set of verses for the song ‘Sparks’ . To refresh your memory, the lyric sheet is available here and the track is embedded below:
One of the hardest parts of writing a song can be finding a ‘concept’ that ties the verses together. The ideal case is coming up with an idea that’s original, sounds interesting as a title, and wraps up the narrative creatively in a way that will make sense to people other than yourself.
When I’m searching for a concept, I like to pull out a scrap of paper and write down all the words and phrases that reflect the different themes, feelings, and images that I think the song is expressing. Some of the themes that came out in writing the verses:
- Cremation (my father was cremated)
- Circle of life and death
- Brevity of life
Having a page full of words and ideas, I placed the paper in front of me and listened to the chorus repeatedly.
The first good idea that came to mind was the line ‘we’re all made of stars’. It was a good theme at the time so I played another word game by writing down words and phrases related to stars: the heavens, stars as big burning balls of gas, lights, fire, etc.
Listening to the music again with all these ideas in front of me, I came up with the following lyrics:
from the heaven’s we’re made, touched by the flames, in the end we’re all made of stars
from the time we’re born, a brief flash and we’re gone, in the end we’re all made of stars
All was good with the world so I shelved the song for some much earned rest. Later that day, I was listening to my ‘current music’ playlist when up came the song “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic. Listening to the track, the concept I came up with suddenly felt unoriginal and I needed to revisit it.
The next day, I tried brainstorming an alternative concept that didn’t require changing the existing lyrics too much. Two concepts that stood out were cremation and fire. Listening to the song again (with the lyrics as is), a picture came to mind of me standing in front of a giant funeral pyre, with my father being cremated right in front of me, sparks popping and whizzing from the flames. In that scene it came to me…”we’re all made of sparks”. It wasn’t too far off conceptually from stars but it still made sense in the context of the song. Most items you burn will give off sparks (I think)…so poetically maybe we’re just a bunch of sparks waiting to be released through fire.
Playing out the fantasy in my head, after the body was cremated I scattered the ashes in the wind, with the sunlight poking through the cloud of ash as it settled on the ground. From this image, I wrote the post-chorus:
ashes to ashes, I scattered his dust in the rays, and my fears wash away, for we all return to where we came
And that’s how the chorus came together. The second and third chorus felt a bit stale so I added some variation to each section by changing whose ashes were being scattered.
The first post-chorus was from the perspective of me scattering my father’s ashes in the wind. The second post-chorus was to be my own ashes being scattered in the wind:
ashes to ashes, the dust scatters in the rays, and my fears wash away, for I will return to where I came.
And the final post-chorus is about everyone:
ashes to ashes, we scatter into the rays, and our fears wash away, mmmmmm.
And there you have it….Sparks. The story is tragic. Pondering life and death is depressing. But writing about it was cathartic. And if it helped me deal with some of my own inner demons, hopefully it will help someone else too.