“So much water so close to home” is the title of a very distressing short story by Raymond Carver. I liked the phrase a lot so I decided to use it in a song and then I reread the short story last night and remembered how upsetting it was. Its about the wife of a man who goes on a fishing trip with a group of friends. They find the body of a young woman in the river and don’t report it straight away but continue drinking and fishing for two days and then report it. In the story the woman finds out and is increasingly afraid of her husband and other men. So I guess the story is about male violence and trust (or lack of it).
So in many ways the story doesn’t relate to my song all that much, because my song is not about male violence. It is mostly about a conversation I had with my friend Dan about the similarities and differences between short stories and songs. I guess I forget the bulk of the conversation now but what I remember and what the song is about is the way short stories include very concrete details and objects which are often crucial to their effectiveness when you read them. So in the short story “So much water so close to home” objects like plates and cups, bottles of whiskey and bedding are all anchors that make the people in the story seem more real and make the emotions in it more effecting.
In my song I was trying to talk about how we only sometimes do this in songwriting but how it can be so effective. Because in a story it is crucial but you sweep past it because you are thinking about the plot. But in a song any element of a lyric can jump out at you at any point and if that element is an object I think that can be really powerful. It is maybe my favourite kind of songwriting and I think lots of my friends are good at it. Oh Peas in “Year of the horse” https://ohpeas.bandcamp.com/track/year-of-the-horse only mentions weetabix once but it is always my main memory of the song and the weetabix, in my head, embody all of the physical and emotional stress that the song evokes, which is pretty incredible for such a well established cereal brand. King of Cats, in the song “naked fucking bodies flying high” https://artreeks.bandcamp.com/track/naked-fucking-bodies-flying-high, uses all kinds of words in awkward places so that they jump out at you and you have all these concrete objects to latch on to in your head. The “News reporters” and “Old People” and “Brightly coloured paper” in the song are very vivid in my mind. Actually that song has a lot more in common with the Raymond Carver story than mine.
Anyway, as well as the short story the song is also very much inspired by a really really beautiful poem by Raymond Carver. Here is the full poem:
Morning, Thinking of Empire
We press our lips to the enameled rim of the cups
and know this grease that floats
over the coffee will one day stop our hearts.
Eyes and fingers drop onto silverware
that is not silverware. Outside the window, waves
beat against the chipped walls of the old city.
Your hands rise from the rough tablecloth
as if to prophesy. Your lips tremble …
I want to say to hell with the future.
Our future lies deep in the afternoon.
It is a narrow street with a cart and driver,
a driver who looks at us and hesitates,
then shakes his head. Meanwhile,
I coolly crack the egg of a fine Leghorn chicken.
Your eyes film. You turn from me and look across
the rooftops at the sea. Even the flies are still.
I crack the other egg.
Surely we have diminished one another.
Again the objects in the poem take up the main focus and act as a conduit for the emotion. But also it is just a painfully accurate depiction of what happens when two people who shouldn’t really be in each others lives anymore are still eating breakfast together on a regular basis, which I guess is the other thing the song is about.
Overall the thing I liked about Raymond Carver’s title, and the reason I used it in my song is that it seems to carry such a multiplicity of meanings. It could mean that going off to find water elsewhere is pointless, or bound to lead to trouble, or that you feel rich in how much water you have, or that you feel scared by all the water right there surrounding you, that all your fears are closer than you think. And the water in that phrase can mean anything really. Water is one of those slightly empty words, ripe for everyone to have their own idea about. Which contrasts the coffee in the song because coffee is only ever coffee.