While browsing iTunes the other day, I made a couple impulse buys I’d had on my “To Buy One Day” list. The winners were Solo Piano by Gonzales (great) and the self-titled album by The Swell Season. I’m glad I remembered The Swell Season, a unique duet composed of Glen Hansard (of The Frames) and Marketa Irglova, also the stars of the 2006 film Once. Listening to their album took me back to their movie, which, if you’ve never seen, you should. The songs are straight-forward, musically instinctual not intellectual. The instrumentation is simple — a non-imposing acoustic carrying the rhythm, some meager but honest strings for a little orchestration, and very basic piano framing progressions or complementing the melodies sung by Hansard. The music’s good, but it’s not earth shattering … or even ground breaking. It is, however, refreshingly common, in the sense that it captures the “every-song”, the representative quintessence of the simple honest songs written by countless, nameless musicians everywhere that will never get recorded or even played for anyone.
The music can stand alone, but for me is inextricably bound to the movie, which is appropriate because the movie is about the music. It’s about the music made by two people who meet quite literally on the street, and the days and moments that follow. The scale is small, and so was the budget, but it looks and feels like life. Never have I seen a film that more perfectly captures the feeling of songwriting — the creative labor of capturing and conveying ideas and feelings through music and poetry. The labor is self dismantling, opening up the writer so that what’s inside can come out. It’s risky business, because when you’re opened up like that, there’s a certain vulnerability. But it can also be exhilarating. If you’re a songwriter, you know what I’m talking about. I suppose the same applies for other creative artists, too.
When I first saw the film, I had that itch to go write. Lately I haven’t had the desire to write songs (or blog posts) burning inside me, though. Life’s busy, or I’m tired, or mindlessly watching Psych seems like a better idea. Like the characters at the beginning of Once, I can find a reason not to take writing seriously. But also like those characters, when I do seriously write, I’m changed. Always for the better. I guess this is sort of a rally call, for me and you, to stretch those wings if we have them. Engage in the risky business of creating — be changed, be strengthened, and make something beautiful.