Reason to Believe

Still I look to find a reason to believe.

Tim Hardin wrote, composed, and recorded Reason to Believe in 1965. One of the most popular versions of the tune was released by Rod Stewart six years later. No fewer than two dozen other artists have recorded the music over the years. Its lyrics tell a story of betrayal, hurt, and willing self-deception. They portray, in very few words, the effects of painful dishonesty. They imply, but never announce outright, the foundation of the lies about which the lyrics address. The words of the song begin with:

If I listened long enough to you
I’d find a way to believe that it’s all true.

Depending on the version, the tune is only between two and four minutes long. My favorite version is just three minutes long. I remember, when I first bought the vinyl album it’s on, I would play it over and over and over again. That’s probably one of the reasons that LP is scratched. If I had an LP player that worked, I’d listen to the album this morning.

My favorite version never made it to the top of the charts. It was recorded in 1970 by Mason Williams on his album entitled Handmade. Williams’ version is one of the most poignant songs I’ve ever heard, even with its twangy country accents. His version seems honest and unadorned with excuses. I lose myself in it when I hear it.

I’ve long thought there’s a distinct parallel between songs I like and the way I write. The songs are short and focus on a single theme that’s repeated several times. They don’t tell a full story. Rather, they suggest it, leaving the listener to fill in the enormously large empty spaces around the compact bits of information contained in the lyrics and reinforced by the tune.  I like to write short vignettes that attempt to do the same thing. Perhaps I’d be more successful if I followed the form that has worked for so many people for so long: musical lyrics. Lyrics offer evidence that stories need not be padded with so much nonessential “data.” Short stories or even my vignettes tend to be weighed down by unnecessary information. Their kernels can be hidden and even smothered by layers of choking fog. Maybe I should try my hand at song lyrics. But I think I would need someone to compose the tune first, something to which I would attach lyrics. The tune would set the stage for me. I often know from the first moments of listening to a piece the kinds of emotions it will evoke. That knowledge would guide me in writing the lyrics.

Almost everything I write involves emotional pain. I’ve noticed that over the years. Not everything, but damn near it. I’ve never been able to figure out for myself why that is. I suppose there’s something buried in my psyche that a psychiatric surgeon with an impeccably sharp intellectual scalpel could uncover. Still I look to find a reason to believe. Those few words say as much about the denial of pain as any book I’ve read.

I’ll try to embed Mason Williams’s version of the song here. Let’s see it that works.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
This entry was posted in Emotion, Music, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Reason to Believe

  1. bev wigney says:

    I like writing funny lyrics too. Recently, I wrote lyrics to the tune of Stan Rogers’ “Barrett’s Privateers” but my title is “Biomass Forest Thieves” and it’s about clearcutting forests to feed biomass power plants. Some friends in town who have a sea shanty group have been working on it so that we can shoot a video of them to post on youtube to help in our environmental efforts. I cleared the use of the melody for use in the parody with Stan Rogers’ wife a couple of weeks ago. Coming up sometime soon.

  2. One of these days, we ought to compare notes, Bev. I write lyrics to existing tunes, as well, though mine generally are “just for fun” and often are laughable. 😉

  3. bev wigney says:

    I’d never heard that version of the song. Interesting to hear how different performers interpret music. I love writing lyrics to existing tunes, but much as I play a number of instruments, I can never seem to come up with a melody and works. Guess that is not my calling.

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