A friend of mine is a songwriter and in a band. We’ve talked a lot about the craft of writing, comparing lyrics to novels. He was a bit startled at the similarities; the inner demand of a story that won’t leave you alone until you release it to paper. Or, in his case, to music. He hadn’t thought about how the story doesn’t care if you share it in a poem, an essay, a novel, or a small piece of bluegrass.
There is an old abandoned hotel from the 1800s that is supposedly haunted by a young woman whose husband was killed in a mine explosion. When she learned of his death, the story says she hung herself. People swear they have heard her, have seen doors open and shut, and so forth. But this isn’t about the hotel or a scary ghost.
My friend was a bit haunted by this story. He wrote a song about the young woman, and what haunted him was not her death (real or apocryphal) but the need to release the song. When I say ‘release’ I don’t mean ‘publish’. He felt an overwhelming urge to sing the song in the old hotel. He wanted her to hear the lyrics.
We talked a lot about the reasons why we feel the urge to capture lives and emotions and all the myriad details that float around and coalesce into stories. We talked about how some things resonate so strongly that you just know there’s a reason you have to create that piece and bring it to life.
Yet this hotel was falling in, sagging with years of standing alone in mountain weather. It wasn’t exactly a safe place to enter. My friend also didn’t think it was a place this young woman’s spirit should be. He wanted to sing her to release, to tell her it was okay to move on, that there were better places out there. So he braved the creaky old building, braved his nervousness, and braved that spirit of the past. He went into the building with his mandolin and sang to a young woman who may never have existed, but who needed to hear a story.
Today he told me that he wasn’t sure he could do it alone. He obviously was able to, but he said that he thought about all the local people he knew and decided if he couldn’t make it, I was the one person he felt he could call, who would go into the building with him.
Not because I believe in ghosts, but because I believe in stories and understand the need to share them.
I think that’s one of the best compliments I’ve received in a very long time.
It doesn’t matter how we tell our stories, whether to an audience, a publisher, a multitude of readers, or a solitary ghost. Or even just to ourselves. What matters is that we listen when something inside urges us to speak. Or sing. Or write. Or paint. You never know who is nearby that needs to hear.