MD: People often speak of certain common technical mistakes in the work of young fiction writers — POV that doesn’t gel, overuse of adverbs in dialog tags, that sort of thing. Are there specific technical problems you see repeatedly in the work of beginning songwriters?
JD: Yeah there’s one, a pet one, which I’ll get to shortly, but the main thing is less technical than - well, for lack of a better term, “moral.” Not moral problems in the sense so much of “what you are doing is morally indefensible,” but more of a “the terms of the moral universe in which you are setting your song are lame, and since you’re the one setting those terms, this is a problem you should fix.” What the hell am I even talking about — this: young men (this problem really doesn’t seem to exist for young women who write songs) often like to present a narrator whose self-destructive “urges” (they usually aren’t real “urges” so much as cosmetic choices about how to present himself) are clearly placing him on a collision course with doom. The narrator of these songs often seems to hope that the important people in his life will be both very impressed by the special nature of his pain, and that some people who have spurned him will be so horrified by the things his pain has made him do that they will either a) give him what he wants from them or b) speak with awe about him.
Really can’t stand that kinda stuff. There is one thing special about your pain: it’s yours. That ought to be enough, in my opinion; you can describe it from there, and take control of it, detail it lovingly, etc. But when a narrator seems to think that he is somehow beatified by his own particular collection of neuroses, well, this bugs me. I was as guilty of this early on as anybody, and one of my most popular songs is pretty much One Of These Types, and it’s not that all songs like this are bad. In fact many of them are quite good. But it’s a tendency that should be outgrown quickly. Often there are two main characters in a song like this, and almost always, the song would be a much better one of the two weren’t acting like a child.