Faculty Instructor: Derek Owens
Find Tembe’s original song here.
All writers have their comfort zones. Mine is deep within bare bones prose and free form poetry. I’d never written a song before and I saw it as something of a final frontier in my writing portfolio. I’d attempted before, but I’d never made an actual honest go of it. I did this because to me, it would allow me to express a quote I wanted to share with everyone, but interpreting it in my own way. The quote is, and most likely will forever be, one of my favorites. It’s by Emerson, and it states, “If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own” (Self-Reliance and Other Essays, 13).
This quote struck me mainly because it was open to interpretation. I found myself heavily interpreting the word ‘noble’. The way I saw the word here was that it held the same meaning as “showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals” (Merriam Webster). My interpretation led me to wonder what beliefs I held to be “noble” and pure. Then I realized that the idea of “nobility” is contingent upon the person deciding. In this case, I looked at it from the lens of myself as well as the people surrounding me. I examined my friends, and if we differed deeply in moral codes. As I thought of the people closest to me, I realized how closely they lined up. As the decider of what is noble and what is not, I realized I had been handpicking those I considered ‘noble’ and discarding those who I did not believe to be so. There had been many friends I no longer associated with due to the fact that our morals did not align. Emerson says, ‘I will not hurt your or myself with hypocritical attentions”. I took this to mean that associating myself with those who abide by a different moral code is essentially more harmful than good. It is hypocritical for me to waste time because in the end it would not be fruitful for me. This interpretation offered me a sort of inner peace about all of the lost friends that I had grown apart from.
I then thought about what transcended all of that, and I realized: music. For me, music has oftentimes granted sanity and given words to feelings I thought had no explanation. A good song can save my day or take me back to a particularly hard moment. The thing I love about music is that one doesn’t need to share my morals to relate to the song. When writing the song I also considered what a majority of the songs on the radio were about, and that was love. Many can relate to the first kiss, first crush, brokenhearted songs that seep through many a radio all over the globe. Although love is a more personal connection between two people (or possibly more), people can relate to that similar “in love” feeling. I realized that as a sixteen-year-old teen, I related more to this weird idea of “love” than anything else.
I expanded upon the quote, “If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to you companions; I will seek my own” (Emerson, 13). The first sentence explains a certain emotional intelligence I have always aspired to have. Sometimes it’s difficult to stop “wasting attentions” on someone, even if they’re undeserving and not noble. Emerson contains this sort of pretentious air that I personally find wonderful. I think holding yourself in such a high esteem that others have to rise to fit your standards is an interesting and valuable idea. He pretty much says if you are up to par, great, if not, goodbye. It struck me deeply because I strive to get to the point where I am so detached from another human being. The next half of his quote takes it a step further, and this is the quote that I found myself partly disagreeing with. If someone’s passed the test of nobility and they’re found to be true, but they don’t share your truth, are they supposed to just leave and allow you to continue seeking people who share the same truth as you?
Before I even began my project, I realized I didn’t know the first thing about song writing. So I asked around, and once I got home that night, I looked up everything I could on how to write a song, how a song is structured and everything else I could possibly know about it. During this period I also built a playlist filled with artists that inspired me, such as Adele, Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley and Robin Thicke. This playlist, ultimately composed of 130 songs, was the only thing I allowed myself to listen to until I had completed my song. Drawing on my most recent lifeimpacting love experience, I wrote, just throwing words onto the blank screen and hoping it sounded like something decent. Rereading it after, I was surprised to find that I loved it. I didn’t want to change a thing. A work I’d done in ten minutes was beating work I’d spent hours crafting in the past. I secretly thanked this boy for making me feel inferior and a tad heartbroken. With this poem I wanted to emote strongly, hoping my voice would make the words jump off the paper even more. After writing I realized that a poem did not automatically become a song. I quickly understood that I needed to work within song structure, craft a hook and a bridge. Prior to this, I had not made it very far in the songwriting arena. Maybe a poem that sounded especially musical or a few notes to a melody, but nothing legitimate. I employed the help of one of my closest friends and he helped me to find just the right sounds. I wanted people who understood what I was going through to have some type of emotional response and in order to be successful in that, I needed it to be right.
As an admitted perfectionist, I would get intensely frustrated when my voice didn’t vibrate like Lauryn Hill’s or sound as chill as Jill Scott’s. But I fought through that. I got into the studio at my previous school, the nerves washing over me in waves. I’d never recorded alone before. The lights were set low, a spotlight on the mic where I’d be singing. Even though it was just Wes, our audio engineer, and I, I was scared, like my entire life rode on how well I did this. I went over the song a few times before recording and when I got in the studio, I relaxed immediately, the song and the emotion it needed my only focus. So I poured my heart out. I sang like I needed this, like I needed him to understand me. I sang like the girls who were going through this were singing with me. I still think there are some places where I need to rerecord because I hit the note in an awkward spot, but everyone insists I’m being a perfectionist. Once I got to college I rerecorded using my Mac, fixing some of the vocals, but even still I am not completely satisfied. This song is probably my favorite project I’ve undergone, but also one of the most difficult. Knowing I can’t backspace a note with a single keystroke is nerve wracking but in a good way. I strive to do the best take I can every time I open my mouth to sing.