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You wrote a song about what?

A month or so ago Missy Higgins released a new song, You should run. It’s an extremely personal song about the break-up of her marriage a few years ago, and she said on Instagram that she ‘can’t remember feeling more vulnerable releasing a new song’.


I’m glad to hear that other songwriters sometimes feel like that!

Missy’s new song is beautiful and heartbreaking, and bares a lot of really raw emotions. She recorded it herself at home in order to capture the sense of intimacy, and I’m guessing the sense of loneliness too. The music video is filmed in her own home as well and shows her two kids. You couldn’t get much more personal, and releasing a song like this means putting your whole life – and even more, your whole secret inner life – out on display for the world to see.


She also spoke about songwriting as therapy, saying that over the last few difficult years she has been using it in this way to work through her emotions in a way that she hasn’t for quite a few years.


This is all familiar territory for me, after my experience working on Oxytocin & Adrenaline. Some of the songs on that album definitely started life as therapy songs that were never intended to see the light of day and therefore had no filter to the lyrics – Anorgasmia Blues is a case in point! Another such one is Shards. I found myself feeling deeply ambivalent about releasing some of these songs at all. It’s a strange feeling – a need to work through a problem by writing a song about it, and then a burning desire to share the creation since songs are an act of communication, but then an equally strong reluctance to be so vulnerable as to let the song be heard.


But strangely, what worried me the most was the idea that every single song would be perceived as autobiographical. I imagined people believing this fantastical, crazy version of my life pieced out of all the songs I wrote, and worried that I could never write a song about a breakup or about unrequited love without my friends and family panicking about the state of my marriage! I tend to write in the first person because what comes most naturally to me is to put myself in the position of the main character. But crucially, that main character isn’t always me.


Some of my songs are clearly taken straight from my own life without much change – for example, Labour of Love or On Island. Some are drawn from life but the shades and light are more deeply drawn – sometimes for comedic effect. An example of this is a song I wrote for Sass & Grit called No time blues.

 Others bear elements of me, but the storyline woven around these elements has been changed. This may not have been deliberate – often the story comes first, but when I’m honing the lyrics and melody, certain lines will become imbued with a strong emotion I’m currently feeling, even if the context is completely different. An example of this is the prechorus of Unsubscribe, which is about an imagined breakup. And so in the end, it can become hard to tell where the blurry, wavering line between autobiography and fiction is drawn.


Anyway, given the occasional sense of panic and sometimes conflicted feelings I had about releasing my songs, I am moved by Missy’s bravery in putting this song out and owning it as completely autobiographical, and inviting listeners into her life. I can’t wait to see what the rest of her album holds.

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