The funny thing about songs is that often, at the time of writing, you think you know what it is you’re writing about… it is only later, however, that you finally understand what it was you were trying to say….
‘Peachy’ is one of those songs.
When I began seriously applying my passion for wordplay into a songwriting context, I found myself trying to write lyrics that were in some way profound, clever, haunting. The end result however was usually a disappointing one – a slightly pretentious song that sounded nice but seemed somehow flat as though there were something missing. It was a while before I understood just what that missing element was: there was no emotional involvement – nothing for the listener to really relate to. Sure, a nice lyric can resonate on the ear but it wasn’t long before I realised that it wasn’t the ear I should be aiming for, it was the heart…
To my mind, it doesn’t matter what you write, just so long as you are writing the truth. By ‘truth’, I mean an honest interpretation of what you truly feel in your heart – an honest, (sometimes brutally so), reflection of your innermost thoughts and feelings. Anything less and the words are just words on a page with nothing substantial to back them up – nothing to drive them home with impact. A fantasy author can create a vast world, rich in vibrant detail, and people it with colourful characters of all shapes and sizes, but if it isn’t written from the heart the reader will find no purchase in this fictional world – they will have no emotional footholds with which to relate to their own personal experiences. In other words, if the writer is not moved by their own words, how can they expect somebody else to be? If the writer does not believe that what they write is true, you can sure that no one else will either.
When I began to write Peachy, I already had a chord progression and a rough melody in my head and I knew that I wanted to write a song with a story about someone who has lost in love and how he would cope by putting on a brave face the next time they met. I wanted to experiment with lyrics that said one thing, but meant something else.
I’ve always liked telling stories. When I was a boy, I’d make up all kinds of ridiculous tales – the kind of tall stories that made me feel as though my life was somehow more interesting and exciting than the dull, ordinary existence I inhabited. I’m pretty embarrassed when I recall this now – back then, I foolishly believed that others actually believed my stories of murdered best friends, kung-fu vengeance, evil drug barons and UFO sightings – it is only now that I see that they were all just humouring me and that, in all probability, they would have caught each others eye and made ‘here he goes again’ faces whenever I told them about my ESP abilities or my concerns that I may actually be a werewolf…
As foolish as I feel about this now though, there is a positive – I still like to tell stories. Only, now I apply my stories in their proper context instead of trying to somehow incorporate them into my own reality (which really isn’t all that dull or ordinary after all, I now realise).
When I write a song, I often try to present it in a traditional storyboard format – with a beginning, a middle and an end. I like to see some character development or a twist of some sort that transforms the lyrical hook or chorus so that by the end of the song it means something entirely different. Even my most depressing songs usually have some kind of positive slant towards the end.
When I wrote Peachy, I was happy enough in life – or at least, I thought I was. This was almost three years before my eventual marriage breakdown but in retrospect, I suppose even then some part of me already knew what was on the cards. Deep down I was unknowingly writing about what I secretly feared the most – that I would find myself in a situation where I was all alone in life nursing a huge, heart shaped hole.
Perhaps that was why it wasn’t so difficult to imagine how it would feel to have lost my love and then to suddenly bump into her by chance after some time had elapsed. I imagined how shocked I would feel and how that person would seem somehow, even more beautiful to me and how the hole they had left behind would suddenly feel like a yawning chasm once more. This would be magnified by the fact that they would have found someone new and had truly moved on, while I was still trudging along and getting nowhere… I felt the ache as though it was really happening to me. At the time it didn’t really register on a conscious level, but I suppose I was really writing about what I feared was already beginning to happen. I understand now that, for me, writing the truth requires absolute honesty with myself and, as much as this is often a painful process, it makes for a more compelling tale (and sometimes, I understand myself a little better too).
Having said all this, I still wanted the story to have a feel good factor – the melody and chord work was all very jolly and so the story needed to be fairly upbeat also. I asked myself, how can I turn this story around and give it a happy ending?
I briefly considered the other person having a sudden change of heart and come running back with open arms, but that just didn’t seem true somehow. It felt like too much of an easy way out.
I read a lot of fiction and, for me, the best stories have character driven plots – there needs to be character development so that, by the end of the story, the character has evolved to the point where they are often hardly recognisable from the person we met in the first chapter. This felt like the best direction to take with Peachy. The change of heart had to come from the main protagonist. I considered having him suddenly realise that his lost love was not quite as awesome as he’d remembered then concluding that he was better off without her – but this didn’t ring true either. This sounded like he was simply trying to convince himself which, of course, is not a development of character at all, nor is it a happy ending – he would be in exactly the same boat when they parted again.
Then it occurred to me that maybe what I was writing about was not loss or love, but about acceptance. With acceptance comes a sense of peace. By finding true acceptance the character would undergo a change deep in the very core of his being and he would finally be able to move forward instead of just treading water. He would find peace.
As it was a story of personal growth set in a social context I figured that, lyrically, the tone should be an informal, conversational one – and so this is where I started:
“Well, hello there. I’m just Peachy, thanks for asking.”
I liked the fact that this opening statement was just so typically British – when someone inquires as to our general well being, our instinctive reply is often: “I’m fine thanks”, even if we’ve just lost three of our fingers to a rabid squirrel…
What was more, this informal approach felt natural and in keeping with the upbeat feel I was going for. The rest just seemed to fall into place…
“It’s more than I care to admit,
but seven months and twenty days, not that I’m counting,
And seeing you still smarts a bit”
I wrote this song back in 2008, almost three years before my marriage fell apart. At the time it meant something different to me – it was just a story I’d made up and put to a catchy tune. Then eighteen months ago, I became friends with Marta – a lovely person who, at that time, was struggling with the breakdown of her own long-term relationship.
Naturally, we compared our stories and talked about how hard it is to let go of all that history and how we sometimes felt as though we were broken in some way – that we’d never be able to move on. As we talked, something Marta said reminded me of Peachy. I’d not thought of, or played the song for years. It had become one of my ‘old songs’ – a song that I’d cut my songwriting teeth on but would probably never be used for anything. But now, suddenly, it blazed brightly in my mind and I couldn’t wait to get home and dig it out to find out why it was tugging at me so…
When I played it for the first time after all those years, I cried. It wasn’t so much that it reminded me of all that I had lost since writing it. It was more because I felt as though the sun was finally rising after an eternity of darkness. I was experiencing an earth-shaking, honest-to-God epiphany – a character development of my very own. Everything I’d written way back then was suddenly, irrefutably relevant. It was almost as though I’d somehow reached across the fabric of space and time with a gift for my future self…
“And if fate can set you free, Then I guess we’re never meant to be.
Now the sun is in my eyes, And I begin to realise,
That there’s a little bit of hope for me”
I had taken my first step towards true acceptance – I had found a way to Peace.
I was suddenly gripped with the urge to share my vision of self-realisation with the world, and especially with Marta, so I hurriedly recorded a Youtube version and uploaded it with a dedication to her – if it hadn’t been for Marta, Peachy would still be just an ‘old song’, covered in cobwebs and dust, and I may never have had my epiphany…
Jamie R Hawkins is an Award Winning Singer Songwriter whose songs have won him critical acclaim in the UK and around the world. He has been described as “a powerful mixture of storyteller, philosopher and poet”, his lyrics as “poignant and witty’ and his performances, “emotive and captivating”.
Jamie can usually be found in the studio scribbling away in his dog-eared note book and both he and his acoustic are available for events.