September 17, 2009
Lisa Cerbone is a singer-songwriter who doesn't hide her lyrics behind a wall of production. Her songs usually feature only her voice, an acoustic guitar and her masterful storytelling lyrics. Her 2008 album We Are All Together is one of last year's releases that I continually return to, one that reveals hidden intricacies with every listen.
I always wanted to be like Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. She was somewhere between Pollyanna and Pippi Longstocking; she had a heart, but was feisty enough to beat up the bullies on the playground if she had to. She wore her britches underneath her dress and was never afraid of insects. I was always of the shyer more cautious variety, standing on the sidelines observing people, but I liked to imagine I was more like Scout. Like Scout, I too could be someone to reckon with, someone who probed until she was satisfied with the answers, at least in my own mind.
So, it should come as no surprise that To Kill a Mockingbird was always a book about the character of Scout for me. It is the mark of a great writer in Harper Lee that she made Scout so real, so believable. Although I do not believe I could ever be as great a writer as Lee, the art of developing honest, brave characters is what I have learned from reading Mockingbird. In many of my songs, I have tried to create characters who struggle to maintain their innocence and integrity when the world around them seems volatile and ever-changing. They seek redemption in the face of loss and persecution. Maybe in my own life this can sometimes be a challenge, but in the imaginary world of writing, I can make it so. And this brings comfort.
When the literary/art/music magazine, Esopus, approached me about writing a song based on a black and white movie, I made Scout’s relationship with Boo Radley in Mockingbird my choice. Along with the novel, I always loved the movie. (In fact, my all-time favorite scene in a movie has to be when Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch quietly takes out his handkerchief, wipes the spit off his face after being spit on by racist Bob Ewell, and walks away with his dignity intact.) Scout, her older brother, Jem and friend, Dill spend endless hours wondering about the reclusive Boo Radley. They exercise their imaginations making up all kinds of stories about the monster they believe he is: "he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch…[his] teeth were yellow and rotten, his eyes popped…". Yet as Scout realizes Boo has been the one putting gifts for her and Jem in a tree trunk hole, and is the one who saves her life from the cruel Bob Ewell, she comes to better understand and accept Boo Radley. She gains compassion for him and sees his benevolent nature. In the end, it is a poignant, respectful friendship they share: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. " her father, Atticus Finch tells her. From understanding Boo, she also learns this truth about all the people around her. It is a lesson of courage and hope in the face of tragedy and racial injustice within Mockingbird. I love this powerful change in Scout. It will always be something to aspire to, as hard as it can be in life.
I hope in my own songwriting, through the characters in my songs, through the examining of their internal landscapes, and through the slight turns of a phrase; the messages of hope and redemption come through as readily as they do in Mockingbird. It is my belief, art should resonate within us and move us with its power, long after we see, hear, or read it.
Lisa Cerbone links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Previous Note Books submissions (musicians discuss literature)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
Soundtracked (directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
52 Books, 52 Weeks