First Published January 2019
HOGAN’S HEART IS IN HIS SONGS
John Hogan’s new single, I Don’t Want To Feel Like This, is as powerful a piece of work as you’re likely to hear anywhere in the twelve months that will make their way into the history books as 2019. Written by the man himself, this is a track which hits home hard in the emotion stakes. Does it do so in what might be too hard a way for some? Possibly. But even if that proves to be the case, it doesn’t matter. The reason why it doesn’t matter is ‘I Don’t Want To Feel Like This’, and songs like it, serve a far greater purpose than just making sure everybody likes it. We’ll come back to that point, and this song in particular, in a few moments.
But first, let’s look at those responsible for songs like I Don’t Want To Feel Like This, songwriters like John. There’s an art and a craft to songwriting, two distinct elements, either one of which alone can lead to the desired effect of melody matched to lyric. In some writers, of course, both elements co-exist. So let’s define the ‘art’ of songwriting like this: it’s when that mysterious visitor, inspiration – in whatever guise she may choose to reveal herself – crosses the path of the writer and as if by magic (though a little work is still required, for a little work is always required), a new song is born to the world. The ‘craft’, on the other hand, is when an idea is there to some degree, maybe in the shape of a phrase, or perhaps maybe a couple of lines, or even in a way as near complete as a storyline. But from those starting points, you have to roll up your sleeves, get your head down, and get to work. The art comes from the heart, and the craft from the head.
Traditionally in country music, most songs have been written by one person, or sometimes by a pair of songsmiths. In Nashville these days, co-writing is the religion, the only way to go. And while the number of writers attributed to a song can sometimes go beyond three or four, it’s still rare enough. Even three or four people writing a song seems like two or three too many to me, but nonetheless, that’s how it is. And in country music, the heart – for the most part – still leads, with the head coming into play at the heart’s request. And, importantly, they work together at that stage. Not so much in other genres, however, with pop and hip-hop being the most notable examples, with the number of co-writers involved often stretching into double-figures. And when it happens, it seldom raises an eyebrow anymore. It is what it is, and it’s accepted as being such. But there’s the question: what exactly is it?
Well, it’s craft, of course. And credit where it’s due in that regard. But where’s there’s sooooo much craft, can there really be any room left for art? And where there’s little or no art, there’s little or no heart. And this point, folks, takes us right back to John. Because a writer without heart, is everything John is NOT. If there’s one thing you can bet your life, your house, and whatever else holds any kind of value to you on, it’s that John Hogan‘s heart is in his songs.
So back to I Don’t Want To Feel Like This, John‘s new single. This is a song that is simply all heart, in every word of every line. And as with most hearts, when they’re open and revealed in any kind of honest light, there’s pain, and sadness, and frustration, and anger, and loneliness to be found. This is a song of brokenness, of bleeding, and of battle-scars. All of those emotions, and what they result in, belong to the character at the centre of the song. But here’s the crucial point. Those emotions could not be seen first of all, and then shared so movingly, by anyone except a man, and a songwriter, who is all heart, too. Because the pain of another person, and their sadness, and frustration, and anger, and loneliness, that can’t be truly seen or understood by the eyes alone. No, only by the heart. John Hogan is without a doubt a master of the art and the craft of songwriting. And I Don’t Want To Feel Like This, not for the first time in his distinguished career, offers proof of this.
What the new single also does, however, is point to a sense of integrity that is shared by John the man, and John the songwriter. I Don’t Want To Feel Like This isn’t a song that was written to fill the dancefloor. And it wasn’t written to be heard as a sing-a-long, feel-good party piece. Nor is the song’s intention to make you forget about the real world for three minutes or so. This is a song about the real world, and a song that was written because it had to be written. This is a song that demonstrates the all too often understated importance of the songwriter bearing witness to history as it happens. And here’s how it happened in this case, because I Don’t Want To Feel Like This is based on a true story. One day not so long ago, while walking along the streets of an Irish town, John saw a homeless man. As he often does, as a simple matter of courtesy, to try and let someone know that they have been seen and recognised as still being a fellow human being, John paused his own day for a few moments to go over and say hello and spend a few minutes chatting to this man. One of the first things that gentleman said to John, was “I don’t want to feel like this.”
For too many people, this is real-life for them in Ireland in 2019. Homeless, alone, desperate, in pain, frustrated, angry. And not wanting to feel that way. Too many people in Ireland in 2019, who, as well as having lost almost everything else, are sometimes left without even a voice, too. But John Hogan, the man with his heart, and through the art and craft of his talent has, with I Don’t Want To Feel Like This, given them that dignity back in some sense, by giving them a voice again. We all need songs like this to be written and to be heard.
And that’s why we need songwriters – and men – like John.