sweet editor o' mine
i've finally discovered john moe's pop-song correspondences at mcsweeney's. wonderful idea. i particularly enjoyed mr. moe's take on guns n' roses' sweet child o' mine.
for two reasons, i have a soft spot for this big, hooky, slab of popmetal: (1) slash's playful intro riff; and, (2) the expression of male vulnerability in mr. rose's vocal and lyrics, which seemed almost revolutionary for the genre in 1987. the following notes from mr. rose's editor say as much about the difficult work of editing as they do about the song. i'll reprint mr. moe's correspondence at some length, since a short excerpt just wouldn't do it justice.
Notes on "Sweet Child O' Mine," as Delivered to Axl Rose by His Editor.
Just got your manuscript and demo for the song "Sweet Child O' (sic) Mine." I think we need to talk. As your editor, I am responsible for making your songs as cogent as possible, for helping them reach the high editorial standards your public has come to expect. With this one, I am certainly earning my keep. After several attempts to reach you by phone, I am sending along my notes. Please make appropriate fixes as soon as possible, at which point I can send them to copyediting and proofreading in time for your upcoming studio session.
She's got a smile that, it seems to me—Why equivocate? You weaken your point by framing this as a mere personal observation instead of a fact.
Reminds me of childhood memories—Redundant. You either have a memory or you're reminded of something. You're not reminded of a memory. Heavy-metal fans won't stand for such writing, my friend.
Where everything was as fresh as a bright blue sky—I asked around the office and no one is sure a blue sky is "fresh." You could have a blue sky at the end of a long, sweaty day and there would be nothing fresh about it. And she reminds you of a time when things were fresh? Fond reminiscences of freshness are no foundation for love. Fix.
Now and then when I see her face it takes me away to that special place—Again, you're weakening your own argument. Why does the sight of her face transport you only periodically? And is it just her smile or her entire face that does this to you? Because you've already said both. Consistency, Axl!
And if I stared too long, I'd probably break down and cry—Why would you do that? Because you miss the freshness you described earlier? I think the whole "fresh" thing is really tripping you up. Also, crying? Wimpy.
OK, on to the second verse.
She's got eyes of the bluest skies—See, this is just getting worse. Now her eyes are made of sky? Nice imagery, but you just got done saying her smile reminded you of memories of sky. Is this verse actually supposed to be a second draft of the first verse? Am I just confused on formatting? Help!
As if they thought of rain—Axl, eyes can't think of rain. And even if they could, which they can't, why would bluest skies think of rain? Perhaps less imagery of thinking eyes made of sky and more direct exploration of your feelings?
I hate to look into those eyes and see an ounce of pain—Well, hell. I guess in your special Axl World anything is possible. Eyes can be made of sky, ponder the weather, and exhibit pain in amounts that can be weighed.
Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place where as a child I'd hide—Delete. Fix. Do something. You'd hide in a place that reminded you of hair? Never show me such phrases again.
And pray for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass me by—Whew. OK, listen to me now: Thunder can't quietly do anything. It's thunder. And, more importantly, do you really want to come across as a wuss who's constantly on the verge of weeping and skittering into hair caves to escape from rain? Is this a song about love or climatic anxiety? You need to work these things out.
Finally, Axl, I think we might have had a misunderstanding regarding my previous notes. When I wrote in colored pencil "Where do we go now?" I wasn't offering that as a lyric. I was simply observing that, in narrative terms, the song needed to progress in some way. You love the girl, she's helping you work through some issues, whatever. So where do we go now? But instead of providing a satisfactory conclusion, you simply took my note and repeated it over and over again before ultimately just stating the title of the song. This is unacceptable. Don't ask us, the listeners, where we go. That's up to you as the writer! Tell us where we go now! ...