Corey Dargel's custom-made songs celebrate everyday people.
Tue Oct 21 2008
Photograph: Samantha West
The small details that bind people together are not often immortalized in the over-produced pop ballads that stalk us through department stores and blare out of car stereos. But does the story of your greatest love really sound like anything that’s ever come out of Celine Dion’s mouth? Love songs are particularly on the brain when one is trying to distill the clichés of a modern wedding into something that seems personal enough to feel meaningful on the big day. That’s how I ended up calling Corey Dargel, a composer I know who was accepting commissions to write custom-made love songs. He not only agreed to write something, but made it a wedding gift and sang it for our guests at the reception. Now my song, and a dozen others, are on his new CD, Other People’s Love Songs, which he’ll perform at (Le) Poisson Rouge Wednesday 29. I’ve been thinking about how it will feel to hear Dargel sing our love story to a room full of strangers, and decided to ask him how he handled his role in this emotional outpouring.
You didn’t flinch when I asked if you would write our song. To me, your position seems dangerous, like being asked for your honest opinion about your best friend’s new girlfriend.
Most of the songs were written for people I didn’t know very well, if at all, and those were actually harder for me than the ones I wrote for friends. I was much more comfortable writing your song because I had a pretty clear idea of what you’d think of it. With strangers, obviously, I’m less confident.
This project required me to answer questions about my husband like, “What do you think makes Brian most happy?” It seems simple enough, but it really took some deep reflection and some bravery to tell you. How do you handle creating art from something so intimate?
By resisting the temptation to treat intimacy and love like profound and paralyzing emotions. I wanted to write about the quirkier things, or even the mundane things that make us love each other—like the first thing I noticed about you, or the fact that you prefer taking baths to taking showers, or that I cooked vegetarian food for you because your parents wouldn’t. Well, not you personally, of course.…
What made you want to start writing love songs for people like Brian and me?
I was tired of hearing that I should manufacture my music in some way that would reach wider audiences. I decided, instead, to write songs for an audience of two people, and what could be better suited for an audience of two than custom-made love songs! I guess the next thing I have to figure out is what I would write for an audience of one.
There’s a lot of emotion exposed during this process: in the interviews conducted before you write, when you send the result to the couple and when you deal with their response. Isn’t this kind of a minefield?
I got very nervous every time I’d send a song to someone, but if they were anxious about what I was going to do with their stories, they never showed that to me. In fact, people were so open and generous in their interviews, it was only fair that part of the process for me was putting myself out there just like they did.
Do you have to play armchair psychologist a little—try and see through people and their answers to your questions, and maybe push them a little bit?
Maybe I spend so much time examining other people’s lives in order to avoid examining my own. Seriously, though, I don’t think I ever pushed people beyond where they were willing to go.
What happens if a couple hates their song?
They get a complimentary custom-made hate song.
People share intimate details about themselves with you and it turns into art, but now with the album’s recent release, it turns into something complete strangers can buy in a store. Does drawing back the curtain like this just reflect our over-shared 21st-century lifestyle?
Hey, you’re the culture critic, I should ask you that question! What’s wrong with people sharing too much?
Deep down, I suspect there’s a pretty good reason Celine Dion has never sung a song about my life. I guess, after this album is released, everyone will get to judge.
Corey Dargel plays (Le) Poisson Rouge Wed 29. Other People’s Love Songs is out now.