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You Have to Be Good to Know Good - The ISC (International Songwriting Contest)
You Have to Be Good to Know Good
The International Song Contest is running again right now. I won’t be entering. Contests and talent shows are not for me. Why? Because you have to be good to know good. Unless you know well the art that you are judging how can you ever recognise any real quality?
I entered ISC before with one of the best songs I have written – 50/50 America - A song I would have wished to have written were it someone else’s composition.
Here is a verse:
The black king came to Camelot
The Lip kissed the heavyweight crown
Set a place, we’ve got a visitor
But lips get bust, kings get taken down
In 50/50 America.
Let them come, let them come.
A hard rain’s gonna fall where strange fruit hung.
This was how that verse was judged in the first round.
“Makes no sense, has no meaning”
This is the meaning
It’s talking about the civil rights movement in the 60s as part of America’s lifelong inner conflict with itself.
The black king came to Camelot (Refers to Martin Luther King negotiating with Kennedy at that time)
The Lip kissed the heavyweight crown (Muhammad Ali was the heavyweight champ, active in civil rights, his nickname was The Louisville Lip.)
Set a place, we got a visitor (There was a great movie around this time called Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in which Sidney Poitier played the black boyfriend of a white girl who is challenged and challenges the reactions of her parents.)
But lips get bust, kings get taken down (Ali was sanctioned for not taking the draft, King was assassinated)
In 50/50 America. (as above)
Let them come, let them come. (The song’s main hook, pleading that, despite its faults, America was born out of a great concept that is inscribed on the statue of liberty)
A hard rain’s gonna fall where strange fruit hung. (The first half of this line refers to Dylan’s song, the second to Billie Holiday’s and reflects how,through iconic songs from different eras, change was taking place.)
That’s quite something isn’t it?
Yet the judge’s verdict was a principal reason that the song didn’t even make the first cut.
Here’s something I believe wholeheartedly: You have to be good to know good.
You have have a deep and personal understanding of the craft or art you are going to preside over in order to be able to judge it fairly.
In a court of law you wouldn’t let a judge decide a defendent’s future if he had no knowledge of the statute, so why allow someone with limited songwriting knowledge or experience decide the fate of a song that may have true quality?
Judges in song contests, particularly in the early rounds, are not good enough to know good.
I had never entered a song writing contest before for that reason. But I knew I had something special.
The reputation of ISC convinced me that here was a place where music would be listened to by fellow travelers who were enlightened about both the instinct and the craft of songwriting and so would at least recognise these qualities.
I was mistaken.
I hope you can understand that this is neither personal nor vindictive, or an attack on ISC alone.
I have no lasting grudge or bitterness in relation to my own personal experience; it was many years ago and the song in question has since gathered praise from other writers and music lovers from many parts of the world.
Nor is my argument limited to the judging of songs and songwriters.
I have been involved with 3 movies that toured the U.S independent film festival circuit and have seen the same misjudging take place. Not necessarily with the films I was connected to but with other superb pieces of work that were totally overlooked because those judging would not have spotted the subtle or more refined qualities of the more deserving entries.
I know song writing out of intense love and study.
I believe ISC judges and those involved with all songwriting competitions should know it in the same way.
Very best wishes,