Mentor Text Wednesday: Writing About The “Songs That Saved My Life”

Mentor TextBono’s Mash Notes to Songs He Loves


  • Expressing appreciation
  • Audience
  • Drafting

Background – I’ve been using the phrase silver lining a lot lately. Mostly as a way to explain the moments I’ve enjoyed and appreciated as I figure out what it means to teach remotely during a pandemic. (To say nothing of being a parent and partner.)

A definite silver lining is that I’ve been afforded the time to listen to music with intention. Many of my favorite songwriters are livestreaming shows, and exploring their songbooks. They’re meeting with their contemporaries on Instagram live, and discussing the craft. I’m going for a walk along the lakeshore every morning, and if I’m not listening to the (highly recommended) Scrubs rewatch podcast, I’m really getting into full albums from my favorite artists, working through discographies. It’s been good for the soul.

Bono Massive Attack

A couple weeks ago, I dug into a couple of U2 albums I hadn’t listened to in a while. This past weekend, Bono turned 60, and shared a playlist of 60 songs that “saved his life” – in true Bono fashion, overstating that these were songs he loved.

And a handful of those songs, he shared “mash notes” for, writing to the artist, or their family expressing his admiration.

And suddenly, I had inspiration for a Mentor Text Wednesday post.

How we might use this text:

Expressing Appreciation – Part of my walks is thinking and reflecting. I was reflecting recently that we often default to our English teachers’ biases when we have students write. One of those biases is towards analysis. Often, when we ask students to look at texts, using the broader definition of that term, and including music, movies and TV shows, we ask them to analyze or criticize.

I realize that the borders between appreciation, analysis and criticism are quite negligible, but I feel that we very quickly move students away from appreciation towards analysis and criticism because they fulfill many of our outcomes. We ask them to channel that appreciation into an expression of how the piece works to earn their appreciation.

Bono’s mash notes have splashes of this, but, like the early U2 songs I was listening to last week channel an almost adolescent outpouring of emotion. It seems less important to him that he expresses why the song matters to him in depth, but that he has a chance to gush about a song he loves.

And there’s an openness in these mash notes that is beautiful. Signing them, “Your fan” he writes as a fan might. He expresses appreciation for various elements of the song in some notes, while in others, he focuses on an experience connected to the song that gives it resonance. This is very human, and real, and coming from one of the biggest names in modern rock and roll… I think that makes them great mentor texts for expressing appreciation.

Audience – Another piece that makes these worthy of using as mentor texts is the intended audience for these. Arguably, posting these on his band’s website, Bono knows that these will be read by a large audience. There is clearly a part of this that is him intentionally sharing songs he loves with his fans.

I’d rather focus on the fact that these are written as notes to the artists, or their surviving family members. When we push students from appreciation to analysis and criticism from appreciation, we change the audience. I mean, when they’re writing in our classrooms, we know the audience they’re writing for is us, but in writing that skews academic this is much more the case.

That’s why I like this conceit of writing a note of appreciation to the artist, or in cases where the artist is no longer with us, their proxy, such as a family member. This could be an exercise in genuine voice.

Drafting – As much as I appreciate the brevity of these mash notes, I know that they’re not necessarily reflective of the writing we might want to see from our students. We can view them as rough sketches of a larger piece. I’m kind of cracking myself up now, picturing Bono, shades on, sitting at the back of my classroom with his notebook, and me pulling a chair up beside him, encouraging him to further expand his appreciation of the voice in the Massive Attack song, citing specific elements, and find a way to make that a full paragraph. And then doing that for each element of the song he mentions.

The blank page is where many of our writers get hung up, and often, their first drafts, but for some editing and revision, exist in a form very close to the “final” draft that is submitted. I wonder what could happen if we started with these as mentor texts, and allowed something small to be the very first draft, to be grown and nurtured into a more realized piece.

I’ve long felt that bringing the things that you love into your work as a teacher is not only a nice treat for you, but is of benefit to your students. They get to experience different things, and get to get glimpses into who you are when you’re not in teacher mode. As well, it gives you a road map into allowing students to explore the things that they love, and, like Bono did this week, express their appreciation.

What songs would you write about? What have been your “silver linings?”

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

-With love and hope,


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