Categories
Songwriting

Filled Up With Bad Songs (Or Craft vs Inspiration Revisited)

Songwriting isn’t easy. Who said it should be? One reason to learn the craft is that we are filled with bad, boring and self indulgent songs that we need to force out before the fresh melodies and lyrics can flow.

As Mike Viola sings

Songs, songs, songs, they pour out of me
Not all of them are worth finishing
But you got to finish them to see

Secret Radio

Here’s more wisdom from novelists Ann Patchett and Cheryl Strayed (via Brain Pickings)

Writing is hard for every last one of us… Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.

Cheryl Strayed: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration? If a person … picked up the cello for the first time and said, “I’ll be playing in Carnegie Hall next month!” you would pity their delusion, yet beginning fiction writers all across the country polish up their best efforts and send them off to The New Yorker.

Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story.

Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment. The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stories, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the freshwater underneath.

Ann Patchett: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

More on the craft/inspiration battle from Tom Waits, Chuck Close, Tchaikovsky and Leonard Bernstein

Categories
A Blog's Life

New Song: Where Did The Time Go?

Here’s a spruced up version of my FAWM collaboration with Liz Frencham – Where Did The Time Go? It’s a frenetic, fun, slightly NSFW, Jazz Odyssey. Enjoy.

Where Did The Time Go?

Categories
Song Vault

Where Did The Time Go? (NSFW)

Days had strange elastic powers, minutes stretched to lazy hours
Frantic (tick tock) hyperactive jazz workout
Written with (and performed by) Liz Frencham
Download     mp3 demo      Lyrics (pdf)

Mr Time where did you go?
How I miss the time I used to hold
Days had strange elastic powers
Minutes stretched to lazy hours
Wish they hadn’t been devoured
Too busy dancing to the

Tick tock, time is sneaky
Drip drop [dropped] the clock and now it’s leaking
Put it in a big box
To stop it seeping out and never stop to take stock
[Stock] our shelves with pointless s**t
Look I scored another tick [tock]
Talking s**t until I finally get a big shock
Where did the time go?

Mr Time throw me a bone
Have I missed the rhyme that calls you home?
See the carrot on the stick
It’s dangling just beyond my grip
Bright and sweet but far too quick
It’s gotta be a silly trick

Stop! Time is sneaky
Drip drop [dropped] the clock and now it’s leaking
Put it in a big box
To stop it seeping out and never stop to take stock
[Stock] our shelves with pointless s**t
Look I scored another tick [tock]
Talking s**t until I finally get a big shock
Where did the time go?
Where did the time go?

Where is the time, to unwind?
To feel alive, breathe in deep
To stretch, to reach
Let the grass grow underneath my feet
Would be fantastic, would feel ecstatic…
(Tick – tick – tick – tock
Tick – tock – tick – tock – tick – tock)

Tick Tock, time is sneaky
Drip drop [dropped] the clock and now it’s leaking
Put it in a big box
To stop it seeping out and never stop to take stock
[Stock] our shelves with pointless s**t
Look I scored another tick [tock]
Talking s**t until I finally get a big shock, please stop!
Tick tock.

 

Categories
Songwriting

How To Catch A Song Without Killing It

The bad news is – you can’t.

I’ve been thinking about the fear I sometimes have of working on a good song. When I’m uninspired the fear and loathing is easy to comprehend. I’m worried that I’m worthless and I suck as a songwriter and the tune I’m attempting to finish is shortly going to provide solid evidence of that fact.

But why do I drag my feet when I’m working on an idea that has a life of it’s own and is pushing it’s way out of my guitar and my mind? I think it’s because I know, deep down, that the real life song is never going to match up to the fantasy version that lives in my imagination.  But if I want a real song, in the real world, I have to come to terms with the fact that ‘pinning it down’ is probably going to ‘kill it’.

Some recent posts on the Brain Pickings website summed this up beautifully with quotes from authors Ann Patchett and Cheryl Strayed

This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its colour, so wild and loyal in its nature … my love for this book … is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.

And so I do. When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Just to make sure the job is done I stick it into place with a pin … Everything that was beautiful about this living thing – all the colour, the light and movement – is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.

I never learned how to take the beautiful thing in my imagination and put it on paper without feeling I killed it along the way. I did, however, learn how to weather the death, and I learned how to forgive myself for it.

I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.

Ann Patchett: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

[I] finally reached a point where the prospect of not writing a book was more awful than the one of writing a book that sucked

I’d stopped being grandiose. I’d lowered myself to the notion that the absolute only thing that mattered was getting that extra beating heart out of my chest. Which meant I had to write my book. My very possibly mediocre book. My very possibly never-going-to-be-published book. My absolutely nowhere-in-league-with-the-writers-I’d-admired-so-much-that-I-practically-memorized-their-sentences book. It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do.

Cheryl Strayed: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Everybody loves music, but it’s important that music likes you

Read Tom Waits on Catching Songs

Categories
Interviews Songwriting

Noel Gallagher Makes It Weird

I’m a big fan of Pete Holmes‘ spiritual awkward childlike hyperactive interviews. Noel Gallagher is always entertaining.

But what I really got out of this interview was Noel talking about not ‘trying’ to write a great song, because that attitude paralyses creativity. So when he wrote Don’t Look Back In Anger in a single night he let it sit in a notebook for a year.

And I’m with him on in-ear monitors being a bad thing as it totally separates you from the audience and lets you play in your own little bubble.

NSFW? Of Course! – It’s Noel Gallagher!

Listen or download here

Categories
Lyrics

Tom Waits Takes One Last Look At David Letterman

My hero Tom Waits premiered a new song for David Letterman’s last show and it was
a) a text book example of how to write a song for a special occasion and
b) another display of his poetic gift

I love how after setting the scene with

“Let’s watch the sun come up in another town
Try our luck a little further down”

he nails the feeling that we shouldn’t be afraid of starting again in lines like

“All towns have churches and tire shops …
All we ever need we can get anywhere”

Enjoy