The River's Badge

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Six Lines


One of the many nuggets of advice a songwriter often receives is to go away from a song for awhile. Come back later, and voila! Inspiration arrives!

I've never been a proponent of leaving a song alone. It's usually there or it isn't.

Sure, it doesn't come out fully formed! Unless you're some kind of idiot savant. But, I mean, the basic song is "there". You need to mess with some lines and switch things around, and bang your head against the desk a few times, but there it is!

So, here I am. I haven't written a song since February (during FAWM), when I wrote 14, thank you very much.

Long weekends are great opportunities for me to get some "me time" (ha ha), meaning, time to work on something other than laundry and housecleaning, so I thought, geez, I really should write a song.

Therefore, I sat down with my acoustic, dusted it off (literally), and waited to see what would come out. And then I waited.

I always like A minor, so I tried some chord progressions around that. (Okay, truth be told, most of my songs are written in the key of G. Most? How about 96%? It's some kind of weird compulsion I have, I think. Plus, it fits my voice. Okay, we'll go with that).

And A minor isn't that far away, vocally, from G. But I really wasn't looking to write a "happy" song (therefore, not "G"). I wanted something a bit...I don't know, wistful. We'd just returned from a trip to the North Shore, where we'd spent a foggy rainy weekend, with the waves of Lake Superior crashing against the rocks. Ahh, heaven. So, since I had absolutely no inspiration on which to base a song, I thought, how about something foggy and rainy, with waves crashing? And make it a song about lost love (duh).

I got a bit of melody going (Was it a verse or a chorus? Don't know!) Then I tried writing some words to go with it.

I got SIX LINES! Six! Then I was done for the night. As the title of one of my FAWM songs says, "I Got Nothin'". (That song, by the way, came about because I really did have nothing; nothing to write about. It was number 13, and thus quite late in the game. Turns out, I had somethin', because that song turned into a nice, quirky little bit of somethin'/nothin').

I just tonight opened up Audacity to listen to what I'd done. All six lines. And you know what? I don't like it.

The measly six lines of lyrics, okay. The chord progression, no. All wrong. I don't know what I was thinking. The song needs to be restarted. Am I inspired to restart it? No. I'm not inspired, period.

Writers always want to credit the "muse" for their inspiration. Well, I'll tell you what. I can honestly say that the muse maybe visited me ONCE, but as I recall, she made me put a whole lot of work into the damn song, so apparently the muse is a practical joker. And as I've mentioned in the past, only three people even LIKE that song, and I'm one of the three! So, she's cruel, too.

So, muse shmuze. Call it what you will. In my experience, writing songs is having an idea or a chord progression, and sitting down and WORKING. I prefer to call it Imagination. When songwriters are talking about some magical "muse" that happened to visit them, I think I'll say, oh, I know exactly what you mean! My IMAGINATION visited me today! Why the heck do I want to give someone else credit for my work anyway? SHE didn't sit down and hammer out the chords. SHE didn't play around with and move lines and try to come up with stupid rhymes, changing a line I liked for something else, because I couldn't find a good rhyme for "praying". I did that. She just sat on my window sill, chain smoking, and throwing out little cynical insults every now and then. "Boy, it's sure taking you a long time to get that chorus right", "Maybe you should just give up, loser". Muse is really worthless, and just an annoyance. I should have pushed her out the window, really.

Songwriting isn't "magical" anyway. Ideas are. Well, good ideas.

I wonder if it's only songwriters who depend upon the muse. Do other types of artists talk about her endlessly, in hushed tones, as if she gets all pissy about loud talking? "Oh, you know, I was going to write that chapter of my book today, but THE MUSE didn't visit me. I think she was down at the corner convenience store, buying lottery tickets or something. Damn! And I have a deadline!"

Which leads me back to this most recent pseudo-song. I can, without a doubt, state that the muse did not visit me on this one, and I think she's just bored by the whole thing, as am I. In fact, I don't even think she's around right now, or else she'd be sitting here, flicking her ashes at me. But I've noticed she only tends to do that on the songs that could actually turn into something. She's callous.

So, the song isn't written, and maybe won't be. But songs are like blog posts, or something. Sometimes you sit down and find that you have something to say. Sometimes you just sit down.

Since this tends to be a "video blog", I looked for some videos of songwriting advice, and found this one by Tony Arata, who wrote "The Dance" for Garth Brooks. What I like about what he says is, and this is really key: ENJOY THE PROCESS. Because really, if you don't like what you're doing, why even bother? The fact is, you'd damn well better like it, because it's probably going nowhere, but tucked away in your hard drive, and the only person who will listen to it is YOU, and you really should revel in the fact that YOU like it. Because YOU (not the muse) put a bunch of work into it, and you're the only one who knows and appreciates that.



Sorry for the poor quality of this video, but Garth, like Prince, is apparently afraid that....gasp!.....someone might actually want to WATCH his videos, and we just can't have that! So, I grabbed this one, after much searching, from some obscure site, and this was the best I could do. But I figured, after Tony Arata's advice, it might be nice to actually see the song performed.

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