Most of my life, I’ve been a singer and songwriter who happened to do other things (Usually those “other things” helped keep the lights on, or kept me from climbing out of a window to move in the middle of the night ‘cause I didn’t have rent money.) But, being a musician or a songwriter has always defined who I am.
Paul McCartney once said about songwriting that, “… there is no formula, so I’m always trying to learn how to do it.” Well, I’m really glad he said that, because if there is a formula or a right way to do it—I don’t know what it is.
I think I would describe the process in an analogy… it’s like doing a tough crossword puzzle in an air-tight vault before the air runs out. When I do a crossword puzzle I scan the “Across” and “Down” columns, looking for a “cherry picker”—one with an obvious, easy answer; one that I’m sure of, and I start there. In songwriting that obvious starting place could be a guitar riff. Or, it could be a phrase I hear somebody say, like “eerie echo”. I remember hearing a radio commentator say that Julian Lennon’s voice was an “eerie echo” of his father’s voice. And, that phrase grabbed me and became the starting point for a song.
It could also be something I read or even an idea that just pops into my head (or heart). But, anyway it’s a starting place for a song—but I still have the rest of the puzzle to figure out. So, when I do a puzzle (which is more rare than when I write songs), I like to get a cup of coffee, sit down and have at it.
There are clues to the missing words in the puzzle that are connected to the words I’ve already put down. I practice my guitar nearly every day. And, during each practice there comes a time when I work on puzzling out a new song. The clues to the missing parts of the song are connected in some way to my life. And gradually, as I explore the theme, the puzzle is completed and I have a new song.
The themes are issues that come up in the course of living my rather unusual life (everyone believes their life to be “unusual”). The things that rise above the mundane and cause me to focus on them are potential themes, like a perceived injustice, or the love I feel (I love my bunny). As I contemplate these things, some of them achieve an importance all their own and pressure begins building within me. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, or even if I don’t know if it’s good or bad. The pressure builds anyway. When the pressure rises to the point where it dominates my attention, I need to finish the song (solve the puzzle). Notice that I didn’t say I want to finish the song. I have to finish the song! It’s as debatable as taking another breath! Everything else has to wait.
So… sometimes… this has caused problems with those who may live in close proximity and wish to structure my time. And, I have found it easier to be self employed and in command of my schedule.
Anyway… I’ve just started writing a new song. It’s roughly about an old lion who believes he is still the king. And, when he gets hungry… he still does “his thing”! J