Inspiring and Perspiring
Every time I finish a song that I think is “worthy” (or pretty good at least) I worry that I’ll never write another good song again, ever. I have no idea how I did it. It’s a mystery what skill or tools or “muscle” I used to write it. I don’t mean I don’t know how to write a song – I could write ten songs a day (well maybe not the lyrics for all of them), but all ten would be worse than forgettable. They’d be unlistenable, laughable, embarrassing, cringeworthy. I’m not going to share any of these songs. To the degree that they exist, they are hidden away in a virtual drawer to make it easier for me to forget them.
I could assemble melodies and chords and rhythms (and some kind of lyrics) all day long, creating what are technically “songs”. I guess maybe I could just furiously write as many songs as possible, as fast as possible, and hope that one in every ten or fifty or a hundred would be worthy. But I’d much prefer to simply write one new song and have it be better than the last one, then repeat until I have an excellent catalog. But where is that “good song” skill? For the life of me I can’t locate it, and yet I find it fascinating that somehow I get better at it the more I work at writing songs. Somehow I’m improving a muscle or skill that I can’t locate.
I seem to remember Bob Dylan’s saying, at some point, that he had lost any sense that he had written Blowin’ in the Wind – that the song seemed to exist on its own, independent of him. (I may have dreamed this, but the point is taken.) Of course none of my songs are anywhere in that league, but I do feel a bit of distance from the “worthy” ones. I’ve lost a sense of how I actually created them – how the lyrics came to their finished state, where that melody came from, pretty much what was the source of what makes them worthy. They exist, to some degree, independent of my personal involvement.
I do have a problem in that, I’m so worried and anxious that I can never write another song, I sometimes rush to accept a full song or melody or lyric that should go into that virtual drawer I spoke about. And sometimes you just have to finish something and put it in the drawer so you can move on.
Speaking as someone who has spent a lot of time in the tech world, – writing software or solving technical problems or leading teams that do all that stuff – improving an invisible skill is a bit mysterious and odd – and kind of cool. In technology, either you pretty much know how to do or build something, or you don’t. It’s usually clearly one or the other. When there’s a part of the solution that you don’t yet know how to implement, you know it; that’s where “invention” comes in. So maybe technology invention is a bit like good songwriting. But if you need to invent something in order to build a complete system, you are stuck until inspiration strikes. In music you can pretty much always write something that “works” as a song, albeit unworthy (and likely unlistenable).
I’ve lately come to think that songwriting is more like the tech startup endeavor. With most new business ideas you know you can build it. The harder question is whether the business will succeed. Is it “worthy” – or in the old startup parlance, will the dogs eat the dog food? Anybody with an entrepreneurial spirit can come up with a string of new business ideas, but it’s far more difficult to come up with a great one, one that’s actually worth building. (Where is that muscle located?) This is why so much of the startup space, tech accelerators, learning how to pitch your idea, etc., is all about helping the “worthy” ideas stand out and get funded. Even then, as in the music business, very very few are hits (survive). Further, an entrepreneurial friend pointed out to me, even when the business idea is worthy, bad execution may still kill the idea. The same problem exists in music. When arranging my newest song, which I believe is probably maybe “worthy”, I cycled through several debilitating guitar parts until finding one that strengthened, rather than killed, the song. Nuthin’s easy….
OK, enough navel gazing. BAND NEWS:
- We have a band! They are
- The estimable Tony Cruz on drums
- The not-to-be-underestimated Rick Wagner on bass and vocals
- The can’t-be-overestimated Charly Roth on keyboards
I’ll share more details about these very excellent musicians in a future post.
- We have a gig! It’s April 19, 8pm, 1 set, at the Rockwood Music Hall. Watch this page for details as they unfold.
- We have a second gig! Again watch this page for more.
- We will probably record an EP or full album! I want to time-shift this great band’s performances. Stay tuned….
And to reward you for reading, I have another full home demo to listen to, a brand new song that I think is maybe worthy. As usual I welcome your feedback. And for extra credit, who recognizes the reference to a big 60s hit in the chorus lyrics?
I reckon I'll never write another worthy song again, ever. Thanks, all y'all, for listening.