To be or not to be … one’s self … THAT is the question.
Over the last 3 weeks I’ve been part of a songwriting workshop with about 9 other songwriters here in New York. We could not be more different from one another. Most are writing highly commercial songs that I could easily hear on the radio (wait, I never listen to the radio) or being sung by Ri … Riha … what’s her name? Oh yeah, RIHANNA.
I wrote 3 songs for the workshop – the 3rd song being submitted toward a cash prize. Cash is cool. Now back to my story.
I agonized through the whole process. I wrote one song for my final submission (after a guest-industry-speaker-person advised me to “get to the chorus within 30 seconds”) and went to demo it one night with a friend. It’s a catchy tune – not terrible, actually – but lyrically dull. I had written it to fit some kind of pop-music mold so the industry folk might approve of me. As I was singing through it that night with my friend I got a stomachache. That this is NOT ME stomach ache. I went home from recording with the dejected, hopeless feeling I get when something just isn’t sitting right … when I have tried to be something I’m not.
I switched gears the day before the songs were due, and recorded a new song that I really love. I don’t know what I’ll do with this tune ultimately and the demo here is solely for the workshop … but here ’tis. With help from my friends over a 24-hour period … Steve Elliot (guitar), Ben Shive (wurly / harmonium), Ben Wittman (perc / gloc) & recorded / engineered by Geoff Countryman. (And thank you to Steph Shaw for last-minute recording help & gab session.)
Will this ever be on the radio? Hmmmmm unlikely. Will Bruno Mars (who is that, by the way?) ever want to sing it? Nope. But I don’t care. I wrote a little song about one of my artistic heroes (refer to picture above!) & it feels like me. I know I have been myself.
Next week I will be outside of New York City with no distractions, no email, no facebook, no car horns, no obligations, no meeting meeting buzz buzz lunch gig meeting!
The reason I’m going away isn’t to relax – it’s to write songs. Soon I will see this place for myself but for now here are some pictures from the website of a 100-acre property that a composer friend and I will share for a week. The agenda: write all morning, be in nature, write in the afternoon some more, eat simple food, and then write some more.
I’ve often dreamt of taking a trip to a secluded place in order to write. When I was writing for the album I would wake up an hour early and sit in my bedroom. Life in NYC is harried – and a daily hour seemed like all I could set aside. The hour would start off like this: plant myself at my desk, stare at the computer screen (lyrics often come first) and say, “Lord, I’m here … please oh please oh please send me a song.” Occasionally, He would.
Squeezing minutes out of a hectic life for songwriting has made me crave a consecrated length of time only to write. Next week, I will get that. You’d think I’d be thrilled. But I’ve been surprised by my actual response which has been abject, ABJECT fear.
I will be in a beautiful, inspiring place with no one but myself and my thoughts. But WHAT IF? WHAT IF no songs come? WHAT IF there are no ideas? WHAT IF there are no melodies? WHAT IF the songwriting thing is a sham? WHAT IF I have nothing to show?
Of course, I have high hopes for a different outcome. But the wall-of-fear I experience before going away next week intrigues me. And, as in most things in life, I find that the only way around is through. So here is the fear, and I’ll go through it.
Have been thinking about words. I’ve heard that the 2 questions below are good ones to ask before saying ANYTHING. In life-in-general, I agree. If I were to ask these 2 questions before speaking I’d probably spare myself a lot of conflict and a lot of gossipy nothingness that I tend to regret.
But what about as an artist? What about the artist’s life-in-general? Some would argue that art is not necessary (they’re wrong) and some would argue that art can be unkind (it can be).
A dear friend recently stumbled upon something written about him on the internet. It was hurtful and scathing and a little bit true. It was a result of a lot of mistakes. It was a laundry list of complaints and written in the name of “art.”
Talking with him about it made me wonder about songs and the lyrics to songs. What makes a lyric art? And what makes a lyric little more than a venting of personal frustrations and feelings?
I can’t help but think that every word – no matter the setting – should be justified and weighed to see if it will do damage. I can’t help but think that artists have a unique call to be careful with words. Is each one necessary? Is each one kind?