Sometimes, I get obsessed with a song I am writing. It follows me everywhere. At night, I’ll wake up, hearing the chord changes and then I’ll be tweaking the lyrics as I try to fall back asleep. Someone will be talking to me during the day, and I’ll realize I was somewhere else in my head, lost in the song’s architecture. I’ll juggle words, phrases, verses. Add a bridge, then remove it.
I can’t quite explain it, except when I go through periods where it doesn’t happen, when I don’t write a song for a long stretch (sometimes months), I forget about how intense the artistic process can be. And then it happens again (I have faith during those fallow periods that I will write songs again.)
I’m not suggesting I am writing musical classics, or that anyone other than me will like the music I am engaged in. I know my limits and limitations. But there is something in the creative endeavor of merging music and words and message together in a song that exerts an awfully powerful pull on me. If you listen and get something out of it, I am happy.
The other day, I started to write this new song — Heaven (Where I Want To Be) — and I could not shake it loose. In fact, I had the chorus nearly immediately, almost as soon as I started strumming, yet the lyrics to the verses were frustrating me. I worked and reworked them, over and over. I almost tossed the whole thing out a few times. It kept pulling me back to the guitar.
The song is inspired by two things. First, an elderly couple in our neighborhood suffered a recent loss when one of them passed away. Another elderly couple nearby might be nearing that situation, too. An ambulance was at the door this week. These are neighbors who were married for decades. I started thinking of what happens when you lose someone after so long.
Second, I’ve been listening a lot to this Jason Isbell song — If We Were Vampires — which is about that same theme, about the realization that one of the two of lovers in life will someday leave this place first, and the other lover will have to find a way to forge ahead, alone.
The narrator in my Heaven song is in that situation, too, remembering the traces of a lifetime together and skirting the boundaries between reality and remembering, of ghosts and love. What is real, anyway?