Coming on the heels of my posts of Why I Blog and Why I Read, I thought I would look at why I write songs. I began writing songs decades ago when I first moved from the saxophone (my main instrument) to the guitar and began to use some of my poetry as lyrics. I wrote for myself, and played for myself, and it was only after doing some experimental recording with a friend that I realized just how much I loved the experience of creating something original and moving it beyond my own field of vision.
Songwriting allows me to push in different directions than other forms of writing, and I lose myself in the process. Literally. Time passes without me knowing it when I am full in the moment of birthing a song. Writing a song is so unlike writing a story or a poem to me. The music does something to the angle of the words, and sometimes, I write with one meaning that others may hear as a song, but they don’t fully understand because they don’t have my lens to hear through. I love how undercurrents of meaning can float through a song.
I am not suggesting that I create hidden masterpieces when I write. I don’t. I write a lot of junk. But I often find a keeper here and there among that musical flotsam and jetsam and when I do, it’s as if I hit a home run and won the game.
How I write is by letting myself go and I stumble more than fly when I am songwriting, but it is the mistakes that lead to something interesting, I find, and so I let myself make those mistakes. I wait for that note, that chord, that progression that speaks to me.
I am often asked if I write the words or the music first, and the answer is: I don’t have a set method. Sometimes, I come to the guitar with a phrase of words or some direction; Other times, I find a chord I like and build a song around that. When I was in a band, one of the most amazing things was when I would bring in a song and watch it become something else in the hands of others. It didn’t always work — I canned more songs than I kept — but it was always a fascinating experience. You have to learn to let go of your creation if you expect it to be transformed.
A few years ago, I was right at the start of writing a song and I turned on my Flip video to capture the experience. It’s a bit long (about 18 minutes) so feel free to scan through. I did it more to capture the experience for me (and my kids, perhaps?). But it does give you a glimpse into my process.
And here is the song in a sort-of final version (the song never went anywhere, but I like the melody):
I wish music and songwriting were part of more writing classes because I think the act of learning about rhythm and rhyme, and texture of words in relation to the theme, and repetition and development of ideas, all have great value to young writers.
For me, songwriting was always a way to release emotions and feelings in ways that I could not express otherwise. I found my voice as a writer when I found my voice as a writer of songs, and that has spilled out into my stories and my poetry and more.
I write songs because they give me a path to inner exploration. I write songs because I am a writer (this is my refrain for the three posts so far, so I figure, keep it up, right?)
Peace (in the melody),