Monday, November 7, 2011

A Foray Into Song Writing

One of my band mates (Dan) in the Creekdogs recently returned from a visit to his daughter, who attends college out of state.  While there, they checked out what I gather was an open mic night at the campus coffeehouse.  He was quite impressed with one particular performer, who told the crowd she made herself write a song every day for seven days no matter how busy she was or how large the task. She admitted that this method only produced one usable song; but by my friend Dan's account, it was a good one.

It's not all that uncommon for us in the Creekdogs to tear off beautiful instrumentals in practice, agreeing that a given jam was good enough to add lyrics.  Easier said then done - we've yet to add any words to some of the lovely instrumentals we have kicking around.  Knowing that Dan has a pocketful of great music at any given moment, I decided to try to take the "seven day challenge" and write words everyday for a week to send to Dan and Kevin to put music to.

Starting from zero was really, really hard.  It would've been difficult enough to try to distill a particular sentiment/story into song lyrics; but truthfully, I didn't have a particular sentiment or story I wanted to convey.  For whatever reason, I found myself trying to write like Tom Waits.  This is kinda funny as I'm at best a casual Tom Waits fan.  I have profound respect for him as a songwriter and musician; yet I've never felt compelled to get very deep into his catalog.  I guess the thing I admire the most about Tom Waits' writing is its attention to detail.  A few carefully selected, "small" details vividly portray a given thought/sentiment much better (and a lot more artfully) than just coming right out and saying what's on your mind.

In a week's time, my song lyrics swung wildly from fictitious, third person story telling to personal and sappy as hell.  I tried very hard to remove the inner critic and just get something sent out each night - a process that is trying when some inner voice keeps wondering what Paul Simon, Tom Waits, or Pete Townshend might think of a particular song.

But ultimately, I prevailed.  The experiment yielded six songs in seven nights.  I can't say any of them are great or even good.  But I found the sustained focus and hard work to be quite rewarding.  It remains to be seen if we'll be able to get anything usable out of this batch of tunes - if so, you can expect a follow up post, possibly with audio.  I will say that at the last band practice - this was day two in the process - Dan had taken my lyrics from day one and put them to music.  Bear in mind I thought the lyrics were terrible and unusable.  But after hearing what Dan did to them - I literally almost cried.  It is truly thrilling to hear words I came up with put to music. It was beautiful and honestly, I was using the wrong standard for the words:  reading them there on a page almost as one would read a poem is a world apart from hearing them sung.  I'm hopeful that something cool will come of this.  But if not, I am creatively better for the effort.


  1. The important thing to remember about song lyrics is that they are not poetry. Some of the best song lyrics, just sitting alone on paper, look stupid. On the other hand, cluttering a poem with music is usually a bad idea (never did like the whole jazz/poetry thing). The lyrics don't have to stand by themselves: the finished song is the thing.

    When I saw Pere Ubu back in the 80's, David Thomas introduced "Final Solution" this way: "The biggest problem with the recording of this song is that you can hear the lyrics. The lyrics on this one should just be a blur. Not that there shouldn't be lyrics, but that they should be indiscernible." He then replaced the apocalyptic (and, I always thought, very good) lyrics with wordless howling. It actually worked.

  2. Yeah I think you're spot on with that - lyrics AREN'T poems. I remember reading a collection of Bob Dylan lyrics published as a book of poetry. It was CLOSE to poetry, but it still didn't seem right. They are song lyrics plain and simple.

    Morrisey famously went off on the Cocteau Twins for being a giant musical sham for not singing lyrics to their song. ( I hate to say it, but he's right in most but not all cases. And I might add it sucks to have freakin' Morrisey scoring on your ass. But I do believe that it CAN work - Even ol' Morrisey would agree with that. I guess if anyone can pull it off, Pere Ubu can.