The last song I wrote was in April of last year; I’m not entirely sure when the previous one was written, but no doubt it was long before April. It is exceedingly safe to say that I am not a prolific songwriter. I’ve been telling myself since last April that I needed to carve out some time to write songs (I write plenty…it’s just songs that give me trouble), and yet somehow never managed to actually do it. I’ve had any number of excuses, lack of time (particularly the eight hours I spent at work every day) being primary among them, but now I have time, and despite my big plans, articulated out loud to myself and anyone who asked, I have not spent my afternoons working on music. As a matter of fact, I’ve barely picked up my guitar since my birthday gig. In November.
The evidence is in, and I cannot delude myself any longer: I am actively avoiding songwriting. Probably because it’s hard—I’m a prose writer, and even when I write poetry, it’s in free verse, the rhymes happening organically, rather than at the ends of lines, in most cases. And then there’s the fact that I am hypersensitive about writing something lame, because I’ve enjoyed decades of good songwriting all my life, and I respect it, and don’t want to be cliché or derivative or just plain bad. I’ve always taken pride in my writing; I want to keep doing that once it starts rhyming.
Of course, I have regular evidence that I am probably way too hard on myself on that count. Plenty of folks call it good if it rhymes, even if it makes no other sense at all. Take one Mr. Nitty, whose oeuvre I was introduced to yesterday via his song “Nasty Girl” which appeared on my brother Shenry‘s Christmas mix CD. This particular piece of “music” demonstrates such lyrical genius as “Honey….I got a lotta money” and is sung to the tune of the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar,” which has been been stolen outright to be recycled into yet another iteration of the “I got bitchez and bucks” theme. And who can get enough of that? Not I, that’s for sure.
Regardless, I just don’t want to write crap songs, because when I do (and I have done), I don’t want to play them anyway, and they get immediately retired if I can’t fix them. And even when I get the lyrics to a point where I feel like I’ve created something artistic that I won’t be embarrassed to sing, there’s still the music to write. And that’s even harder, because every riff that goes through my head, I have to wonder if it’s original or if I’m stealing it, however unintentionally, from something else I’ve heard, because I’ve heard a lot.
So what ends up happening is that I don’t write many songs. Classic avoidance; in fact, I’ve surprised myself with the level of ingenuity I’ve brought to my avoidance, and the number of little projects that weren’t a high priority before, but need to be done RIGHT NOW, before I can even THINK about sitting down to write songs.
Having recognized that I was in fact avoiding, and was all out of excuses, I forced myself to sit down the other night, telling myself that I needed to get at least one verse, or one chorus, or something, written before I did anything else. It didn’t stop me from looking at 20 websites in between lines, because one cannot stop avoiding and slacking on a dime, but in the end, I ended up drafting the lyrics for one whole song, only one verse of which I think needs serious rewriting, and the next night, I started another. And then I ignored it for another four days.
The problem (and this is where y’all come in) is that I can’t finish the draft of the second one because I don’t know where it should go. There are 2 possible endings, and I don’t actually know which I want to go with, because I can see benefits to both.
Here is the setup:
So I’m coming home from the Healdsburg Guitar Festival this past August, and as I board the plane, I see there is an open aisle seat in the very first row, so I grab it, because as any Nauseated-American knows, the further towards the front of the plane you are, the less likely you are to end up getting a repeat viewing of your breakfast. I was totally mercenary about it. Beth and Pam saw me ensconced in my seat and kept going because somebody was already in the window seat, but I wasn’t moving; better rude than retching, I say.
After awhile, it seems that we are all boarded, but the door hasn’t shut, and we’re still sitting there, which is indicative that somebody is late and we’re waiting on them. Another few minutes, and finally dude shows up, not even having the decency to look winded or apologetic as he slouches onto the plane and proceeds to take the middle seat right next to me. And then, because he’s already endeared himself to me, he ups the ante and proceeds to make phone calls.
It seems he has made no arrangements for someone to pick him up at the airport when he lands in L.A., and I wonder what kind of person doesn’t think about his ride home from the airport until he’s actually on the tarmac in San Francisco, ready to take off. First he calls his mom, and she can’t come get him. Then he calls a friend, and no joy there, either. So then I wonder what kind of person can’t get anyone to pick him up from the airport. And then he starts texting. I can see the phone, because it’s sitting right there on his knee as he thumb types, so privacy is clearly not his concern. I’m not sure whom he’s texting, or what his opening message says, because I don’t really notice until the response comes back, and it says, “You know I’m not saying one goddamned word to you. Seriously.”
And then he texts back, “That’s fine. I’ll do the talking.”
At this point, I avert my eyes, because I’ve visually eavesdropped long enough, and it sounds like it could get ugly, and it would be rude of me to intrude, however surreptitiously, into such a personal moment. But I file it away until I can jot it down, because when the music gods hand you a premise for a song, you don’t blow it off. And that was primo stuff.
So this Monday night, I finally started writing that song, and made pretty decent headway, but I got stuck, and have stayed stuck since, because I don’t know how to end it. I decided he was texting a former girlfriend, with a breakup recent enough, or horrible enough, (and maybe both) that she’s still pissed. And so the question is this, and I’m asking you to help me decide: Do I write the song where she remains angry and tells him to figure it out and not bother her anymore, because she’s not dropping everything to drive out to LAX during rush hour to pick his sorry ass up? Or do I write a song of redemption, where he realizes he screwed up, and while he’s doing all the talking he manages an apology in there and melts her heart once more? An angry song can be fun to write, and fun to play, but everyone loves redemption, and a second chance at twoo wuv. I am torn. If you were in the audience, which would you prefer to hear?
If you would be so kind to put your vote and/or thoughts in the comments, this slacker/songwriter would be much obliged. And you would be an encourager of the arts. (There’s no money in it, but you do get to think very highly of yourself.)