Posted in Commentary, Creations

Artist (not) at work

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.)



I've been doing some form of creative writing since 9th grade, and have been a blogger since 2003. Like most bloggers, I've quit blogging multiple times. But the words always come back, asking to be written down, and they pester me if I don't. So here we are. Thanks for reading.

14 thoughts on “Artist (not) at work

      1. Maybe my knee jerk reaction for angry/vindictive is my brain making up for all this feel good lovey dovey mushiness floating around in there that if I ponder too long will make me violently ill. My brain isn’t wired for these kinds of feelings, so I’m reverting to bitterness and hatred, something I’m a pro at 🙂 Or it could just be the weather.

  1. I vote for persistent…nay, amplified anger in the ending. I think I’m tired of the tried and true resolution of most movies and books, in which everything goes wrong for the hero/heroine (or in this case, the nob), but somehow it all comes out right in the end (often ignoring all of Newton’s and Einstein’s laws in the process). The kind of guy you described is not likely to give his ex enough to redeem him in his own time of need….if she knows him that well, she will know that he is still a selfish @$stard whom NONE of his friends and family were willing to take the time to pick up.

  2. First, I feel your pain on songwriting. As a prose and poetry writer, the rhymes, they don’t come easy. The few songs I’ve written (given like 20 years ago) are horrendous. Rhymes feel weird on my tongue when they’re at the end of a line.

    As for your song, I say give into the anger. Chump doesn’t deserve a second chance. I wouldn’t pick his ass up from the airport either.

    1. May I step in to defend the chump? Perhaps he is loathed and shunned by everyone for standing up for an injustice perpetrated by all his close family and friends. Everyone he knows, including said woman, could have been involved in a cock fighting ring that he alerted the authorities to, hence all the animosity. I’m not saying it’s likely, just that in this life there are nothing but possibilities (and that when you abandon all your goals you have nothing but time on your hands to make silly posts and replies).
      A fairly weak argument as we all know he’s likely just a git but food for thought none the less. Speaking of food, I think I need to eat today…

      1. Maybe all this is true, but just because you understand WHY a person may be in the situation they are, it doesn’t follow that you want to participate in their life. Understanding does not equal sympathy in all cases.

    2. Me, either. I am ever amazed at the people in the world who don’t get that if you screw someone over, you should probably not proceed to ask them for a favor.

      Also, I love the word “chump.” Maybe that should go in the song. 🙂

  3. You no likey Nasty Girl? It’s a fun song, bouncy and silly. Not every song needs to be lyrically Dylan deep or melodically Yes complex. A song that tickles your ears with empty calories and corn syrup can still be enjoyed. That’s why your song should not end with anger or redemption, but some derogatory booty shake-shake innuendo:

    Bitch, pick me up from my trip
    I’ll crash my cockpit
    on your landing strip
    split your cleft lip
    drop my payload so hard you’ll flip

    When you use this brilliant verse in your song, don’t forget to give me a shout-out in the liner notes of you forthcoming cd.

    1. Dude, it’s totally plagiarized! No, not everything has to be deep or complex, but ideally, it shouldn’t be stolen.

      Chances that I’m going to use those lyrics=0

      Sorry, try again.

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