Saturday, November 21, 2015

Songwriting Thoughts and a Joseph Arthur Memory

A steady songwriting output comes more from work than from inspiration, but when I put in regular, disciplined time, I find that spontaneous moments of inspiration arrive more frequently and with more force. This picture is from 5 years ago. I went to Chicago to hear and see a Joseph Arthur concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music. A wonderful show where he sang, played, looped tracks, and painted (see the canvas in the background) while his layers of looped instrumentation played back. During his song “Chicago” (, one of those moments hit where I had to pull out a piece of paper and start scribbling my own lyrics. Incidentally, he seemed to have had one of those moments that evening too. The show started 20 or 30 minutes late, and when he came out on stage, he apologized and said he had been caught up backstage writing a new song that had just arrived. He had to get it to a certain point before stopping to perform the show or he would have lost it. So the other side of what I said when I started above is that, while the hard work and discipline are essential, the moment of inspiration is also essential—and fleeting. Whether it comes at the desk at the appointed hour or out in the world in the middle of other activities, if a certain something isn’t captured in the moment—the kernel or the seed, an important bit of melody, a key lyric or a relationship of words/images/ideas—the song is likely to be lost, at least for that time around. That night in the dark theater, I put down as many of the images, lines, and thoughts that arrived as I could; I got my ideas to a point where I could stop, be at peace, and listen to the concert. I continued writing my new song the next morning at breakfast at the youth hostel, surrounded by European travelers, and then the next day, back at home, I finished the lyrics and wrote the melody. I ended up with this song called “Bricked Up Windows (Out Here in Chicago),” which is on my new album and that you can listen to here:

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