Posted in music and the music business, yesterday. today. tomorrow.

terminal

now playing: jackson browne, “something fine”

i remember very well the first time i heard that song – i had bought the first jackson album and “late for the sky” (on vinyl, no less) at a record store in keflavik, iceland when i lived there in 1984/1985. it was the perfect time in my life to have discovered those two records.

“you said ‘morocco’, and you made me smile
and it hasn’t been that easy for a long, long while
and looking back into your eyes i saw them really shine
giving me a taste of something fine…”

this song used to remind me of the time when i’d first arrived in wales and spent all my days in my makeshift studio, writing and recording songs (of which this was one). now, though, when i hear it i think of william miller and penny lane on the stillwater tour bus, talking about how they’d be completely different people and wear completely different clothes…there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this song factored into those parts of the script.

i don’t know if i’ve ever been as prolific a writer as i was back then, but it was all garbage. it took a lot of lemon squeezing before i found my legs as a songwriter. thank God that i wasn’t aware at the time how much those songs sucked ass – if i’d known, i’d have quit…and the most important thing that a writer posesses before he finds his voice is his drive to create.

the kids and i backed into a conversation about songwriting last night – dylan wants to enter this contest that he saw on vh-1, and he’s feeling the need to write a song to submit. shady motivation to write, if you ask me, but he didn’t ask me. well, he did, actually…

“daaaaad….how do you write a song?”

i think i’d be more prepared for the “other” talk, actually…

but, we went into it a bit…i think jayda “gets” it. but then again, jayda was writing songs when she was seven. i remember not long after we’d moved into the apartment overlooking 5th street, we were listening to music one night and she asked me to play the song that had just played again – dan fogelberg‘s “to the morning” – and she wrote lyrics to a passage that repeats in that song a number of times and sang it to me.

seven.

anyway, i told dylan that – for me – songs typically germinated from one of two things. usually, it would be either a musical phrase or a riff that felt like it was worth expanding on, or it would be an actual lyric phrase – something that occured to me, or something that i overheard somewhere – that i felt belonged in a song. as often as not, though, you write a song out of nothing – you’re feeling the urge to be creative, and you want to open the channel. when that’s the case, the best thing you can do is sit down with your instrument and just start playing. you don’t even have to play anything in particular – in fact, i think it’s best to avoid playing anything specific – just play chords or riffs until something presents itself to you. sometimes something will come to you, sometimes it won’t…in fact, mary chapin carpenter said something once in an interview that lifted a huge weight from my shoulders…she said that it’s possible to beat one’s creative self into a pulp by trying to force ourselves to wring something out of ourselves when the channel isn’t open, and that there is no shame or failure in washing the car instead of writing a song if there’s no song to write that day. i think that’s a lesson that a lot of my kind refuse to learn.

anyway, i said to him that if you sit down with your guitar and you happen to find a series of notes or chords that resonate, that presents some kind of potential, then the next thing you should do is find out if there’s something singable that goes along with it…and usually, my method of doing that would just be to sing nonsensical syllables over it to “feel it out” for a possible vocal melody. (in fact, i have many, many minicassettes lying about of me doing just that…i probably should set a match to them…)

so he sat there, on the sofa, playing a I – V – IV – relative minor progression for a while, until jayda pointed out that “that’s already a song.” dylan says, “yeah, but i’m gonna change it a little.”

as it was starting to get late, though, i had to send them both up to bed. jayda went first, but she was followed in pretty short order by dylan. i turned out the lights in the living room and went upstairs to the bathroom and could hear dylan through the wall, “guitarring” with his voice and alternately humming and making drum sounds in between his little vocal riff.

i think he may be terminal.

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Author:

tom is a personally and politically malcontent musician, songwriter, sideman and session cat living in East Nashville, Tennessee.

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