There are fragments of melody that have been running around inside me for years and years that have yet to find their way into a whole composition or a proper song. But they stay with me, sometimes for long years, until they have an outlet. Other than a brief period in early college when I decided it was no longer fashionable to write in common time and thus in rapid succession produced a lot of musically regrettable studies in 5:4 and 7:8 and such, there isn't a lot of music that I've written, whether it's been fully realized and finished or not, that I don't have at least a little appreciation and affection for. The same is not all true insofar as lyrics go. Never has been, really.
To be blunt, there was some stuff in that notebook that made me blanch. I tossed them in the recycle bin, without compunction. There were a few bits, in contrast, that I set aside. They went right back into that notebook, the idea being that I'll come back to them at some point. And there were a lot more, sometimes whole songs, sometimes single lines written on shreds of napkin, that simply didn't move me one way or the other. Those, too, went out with the rest. My take is, I want to be able to resonate with what I'm singing. I want to believe it. If I can't, I'm going to find it damn near impossible to put any part of myself into the song. And one thing I've noticed about myself over the years since I've been composing music and writing songs is that there are some songs that I write and sing a few times and then I'm done with them. Or perhaps I'll cannibalize the music if I like a melody or chord progression particularly well and can't bear to have it relegated to a song I won't sing anymore. That's still true. Funny how that works, really.
There were bits in that notebook that I don't remember the stories behind, bits whose context in my life I've forgotten, and a few things I didn't remember having written at all. Notes that I could tell I'd written with my left hand. A more-or-less complete set of lyrics that I spent an evening setting to music with my old friend Gus. One set on bright pink paper, for some reason. The first handwritten draft of the lyrics to a song I recorded with my college band. Bits written in Spanish and in Portuguese. A ska song. Yep, ska. That one never saw the light of day, which, given the lyrics, is no great loss. And there were pages and pages of notes and brainstorms written with my old band OBX.
I've talked about my experiences with OBX a goodly number of times over the years since I've been keeping this journal. I'm sure I've mentioned that the times we got together and just played, free improvisation or nearly so (riffing off a brief idea or simple repeating pattern), were among the most fruitful and synergistic experiences I've ever had, musically speaking. We also tried to do that with lyrics, once, over a weekend-long practice session at the river house. It didn't work as well, but then again, none of the three of us had very much experience in writing lyrics with anyone else.
Here's another truism: I'm very, very picky about lyrics, especially the lyrics I write myself. I suspect that I tend to be overly critical, and I vacillate wildly between making them starkly personal because I think they're better that way, and attempting to back off and make them less personal or even less relevant because I occasionally think they're better that way. I'm a hard one to please, in that regard. I suspect that this is the reason that at the moment I'm finding myself a bit blocked, lyrically. At alternate times I've found myself in the equally maddening positions of feeling that I'm not saying precisely what I mean to say, or hitting brief points where I succumb to frustration and don't care to say anything at all.
Here's another truism: even though I begrudge this fact, even though I don't understand it and often don't like it very much, I'll nonetheless acknowledge that two things are continually helpful when this happens: the first is writing something funny or tongue-in-cheek that I don't feel the need to have taken particularly seriously. The second is writing with some form of a prompt. A few years ago, I posted a whole series of songs that had all been born in response to prompts — exercises a friend had written for me.
So, I'm opening things up for some friendly debate/discourse/idea tossing. It's been pretty quiet around here, frankly; I don't write anywhere near as often as I used to, and I really haven't got a clue who reads this, these days. I suspect a lot of folks who used to be regular readers have faded away, and I know that a lot of the folks who are local friends of mine who keep/kept their own journals on this site either don't live around here anymore or simply don't make use of their own journals, and thus don't really keep up with friends' journals either. I suspect, too, that there are any number of people that read and don't ever really dive in with anything to say; in fact, I know of several. And none of that's any big deal, even though (say it with me) THERE'S NOTHING AS SERIOUS AS THE INTERNET. Word. But in any case, here's a new meme. If you want to take it and put it in your own little online milieu, go right ahead. If you're not a songwriter and don't care to have a crack at it, you can substitute "poem" for "song" or have people ask you questions or some such. But here it goes: if you're reading this, whether or not you know the first thing about music or writing or anything else, whether I know you or not, whether you're reading this moments or years after I write it, throw me a prompt for a song. A prompt is something along the lines of "write a song about apples," or "write a song that tells a story" or "write a song in the style of Fatty Arbuckle." For the record, I'm not going to write any of those songs. Fatty Arbuckle was never a lyricist, as far as I know, the second prompt is too vague and the first is too silly. There's no guarantee that I'll follow any given prompt, in fact, but I promise I'll read 'em and think about 'em all, and unless they're obviously silly, I might even think seriously about 'em. I might even write 'em. That's the idea, right? I might even post 'em once they're finished. Note that there's no time limit on this, for the record.
So. Any takers?