How To Write a Song - Part 2

Strangely, I’ve been kind of dreading following up with the part two of this How To Write a Song exercise. It felt like something I should do here, instead of the natural direction of my current thoughts and inspiration. (A treatise on how skiing or taking the bus are great metaphors for the creative process comes to mind as a more tasty direction, but there will be other days for this…). It occurs to me that this reticence is similar to what I feel when I get to this stage of the writing. Isn’t that interesting.

Once the flush of the fresh new idea has started to find some footing, I often find myself a little…well…over it. Okay, let’s move on to another idea, another new thing, something else fun and exciting! I think. (For the record, this creative ADD manifests itself in dozens of other ways in daily life around here as well.) But if I want to say something complete, I know I need to explore the whole idea and find that magical mood mix of concentration, discipline, and inspiration in which I can FINISH this song. So here we are.

I most often find myself drawn to a song structure that goes like this:


Interestingly, with this tune though, a different structure has come up. This happens. I like it when it does, since it’s something different and fresh and might bring some nice texture to a collection of songs someday. This song’s structure seems to be emerging as:

Set up (set up is the channel or line that “sets up” the chorus, title line, or hook)
Chorus part (different words each time)
Title line (last line in the section that is the title of the song)

Set up/Chorus part/Title line


Set up/Chorus part/Title line

The song opens with a visual introduction to what’s going on — someone looking sad — and some element of setting the scene for what we’re talking about. The next verse section should take it a step further, move the idea to another level. I’ve started with the concept that when you’re sad/desolate, this will pass, so the next step might be to explore the feeling of flying high — the thrill of everything being unbelievably fantastic. And the idea that this, too, shall pass.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the excesses of the film festival fetes, all the fleeting ways that people’s favor converges upon us and recedes. And that misguided sense of “forever” that lead me to begin writing this seems to apply here so well too…I think most of us have experienced at least a brief sense of entitlement from time to time — the feeling that I’ve worked so hard for this. I deserve this. It’s about time! that blinds us to the fact that “our time” may not last indefinitely. Here’s what comes up:

Sitting on top of the world
Have you ever been so happy that you just can (think? deal? speak?)
Crying and laughing taking turns
At the wheel

Here you’ve got your moment in the sun
The smiling and the clapping yeah from everyone
Well, while they love you, honey, let them fill your glass…
Cause baby this too shall pass.

And now would come the bridge. I don’t know exactly where to go on the bridge yet. I know how the music goes — my hands found a third down from the root that feels like the right place to start –but the lyric and rhythm of words is still beyond me a bit. I tend to find that the bridge is the place where the larger issues of the song are explored — the big picture meaning, the comment on the idea, the unique take on the situation, hopefully — and I’m not sure what that is quite yet.

So I’ll see if I can complete the verses and let that guide me. It might sound weird or counterintuitive, but making a song is sometimes like doing a jigsaw puzzle…if you can find a couple of pieces in one place, others seem to make more sense too. Since we’ve covered sad/desolate, and happy/thrilled/maybe even cocky, I think the completing tone might be something about nothing. Absence of direction, absence of stuff happening. Lows, highs, and nothings.

I’ve been waking up a lot around 4 - 4:30 a.m. lately, worrying about things, pressing things in my mind to remember to do, ruminating about the fact that my youngest sister never calls me back, that contracts are taking too long to complete, wondering where I really am in my life and career. This was happening a few years ago on a really regular basis, and a psychic commented to me that 4:00 a.m. is the time that Tibetan monks wake up to meditate, since it is the period of day cycle when our crown chakras are most open and active. Always a fan of monks, psychics, and chakras, this seems to be as good an explanation as any for my extra-early morning active introspection. So I’ll work it into the verse.

Here’s what arises:

How the hell d’ya end up here?
Four o’clock this morning staring in the mirror, wondering
If it’s gonna happen for you like you thought, all along

Now I’m a little stuck. I don’t have the answers. If other people are waking up in the morning too, I don’t know that whatever I say can offer an help or solution. But it’s a good time to notice who I’m talking to. Is this song to myself? Is it a morality tale to a broad audience? Is it to other artists? It feels like it’s largely to myself, like someone is guiding me to remember these things. This helps me feel more receptive. I’m staring out the window from my piano as I’m pausing here; this has helped me more than I should probably admit. I watch a bird singing away in the trees and I think I have something:

But something in the sunrise sings
(You must believe that) Nothing really happens and then everything
Oh whether it’s a waiting game or moving by too fast,
Baby this too shall pass.

I don’t like the second line. It’s awkward to sing (and I’ve been singing through the piece as a whole and section by section as I’ve been writing it and it’s never felt natural) and isn’t really nailing what I want to say perfectly. There’s a rhythmic break in this part of the first verse — I think I’m looking for more of an impact like that. I remember a magnet or card or something that I saw on Felice’s refrigerator about "Nothing happens, Nothing happens, Nothing happens and then Everything Happens." It comes to me as I’m actualy playing this song (in it’s unfinished state!) at a recent casual gig. The line becomes:

You must believe that nothing, nothing, nothing! and then everything

It works better. Now I’m looking more closely at other lines that are bugging me. Like the third one. Still no answer on this. Like the second line of the song: “Everything good must end”. I decide to pull this back from the dire vibe, and state it more matter of factly: “Everything comes to an end.” Feels better.

Still no bridge. But now I can pretty much sing through the whole song, play the music of the bridge as I look for words, and feel pretty good about where it’s going. I’m feeling that there’s a possibility of doing something bigger at the end — maybe a modulation or double end verse thing or an extra long extra fancy! tag or something, but everything I’ve played with so far is feeling a little forced. We’ll be back.

5 Things I’m Thankful For Today:
1. Folk festivals and the good people who care so much about meaningful music
2. Our nice night at the town house yesterday
3. That we’re going to have a nice evening at Brett and Susan’s tonight
4. The book I’m reading: “Hypocrite in a Poufy White Dress” by Susan Gilman
5. The greenery that is emerging from the once solid fields of snow everywhere

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