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Songwriting short take

Jerry Rasmussen 17 Jan 10 - 05:03 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 17 Jan 10 - 05:09 PM
McGrath of Harlow 17 Jan 10 - 05:33 PM
Jeri 17 Jan 10 - 05:58 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 17 Jan 10 - 06:04 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 17 Jan 10 - 06:06 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 17 Jan 10 - 06:08 PM
McGrath of Harlow 17 Jan 10 - 07:12 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 17 Jan 10 - 09:03 PM
olddude 18 Jan 10 - 01:43 PM
Bert 18 Jan 10 - 02:12 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 18 Jan 10 - 03:34 PM
Bert 18 Jan 10 - 03:48 PM
GUEST,lillyruben 18 Jan 10 - 04:51 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 18 Jan 10 - 05:45 PM
Bert 18 Jan 10 - 06:24 PM
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Subject: Songwriting short take
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 05:03 PM

I wrote this short piece for an author's and publisher's newsletter. I thought it might be worth sharing, although it's nothing particularly insightful. Add what you'd like. I was limted to 500 words. That's more than songwriter's are usually allowed.

Tool Kits

        The other day I was creating an account on the internet and I was given a choice of security questions. The first one that caught my eye was "What is the name of your favorite author?" I was debating whether to choose Fyodor Dostoyevsky or Randy Newman. Randy Newman an author? I thought authors were just people who wrote books. Not so. When they say "God is not the author of chaos," they're not talking about a book. My favorite author changes from day to day so I picked the "Name of your First dog" question instead.

        For most of my life I've been a song and letter writer. I never thought of myself as an author until I published a collection of my stories and songs last year. Suddenly I was an author. Every writer has a slightly different set of tools in their tool kit. A songwriter's tools are different than a novelist's or a playwright's.

One of the key tools of a songwriter is brevity. Some novels are more than 1,000 pages long. A songwriter often works within a limitation of twelve to sixteen short sentences. That means there's limited space for character development or a plot. Songs are of the moment. In writing about a small boat with a dance floor that cruised the river in my hometown during the second World War, I had to be economical in my choice of words. The chorus of the song is:
"And the music slowly floats across the water                                                                                    And the lights are dim and distant on the shore                                                                Although those times are long since gone, they're not forgotten                                                 But they'll go dancing on the Silver Queen no more                                                                                 
                                                    The Silver Queen ? words and music by Jerry Rasmussen
Another tool of songwriters is rhythm. Read these lines from Hairstyles and Attitudes by the duo Timbuk Three and you'll hear the rhythm of the song:
"The wet look, the dry look, the F.B.I. look                                                                                                 Heavy metal goldilocks trying to look tough"
Songwriters share the sensitivity to the rhythm of words with poets, although song lyrics are not poetry. A friend of mine read the lyrics to some of the songs I've written in a small coffee house one evening. It was embarrassing. Few song lyrics don't hold up well without a melody. Setting a poem to music works better.
        The other major tool of a songwriter is the ability to rhyme. In a way, that's the easiest part of writing a song. Kids make up songs all the time. Songwriters never lost that knack.
        While writing a song requires different gifts than writing a play or a novel, the similarities are much greater. All writers love words. They love to roll them around on their tongues and speak them out loud as they write. There is a playfulness to all writing, and a joy in being an author.
        Yes, Randy Newman is one of my favorite authors. He's no Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but then Dostoyevsky was no Randy Newman.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 05:09 PM

Sorry the lyrics are spaced so weirdly. They looked fine the way I set them up in the message box.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 05:33 PM

...song lyrics are not poetry....Setting a poem to music works better.

Song lyrics are not spoken verse, that's true. But then most spoken verse isn't poetry either.

And the strange thing is that, when it comes to making a song from "a poem", most times it seems to me anyway, the best songs don't come from what would be seen as the "best poems". I think most of us would say that Kipling is not on the same level as Shelley as a poet - but he makes far better songs. The poems of Yeats that make great songs aren't his "greatest poems", when spoken. And yet when sung I think they measure up and maybe more than measure up.

I don't begin to understand it. (And I think that, when sung, The Silver Queen is poetry. "Poetry is when an emotion has found it's thought and the thought has found words" - Robert Frost.)


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: Jeri
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 05:58 PM

"And the music slowly floats across the water
And the lights are dim and distant on the shore
Although those times are long since gone, they're not forgotten
But they'll go dancing on the Silver Queen no more
   
The Silver Queen ? words and music by Jerry Rasmussen

Jerry, just forget about all the non-breaking spaces--that's what's screwing things up. Type naturally, hit the 'Enter' key at the end of each line and have 'Automatic Linebreaks' under the message typing window checked.

I look forward to watching this develop. I have a tendency to be wordy, but I notice this in an awful lot of talented songwriters whose songs will probably die with them, and I've been trying to simplify. When I listen to other people's songs, they don't have to be simple, but they have to be strong in some way. It can be a feeling or mood they're trying to get across, a 'mind picture', a story, anything. When they get so detailed or caught up in their own ability with words, I lose interest. There is a way to balance skill and humility, but in my opinion, it ain't easy.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 06:04 PM

Thanks, Jeri:

Let me try it: The first verse of Silver Queen. I think each line tells a part of the story.

Riding up the river on the Good Ship Silver Queen
Dancing on the water for a dime
There's a young girl and a soldier who's just come home on leave
And he asks her for a dance just one last time

I think my problem was that I copied and pasted from another source.

You learn something new every day. Or at least every couple of months.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 06:06 PM

And Kevin: I started writing about why some poetry works well when a melody is added but I couldn't stay in the 500 word limit. Man, 500 words is nuthin! But, it's a lot more than I use in any of my songs...

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 06:08 PM

Paul Simon is one of my favorite songwriters but there are times when I think he gets lost in the thrill of stringing alot of unexpected words together. I'll take Me and Julio down in the schoolyard.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 07:12 PM

The thing is, we use the word "poetry" to mean two things - sometimes we just mean a form of written/spoken verse, and sometimes we use the term to recognise some special quality that is produced by some of that verse, and not by others in the same degree, if at all.

Not all verse is "poetry" in the second sense. But sometimes when it is turned into a song, it seems to me, verse like that can take on the quality of "poetry". And yet that doesn't really seem to happen with verse that more obviously does deserve to be called "poetry".

There's maybe a parallel with the relationship between the words "music" and "tune".


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 17 Jan 10 - 09:03 PM

Sounds like poetic justice to me, Kevin.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: olddude
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 01:43 PM

Some of my favorite story teller song writers in no particular order

Harry Chapin, You Jerry, Bruce Murdoch, Ron Bankley, John Prine,
John Denver, James Taylor, Lightfoot


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: Bert
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 02:12 PM

One time I had an idea for a song in my mind, but it wasn't working. Every time I tried to put rhyme or meter to it, it sounded trite and contrived.

After working on it for some weeks, I just gave up and decided I would just leave it as a story.

Later at a songwriters group, I had no new songs to offer that week so I just told this little story.

A couple of weeks later someone asked me, if I would you sing that song about the rose.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 03:34 PM

Hey, Bert: Walking away works for me. Sometimes I don't come back to the song for years. I had two lines:

As I lie here on my bed at night
Tossing and turning, Lord what shall I do

It took me nearly ten years for the rest of the song to come. I was driving in my car one night and remembered the two lines. The rest of the song came out, almost as if I'd already written it but had forgotten some of the words.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: Bert
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 03:48 PM

It usually does for me too Jerry, but this time it didn't. It finally occurred to me that songwriters are also storytellers and it's OK to just tell a story now and then.

It works on stage too and makes a change from singing all the time.


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: GUEST,lillyruben
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 04:51 PM

songwriters can be good storytellers but it needs to catch the audiences attention right the way through, otherwise people turn off very quickly


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 05:45 PM

Hey, Bert:

I described an experience I had in Kansas when the reverse gear went out on my '51' Chevrolet so many times that it just made sense to make it into a song. The story makes a good introduction, without giving too many details, and I think it makes the song stronger. Olddude posted a video clip of the song, Three Speeds Forward and No Speed Back on my website at www.jrasmussen.net if you haven't seen it.

www.jrasmussen.net

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Songwriting short take
From: Bert
Date: 18 Jan 10 - 06:24 PM

Ha! that is great Jerry.


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