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HOW do you write your songs?

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Naemanson 28 Feb 01 - 10:30 PM
Sarah2 28 Feb 01 - 10:34 PM
Amos 28 Feb 01 - 10:53 PM
hesperis 28 Feb 01 - 11:07 PM
Sarah2 28 Feb 01 - 11:11 PM
GUEST,Bruce O. 28 Feb 01 - 11:14 PM
Benjamin 28 Feb 01 - 11:44 PM
Justa Picker 01 Mar 01 - 12:51 AM
The Crazy Bird 01 Mar 01 - 12:59 AM
Amergin 01 Mar 01 - 01:00 AM
Matt_R 01 Mar 01 - 01:23 AM
Dunc 01 Mar 01 - 04:20 AM
KingBrilliant 01 Mar 01 - 05:25 AM
GUEST,Dita (at work) 01 Mar 01 - 06:54 AM
KingBrilliant 01 Mar 01 - 07:21 AM
Dunc 01 Mar 01 - 07:34 AM
GUEST,Matt_R 01 Mar 01 - 08:05 AM
wysiwyg 01 Mar 01 - 08:16 AM
GUEST 01 Mar 01 - 08:25 AM
Dunc 01 Mar 01 - 08:33 AM
black walnut 01 Mar 01 - 09:08 AM
Naemanson 01 Mar 01 - 09:13 AM
GUEST,Matt_R 01 Mar 01 - 09:48 AM
Jim the Bart 01 Mar 01 - 09:59 AM
folk1234 01 Mar 01 - 10:42 AM
Naemanson 01 Mar 01 - 11:17 AM
KingBrilliant 01 Mar 01 - 11:53 AM
Kim C 01 Mar 01 - 12:13 PM
wysiwyg 01 Mar 01 - 12:39 PM
wdyat12 01 Mar 01 - 12:44 PM
wdyat12 01 Mar 01 - 12:57 PM
nutty 01 Mar 01 - 01:06 PM
black walnut 01 Mar 01 - 01:10 PM
tiggerdooley 01 Mar 01 - 01:31 PM
Naemanson 01 Mar 01 - 02:08 PM
folk1234 01 Mar 01 - 02:28 PM
GUEST 01 Mar 01 - 03:03 PM
Amergin 01 Mar 01 - 03:10 PM
Jim Krause 01 Mar 01 - 04:39 PM
Jim Krause 01 Mar 01 - 04:55 PM
Hawker 01 Mar 01 - 06:33 PM
wdyat12 02 Mar 01 - 02:19 AM
KingBrilliant 02 Mar 01 - 04:52 AM
Grab 02 Mar 01 - 08:25 AM
Trapper 02 Mar 01 - 12:28 PM
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Subject: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Naemanson
Date: 28 Feb 01 - 10:30 PM

I've been ruminating on this question since the last coffeehouse. A woman stepped up to the mike and commented that the song she was about to sing just rose up out of her. I've heard plenty of others comment that a song came to them in a rush but I have also heard several people say that they have been working on a song for a long time and are still working on it.

So here is my question. How do you write your songs? I'm looking for the whole enchilada here. Where do you usually go? What atmosphere do you prefer? Do you employ a sort of precedence (Music first or lyrics?)? What kind of pencil do you use? Do you keep a notebook by your bed? Do you meditate? What do you do when a song idea comes to you in a busy or private place? And so on...

HOW do you write your songs?


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Sarah2
Date: 28 Feb 01 - 10:34 PM

Bushmills. The rest varies. I do keep a notebook handy, and will jot down whatever comes wafting through the fog no matter where I am...have been known to look as if I'm taking notes to the boss...Those usually need revision once I get back to the Bushmills, though...

Sarah


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Amos
Date: 28 Feb 01 - 10:53 PM

Ya kinder unleash a coordinating hypersemitoic burst of meta-ordinal conceptual hierarchical intentionality anchored to a matadata structure of third degree abstraction and modulated to best-estimate target frequencies in the aesthetic bandwidth.

The return is then stepped down into best-fit matches for phonemic pattern boundaries and scan phasing; the internal subroutine for each returned line is then processed for coherence against a database of archetypes derived from over 10 megabytes of sample patterns correlated against best-fit rationalization of metrics of success against intended context.

Then you re-process the resultant structure against a refined criteria of structural and semiotic paradigms for optimization of phase timing, emotive resonances (based on a comparable cross index of heuristically and subjectively derived instantiations of cross-correlated emotive vector objects scaled against attributes such as inductive value, power rating, hue and saturation indices, resonance loggings, etc.) until the resultant complex meets author-derived functional and performance requirement specs.

Then ya send it to the Gaelic Goddess and cut a sound file for Max.

Hope this answers your question adequately -- I am a bit rushed to go into the technical details. :>)

A


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: hesperis
Date: 28 Feb 01 - 11:07 PM


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Sarah2
Date: 28 Feb 01 - 11:11 PM

Amos,

ROTFL! And choking on my Bushmills...

Sarah


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST,Bruce O.
Date: 28 Feb 01 - 11:14 PM

In invisible ink, so they don't come back to haunt me.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Benjamin
Date: 28 Feb 01 - 11:44 PM

I write lyrics and music separately. I then hope I can fit the lyrics into a melody in the music.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Justa Picker
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 12:51 AM

Love it Amos!


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: The Crazy Bird
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 12:59 AM

Uhhh, we don't write songs, dear hearts, we grow them in the backyard, along with the strawberries.

On the other hand, sometimes we cut them, like farts:

-- crzybrd


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Amergin
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 01:00 AM

I don't know....alot of the times I just steal tunes...and put my own words to them....other than that they have no tunes....


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Matt_R
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 01:23 AM

When I do write, I always do the lyrics first. Then I the music based on the words. Music is really easy to compose for lyrics. It's just writing down those lyrics that gets me. I'm not a lyricist at all...


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Dunc
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 04:20 AM

I find it easier to write lyrics about something that has happened to me me or about something I feel strongly about.
I had an argument - no - a discussion - with a wonderful singer songwriter called Robin Laing (from Lanarkshire in Scotland.
He was of the opinion that if someone put him in a room with his guitar/pen/paper and told him he wasn't getting out until he had witten a song about a given subject, he would produce the song in a very short period of time indeed.
So he believes that with the correct motivation anyone can write a song about anything.
I know would be locked away for some considerable time. I need the motivation of a strong emotion - It can be something I found hysterically funny through to something I found tragically sad. But if I have experienced it - it makes it so much easier to write the lyrics.
As for the tune - 'borrow' one - its a lot quicker than writing one!
Each year at the Glenfarg Annual Folk Feast in Scotland the have a competition for the most entertaining song on a given theme. It is one of the funniest afternoons of the year and people from all over the place put a huge amount of effort into writing the most wonderfully bizarre and crazy songs. All the door money goes to a nominated charity or good cause.
e.g. The 'Red Red Rose Bowl' was presented to the best song about matters of the heart, and the proceeds went to the British Heart Foundation. We had the 'Scrub A Duck Cup' where the songs had an ornithological theme and the proceeds went to an animal welfare centre for cleaning oiled birds.
Writing songs for a competition of this nature is tough. Everybody complains that they can't thing of anything to write - but surprise, surprise, on the day of the event there are songs by the dozen and all (well most) of them of the highest standard.

So look for the motivation and the songs will come tripping out.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 05:25 AM

Amos that was brilliant! And so true........ :>

I usually do words & tune at the same time, as each feed into & suggest the other. Sometimes a whole song will arrive in a rush for no really discernable reason, and sometimes I have to tease it out. I never work hard at it though, as I'm a very impatient person & find it hard to apply myself to doing things carefully. The phrases that just emerge on their own are usually the ones I like best.
I'm at my most productive when I'm doing something that just lets me mentally freewheel - such as driving, cycling, walking the dog, spinning wool etc. Cycling & spinning are rhythmic activities & so are especially condu cive. - then I have to remember the thing long enough to write it down when I get wherever I'm going.
It amazes me that the tunes are in proper keys & can therefore have the chords worked out OK - or maybe its not possible to write one that isn't in a key? What d'ya reckon? (I'm not good on music theory).

Usually my songs are third-party stories that I've imagined my way into. I've only written two on intentional themes & was quite pleased that I could (I'll try some more some time).
Very often a song starts with one intention & then veers off & becomes something quite different. That doesn't matter to me as I don't really start with an end in mind - I just see what comes up.
I embarrassed a pubfull of (mostly male) people the other week when I sang a song I'd just written. I told them that it had started out as a nice happy song & then went all sinister and nasty (they nodded in acknowlegement of the sinisterness & nastiness of the song). Then I said I didn't really know how it happened - probably it was PMT. There was a bit of a 'silence' as you might say, and then I realised that I had told them I'd only just written it - and had hence told them more than they probably wanted to know about my menstrual cycle!!

Kris


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST,Dita (at work)
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 06:54 AM

Dear Dunc - Taking up your point about being locked in a room to write a song - touches on a aspect of writing that also have had "discussions" about.
Some people, having written that song under those conditions, would then go on to sing, and record it, no matter what the quality of that song is, while others are highly self critical, discarding work because it does not reach their personal standards, or just because they can't get a line to feel right.
Personally I blame the trend towards the ease of puting out CDs etc for the proliferation of poor writing.
In an oral culture the poor songs are lost whlist the better survive, but now poorer sngs are given the "validation" of a permanent record.
Some singer songwriter's often end up writing songs to fill a CD, rather than write a song because they are compelled to by some inner urge.
Jez Lowe is about the only writer that I can think of, who can consistantly produce albums where the songs are all equally strong.
I do not in any way want to discourage any budding writers in any way with these thoughts, I just get tired someimes sifting through the dross for the gems.
I suppose my thoughts in a nutshell are - Why record an inferior song, just because you wrote it, when the album could be so much better if another writer's song was used?
love, john.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 07:21 AM

Dita, won't the bad songs still fall away just because you would tend not to play the CD, and would not remember or sing the songs, if the songs were not good?
I suppose a lot depends on the recorder's motivational priorities - fame, money or music.

Kris


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Dunc
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 07:34 AM

Although I don't record any of my songs, I do sing them around the local folk clubs. Even if I am not overly happy with something I've written, I'll still give it an airing.
I have found that some of my songs (ones that I don't rate highly) go down realy well with the audience - so I find myself keeping them in my repertoire. Others that I have liked have fallen flat.
So a lot depends on who you are writing the song for.
Is it a personal thing for your own satisfaction or is it intended to entertain others.
Other songs I have written have grown on me over a period of time. Sometimes you spend so much time and effort creating a song - that when you finally finish it - you're sick of the damn thing. Six months later you can resurect it and it my sound fresh and exciting again.
A song is a strange beast that takes on a life of its own once written.
If there is something in the song to make it worth while - It'll survive and rise above the dross.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST,Matt_R
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 08:05 AM

Hey Dunc, Robin Laing is one of my idols!


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 08:16 AM

Naemanson, we have talked about the twin thing some. Perhaps you will understand when I say that I should preface this by saying that I am wired for twinship, so I really should be working in partnership for the song process to work well for me. But what I am going to describe is how I do it alone. (You'll see though that in a sense I am the two partners. But I would rather have a real partner.)

A phrase will pop into my head and then announce, "I'm a song, let's make me!" And I go with it. It often happens now when I am writing to or thinking about someone, and a lyrical frame of mind will come over me, a romantic view of the world as I catch a moment of it to savor...

A tune will come for it once I wonder how it would sound.

Tunes by themselves, now, usually come in the car, unbidden, and a melodic phrase will start that off and I'll whistle it or hum it and then it starts to go into variations and developments. Once I realize that is happening I usually worry for a moment that I won't remember it, so I decide nowadays to go through it again listening as if to a record so I can "learn" it. But usually if it was a good one it comes back a few days later all by itself, while in between I can't remember it at all even if I did learn it.

Very rarely the words and tune come together, whole. The Elian song was like that, and so was the Sugar Dog song.

Once they start to come it is a lot like prayer often is for me. A thing will start and I will take it a phrase at a time, listening for what is coming next, and enjoying the delightful surprise that comes. Sometimes I think I know what the next phrase ought to be but if I really listen, it's somehting else, and much better than what I might have expected.

Also sometimes words will come, especially if it's a funny song, as I sing them.... there was an hour one day of new verses to Swing Low Sweet Chariot that, as Matt would say, ROOLED. (I was driving.) But they didn't stick. I'd have to have it happen again, fresh. Sometimes these words are so well crafted I realize how dumb it is not to have a tape recorder in the car or in my purse, but then I forget the purse, so....

Anyway, these words often form the motivation to come home and write, but when I do, it's usually not the words I first had, at all... the sentiment will be there, and maybe the opening phrase, but then I have to make it up all over again, and they seldom seem as good as what first came.

I just let it come as is. Then, whatever the genesis, once it's out there on paper or, if a tune, in my head to keep, then there is some editing. Or for a tune I may make myself create a bridge if the verses sound too repetitious to me.

And many of these would be best sung by someone else, but I don't know who I am writing them for. Dharmabum and I have talked about some duetting; maybe they are his.

~S~


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 08:25 AM

...usually the songs come when there is pressure to be doing something else, like work. The process varies, but almost invariably the inspiration comes from something currently being listened to, or read, or a meaningful life experience. Most recently, the lyrics of Nick Drake's album Pink Moon were the inspiration to pen some of my own for a chord progression I aready had, while the chords to the chorus of Sheryl Crow's My Favorite Mistake, after some personal adulteration, fit nicely to some words bouncing around in my head. I don't tend to write anything down until the structure of the song is pretty well set; then I write it down on anything handy, with anything handy, wherever I happen to be. I learned it don't pay to deny the muse just because she visits at inopportune or inconvenient times.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Dunc
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 08:33 AM

Matt - Robin Laing is a cracking song writer.
I love his Ulysses songs.
Calypso's Island
Ulysses
The Cyclops
The John Write Band have recorded a song of Robin's called Black Clothes.
Just a stunning song, and although I like Robin's voice, John Wright and the boys do a wonderful version. Its on their latest CD "Language Of The Heart".
If you don't know them - check out:
www.johnwrigtband.co.uk


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: black walnut
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 09:08 AM

Songs....

Some of them have come to me quickly, just about in one whole finished piece. Like one that I wrote in my head as I stood up to my kneecaps in a lake at sunset, and then wrote it down on a paper napkin in the car on the way home so I wouldn't forget it. It's called 'Angels of the Wild', and it's probably the one I'm most happy with.

Some take a lot of struggle. I have a folder of parts of songs, and song ideas. I have tapes lying about with parts of songs or tunes I have sung or played into them.

Some are written as a way to work out feelings, such as one I wrote when I heard a close friend of mine might be moving across the continent.

Some are written out of need. The songs I write for my Music For You and Your Baby classes are like this. I may add verses, or put lullaby words to a nice tune, or write something on a theme.

A few of us are starting a song~writing group here. First meeting is this weekend.

~black walnut


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Naemanson
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 09:13 AM

Thanks guys, I have long been curious about this. Often a phrase will jump out at me and urge me to do something with it but nothing more will come. Sometimes a whole verse will write itself in my mind and I'll get that much on paper then nothing more rolls out.

Amos, you took me in on your post. I was reaching for my dictionary and planning a response asking for plain, simple English when the light dawned. Now, if you could only craft that language into a song...

I have a friend who regularly writes songs on borrowed melodies. I enjoyed his songs but always thought he was cheating until I looked closer at the tradition. The old-timers did it all the time.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST,Matt_R
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 09:48 AM

Cool, Dunc. I love Robin's songs about historical figures, like "Summer of '46" and "Deacon Brodie". He also plays classical guitar, like me, and he uses that classical influence in his songs...even his new arrangement of "The Unquiet Grave" has those beautiful classical guitar tremelo rolls.

And coincidentally, I do live the John Wright Band. Some of the first music I listened to when I got into this British Isles folk thing back 4 years ago. A song they do, called "What's The Use of Wings" is one of my favorite songs ever.

--Matt


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Jim the Bart
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 09:59 AM

Amos, I'm worried - a lot of what you said made sense to me.

Naemanson, you ask the most interesting questions. Now were you referring to "songs", "good songs" or "great songs".

For me a great song has something that the others don't; something special about it that resonates (like those drone strings on the fiddle discussed in the museum instrument thread). Whatever mechanism delivers that kernel of originality - whether lyrical or melodic - is what I think of as "the muse".

I think you can attune yourself to it, if you work hard and learn to focus, but I don't think anyone can call it up at will. I think that once you have connected to it once you can get there again. Further, I feel that it will visit you unbidden at times when your mind is extremely relaxed or extremely stressed - you can either be lulled or pushed into that state of "No Mind" that the zen guys talk about.

I have written some wonderful melodic songs on a commuter train without being anywhere near an instrument. I have had guitar noodling suddenly unleash a stream of words that seem to work just right. Usually, bouts of "inspiration" have come after long sessions of struggling to write without success. Most often after I'd given up. I think the work, though unsuccessful in itself, helped create the mental state that let the song out, so to speak.

I am mostly self-taught (and instructed by all the great players with whom I've worked over the years), but I think it helps to have a some mastery of the tools of songwriting. It helps to read verse, listen to really good music, learn some scales and new chord forms every now and again.

Mostly, you have to be ruthlessly self-critical; you need to refuse to settle for cr*p. You have to be able to look at your song as if it were someone else's; to pick it apart until it yields what it was meant to. That may mean that after 100 revisions it's exactly the way it was first written. Or it's in the garbage. Or it's set aside until you grow into it. Songs mature, just like people do. Hopefully.

I'm just trying to figure this out myself. Thanks for letting me vamp a bit.
Bart


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: folk1234
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 10:42 AM

Interesting topic. I've written only 6 or 7 songs in a period of 11 years. All were for personal expression, enjoyment, and sharing with friends. I find song writing to be very emotionally cleansing and personally rewarding. Even if I were very talented, I would have difficulty writing for financial gain.
With the exception of attending song writing workshops (one by Bob Franke and one by Pat Humphries) where I was expected to (and did) write a song, my song topics, some phrases, and sometimes tunes have jumped out of every day life experiences. Some good and some bad.
For example: Losing my job during the defense industry crash of '88 - '90, caused me to write "The Wall's Come Down". It highlights the conflict of being happy about the new era of world peace (the Berlin Wall came down), with the terrible reality of losing one's job. Leaving beautiful North Branford, CT spawned "Ode To Old North Branford". Leaving Oklahoma (we never left, but we came close) spawned "The Golden Rolling Fields of Oklahoma". I even wrote a rap song (if you know me, you know I'm definately not a rap-type-of-guy) called "Built In Bad Attitude Babe", about a young lady who, when I questioned her perpetual nasty attitude, said she had a built in bad attitude. I shook my head and said, "There has to be a song in here, somewhere". The serenity and wondeful experience of folk music week at Pinewoods brought on "Pinewoods Haunting".
In most of my songs, I have captured (Plagiarized, with credit) a tune, a verse, or a few phrases from one more talented than I.
It's been at least 4 or 5 years since I wrote a song. Nothing exceptionally good or bad has hit me - maybe I should get a life!


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Naemanson
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 11:17 AM

folk1234, I suddenly found I had a life worthy of a blues tune last year. Trust me on this, it ain't worth it.

Bartholomew, I don't want to get into differentiating between writing "great" songs and "just" songs. To me a great song would be one where I actually manged to get a whole song written. But don't let me stop the thread from wandering off in that direction.

Black Wlanut, your description of writing a song while up to your knees in a lake is a perfect example of what I am looking for. You say you went back to the car and wrote it down. WHAT did you write on that napkin? Did you have words and melody? Did you jot down the verses and then draw a music staff and jot down a bunch of dots and lines? How do you keep a melody in your head and how do you record it so you can remember it while you work on the song? I don't have any trouble remembering a melody for a song when I have words to associate with it. Anybody want to tackle this part of the thread?


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 11:53 AM

There was a previous thread about writing tunes, which gave one method as starting from a known tune and then progressively altering the notes (and presumably the timing) so that the end result is a new and different tune. I haven't tried it yet (at least not knowingly....) - but it sounds like a cunning plan.
That sounds like one where you'd be working it out on paper as you went along.
I wonder if you could come up with a transformation algorithm that you could run against a whole load of tunes to automatically generate new ones. That doesn't sound terribly muse-ish though does it? So would it still be 'Art' ???

Kris


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Kim C
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 12:13 PM

Dita, I guess it depends on what you consider a good song vs. a poor song. I agree that there are more poorly-written songs out there than really good ones but very often those poorly-written things actually become hits. So what do I know. I get really excited when I hear what I consider a well-written song on the radio, which is not very often.

My best songs just fall from the sky. If I have to force it, I step back a little, and just let it flow. I write anywhere and everywhere and nowadays I have blank paper in my Daytimer for that very purpose.

An old friend, who is writing songs just for fun, called me the other day and said, you wanna work on a project? They guy I'm working with isn't on the same wavelength as me. Sure, I said. So I went over there last night. Sure enough, he was a nice enough guy, and enthusiastic about writing, but he's into "oh this has to go by this formula and has to rhyme every other line" and friends, lemme tellya, I Don't Buy That. I never have. Generally speaking, I do rhyme, but I don't think a song has to rhyme to be good, and I don't think it has to follow any set formula.

I heard an interview with Tom T. Hall one time, and he said his best advice to writers was to write what they felt, because people can tell when you're writing for a specific market. The "market" songs don't have the same feel as songs that are written sincerely. And I guess he would know.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 12:39 PM

Nae, most of my melodies have never been written down, because it's too cumbersome for me with the skills I have now. I just go over and over them till they have stuck, just as I do with any piece of music. When I want to recall it I just order it up and wait till it arrives... if I relax it usually does. A phrase will come and be the key that unlocks the memory.

The melodies change the first several time through till my mind works out the kinks, then only the final version seems to get "saved." And sometimes if I have not paid them sufficient attention they have gotten lost forever.

Now one came the other day that, luckily, got onto the tape recorder before I lost it. It was a different sort of melody from what I usually do, so I was afraid I would lose it, especially the chorus, which had some odd intervals essential to the thing hanging together.

The words are still missing in action though-- I sent them to Amos and didn't save the e-mail where I'd written it, and he hasn't sent it back yet! (C'mon, Big Guy, wontcha post it or send it back???)

When word and tune come together but I am not sufficiently aware to save them both, usually one or the other will save-- whichever one was more important to me at the time.

~S~


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: wdyat12
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 12:44 PM

All of the above.

wdyat12


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: wdyat12
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 12:57 PM

My greatest nemesis in writing songs is my plagiaristic subconscious.

wdyat12


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: nutty
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 01:06 PM

Most of my stuff gets written when my mind is empty ...........usually when I'm on a long drive -- 2-3hours at the wheel usually achieves something although not always a song ... I write poetry as well

At home and in the camper , I have a cassette recorder which I use to keep my mind focassed on what I am doing .. otherwise I forget words/tunes and am constantly changing them

The song has to be learned and "sung in" just like any other song and I may "fine tune" at this stage


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: black walnut
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 01:10 PM

I'm having a bit of trouble posting, but I'll try this again.

Okay, Naemonson, I'll tell you what I wrote on that precious little fast~food~restaurant paper napkin. It was way back in August of 1997....

Let me see if this much gets posted onto the thread, and then I'll continue my story....


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: tiggerdooley
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 01:31 PM

To quote something that I have said on another thread:
I get reallllly stressed and ratty when there'e a song bubbling up. Sometimes it can take weeks (and it has been known to take months). I begin to put it down to hormones or something like that, but then all of a sudden, a song emerges, and I love it and I want to share it 'cos I'm not embarrassed like I am with some of my songs. Then my bad mood goes away!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Naemanson
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 02:08 PM

KingBrilliant, the algorithm would never be "Art" because Mr. Thieme would never use it.

WYSIWYG, I was afraid that would be the answer. I generally cannot focus well enough to keep a tune in my head and words, which I can pour out when communicating, just dry up when trying to put together something creative.

Something KingBrilliant said about the cunning plan reminded me of the group of Scots who wanted to be known for their ability to plan. Unfortunately they would get so wrapped up in the words in their planning reports that the were never known as for cunning plans but they were known as the punning clan.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: folk1234
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 02:28 PM

Neamanson: I'm probably too well-adjusted to sing, play, or compose the blues. But for your sake, I hope to hear that you are composing 'Happy-talk' from now on.

wdyat12: Fear not. Pete Seeger said that Woody Guthrie said, "...plagiarism is inherent to the folk process.....without it, the process would die".


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 03:03 PM

I Think song writing is like farming, first thing you need to do is learn the lay of your land, where the fertile soil is, plant your crop there,and rotate the crops every once in awhile it's good for the soil. I think people put to much emphasis on the "art", it is more craft really, and if you are honest and persistent in your attempts you will hear you in the work and that is when "artist" is tagged on. All art is craft first really. Listen to lots of music especially within the style(s) your working with, reinterpet, borrow themes, set out to write a song inspired by a phrase or feel. Work the folk process like a mule. There is nothing new under the sun. "new" is woefully overrated. There are only diffrent people ,with diffrent perspectives, diffrent strengths, diffrent weaknesses. You show me an innovator I'll show you someone who tweaked something that was already here after learning it DEEPLY, and INTERNALIZING IT. Draw together the things you love, the things that made you want to play, and want to write. Keep what feels like yours, Don't mimmick. GOTTA GET BEHIND THE MULE IN THE MORNING AND PLOW, AND ALWAYS KEEP A SAPHIRE IN YOUR MIND.- djh


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Amergin
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 03:10 PM

Pete Seeger also said something that his father Charles Seeger said....."Plagiarism is basic to all cultures."


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Jim Krause
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 04:39 PM

Mostly it is just plain darn hard work with my favorite fountain pen, and a pad of yellow legal paper in front of me. I like to start out writing the lyric first, since this seems to be the most difficult part of the process. If I have a title, that keeps the lyric writing phase in phocus. Otherwise, I use a writer's trick; I just start writing without regard for spelling or punctuation. I write free form this way for maybe five, maybe ten minutes, then put my pen down, close my notebook, and have another cup of coffee, or go for a walk, or post a few messages on the Mudcat. Next day, I come back to my notebook, and see what I have written. If something leaps out, all is good and well.

The other method I use is to consult the mailing list from the local songwriter's circle. They issue monthly song challenges such as this month's challenge to write a song about a childhood memory. That was easy, I am writing one about the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 in Oregon.

It's pretty rare that a song just gets handed to me from the ether somewhere. But when it does, what a rush!

OK, so now I have the lyric just the way I want it after having gone through maybe three, or four drafts. Then and only then do I pick up my guitar or my banjo and begin to compose the melody. By this time, the lyric will have already suggested the meter if not the melody too.

Well, that's about it. Jim


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Jim Krause
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 04:55 PM

On the other hand, when I'm really stumped, there's this warehouse in Omaha. . .
Jim


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Hawker
Date: 01 Mar 01 - 06:33 PM

I have a file containing poetry I have written over my lifetime from about the age of 12 to now (30+ years). Until 2 years ago I believed that I could not write songs 'cos I couldn't do the music bit. Someone told me the easiest way to write a song is to take a song you know, change the words, then change the tune... I tried this and was very pleased with the result, however the next song just happened, I was reading a book about fishing traditions in Cornwall and this tune came to me, I sang it into my trusty tape recorder and then wrote the words to fit the tune. The next song was about a matter that stirred me to write a poem from the heart, I then put a tune to it. Recently, I wrote a tribute to a friend, the chorus I am very happy with, but I feel that the verse is partly plagirised from another song, and no matter how I try I keep going back and am not happy. I therefore conclude that there are no hard and fast good ways to write a song, but I never go anywhere without my tape recorder and find that most of my best song tunes come to me on long car journeys! Best of luck all you composers, and like I've said before, the test of whether you have written a REALLY GREAT SONG is whether it is still being sung in 50 years time! Cheers, Lucy


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: wdyat12
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 02:19 AM

folk1234 and Amergin,

Thank you, your quotes from Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger are compforting. Why should I strive to be original anyway? Is my ego so big that I can't be part of the ongoing folk process? I guess these questions every songwriter asks. I feel better now about all those "sounds like thats" that have surfaced in my music. I might even retrieve a few from the recycle bin.

I met Pete Seeger backstage in the summer of 1969, while setting up the sound and lights for another "Summerthing" Stagemobile performance on the Fens in Boston. I was so impressed with his easy demeanor when he asked me where the bathroom was.

Thanks again for your wisdom,

wdyat12


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 04:52 AM

OOh I just remembered...
My dad is just coming up to 70, and has only this year started to come out and sing at pub sessions with Hamm & I.
He was happily selecting songs he knew from ages back & polishing them up - then he started to add new verses to old songs (respectfully of course) - then one evening he settled back in his chair for a snooze & was most startled to find himself writing a song!!
He has written several now & is hoping to come up with new tunes as well as the next development.
I am so proud of him & just gutted that it took him so long to get started....
His voice has improved with practice as well - its gone from an old man's voice back to the melodious well-controlled voice I remember from the few occasions that he sang at home when I was a kid.
Its never to late to start, is it?

Kris


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Grab
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 08:25 AM

Almost exclusively late at night.

Songs usually start with a single good line or a good couplet coming to mind. If I've got that, that's like the corner of the jigsaw - the rest builds up around it.

Sometimes I'll find a nice riff or chord sequence on a guitar which I can wrap something around, but usually that just ends up as the basis for an instrumental thing rather than a song. And I've not (so far) had enough inspiration to put a complete instrumental together, just a few nice sequences of riffs so far.

Grab.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Trapper
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 12:28 PM

WHEW! This is longer than I thought it would be! Here's my thoughts, for what they're worth.

- Al

ASSIGNMENT: This can be a "commission" - a song requested from someone else, or you can assign yourself a job. Aine's monthly Song Challenges in this BBS is a good example of an assignment.

A GREAT PHRASE: Listen to language and you can get great inspiration for songs. I think of Randy Travis' "On The Other Hand"... a common phrase that when viewed from a songwriting perspective became a much deeper thing.

A GREAT STORY: Take a story and rhyme it. I usually write the first couple of lines and then the meter and rhyming scheme create themselves. You can use news stories, poems, or personal stories.

A GREAT JOKE: This is fun. Take a joke, write the punchline into a verse FIRST, and then write verses in front of it to deliver the set-up. I wrote a song called "Twenty Years Experience", all to set up the line "I'm not 40, I'm 20, with 20 years experience."

PURE INSPIRATION: These are always the most fun, but also the most rare. It's that "Lightining Bolt", where the song just writes itself. John McCutcheon credits "Christmas In The Trenches" as this type of song.

A DEADLINE: Can be used in combination with any of the others. Just tell yourself, "I'm going to finish this song by ____", then do it. What you have as of the deadline is your "first draft."

DON'T BE CRITICAL (on the first time around): I disagree with some of the others here in that I don't set out to write "great" songs, I just write the things....

EDIT AND RE-WRITE: ...but I WILL come back later and clean them up, edit them and change them. THIS is the process that may take years for me. I had a song I wrote on "self-assignment" called "Groundhog's Day" that didn't have a proper ending for about 14 years.

TUNES: Tunes come harder to me than lyrics. Michael Smith says to define what a song is "like", then give it a tune "like" that. ie, is it like "Steamroller Blues", is it like "Blowin' in the Wind", or is it like "Mood Indigo"... etc, etc.

SUBSTITUTION: Paul McCartney's original words to "Yesterday" were "Scrambled Eggs"... he just put in nonsense words to flesh out the meter and melody, then came back later to put in better words. Same is true the other way - you can write your words "To The Tune Of" a familiar song, then create an original tune later.

PARODY: Some folks don't consider this real songwriting - tell it to Homer and Jethro or Al Yankovic. I like writing parodies. And I like writing them as CLOSE to the original meter and lyrical content as possible. The joke is sometimes all the funnier because of the closeness. (ie Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and Al Yankovic's "Eat It".) Parodies are also usually easier than creating "Original" songs, so it's a way to hone your songwriting "chops" until you're ready to make brand spanking new ones.


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Amergin
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 12:37 PM

Wd, there is another Guthrie quote that I like alot:

When speaking of another songwriter he said, "Oh him? He just stole from me, but I steal from everybody."


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Naemanson
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 02:21 PM

[Posting for Black Walnut]

Earlier on this thread, I talked about a song that came to me when I was knee-deep in water. Naemanson asked me how I kept that song in my memory...what did I actually write down on that paper napkin in the car? Was it both the words and the tune? Well, I'm pretty sure that the first thing I did (after encouraging my husband, who was driving the car, and my children in the back seat, who were driving me crazy, to all be very quiet) was to write down the words that were racing around in my head. I didn't edit anything....I did a tiny bit of tidying up later on, but not a whole lot. There was already a clear structure to the lyrics, and the metaphors were fairly consistent and strong. My song had arrived on the scene complete with 4 verses and a chorus, and a tune to boot. My concern was to get all of this down on paper as fast and as clearly as I could so that I wouldn't forget it. The next thing I did, after writing down the words, was to write down the tune that I had been singing while I was out there in the water. (I am fluent with regular notation, but that's not how I generally write down music I'm writing or trying to remember. I'll tell you my shorthand method further on.) Then, over the next day or two, I sang the song over and over with the dulcimer, and I found 2 funky 4 note minor key chords to go with the melody. (I have a 4 equa~distant string dulcimer). Now this song is part of JeffM's and my repertoire....I play dulcimer and sing, while he noodles on guitar. His playing makes the song sound like a million bucks. The chorus is a sing~along....we used it to finish the Log Cabin Open Stage concert series up at The Woods last summer. ( This might be a good place to name-drop: Peggy Seeger was there in the Log Cabin, and she told me afterward that she liked the song...that "it works!") It's great to see a song develop to that point. I haven't written very many songs, so that was a real treat for me. I have a fast, efficient way of recording the 2 things I need most to remember, which are the pitches and the time values. If I needed to write these things out for someone else in a particular key, I would do that with all the stuff with the staff lines and notes, but I don't do that when I'm songwriting...it takes far too long! For my purposes, I write the solfege (d r m's) of the tune above each syllable of text, leaving lots of space (if I have it), above the line of solfege. Above that line of solfege, I then write the time value of that syllable. I do that quickly, by drawing symbols which look exactly like regular notation, (ie. quarter notes, dotted eighth notes, tied notesm, etc.), but it is just the stick and flag and dot parts of those notes that I am drawing, not all of those filled~in circles that hang at the bottom of notes. I could put them in , but I don't, because I don't need them. Those filled~in circles are only needed if there is a staff line, otherwise they are just taking up time and space for nothing. The only circles I do need at the bottom of the sticks, or without the sticks, are the open circles which occur wiith a half~note or a whole~note. After getting down both the solfege and the time values, I might then go back and add bar lines to either the lyric lines or to the note~symbol lines, so I can feel the main beat of the music, and then I'm done. Those three lines, the word line, the solfege line and the time value line, tell me all the information I need to know. As long as I have that piece of paper, I don't have to try to remember anything. At any point, I can accurately sing back, play back, revise what I'd written, or chuck the song. Nowadays, I actually date and number those scrappy pieces of paper and put them in a file folder....each song gets its own file. I can see the whole process that way...the beginnings, the revisions, the final song. My system works well for me. It's quick, tells me exactly what I need to know so that I can edit my work, and it doesn't require either electicity, staff paper, or great organizational skills. I prefer it to trying to find snippets of ideas on an audio tape. I learned my shorthand notation while I was in university. I think we were studying how to teach Kodaly. Or it might have been Orff. Or both. Whichever it was, it's been priceless. I use it all the time. Even for learning a tune from someone else, like off the radio, or when I'm in an audience at a concert. Now, after all that, do you want to hear about the song I wrote in less than an hour while I was not paying attention in a church service? I wrote that one on a church bulletin. I began the song by deciding to write a love song in myxolydian mode. It took less than an hour to write. It gets requested more than anything else I've ever written. Most of my songs take a long time to write, though.... a long, long, long time to write.... ~black walnut


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: Naemanson
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 02:24 PM

I'm sorry. The message she sent to me had good paragraph breaks and I failed, somehow, to bring them through. Here is her message with the paraggraph breaks.

********************************************************

Earlier on this thread, I talked about a song that came to me when I was knee-deep in water. Naemanson asked me how I kept that song in my memory...what did I actually write down on that paper napkin in the car? Was it both the words and the tune?

Well, I'm pretty sure that the first thing I did (after encouraging my husband, who was driving the car, and my children in the back seat, who were driving me crazy, to all be very quiet) was to write down the words that were racing around in my head. I didn't edit anything....I did a tiny bit of tidying up later on, but not a whole lot. There was already a clear structure to the lyrics, and the metaphors were fairly consistent and strong. My song had arrived on the scene complete with 4 verses and a chorus, and a tune to boot. My concern was to get all of this down on paper as fast and as clearly as I could so that I wouldn't forget it.

The next thing I did, after writing down the words, was to write down the tune that I had been singing while I was out there in the water. (I am fluent with regular notation, but that's not how I generally write down music I'm writing or trying to remember. I'll tell you my shorthand method further on.)

Then, over the next day or two, I sang the song over and over with the dulcimer, and I found 2 funky 4 note minor key chords to go with the melody. (I have a 4 equa~distant string dulcimer). Now this song is part of JeffM's and my repertoire....I play dulcimer and sing, while he noodles on guitar. His playing makes the song sound like a million bucks. The chorus is a sing~along....we used it to finish the Log Cabin Open Stage concert series up at The Woods last summer. ( This might be a good place to name-drop: Peggy Seeger was there in the Log Cabin, and she told me afterward that she liked the song...that "it works!") It's great to see a song develop to that point. I haven't written very many songs, so that was a real treat for me.

I have a fast, efficient way of recording the 2 things I need most to remember, which are the pitches and the time values. If I needed to write these things out for someone else in a particular key, I would do that with all the stuff with the staff lines and notes, but I don't do that when I'm songwriting...it takes far too long! For my purposes, I write the solfege (d r m's) of the tune above each syllable of text, leaving lots of space (if I have it), above the line of solfege. Above that line of solfege, I then write the time value of that syllable. I do that quickly, by drawing symbols which look exactly like regular notation, (ie. quarter notes, dotted eighth notes, tied notesm, etc.), but it is just the stick and flag and dot parts of those notes that I am drawing, not all of those filled~in circles that hang at the bottom of notes. I could put them in , but I don't, because I don't need them. Those filled~in circles are only needed if there is a staff line, otherwise they are just taking up time and space for nothing. The only circles I do need at the bottom of the sticks, or without the sticks, are the open circles which occur wiith a half~note or a whole~note. After getting down both the solfege and the time values, I might then go back and add bar lines to either the lyric lines or to the note~symbol lines, so I can feel the main beat of the music, and then I'm done. Those three lines, the word line, the solfege line and the time value line, tell me all the information I need to know. As long as I have that piece of paper, I don't have to try to remember anything. At any point, I can accurately sing back, play back, revise what I'd written, or chuck the song.

Nowadays, I actually date and number those scrappy pieces of paper and put them in a file folder....each song gets its own file. I can see the whole process that way...the beginnings, the revisions, the final song.

My system works well for me. It's quick, tells me exactly what I need to know so that I can edit my work, and it doesn't require either electicity, staff paper, or great organizational skills. I prefer it to trying to find snippets of ideas on an audio tape.

I learned my shorthand notation while I was in university. I think we were studying how to teach Kodaly. Or it might have been Orff. Or both. Whichever it was, it's been priceless. I use it all the time. Even for learning a tune from someone else, like off the radio, or when I'm in an audience at a concert.

Now, after all that, do you want to hear about the song I wrote in less than an hour while I was not paying attention in a church service? I wrote that one on a church bulletin. I began the song by deciding to write a love song in myxolydian mode. It took less than an hour to write. It gets requested more than anything else I've ever written.

Most of my songs take a long time to write, though.... a long, long, long time to write....

~black walnut


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: mousethief
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 03:52 PM

Something bubbles up from that unnameable place that says "hey! I'm a song!" -- usually it isn't; usually it's just a chunk of a song, and I have to write the rest. Sometimes it's the whole thing. Sometimes I sit down with my guitar and say, "I'm gonna write a song." Then sometimes something happens, and sometimes it doesn't.

On these songs for the Challenge!s, I read the story Aine posts, and then some phrase in the story, or some phrase I piece together from reading the story, tickles something in my brain, and that something is some old song that the phrase fits nicely into. Then I craft together the rest, and if I'm lucky, something funny results.

I know why people talk about having a "muse" -- some stuff that bubbles up is so well-formed, and so complex, and I know I didn't exert any work to create it, and you think, "well, it had to come from SOMEwhere..." -- so you call that "somewhere" the Muse. And that somewhere becomes a someone, and a someone with a very capricious sense of humor at times. I don't fully believe in the existence of a Muse that feeds me chunks of poetry, but I can't say I fully disbelieve, either. A cranky old gal sometimes, but the more I feed her, the better work she does for me.

This entire stanza from a poem (I haven't written music for it yet) popped into my brain completely intact and without precedent, on the night of Nov 11, 1987, just as I was drifting off to sleep:

I'd love to stay and argue but I haven't got the time
Why do you think these courtesans are waiting in my mind?
They're waiting for the night to fall and sleep to coat my brain
It's there they paint the dreamscape where they dance and entertain

("Night Court" copyright 1987 Alex Riggle; all rights reserved)

The rest of the poem followed, albeit in smaller chunks, within the space of a half-hour. Freaky.

How do I write songs? Um, I have no idea.

Alex


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Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
From: black walnut
Date: 02 Mar 01 - 04:09 PM

Thank you, N.!

~b.w.


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