The Working Songwriter's Work is Writing Songs (Reposted from Facebook)
Well, I did have a gig this weekend as part of the Jersey Shore Music Festival in Seaside Heights, where I played a 45 minute set at Jimbos on the Boardwalk. It was a passable set: My singing voice was in superlative shape, but my playing was sloppy. Of course, I at least have a good excuse for the latter: My muse struck me last week and then bitch slapped me for days.
I won't pretend that I LOATHE performing, but performing for me is always secondary to the act of creation. An artist creates. An artist can be an entertainer, and vice versa. But for the artist, entertainment -- showmanship -- will always take back seat to the act of generation.
So how was my muse owning me? Well, a few weeks ago, two of my bandmates (drummer Paul Galiszewski and guitarist Tom Briant) hit the studio to begin working on an EP. The EP was to take two songs from the MEMOIRS OF A MANWHORE: THE REELING WALTZ OF A DRUNKEN LOTHARIO album and reimagine them in a more Beatlesque context, and then record a few new songs to supplement them on the EP. The new songs were also very Beatles-inspired, which was something Tom threw himself into, as the Beatles are his favourite band.
Before long, however, we released that the seven songs we had amassed were already approaching 36 minutes, which is about as long as any of the Beatles' pre-Rubber Soul albums, and not too much shorter than the rest of the albums in their catalogue. It made sense to generate a few more songs and shoot for a full album. That way, I can do a few other EPs between now and my tour, and then release the album at the beginning of my tour.
Now, lyrics have always been a cinch to me. I have written entire songs in my head driving and sung or dictated them into a recorder as I composed them.
Music is a little harder. Even when I am writing chord progressions that don't sound like something I've already written, they sound TO ME as though they're something I've already written. So I invited Tom to contribute some music if he'd like to get into songwriting since he's already got studio and live music down and is becoming quite adept at arranging and producing (just wait until you hear the re-recorded version of ENDLESS STREET: A SPIRITUAL TRAVELOGUE we intend to unleash on the world next year sometime).
He sent me three little demos, each one under 45 second long, but I was very pleased with what I heard, because in each I was able to discern melodies and choruses & verses from the existing chord progressions. Sometimes he had written a chorus but not a verse, or vice versa, which required me to come up with one, or a bridge, but once you've got part of the structure in place, the rest usually follows suit quite naturally. Starting a melody is always hard for me, probably the same way getting the courage to jump out of a plane would be even if you knew you had a perfectly functioning parachute. Well, Tom basically pushed me out of the plane!
Within 36 hours of receiving Tom's demos I had written songs for each of the three, and as of tonight, I've got demos for all three. So I'm hoping Tom enjoys what he hears (I sent him digital copies). They sort of span hopefulness, despair, and cynicism as well as a variety of tempos. And they're pretty friggin' awesome. I'm trying to convince my uncle Tom to contribute a few tunes for me to pen librettos to as well, since he's a musician, a guitarist, and a Beatles fan with a 50 year back catalogue of unrecorded tunes, most of which lack lyrics and deserve an audience.
But returning to where I began in this stream of consciousness, and bringing this little update into a tidy dovetail with its title, the next time somebody who's written some really great music puts on a less than perfect show by missing a few lyrics or striking a few wrong chords, consider the possibility that it's not that "they suck live" so much as the fact that they're so busy creating that they don't have time to polish the sheen on their dance shoes, especially if they have to work a day job since not every performer is a whore to the lowest common denominator. Lucinda Williams uses cheat sheets for her live shows; so do Billy Joel, Elton John, and Amos Lee. And they're not exactly slackers in the performance department, but they are first and foremost creators of great music and performers of that music second. Know who doesn't use cheat sheets? Boy bands. So, are you going to stab art in its aorta for being too busy creating awesomeness to bother nailing its dance routine or memorizing its lyrics? If you do, you're the reason that the radio plays nothing but One Direction and Rihanna -- decent enough performers, but do you honestly think anybody twenty years from now is going to give a crap about that damned umbrella ella ella ella ella ella ella ella ella ella ella ella ella?