Rhymes: Blessing or Curse?

So, here’s a ramble about writing. I’ve been listening to songwriters for the past couple of years or so. Okay, my whole life, but this is different. “Songwriters.” People who write songs. They work on their craft. They don’t wait for the lightning to strike (did we already talk about waiting for the lightning?).

I think it started with a public television show or series about songwriters. They had a couple of legends playing and talking about writing. Then, for the tag at the end they showed an “up and coming” writer guy. And he absolutely blew me away. I spent hours looking for him on the interwebs, because he was so good I assumed he must be all over it. Finally found a myspace page. Myspace. That was it. Finding the famous country guy who took his song and made it a hit (of sorts) was easy. But finding the writer was much more difficult.

Then I went off in search of the writer of a song somebody won American Idol with. Again, finding the famous hit was easy. But figuring out who wrote the song and then finding her version of the song was tough.

There was a third song that sent me off in search of the writer and his version (and vision) of the song. As opposed to the American Idol version (again, with the American Idol). I like his better.

I’ve also found some great music in the closing credits of tv shows sometimes. Again, hard to find and eventually I find a Myspace page with no or out-of-date info, kinda like mine.

During these searches, YouTube was a big help. And I would spend hours clicking on the “if you like this, you might also like these” things on the right. So I found stuff that would never have come across my radar. More writers. Behind the scenes. Or simply not yet famous. But they’re writing beautiful songs and not enough people know about them.

So now we get to the heart of the title of this post. Many of these beautiful, wonderful songs by writers who are “craftspeople” don’t always rhyme as much as you’d think. Some of these people get called “modern-day poets” and “speaking for the new generation” and stuff like that. It must be incredibly freeing to not be compelled to rhyme. I do not for one second mean to imply that these modern-day poets have it easy or anything. They are incredibly talented people who have a gift and they are kind enough to share it with the rest of us.

I must rhyme. I simply must. And I’ll paint myself into a corner by writing a verse with weird rhymes in the middle of a line, not just at the end, so now I hafta write the next verse with the same internal rhyme. It limits the number of words at my disposal. Then I come up with a good line, but it fails the rhyme-test, so I don’t use it. There are times I’ve let it go and kept the line. But every time I get to that line, a little piece of me cringes. Which then begs the question: “Am I trying to say something or am I writing a song?” And what if I tried doing both? Huh.

Songs Are Like Children

Songs are like children. Sometimes they’re like twins. When I’m on a spree, writing a bunch of songs all at the same time, I notice that perhaps two of them are (in my head) the same damn song. It’s completely accidental, but for instance, right now I have two 12/8 waltzes going. No, they’re not in the same key. No, they’re not even the same tempo. But I was shaving and humming one of them and then when I wasn’t paying attention, I had switched and I noticed I was humming the other one. I’d never thought of them as even remotely similar until then.

Now, the twin thing is interesting. Sometimes one of the songs will eat the other one and there’s only one song left (two songs enter; one song leaves). The stronger one consumes the weaker sibling, uses it for parts, and maybe grabs a couple of lyrics from the weaker one, maybe a bridge or something too.

Other times, I end up with two songs. And maybe I’m the only one who thinks they’re the same, maybe not. But then I play them very far apart during a show so (in my head) nobody will notice that they’re the same damn song. When I was preparing songs for TABLE 10, I played a bunch for my producer Jon Nolan and I told him I was going to play two songs that are the same damn song. He didn’t hear it. He did not hear them as the same song at all. They didn’t both end up on the CD (actually, did either of them end up on the CD?) and I do play them both live. And, based on his ear, I no longer think of them as the same damn song. He wouldn’t lie to me or be wrong.

This leads me to a confession. “Broken Wheels” is an example of a stronger twin. The two memorable hooks in that song came from another song that I now can’t bother to finish because I’ve already used those two memorable hooks in “Broken Wheels.” So, “Average Love Song” will remain on the scrapheap. It’s kinda too bad. I had higher hopes for that one than “Broken Wheels.” Oh well.

Metropolis Open Mic with Addison Rice!

C’mon by and see me grab some 15 minutes of open-mic fame at Metropolis on Monday, February 27 after 8:00. What the heck? I suspect there’s gonna be some great players there. You don’t wanna miss this. Plus, Addison’s hosting and he’s terrific! It being an open mic and all, I’ll bring my newest stuff. ‘kay? If properly motivated, I might even do a request…!

Disappointed, but impressed…

Metropolis, November 14, 2011

I was challenged in October (Friday, 10/14) to write a new song by some folks who were sitting and listening to me play at Metropolis. The gist of the song is “I’m a big wuss and I’m afraid of my wife so I have to get home.” This was long after I was scheduled to have stopped playing, but there I was, still playing because people were still listening. I made their attendance at my next Metropolis show (Monday, 11/14) for the grand unveiling of the new song a condition and they agreed. So, the challenge was on.

I thought they might expect something cute and funny. I thought I would try to write some over-the-top, gut-wrenching, heart-on-my-sleeve thing, but the song decided it wanted to be a blues. So, “Fright’nin’ Blues” (or is it “Cellphone on my Trail”) was born. I promise, it’s a blues, but it’s a completely tongue-in-cheek blues. Something Restless Legs Johnson would write.

I played at Metropolis last night. Three hours in, the folks still hadn’t shown, so I played the song to start closing the night. There was a witness to the original challenge there, so he can confirm that I held up my part of the bargain. While I was playing it, there was a woman at the bar madly operating her smartphone. When I was done, she caught on to the whole challenge thing and that I had written the song. She was disappointed, because she’d been trying to find the song online and figure out whose song it was so she could download it. But then she was impressed that it was I who had written it. Huh. That doesn’t exactly happen every day.

I had also learned a cover tune for the same group of people. They had requested it and we had discussed it and how I had trouble playing it because it had too many syllables in some of the lines, so it’s tough for me to sing. I concede that people do it all the time; it’s just me. The cover tune will have to wait for my next performance.

The upshot of all this is, “I wrote a song in a month because I do what I’m told.” Also, “I can write a song in a month when challenged.” That’s kinda cool. I also wrote another song this past week because it occurred to me and I just sat down and wrote it. So, I’ve got two new tunes to road-test and get comfortable with. Sweet!

Last Night’s Gallery Walk

So, I played for a couple of hours last night at In The Moment Records. Great fun! Byron and I were both feeling a little under the weather, so we shut down closer to 8:00 than 9:00. Still, great fun! I’m stunned that my “Angel From Montgomery” brought tears to the eyes of a real John Prine fan. Again. It’s indescribably wonderful to be a part of moments like that.

I did an experiment: I didn’t tape up my left hand with the Kinesio® tape I’ve been using for the past few years. It was a slightly less-than-epic fail. Lots of electrical nerve activity flying up and down the hand and forearm. The backstory for this is that I saw an orthopedist this week who confirmed that the problems with my left hand –and recently also with my right hand– are, in fact, my neck’s fault. So, I’m back to PT this month. He specifically recommended not getting a foraminotomy. Yet.

I took the advice of a massage therapist and iced my forearms when I got home from the gig and today, the morning after, my left hand is not hurting so bad. Interestingly, it’s my shoulders that are hurting this morning. I suspect poor posture –tossing all my Alexander Technique and PT advice right out the window– last night is to blame. For shame.

I also did the first which-version-of-Tornado-Weather-do-y’all-like-better lunchtime poll. Split decision. One enthusiastic vote for the upbeat version, two less strong votes for the mournful version. Clearly, we need more data points.

Tornado Weather

So, I’ve been “road-testing” the song about tornado weather for maybe almost a year. It’s done. I finally got the last verse a month or two ago.

The other night, during the big power outage, I was sitting in the dark with a couple of candles, quietly playing Tornado Weather on my Stratomocaster. I don’t know what possessed me, but I started playing it upbeat. It actually worked (thankfully, the twangy country version did not). I could hear Phil’s freight-train drums driving it along and it kinda rocked. And maybe instead of a high lonesome violin or viola, there’s a pretty Jon or Bob guitar line.

Now, to be fair, this is exactly the kind of stupid thing I’m apt to do. This song, in its slow pretty version, is the thing that got the most applause and hoots at Flood Fest. So now I start messing with it. Duh.

Anyway, at the next few shows I’ll be conducting a which-version-of-this-song-do-y’all-like-better lunchtime poll. Please, vote early and often.

New Lyrics Contest

So, I’m working on a new song for the past couple of days. I think it’s called “Falling.” It has all the earmarks of being a song that I will a) finish, and b) put on the next CD because it c) should be a hit. And I have a contest for you: I’ll give you a line. It’s not a typical line for me. The first to guess correctly what my twisted little brain thinks comes next (close enough within reason) gets a copy of the first demo I do when it’s finished.

The line is: “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

I do not write songs about rodeos. This song is no exception. And believe me, nobody is more surprised than I to hear a line like this coming from me. But, there it is.

So, have at it. I know the next line. Do you? Lemme know.