I’ve been struggling lately. When it comes to this blog, I seem to have no problem coming up with something to say, even if the topic may not interest anyone other than myself. It’s become more of an online journal than an informational blog. When it comes to songwriting, however, I am stuck like a monster truck in quicksand. Hmm, possible song title?
I’ve Googled “songwriter’s block” and found all kinds of advice on how to “cure” it, and most of the suggestions are either common sensical or too dumb to even consider. For example, one blogger suggests taking a nap, or listening to someone else’s music. Who has time for a nap? And I do listen to other people’s songs, but I’m always afraid I’ll subconsciously plagiarise a lyric or a melody. I listen to singer/songwriters I respect and admire, like Jim Cuddy, and I’ve noticed a few things. I’ve noticed that Jim has a few phrases that he must really like, because he uses them quite often in his songs. Phrases like “caving in” and the image of lying on a bed seem to reappear in many of his songs. I wonder if anyone else has ever noticed it. I’m sure it can’t be because he is stumped for a phrase or a visual, so he says “hey I’ll just go with the old tried and true “caving in” line again”. Maybe he’s not even aware that he’s used it in multiple songs. He probably is though. But after over twenty very successful years in the business I don’t think anyone is going to complain, certainly not I.
Part of my problem is coming up with good lyrics that convey what I’m trying to express without sounding cliché or sappy. It would help if I knew what it is I’m trying to say. There are too many thoughts in my head most of the time, so it’s difficult to narrow it down to a few simple lines. That is another thing I’ve noticed in the songs I really like. The lyrics are so simple. They don’t ramble on, complicating things by being too verbose. They say what the writer feels, simple and to the point. Jim’s lyrics are pure poetry. Some are longer than others, but his words paint a picture, and tell a story. For example, from “5 Days in May”, one of my favorites:
All I know is one cloudy day
They both just ran away
Rain on the windshield heading South
Ohh she loved the lines around his mouth
I think the last line is one of my all time favorites lyrics, and I have no idea why. He uses words that make the listener feel what he wants them to feel, and it works. I spend too much time searching for just the right words…and end up sitting there looking at a blank page. When I finally do get a song written I fear it will be a very angry song because I’m so frustrated by the whole process.
The actual music is the other stumbling block for me. I write songs using my guitar, and if I’m being totally honest here, I’m not the world’s best guitarist. I’ve been playing since I was fifteen, but I have not mastered the instrument. I don’t know as many chords as I should, I suppose, but I can learn more. It seems when writing, however, I go to the same familiar chords, and there aren’t a whole lot of those. When I was at Berklee, I was there as a vocalist, not a guitarist, so I did not take guitar lessons. I haven’t had a real guitar lesson since high school. I can play enough to get by, enough to accompany myself, and I feel like I’m getting better now that I’m playing on a regular basis again. When I got married and started having babies, I put my guitar away and didn’t touch it for over ten years. That’s a lot of rust to get out of my fingers. Now I’m also trying to teach myself how to play the Irish bouzouki, which is an infuriating instrument. It is not as easy as I thought it would be, and it has been leaning against the wall in my bedroom mocking me since I broke a string last weekend. It will remain there until I can special order some strings and have them mailed to me. In the meantime hopefully I can conquer this writer’s block and get something done.
I think I’m putting too much pressure on myself. I want to write a really good song, a beautiful song, a song that will move people. The problem is, I have no idea what it’s about, or what I want to say. I have a few ideas rolling around in my brain, and that could also be part of the problem. These ideas are battling for my attention. I need to pick one and stick with it, whether it’s a song that tells a story, a love song, or a kid’s song. I just don’t want it to suck.
All I know is, until I get past this block, I’m singin’ the blues.