Monday, February 28, 2011

Blocked No More

I finally did it. This weekend, with some free time on my hands and very little in my energy reserves, I broke through my songwriter's block. Block...it was more like a brick wall, but in any case, I chipped away at it until something finally got through. On a quality level I'm not sure where it ranks, but hey, after 20 years I'll take anything. It's a beginning, if nothing else.


Lately I've been listening to a few singer/songwriters, hoping to find some inspiration. To hear how their lyrics flow, to hear what kinds of words they use, and what kinds of melodies they chose to pair with those lyrics. I've never been one of those musicians who has songs mysteriously just "come" to me, as in a dream. For as long as I can remember I've always had to sit down and really work at crafting a song. Some were ok, some were crap. Such is life. I was hoping some of the creativity of these other singer/songwriters would seep into my subconscious by way of osmosis...but not to the point where I might end up unwittingly copying them in any way. I got some ideas that I filed away in my brain for a later date. (I instantly forgot those ideas because I didn't write any of them down.)

I had a complete set of lyrics and had no music for them...then one night I was noodling around on my guitar, and came up with a chord progression I kind of liked. And I decided I was in a 3/4 waltz shuffle kind of mood, so I played the chord progression that way. I liked it. Unfortunately, I did not like it with the lyrics I had. So...I started writing, in a stream of consciousness sort of way, just writing anything that popped into my head. I'm not sure what made me start thinking of a particular person and situation, but for some reason I started to think of my earlier "Rejection" post...and the writing became fast and furious-less fast and more furious I suppose.

Then I tried to mesh the words I had written with the chord progression, but it just didn't seem to want to fit together. Something wasn't quite right, but all of a sudden the dam burst, and ideas and melodies just came flooding into my brain. I grabbed my iPhone, which has a handy little voice recorder in it, and I quickly recorded little snippets before they vanished from my mind as quickly as they appeared. Within the next hour, I had a completed song on paper. I was elated, thinking to myself "I did it! I finally did it! After scraping off 20 years of rust, I finally managed to find that former me that was a singer/songwriter/musician and drag her back to the surface. I took a deep breath and enjoyed that triumphant moment, before playing the whole song again, just to make sure it was real.

The song is not ready for public ears just yet. My musician friends will agree that it takes multiple run-throughs and edits, polishing and perfecting, before a song is really a song. I'm sure I'll tweak and edit some more here and there, because every time I play the song, I find something else to change that makes it that much better. Eventually, when I'm satisfied, (although I'm never completely satisfied, and I never really feel that my songs are as good as other people's) I'll post the song online somewhere, either on YouTube or some mp3 file sharing site. I'm not sure how to go about recording it just yet...we had much less sophisticated recording equipment twenty years ago. I remember thinking I was so advanced in 1985, using my Tascam 4 Track recorder to lay multiple tracks. Now everything is done on laptops, which is great but I am not yet familiar with the software that is available or the process for using any of it.

I'll get there, I'm sure, just like I finally got back to once again being a musician, and oh how I missed it. Next project: those lyrics I didn't use that are still missing their melody. I'm really hoping I'm on a roll, and the wall will remain down.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

songwriters who inspire me...a video sampler

To go along with yesterday's post about songwriter's block, I thought I'd try a new twist and do a video blog. Not me talking at you via YouTube, but a sampler of sorts, of some of the songwriters that inspire me. This is a small sample, naturally, because I couldn't possibly find videos of all the songwriters I like and respect. I probably can't even name them all in one post. For some, I may even post two videos, because I just can't get enough. Without further ado, here are some of my favorites:
Jim Cuddy





Rose Cousins- Home...probably my favorite song of hers. Beautiful.


Tim Easton

Amos Lee - from just this week on Letterman



Chris Trapper -



Ray LaMontagne actually I'm posting two of his... just because.

 



There you have it, but believe me when I say...this is a SMALL sample of the songwriters who inspire me...and I keep hearing new ones every day, it seems. I don't know if I will ever consider any of my songs on the same level as theirs, but it's something to aim for.



Wednesday, February 23, 2011

songwriter's block

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.

addicted to technology?

Does this look familiar?


It's funny, no doubt, but I bet some of us can relate a little too much to Fred's panic while in the "loop". I know I can.

Yesterday I got my very first iPhone. I have not been able to turn it off. I mean, I know HOW to turn it off...I just don't want to. It will take me days to figure out everything this phone can do, possibly weeks. I'm sure my 9-year-old could figure it all out in about 30 minutes, but hey...I'm slightly older than him and my brain doesn't function the way it did before I had kids. Nevermind the fact that I went to college in the 80's at a music school...

So now I have two computers at home, one at the office, an mp3 player, a Kindle, a work cell phone, a GPS, a digital camera, my old cell phone, and now my new iPhone. I use ALL of them on a regular basis, too. It is rare that anyone sees me without some electronic gadget in my hot little hands. Much like dear Fred, I can't put them down once I start using them. And, like Fred, when I am at home on my laptop, I'm usually multitasking. I email, while I have a chat box open, while I'm listening to music, and sometimes surfing the web, Tweeting, Facebooking--it's a wonder my laptop doesn't just shut itself down in a rebellious fit. I wonder what all of this techno-multitasking is doing to my brain. Is it making it stronger, because I'm focusing on more than one thing at a time? Or is it weakening it, because let's face it, am I really that focused on any one thing if I'm doing that many things at once? Is it shortening my attention span?
I even multitask on the bus, during my two-hour commute to work. I usually have my ear buds in, listening to music, while reading my Kindle...with the occasional email response or Tweet. What I should really be doing on the bus is trying to nap, and make up for some of the sleep I'm missing out on because I have to get up at 4:30am.

Sadly, I know I'm not the only one like this. I happen to know for a fact that several of my friends are the same way. I know because they are the people I'm emailing, tweeting, FaceBooking and texting when I'm on the bus. I just hope it's not shortening our attention sp...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Justice

*editorial note: Normally I would not post another blog entry so soon after my previous one, however I feel the need to get this out there for anyone who may benefit from it. I just hung up the phone with my friend, about whom I wrote this post. He sounded in good spirits, hopeful for a positive outcome on February 16th. If any of you knows someone who is fighting the battle of their lives against injustice, please tell them to keep fighting and don't ever give up.*

I have a friend in a tough situation. We've been friends for about two and a half years and for two of those years he's been in prison. We became acquainted with one another after I called his talk radio show on a couple of occasions to argue with him. He's a republican and I'm a democrat, so naturally we rarely saw eye to eye on anything political. However, even when we were disagreeing we always maintained our senses of humor, laughing with each other because of a mutual respect between us. He made me crazy at times, but he also made me laugh and I became quite fond of him.

One day his radio station made some cuts and my friend was one of a group of people let go. His show was canceled and he was suddenly out of work along with several of his colleagues. The recession was in its early days and layoffs were starting to happen all across the country. That was shocking not only to my friend but also to his many listeners. I hoped that he would find a new home for his show on another station without too much delay. I received an email from him saying he was ok, just in shock, and that he had some irons in the fire and was working on some leads. He asked me about the internet radio station I had at the time and how I'd gotten that started. We emailed back and forth several times over the next week, brainstorming and chatting. Then one night as I was watching the evening news, I saw my friend being led away in handcuffs, having been arrested on a fugitive from justice charge. Fugitive? Wouldn't that have meant he was hiding out somewhere, avoiding the law? How do you have a daily radio talk show for over a year if you're a fugitive? He was accused of a crime that allegedly took place over four years ago. FOUR YEARS and they were just getting around to arresting him now? Did they have trouble finding him, though he was on public radio every weekday morning, and active and quite visible in his community? I found out later that his accuser had just gotten around to telling this tale, which was the reason for the time-lapse. Four years...no evidence, no eyewitnesses, just one person's word against another's. I figured he'd be in and out within a week with such a flimsy case against him. After all, we have a great justice system here in the good old USA right? Lack of evidence and the four-year time-lapse surely would be enough to have the whole thing thrown out of court right?

That was two years ago, and my friend is still in prison, awaiting trial. He had to rely on weak public defenders (more than one) and bail hearing after bail hearing. My friend does not have the financial resources to pay his ridiculously disproportionate bail or hire an attorney who specializes in his type of case. Only recently, after a friend who happened to be an attorney stepped in, has he received a court date for a day this month. NOTE: My friend could have accepted a deal and been released a long time ago, but that would have meant pleading guilty to a lesser charge. He would not do that. He maintains his innocence, and will not say otherwise just to be released from prison. My friend refuses to cave in and admit to a crime that he swears he did not commit, no matter how long he has to sit in prison. I have great respect for him because of that. He is standing up for himself, his integrity, and for every other person who has been wrongly accused and imprisoned. Because of this he has lost everything: his home, his reputation, and even some of his friends and family. But still he perseveres. I write him letters of encouragement, reminding him that he is not alone. He needs to know that someone believes in him, and I am not the only one. I know he gets letters from other friends as well, giving support and encouragement. I don't know what he'll do once he gets out. I just hope he can rebuild his life and not be bitter about what happened to him.

I know some of you are reading this thinking "how can you be so sure he's innocent?" or "how can you be so trusting?" and I don't blame you. But think of it this way: what if it was me? What if it was you or one of your family members? People are wrongly imprisoned every day in this country, don't kid yourself. Our system is broken and until something is done to fix it, this will continue to happen every day. Since the advancement of DNA research, hundreds of people, wrongly imprisoned, have been released but more needs to be done. These people shouldn't have been incarcerated in the first place, but because of glitches in the system, reliance on faulty eye witnesses, or circumstantial evidence they were sent to prison, some for years. Lives are ruined, lost, and forgotten.
The other reason I continue to give my friend the benefit of the doubt can be found in my last blog post. I cannot turn my back on someone who would refuse to take a deal in order stand up for what's right. If he is willing to remain in prison for two years rather than plead guilty to something he did not do, how can I shut the door on him? At the end of my last post I said that the lesson I'd learned from being ignored or having the door slammed in my face was to give people the benefit of the doubt and listen to them. Acknowledge them and really hear them, as a fellow human being. I'm not stupid or naive. I am fully aware that there are some people out there who are dishonest and take advantage of others' good hearts. I know, everyone in prison is "innocent". I have been fooled before by people I believed in and it's not a great feeling. If I'm wrong about my friend and he's not the person I believe him to be, then that's on him, not me. If that is the case, he'll have to live with that karma. I have faith in him, though, and I truly believe he is innocent.

We all need someone to believe in us, especially in our darkest hours. How would it feel if everyone turned their backs on you when you needed them the most?

I'll be thinking of my friend on the date of his trial, hoping for justice.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rejection

I’m not quite sure how to tackle this blog entry…perhaps I should turn off the computer and walk away. I was advised by friends, however, that writing might help me get these feelings off my chest so I can let them go once and for all. And these are very caring and smart friends so I think I’ll take their advice. They also recommended burning or deleting my writing after completion, not posting it for the entire world to see, but I’ll make that decision when I’m finished. Their suggestion was just to go through the process, as an exercise, to release those hurt feelings. Just typing the phrase “hurt feelings” made me feel silly. What am I, a fourth grader? At my age I should be beyond letting others hurt my feelings, right? I’m not a wuss. I’m a strong, independent, educated, mature (most of the time) woman…how can it be possible for someone to hurt my feelings?


While going through this exercise, although I do want to purge these nagging thoughts from my mind, I also don’t want to come off as whiney, sniveling, or immature. I hope that’s not how it comes across. Maybe that will be the deciding factor in whether or not it gets deleted or posted.


Let me start by saying, I didn’t used to be the kind of person who took risks, or reached out to strangers, or put myself out there at all. I was shy, intimidated, and timid, afraid of rejection and tried to avoid ridicule at all costs. Somewhere along the line I grew out of that. Maybe it was when I was attending Berklee College of Music as a vocalist, where enduring rejection, ridicule, and criticism was part of the learning process. I didn’t exactly develop a thick skin, because believe me, it still hurts, but I’m more willing to risk my pride now that I’m older, because I had plenty of practice and I learned to laugh at myself.


It could be my job as an outreach coordinator. I’m forced to reach out to people and try to make connections, all the while risking rejection. I don’t take that personally, however, because it’s just part of the job. If it doesn’t work out, I move on and get over it because I have nothing personally invested. For the most part, I am successful, I make many good and meaningful connections. I’m told I’m very good at my job. This leads me to my current situation.


I have reached out, repeatedly, to a few people who are important to me. They don’t even realize that they are important to me, or why. They are meaningful to me because they are part of a bigger picture, and I really want to make this connection. It’s hard to explain it here without giving too much away, and I really don’t want to tell it all. I’ll just say that by shutting me out they are leaving a gaping hole in this chapter of my life story. I can’t understand it, because it’s not like I’m trying to latch onto them, force myself into their lives, or become important to them. I’m just trying to reach out and make a connection, simple as that. I’m not untrustworthy, or unworthy for that matter. But that is how I feel when they shut the door on me. It’s frustrating to me and frankly, it hurts.


I’m a decent person. I’m not mean-spirited, jealous, or an opportunist. I just want to make a connection with a few people who mean something to me. They are part of my life not by choice, but by circumstance. We are just a few common threads woven into a complex tapestry.


On days that I feel invincible, I like to think that it’s their loss, not mine. Go ahead, shut me out, but you’re missing out on knowing a great person who would like to share some common experiences with you. Screw you, basically. I don’t need you. But on other days when I’m not feeling quite so superhuman, internally I’m standing outside that door begging to be let in, feeling unworthy and inadequate. It’s painful.

I guess we never learn to fully accept rejection, no matter how old we get, or how practiced we are. It always hurts. We just learn to hide that hurt and smile through it. This experience has taught me something, though, so maybe it hasn’t been a total loss. I will never shut the door on someone who is making an honest, sincere attempt to reach out to me. I will give that person the benefit of the doubt, and at least listen to what they have to say before I decide if I want to continue to have any kind of relationship with them. Maybe that was a lesson I needed to learn and this is Karma’s way of making me learn it…if so, it sure is a hefty price to pay for a life lesson.


I’m not sure what kind of day today is…but, though it still makes me feel a little sad, I’m leaning more toward the screw you type.


If you’re reading this, it’s obvious what my decision was, and I made that decision because even if I come off sounding selfish and whiney, it might help someone else who is feeling inadequate or unworthy. Let’s say it together: “screw ‘em”.