At one point in my life I considered myself a serious songwriter. As serious as one could be working a full-time job, married, with three kids. Somehow, with all of that responsibility I still found time to write and record songs on the regular. If inspiration struck I could sit down at the out-of-tune piano and clunk out a melody. I had scraps of paper from work or wherever I may have been at the time with song lyrics scratched into them as if I was writing my last will and testament before I was struck dead by lightning.
Writing and recording music was my way of dealing with the noise in my head. Thoughts and emotions that otherwise would have gone unattended, festering and toiling in my brain and heart, were centered on a musical idea and given direction and purpose. All those secret thoughts and painful truths were honed into pop songs and set among others on homemade CDs, complete with artwork and discount jewel cases and given out as Christmas presents and friendly gestures. My DIY albums donned local record shops where they collected dust and eventually ended up in landfills, I imagine. These were my journals in music form, and one could listen and figure out my emotional eccentricities if they listened hard enough.
There came a point when songwriting wasn’t really doing it for me. I found coming up with words to express those emotions in the melodies seemed a bit hollow to me. I’d started writing more, outside of my music. Expressing my passion and love for albums, films, books, and my own life experiences seemed to be filling that void that songwriting had done for so many years. I just didn’t find a need to write a song about my frustrations when I could express those frustrations head-on right here on this site. I’d found a new love for talking about albums and wanting to share my excitement for those albums. I’d always been one that could wax ecstatic endlessly about a new or old record that I’d discovered. Finding out all the little tidbits and exquisite details about the making of said record and then expounding on them over a pint or three. Starting this page was a whole new avenue of personal prose; a spot where I could open up and let it all out without having to come up with a catchy melody or smart chord change in the process. No setting up of mics or getting levels before I could say what I wanted to say. I could just sit down and say it.
Then move on.
Another aspect of writing for me is talking to other musicians and getting their perspective on creativity. I love discussing art with artists and hearing about their process. Picking their brains about their inspirations and influences on their own creativity is something I find endlessly valuable. What I’ve learned is that we all pretty much start at that same spot. We all come across something that absolutely blows our mind and opens us up like some spiritual biopsy. It unlocks something deep inside of us and allows us access to layers we never knew we possessed.
This is, for me, the genesis of the artist.
Whether its an album, a book, a painting, a film, or even a sunset on a particular day that showed both the insignificance and significance of it all in a just a single moment. That’s where the door to creativity and art begins. From the Midwest blogger clear to Springsteen, Henry Miller, and Picasso, we all start out at that same seemingly quiet spot in time that blows up our collective minds.
This isn’t to say that I still don’t love the process of songwriting. I still do, very much. I still have dreams where I’ve written a song and I’m floored by it. I wake up to the remnants of that melody I wrote in REM sleep, only for it to fade into the ether before I make the morning coffee(someday I’ll remember those dream melodies.) It’s just that nowadays I’m finding that release in writing. My songwriting has turned into more obscure patchworks of instrumental music, which I’m sure is a result of my deep dive into film scores and electronic music over the last few years. I love the process of building and layering instruments into something of a blank slate, letting others put their own meaning on it. I may have my own meaning and ideas behind its creation, but lyrics won’t push interpretations in one way or the other.
The point here is this: no matter what it is, balance your passions. Balance the madness you need to control in your head and heart. Whether it’s songwriting, short story writing, painting, designing, scrapbooking, jogging, stand-up comedy, tinkering on small engines in the garage or crafting in the back room of your house. Make sure you keep enough room in your life for it. However you do it, hone those creative urges and thoughtful meanderings into something creative and useful. Don’t let them go to waste, and certainly don’t leave them in your head and heart to fester and toil. They eventually turn, becoming stale, forgotten bits of regret and resentment that comes out as anger directed at everyone else but the one who’s truly to blame: you.
Wake up and make it. Do it, dig into it and get messy with it. Just don’t let it go to waste. If you’re wondering what “it” is, then you’ve still got some work to do.