I write the song without lyrics first, almost always. What I enjoy most about music is the melody and rhythm, so I naturally begin there, singing temporary--even nonsense-- lyrics till the music is done. Then I formally write the words. It's hard to imagine Paul Simon's America or McCartney's Yesterday with different lyrics, I know, but I think I would love the songs nearly as much with thoughtful alternatives. I guess I prefer to err on the side of what's most important for the song, as I see it.
Not that I cut corners on the language. I love words, as one might imagine, and often spend as much time on them as I do on the music--whatever it takes till I feel I've gotten at the truth of my subject. And at that point I will often change the music to accommodate the rhythm or meaning of a particular word or phrase.
Sometimes I will have a general subject at the outset. That's true of Wrecking Ball, for instance. As a teacher I've seen so many negative effects of social media on kids that I have long wanted to express myself on that topic. More often though I'll write the whole composition with just a feeling in mind. Girl is an example. The music sat on the shelf for a long time with no subject attached, and it was only once I had found that bouncy groove for it, that I knew it should be about Doreen, my wife.
Regardless, once the songs are finished, even if I've recorded them, I never stop revising. Some of the best parts of many of my songs were added weeks or months after I had first called them done. The worst thing you can do, I believe, is to be smug about the process, as though it's something self-contained.
In recent years, when I watch news coverage of events like the clash of demonstrators in Charlottesville, what strikes me most is the number of smartphones that show up. The event, on both sides, seems to be as much about the phone as it is the issues. In fact, it's probably not beyond the pale to say that the phones bring the people, rather than the other way around. The things wanna be used. The problem is that the concession we make in giving in to this want is to a mediated reality, one where a photo or text says you can stop thinking here. Right here, on the surface. I don't think that permission serves any cause well, except the totalitarian one. It's a civil rights issue, itself, really--maybe the issue, if by "freedom" we mean the license to think fully, as well as act.
As a teacher I've seen the effects on kids of our obsession with social media: the shortened attention spans, the constant distraction, the quick boredom and inability to delay gratification, the social isolation--the list goes on. And now research is suggesting use of SM devices in the first seven years of life may actually interfere with the ability to learn, itself.
That's why I wrote Wreckin' Ball. I'm not a writer of protest songs as a rule. But, as a writer and a teacher, holding myself up to the ideals, all related, of truth, goodness and beauty, it's difficult to see them so forsaken, and for such trite recompense. We've lost our reference points. And part of my job as an artist , as I see it, is to reawaken myself and us to them.
Now that the website is up and running, I have to get the rest of my ducks in a row. The deadlines for several big songwriting competitions are approaching. That means I'll have to devote the next few weeks to readying the works I'm submitting. Meanwhile, I have to get my Facebook page going, taking stock of how few friends I actually have. I then have to link all of my platforms so people can move between them without chafing. And, finally, to create some traffic, I have to book performances, a task that, hopefully, the website and its links will make easier.
I expect to perform solo at first, but only because I DON'T HAVE A BAND--which is to say, I wanna start one if anyone's interested. I'll be looking for a bassist, drummer and lead guitar player, minimum. Maybe a keyboard player. And I'll want players who can sing leads and harmonies, including somebody who can take the lead vocals on my compositions.
I'll post an official ad soon. Until then, those who are interested may contact me at at the following email address:
A Note of Thanks
A big thank you to Tucson musicians Al Perry and Hank Topless for sharing their stage and equipment with me at the Coyote Taskforce Fundraiser. Thanks as well to local fiddler extraordinaire Samantha Bounkeua for helping me with the website. Please support them and all the fine performers on the Tucson music scene! Meanwhile, an especially heart-felt thanks to Lee Speranza and to Jay and Julia Barwell of Tucson for their unceasing support of my music over the years.