Having been a songwriter for most of my life, I've mostly moved in circles where people like what I do, go for the particular way I write, that folk singer-songwriter thing. I'd be foolish if I didn't understand that some people who like what I do would have me focus on areas that they particularly go for, and wish that I'd avoid areas that don't thrill them; I certainly have had moments with my favorite artists where I'll notice that certain aspects of their arts are less interesting to me than others. I wouldn't express these opinions to them, but I'd still have the opinions, can't help it. I like "I Am The Walrus" more than "In My Life". I like Roy Rogers in the movies, not on TV. Loved Elvis's first recording, not much after.
Now and again I've had to realize further: that there are people for whom nothing I've ever done has been up to par, who are (or would be) filled with ennui or dismayed and offended by how I choose to write and perform, and there are people who absolutely can't stand what I do and the way I do it. It's so non-pertinent to them that it doesn't have to exist at all, and, given druthers, they'd prefer it didn't. I've been that way about certain artists too, sometimes. If they'd've asked me my opinion, I'd've been so negative that I couldn't even begin to delineate what I see as their problems. And I can't help thinking about some artists, on occasion: this poor fool, he's wasting his life chasing an unfortunate and foolish desire. Why doesn't he give up? So, of course, there are people who think the exact same thing about me. Or who would, given the chance. And for a while now, my thoughts and efforts not only concern songwriting but also recording. I record my songs at home, for a few years now, primitively, but slowly improving.
So...recently I heard this recording, through a friend of mine who in the course of his thing deals with a lot of not-very-well-known songwriter/recorders. The recording really opened up my head, it was so superior to most things I hear, including Big Star!!! CDs. I thought the writer/recordist was extraordinarily knowledgeable about how to get sounds that just jumped out at you, sounds that were so solid in the headphones that the listener would almost feel like he could reach out and touch the sounds...they were that thick and substantial. I knew that unless I went out and enrolled in a formal recording school I wasn't ever gonna have that strong a sound. I saw that I was comparatively very amateur in my recording efforts. And in thinking about that, I did something I seldom do: I wrote this guy a fan letter, went through a lot of numbers about how impressive his sound was. Thought he should get the feedback because obviously he had spent time and care on his recording. And I wanted him to know that I got it.
And he wrote me back and we had this nice little dialogue about songwriting/recording. In the course of things I listened to a few things he had on YouTube, but I had trouble focussing on those; however the first thing of his I had heard, the one that had prompted me to write him, was so impressive in its sound that to me it rendered the songwriting aspect kinda moot..
I mean I wasn't that nuts about his songs, but I'm often not that knocked down by OP's songs. It's so personal, that part.
So he said send me something, and I did, giving a little caveat: well, I'm amateur at recording. BUT there was a part of me, I'll admit, that assumed he'd be intrigued by my songs, as people often are. And it turned out that he was so unimpressed (I'll hazard) that I never heard from him again.
If you never hear from me again it means I can't think of one positive thing to say, so I gotta admit I figured that was the way it was with him: I wasn't about to get stroked on any level.
And that was the day Dylan got the Nobel, and I thought: Here I am
in Skokie obsessing about the opinion of some guy in Nashville.
And I had a little satori, ready? Here 'tis:
That you don't do it for other people's approval, you do it because it's your life, and if you look really foolish to others, WTF? It's not the end of the world.
...is my favorite month, because my parents worked it so I'd have a birthday with a little bit of summer left before school, and now I still have the birthday (often with pineapple upside-down cake) but I don't have to go to school anymore. When I was a kid I'd think: when you're a grownup you don't have to go to school, and I could hardly imagine what that kind of freedom might feel like. And now it's an everyday thing: I get to have my birthday cake with a little bit of summer left every year, AND I don't have to go to school afterward. The kid inside me still has no problem summoning up this big gratitude for noschoolness. He loves being a grownup, and plans on remaining one for the rest of his life. Much easier than being a kid, especially a kid at Our Lady Of The Valley Grammar School. And of course there's that beautiful and perfect song by Anderson/Weill: and the days dwindle down, to a precious few... Oh yeah, I do love September.
I've been working on a couple of CDs simultaneously, as grownups will, and neither of these are the songwriting CD I wrote about last entry. I had a girlfriend in college who used to say that I was "fickled". I tried to tell her it was not "fickled", but "fickle" but she never believed me, though if you look up "fickle" in your Webster's, there's my SPJC yearbook photo. After I wrote the last misleading entry an order poured in, from my friend Howard Grodman in Flagstaff, AZ, bless his trusting heart. But this summer I got distracted.
What distracted me was this CD of fifteen songs from Moby Dick, which I'm almost finished with. The lyrics are all culled from Mr. Melville, who's pretty good, and I'm really proud of this one. (I'll send it to Howard first, if you don't mind.) The other CD I'm working on is with some legit musicians of the first order, settings of texts I've found from John Steinbeck, Bertholdt Brecht, Anne Carson, Edgar Lee Masters and some other literary folks.
Then, I promise, the songwriting CD. Which will be really felicitous timing, because in October my friend Paul Zollo is coming out with a sequel to his famous and best-selling Songwriters on Songwriting, a sequel in which I am the only songwriter I've never heard of. It's been a while since our interview, and so I can't wait to see what I have to say.
Love to you all, and especially to my dear brother Peter Matthew Smith.
I am working on a CD about songwriting. Since I've had on occasion a straight job I get Social Security now, and it's amazing how my attitude towards playing music to people has evolved since I started getting those lovely checks the government forced me to save. It used to be really important to me to remain gainfully employed, witness those straight jobs, which I would search for when I wasn't getting enough music work. Before SS, just a little time off and I would get all panicky about how the rent was going to be paid. Well, the rent gets paid now, and me, I do not play any gigs that I'm not thrilled to be doing. It takes some people all their lives to get the proper attitude towards playing music, and Social Security allowed me to finally see life and work with the right perspective.
The reason I'm working on this CD is that most advice you get about songwriting is oriented towards earthly success, namely, writing "hits". Communicating. I'm not that nuts about communicating. I will surely never write a hit and that's just fine with me. I certainly do love The Beatles, who were not averse to having hits, but sometimes I wonder and marvel that the world embraced them; they're so idiosyncratic, and that's the part that attracts me the most about them.
Though I'm grateful that the world embraced them despite their idiosyncrasy,
else I'd probably never have heard them. Hearing their songs and the
songs of a few others, it occurs to me that what I'm interested in doing
songwise doesn't have much to do with other people and the way they may or
may not respond. And late in life I see this clearer than ever. When you
write songs all your life and you have survived without mass approval, you
start thinking: oh maybe it's beside the point to need to be approved of.
This allows you to see the real point of writing songs: to make songs go
the way you want.
That's kinda the theme of my songwriting CD.
Coming out in June-ish, 2016. OK bye.
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