Tail of the Weak 1.19
Updated: Jan 24
Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
In the past, I've read quotes, from Bob Dylan and John Lennon, stating that, “the best songs are written in the shortest amount of time”. I also heard that, when asked how he wrote songs, Hank Williams, Sr. said, “Hoss, I don't write the songs—I just hold the pen”.
I firmly believe that the songwriting process is a cosmic one at best. One must be open to the muse, whenever that muse decides to visit.
I have scraps upon scraps of scribbled lyrics on paper bags and bar napkins, finished and unfinished songs, in composition books, that would take Columbo a full TV show to unearth. But, I never threw anything away, because you never know if and when that little verse or chorus will dovetail perfectly into something you haven't yet begun to write.
My theory is this. Our brain has two sides. The left side performs tasks that have to do with everyday logic. The right side dedicates itself to creativity and the arts.
That creative right side of the brain springs into action when we are either drifting off to sleep or just before waking up. It also comes alive while we are performing some mindless task, such as driving down I-75 (highway hypnosis), mowing and raking the yard, or the daily routine of washing our naked body in the shower.
Many are those times when I personally have been most responsive to a visit from the song fairy. And you must never upset the song fairy.
Pen and paper used to be a necessity. Nowadays, the cell phone, with its many functions, is a must to have with you at all times. Changes in technology are clearly on the side of the songwriter and musician.
Years ago, you had to fumble through a stack of used cassette tapes to find a recordable one, only to have the cassette recorder chew it up and spit it out. Now, a pristine, digital quality recording is just an app away on your smartphone. Full state-of-the-art recording studios are downloadable and at your fingertips, on your notebook or laptop.
Still, all the technology in the world is only as good as what you put into it—and that most important thing is the song.
I don't begin to think for a minute that I know the secret to the craft of songwriting; but, I've been poking around at it since I was 20 years old and here are some of my personal observations.
Write as often as you can. If you don't use it, you can surely lose it. The mind is like a muscle. It can be trained.
Find your zone. Some folks like the early morning hours with a cup of coffee in the breakfast room. Others like late at night, when everyone else is gone to the world. Imbibe, partake, or not—just write.
Get out of your box. Write with someone. Collaborations aren't for everybody; but, you might be surprised at the results.
Writer's block is for real—or not. I do not believe in writer's block. I do not worry about writer's block. There have been times that I don't write for extended periods; but, without fail, it never lasts. Once you start worrying about writer's block; well, I guarantee you, you will not write.
Honor thy muse. If you're slipping off to sleep, get up and write it down. If you're driving down the road, pull over and write it down. If you're in the shower, hurry it up, skip the towel and write it down. Once it's gone, it's gone.
It ain't rocket science. There are books full of songwriting techniques that will leave you dyslexic. The only experts I have striven to emulate are the ones I've listened to all my life. Hank Williams, Sr., Lennon and McCartney, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Webb, Brian Wilson, Townes Van Zandt—just a few architects who know how to build.
Listen to your heart. Try to keep that left side of your brain quiet. It has no place in these beautiful moments.
Roget was not a bad man. A thesaurus or rhyming dictionary is invaluable; and, it ain't cheatin'.
Take a break. If it ain't happening right now, it will happen later.
Write as often as you can. It bears repeating. One more thing that I found interesting was in a newspaper article that I stumbled onto years ago. It said that people who suffer from past head injuries tend to be more clairvoyant and creative than others. Now, I don't think songwriters have to be crazy or talk to dead people—but, I'm sure it probably helps.
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REFERENCES Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin