I don’t know how long I’ve been writing songs. The first song that I remember was a series of hummed staccato notes against the drone of the 5 horse engine of the boat my FoLKS rented when we went to Prince Albert National Park in 67.
I’ve always written poetry, all crap but a few letters of it, and written songs and political rants. My rant during the second sovereignty referendum I shall love until I die, it’s so quaquaversally hostile and determined to be arch about it, but DAMN it has ideas in it that are STILL funny. I can’t post it because by my current standards it’s irredeemably racist. I could post it, with the racist bits taken out, I suppose. I’ve written various kinds of prose, questionnaires, fake job descriptions, joke sets, stand up sets, rude text for business cards “What’s the name of your cologne, catch of the day?” “I’d rather sit next to a street person than someone with your cologne.” and prose and articles and reviews. I can’t change a word, so I won’t.
Process means very little to me. I experience the start of the process of ONE ART PLEASE as an irritant. A piece of sand to throw a pearl of words around, or if I am a dung beetle, a ball of shite. Tis all the same thing.
My work comes from about ten places.
1. Fuck, I could do better than THAT! Art as status or assertion of excellence.
2. You want twennyfive hunnert words, delivered in six weeks, on Epistemology? No probs! Hangs up phone, looks up epistemology (true story). Otherwise known as writing to order. I mostly do it for church, but I’ve done songs, eulogies, and letters of recommendation.
3. I am walking, driving, watching tv, or lying on Wreck Beach and the art very kindly walks in, sits down, and repeats itself until I get it.
4. I set myself a problem and attempt to solve it. I wrote a love song (two, actually) without propertarian language which could be sung by members of either sex to either sex. I also wrote the Happily Married Song which was ungendered and in my view one of my more successful quickdraws (a minute long… like a commercial).
5. I have a list of scenes to be written and pick one from the pile. I can write a new song anytime. Suppose for the sake of argument I have resolved to write a song today (ignoring the two in the crockpot). I have decided that it will be about a character I really like on tv right now. Well, that would be Teyla (“Leader of my People” – rewatching SGA) because she desperately needs a song about her wit and wisdom. Or Frank Underwood (“My Nasty Evil Scheming Wife and Me”) from House of Cards on Netflix. Or Rust Cohle (“Bayou Nihilist”) from True Detective. Teyla’s song would be neoCelticTrad (to a new tune) Frank Underwood’s song would be a repurposing of Shenandoah (he sang it in the series) or something either Cole Porter or mid century musical; Rust Cohle would either be a filk of the opening title song which can’t really be improved on, or a new tune that was psychobilly on quaaludes. If I was going to write a song about Alicia Florrick (the lead for the Good Wife) it would be an Allegra style folk song, very unironic and earnest. Like the character!
Note that once I’ve picked a topic, I don’t argue with myself about what shape it will take. If you want the words to come out right, they have to sound good in the frame. I’ve also set myself up knowing that I’m either writing the words or both the words and the tune. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the shape of it because that’s not where the work is. Think of the character; put the character in the setting, hear the style of music, pick what’s going to work.
Teyla’s character also sang in SGA, which gives me a starting off point for what’s happening.
Or say for example I want to write a piece of arena rock.
6. I am collaborating with someone.
who is no longer collaborating with me. I know, sounds weird, but there it is.
7. I am rejoicing, and it must be expressed.
8. I am lusting after, and it must be expressed.
9. I am very sadface, and it must be expressed.
10. I am writing to make it happen. If I can be clear enough about it reality will bend the knee and it will come to me. Since this has actually happened more than once, all I can say that people write because it is a powerful magick and even atheists argue about imaginary people, if you tell them up front they are fictional.