Everybody has an interesting story, but it’s generally not the one they’ll tell you first. How Bob kicked the winning field goal in the last high school game is interesting to Bob. It’s the story that makes Bob feel giddy as he anticipates excitement rising in your expression. To get a grand sense of this, read William Shatner’s or Donald Trump’s autobiographies. They’re stuffed with vignettes that portray them as brave, smart and very cool. (I actually enjoyed Shatner’s.) They’re the same stories you’ve been button-holed in the corner at a cocktail party to hear. There are one or two in this blog to be honest.
The good stories are the ones you pull out of yourself like arrowheads. They make you squirm. They’re embarrassing or shameful – so much so they’re likely to be embedded in fiction, or told as though they happened to someone else.
Those are the ones I want to hear, and write. Most of us, I suspect, have several. But, like I say, they’re hard to tell.
*The painting is Leonardo DaVinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci, c. 1474.
Songwriting is the charmer’s art. When I first hear a song that moves me, I become thoughtlessly rude. My senses shift from whatever or whomever held my attention to the source. I am instantly captivated by a voice. A groove. A line of melody, A wave of harmony. Songs like John and Paul’s A Day in the Life, Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, Joan Baez’ version of Tom Paxton’s There But By Fortune, Pentangle’s version of Lord Franklin, Jackson Browne’s Our Lady of the Well, Jimi’s take on All Along the Watchtower. Continue reading →
I wrote this song a few years ago after hearing that the son of high school friend of mine taken his own life. I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind. I woke up from a dream several weeks later with this song ringing in my head. Click on the picture below:
Songs, like antiques, are more valuable with a bit of provenance. Document your music with a piece of background.
What happens between songs on stage is important. As you check your tuning, tell a story about the next number. Draw the listener in. Be clear. Don’t rush into it. Allow the moment of the last song to fade gracefully. Then set the stage for the next one with a little bit of story.
“I wrote this about my wife during a trial separation.”
“I derived the next song from my great-great-grandmother’s diary written when she was a teenager in Northern Virginia during the Civil War.”
“This is about a certain day in the life of Sir Isaac Newton.”
Prefacing your songs in this way will help guide your audience into the moment you’ve prepared for them.
Though I think of myself as a storyteller and songwriter, I hadn’t often put those two together in my writings. It seemed like a writer of story songs had to have a certain bent that I didn’t seem to have. Continue reading →