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Songwriting, an occasional series

Lyric of the week (I’m assuming I manage to keep this blog on a weekly basis…)


Downtown

My darling dime store thief

In the War of Independence

Rock 'n' roll rang sweet as victory

Under neon signs

A girl was in bloom

And a woman was fading

In a suburban room


I said take me to the dance

Do you want to dance?

I love to dance

And I told him

They don't take chances

They seem so removed from romance

They've been broken in churches & schools

And moulded to middle class circumstance

And we were rollin'

Rollin'

Rock 'n' rollin'


(Joni Mitchell - from ‘In France They Kiss On Main Street’)


Songs, like scents, can transport us to moments in time, to people we once knew, loved, to times when we knew we were alive. I had a cat, many years ago, who has always, ever since, been my ‘darling dime store thief’ - he stole car keys, pens, milk from the fridge - a complex heist that involved lying on his back to pop the door seal then bear hugging a pint bottle from the door shelf until it spilled. Fixed in that time, university days, days of discovering Joni. Joni is pinning down an era - “Gail and Louise In those push up brassieres, tight dresses and rhinestone rings, drinking up the band's beers” - You don’t need to have been a teenager in the late 50s early sixties (Joni throws in ‘Bye Bye Love’ an Everly Bros hit in 1957) to catch that feeling of rock and roll years, music changing the world, but your finding the song will also pitch you back to that time of your life.


How does a song like this get written? Just speak aloud the first verse and you’ll pick up the melody, the line breaks help. Did Joni have pages of poems wanting music? I don’t know but suspect not. I can’t see her planning out verse/verse/chorus etc, counting off syllables… the melody was there and the words flowed from that opening idea.


Stuck? Staring at the notebook, at the blank page where the monsters hang out, waiting? Or trying to knock phrases into some sort of rhythmic order and flow? With my poets hat on (it’s a beret) I can tell you you need to dodge ‘the thought police’. The thought police want you to write what you think you should be writing, and to impose order, sense and proper rhymes. Find a word or phrase that has a musicality for you, that pushes you towards - somewhere. If still uncertain, steal someone else’s - you can ring in the changes later. Be a dime store thief and lift riffs, chord progressions, later you’ll edit these ‘borrowed’ ideas and make your own from them. Now, start with a hum, a mumble, maybe beating time on the table or picking out a one string/one finger melody and add words as they come into your head. Use your phone, tablet, voice recorder whatever… but record your new creation. You have something that didn’t exist a few moments ago.


If, like me, you have notebooks full of fragments - thoughts, overheard conversations, ideas, the beginnings of poems, songs and stories that never progressed much beyond a skimpy outline or even just a single word or phrase… roll it around and find the music locked in. Shake it loose.


I am contemplating a regular songwriters circle, a workshop for outlaws dodging the thought police… Interested?























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