I do, from time to time, imagine and sort of formulate the answer to the question: Why do you write music? And tonight, I think it is a simple one to answer. I don’t.
Not so simple to elaborate upon, my answer.
Really, I don’t. I don’t write music. The music writes me. I don’t sing songs, mine or another’s. The song, yours or mine, sings me. If you think that sounds cliche or affected, just stop reading, because honestly, that is how it works for me, and I dare say, for others if not everyone.
I, according only to my friends, musicians with whom I’ve discussed it, am an odd kind of writer. Funny, I am always embarrassed to talk about it, even with said friends, because I think it must illustrate that I am not a musician’s musician. I write, capture, sing, lyrics and melody simultaneously – at exactly the same time. They are a package deal. One that I cannot wholly or competently explain.
I cannot explain in detail or with any real expert understanding why the songs sit truly, accurately between keys, or why one of them is driven to rhythmically modulate from 3/4 to 5/4 and back again in only the first half of every verse. I do not know. It is simply the way it writes itself. And it does. It. Writes. Itself. And I would like to bang my head against every misunderstood piano key sometimes, as if I could pound in the “musicianship” to make these songs less odd and more communicable. But I don’t – bang my head, nor make them more easy for the band of five to play.
That is not my job. My job is just to let the song write itself. Let it go ahead and sit up, like a queen meerkat, sniff the breeze of my life and loves and loss, to climb inside and around, and toss, throw, hurl the lines and their intervals at me, graciously in their fall or not. That’s all. Why do I write? Because the songs might form a mutiny of debilitation should I go about my corporate or depressive business without them. I write because the things that “I” write… give. me. no. choice.
Does it sound overly dramatic? Does it sound, annoyingly, of fog horns over-indulgent with artistic torture buffered by the middle class upbringing I received? It is almost petulant, this spoiled frustration. And some of the songs sound just like that, too. Some of them sound none-so-other-worldly, some perfectly at home in a country bar with Michelobe in-hand. Some, they are at home nowhere and so will never be heard but by my own ears in the car and maybe, if especially brave, by my cat.
I point you now to a most wonderful conversation led by Elizabeth Gilbert at TED. She talks of creativity as a partnership between self and genius, that mystical entity that brings us the goods if not simply collaborating on the ones we invent. I get very teary every time I watch this. A couple of key quotes, then the video itself. Please, watch it all. The end is worth it.
“Is it logical that anybody should be afraid of the work they were put on this world to do?”
“In ancient Greece and ancient Rome… people believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source for distant and unknowable reasons… The Romans called that sort of disembodied creative spirit a genius… this sort of magical divine entity… that was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist’s studio… and who would come out and invisibly shape to results of an artist’s work…”
Elizabeth goes on to talk about the unfortunate hazards of a world that has disembarked from this perspective and placed sole ownership and responsibility for creative “genius” on humans themselves vs. holding true to the insight that the glimpses of god that are experienced in art are those offered forth in partnership between the human and the divine, sometimes clumsy, oft capricious, genius.
I do not know if this is what I experience, if the songs that sing me alive are of another world, me the simple work horse to deliver them, or if there is simply a piece of my soul that is willing to take responsibility for every word and ounce of melody. Whatever it is, whoever is responsible, I hold true to the knowing that I do not sing songs. I do not write songs. They sing me, they write me and it is from their light, the light of god and living, that I am animate.
I write because the song would have it no other way. And neither would I.