Sunday, December 16, 2012

(MQM photo)

Arrggh! Good ol' Google has changed the layout/interface since the last time I was here - I will adjust (I'm from New Jersey).

Went up to Vineland last night to hear Shawn Colvin at the Landis Theatre
El and I and Deb and JM.
You take it for granted sometimes, but it’s a real honor, a gift - when a writer will share their gifts with you. Came home so inspired to get serious about my writing.

This morning (Yay, Sunday mornings/afternoons) I’m looking through my notebooks - finally think I have an idea about how to ‘work’ on my songs.
I'm going to pick a few - half dozen of the bunches of possibles from the books, maybe some of the ones that've been nagging me for attention for a long time.
I'm actually kind of glad to find things scribbled down in the books that surprise me - stuff I'd forgotten about. Feel a little like a cook who might finally feel like there are enough raw materials in the pantry to make something that might taste good and be interesting.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


(MQ Murphy image)

So - I guess I was wondering whether performing songs would help me with songwriting. I think it has. There is a component to the good song - singability. I was just listening to a few songs on the International Songwriting Competition website. There was at least one that I started humming along with about halfway through. The songs were on a page of past winners in the various categories - I was listening to the 'folk' and 'singer-songwriter' categories, of course, though I also listened to a jazz vocal composition from a woman in Ireland.

I've been 'playing out' a lot this year - usually two to three nights a week at the Pilot House and I've also been hosting an Open Mic at The Mad Batter on Sunday nights. Playing more often has improved my guitar playing and given me opportunities to try different approaches to phrasing with my songs.

One thing that I'm not sure I know how to do yet is 'work' on songs. I keep my notebooks with me almost all the time and write things down in them just about every day. It seems that I'm usually waiting for some idea to reach a critical mass where it sort of finishes itself - the results are . . . mixed.

I've got a few tunes that I guess I consider finished, but they feel to me as though I was forcing them to conclusions just to have something finished. That's accurate, because I pushed some of them along in the time between being accepted to perform at Singer-Songwriter Cape May and the date of the actual performances. Just a side note here - I'm remembering that my friend George Mesterhazy was there at the real 'first' performance at the Pilot House - it put me much more at ease to have him sitting at a front table. His comments afterward were so encouraging.

I should also say that I've got a few that I consider finished and pretty good. I get good reactions to 'Driver Has No Money' and 'Country Song'. I've been asked who did the 'original version' of Driver and several people have asked me if it was available on CD. A guy who was an editor at Time Magazine and currently writes a blog for Huffington Post complimented a performance of 'Country Song' and offered to forward it to a producer friend in Nashville. At this point I want just one quiet morning or evening to record basic versions of the better songs for official copyright submission.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Essential equipment.

Six weeks ago today I got careless while using the table saw for a project. For reasons not clear to me right now I ended up putting my left index finger into the saw blade.
The first thought in my mind was 'oh, no - guitar fingers!' . . .

Carbide-tipped saw blades can deal with much harder materials than flesh and bone - the blade didn't hesitate for a second to alter what I offered it. My injury could have been much worse - looking at the blade path tells me that another 3/8" would have meant that I was carrying the fingertip with me to the ER. As it was, the Doctor put about 12 stitches from the front, over the tip and down the other side to pull it back together. Well numbed, I didn't feel it when he put the stitches right through the fingernail. Funny to look at it now and see those little holes in the nail.

The stitches were taken out 12 days later - the healing process is going well. Somehow my body is pretty good about healing, especially my hands. I had done something similar - worse, actually - about 26 years before when working on another table saw. That accident shredded the tips of the middle and ring fingers on the left hand and they ended up about 1/4" shorter than they had been.
(I started a song a while back about the abuse suffered by the left hand of a right-handed carpenter)
Back then I was more actively pursuing the side career of pottery - it was my major in college and I had made various attempts to make a living by it. I think that working clay with the fingers as they healed had a positive effect on the whole process. It seemed to me that connecting the mind with the fingers in order to create something made the healing a more organic process - a less passive process. Actually, I've never tried to put it into words and so I'm finding it a bit awkward to describe what I thought I was doing . . .

I thought of that today as I went out to an old plastic tub behind the barn and dug out a small fistful of stoneware clay. It is a tub of scrap clay that has been sitting there with the lid blown off, just weathering for twenty years or more. The kind of clay you'd kill for if you were making some pots - it'll be really plastic from sitting so long. I've been thinking for the last few weeks that I should make clay-working part of the healing process for this injury, too. Shape and flesh-wise, the finger looks like it will be fine for guitar playing. The sensation in it is a mess right now - a weird combination of numbness and over-sensitivity. I know I've got six months until the fingernail is back to normal, but just watching the body go through the healing process is pretty amazing.

I was thinking recently, they say Eskimos have a hundred different words for snow - I should have two hundred words for luck.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Worthless Man

3/02/12 Early, like 1:37 AM

Been working on Worthless Man - trying to make it not suck. It is a ponderous downer of a song, so it seems the latest thing that I’m trying with it is to do it way uptempo. I’m liking this so far, but I’ve been liking what I did to it until I didn’t like it anymore. The chord changes are falling together in a way that I’m happier with. Two verses, a bridge, an instrumental verse (c’mon, Tom Naglee!) and two last verses. Liking the shape of it for now, hoping to do it tomorrow at PHOMN.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sometimes a lifetime just ain't enough

(photo by Patti Goyette)

Samuel Johnson said something about imminent death having the effect of focussing the mind. It can have the same effect on those only peripherally affected by death.

To get right to the point, I write very regularly in a songwriting notebook.
If you were to page through the book you'd see bits of phrase, brief thoughts - usually on a given day nothing more than a couple of lines.

This week, on Monday, I got the news of the death of a friend by his own hand. So - this week there are six pages of scribbles and revisions on the subject of his passing . . .

I didn't ask what method he chose
It wasn't important for me to know
I only know that gone is gone
I only know that gone is gone
He's the one staying here
We're the ones moving on

Everywhere I looked this week I saw trucks pulled up side by side
They were talking through the open windows
Talking about the one who died
They found out on Sunday
The carpenter's day of rest
Found him lying on a bed
With a pistol on his chest

I didn't know what method he chose
It wasn't important for me to know
I only know that gone is gone
I only know that gone is gone
He's the one staying here
We're the ones moving on

This Thursday won't be a workday
You'll leave the Carhartt's on the floor
You'll put on a jacket and tie
And head on out the door
Stand around down at Spilker's
Til you just can't stand any more

Trying to get it right, well that can take a lifetime
And sometimes a lifetime just ain't enough
It's not the bad weather, the short money or the sore muscles
It's the being alone that can be so . . . tough.

I didn't know what method he chose
If it left a hole, well it didn't show
I only know that gone is gone
I only know that gone is gone
He's the one in the box
We're the ones looking on
I only know that gone is gone
I only know that gone is gone
He's the one staying here
We're the ones moving on


Sunday, January 15, 2012

So, how's that 'songwriting' thing going?

Well - got some notes here from an evening more than a year ago, and some news . . . first, the old notes:

Hooted last night at The Merion with Deb, Mike Kearns, Glenn, Barry T, Barry and Elaine, George and Vickie. Seriously enjoyed myself despite throwing numerous clams. I sang "Killing the Blues" earnestly and artlessly. That's my net assessment as of early this morning. I'm finding out more about what it takes to perform music. Whether or not I ultimately think of myself as a performer, it is still important for me to learn this.
I've hung with Gordon a little and talked to Geo M about recording - told both Gordon and George that my current goal is to be able to produce a demo of three or four songs this year in time to submit it for application to SSCM '11.
My current assessment of my strengths/weaknesses is as follows: I have a nice, if not particularly interesting, voice. My guitar playing skills are fair within a rather narrow comfort range. My knowledge of music is scant, but I'm working on that (in a slacker manner).
I think that my most exploitable skill lies in lyric writing. There seems to be a part of my brain that runs all day long on a kind of side rail, simultaneously with the 'getting-work-done' part of the brain. I've been writing more things down in the past year with the explicit intention that they might be song lyrics. In other words, some degree of rhyming, a few themes, an effort to make these little things arc over a few minutes and make some kind of point - a profound point would be great, any old kind of point is acceptable and of course preferable to pointlessness. Okay?

Soooo . . . I've kept at it, actually finished a few songs last year. I decided not to apply for SSCM in 2011 - a couple of songwriters that I knew were applying and I felt (rightly) that I was nowhere near ready. They had plenty of material, and they had been working at the craft for years. I felt that somehow it would be disrespectful to elbow my way into that scene. That, and the fact that I need a deadline to make me get things done. I guess I never really resolved to get the material together in time.
A year isn't all that long these days - it flew by and I did resolve to apply this year - which meant having some kind of recorded versions of some tunes. In the last month or so I joined the Songwriter's Guild of America and registered with BMI. I applied to SSCM 2012 last week and was accepted - which means that I'm going to have to finish about 8 of my unfinished tunes if I'm going to have enough material to do a 30 minute set. Yikes!