Author: Compton, Cliff


One late night, I think it was at Pete and Laura Hicks festival by the fruit stand outside of Gilroy I was playing a new song Iíd written. When I was finished, Larry Kuhn said something to this effect: I donít know why people write songs. There are thousands of great songs out there already. Why do we need any new songs?

Iíve thought about that for a long time. I guess Iíd answer that question with a question. Why do we breath? The big picture answer to that is, because it keeps us alive.

I donít know all the answers to the great questions of life, but Iíve got a few ideasÖSongwriting is first and foremost a gift. You donít do nothing to get it. Itís like air. Itís just there. You wake up in the morning and thereís a song going through your head. You didnít put it there, itís just there. Certainly songwriting is also a craft, but the process is two parts inspiration and one part perspiration, and if you get those two parts mixed up, you end up doing a lot of sweating for nothing. The best songs I ever wrote just showed up in my head, and took about ten minutes to write down. The worst ones were agonizing marathons of trying to work some self generated, self indulgent, philosophical concept into a living work of art. Most of those mighty works are lining the base of a landfill in some forgotten hole in the ground.

Leonard Cohen would disagree with me. He spends years working on individual songs some of those songs win Grammyís and important awards, some touch the hearts of people, and some are lining the bottom of leonard cohens bird cage. Aww what does he know anyway. He lives in New York. He ainít never rolled in clover. He walks on asphault.

When I was fourteen years old, I had a head full of songs they were breeding like the mosquitos in my swimming pool. I couldnít write them all down. Iíd start one, and the next one would intrude and ruin my train of thought and leave me with chorus and a couple of disconnected lines that I didnít know what to do with. Finally I had to have something to play them so I got a guitar, and the rest is history, or mathematics, if youíd prefer something less pompous.

I still remember the first song I wrote. The chorus went like this.

Oh a promise is a promise
A vow is a vow
You promised youíd love me
So what happened nowÖ

So take that, Mr. Leonard Cohen. You have my permission to use that on your next album.

I figure everybodyís life is a book of songs that just havenít been written. A series of snapshots exposing your humanity to the next generation. Those songs ought to be written down, not left to perish in the gray coils of your brain where they eventually become nothing but nutrition for the skin worms.

Write your songs. Keep them simple. They make the world better. Play them often. If people donít like them. Play them louder. They ought be heard. Somebody somewhere is feeling the same thing that you were living, when you wrote that song.

Posted:  4/9/2010

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