oyster makes a pearl because some foreign piece of matter, like
a grain of sand, has entered the oyster and he covers it with layers
of nacre (mother of pearl). Basically, he's sort of spitting at
it because it's an annoyance. I think songwriters are like that.
If something is stuck in our craw, so to speak, we spit at it until
we get a song. Or if we are longing for someone, unbearably, we
write a song to give an outlet for all the feeling we can't express
to the missing or oblivious person. There's usually an element of
"reaching for" or "unfulfilled" or "discontent" before a pearl of
a song comes out.
doesn't mean all songs are going to express anger or longing. Sometimes,
there's a longing to express gratitude or abiding devotion. But
there's a longing there, nevertheless. It's hard to express these
things in day-to-day existence. I just got an assignment from one
of my correspondence course students which is going to lead to a
very positive love song for his wife. I dare say it will have some
lovely pearls she has never heard, even over the most romantic dinner.
Art has a way of condensing and purging deeper emotions that mere
conversation isn't capable of expressing.
where do we get the piece of sand? I'm sure there are a few things
bugging you at the moment, but they would not all be great songs.
In looking for a dry and boring subject to illustrate this point,
my first thought was that the IRS would not necessarily inspire
a good song, but then I remembered Alfred Johnson's "W2" and realized
that in the hands of a skillful songwriter there are no bad subjects.
But is there a rule of thumb? What might work better than what?
been interested for a long time in what brings inspiration. It seems
that having a certain distance from that which is inspiring us is
essential, even if you have to find a way to get that distance on
purpose. It's no accident that there's an expression, "Never marry
the muse." A muse is worth its weight in plutonium. I've known people
who have stayed in totally bogus relationships only because of the
songs that person inspired, when in fact, there was no real relationship
in the first place. But it was the equivalent of the eggs that Woody
Allen mentioned at the end of "Annie Hall." He did it for the eggs.
We do it for the songs. And for some reason, doing anything that
will close that distance changes the person from being a muse to
being someone too close to serve that purpose.
recently read a poem by Wislawa Szymborska, a Nobel prize winner
and one of my favorite poets. It's called "I am too close," and
one of lines, and the recurring theme, is: "I am too close for him
to dream of me." She writes about having her arm under her lover's
head as he is dreaming of an usherette he saw once. She nails this
concept better than I've ever heard it discussed. We frequently
write (and dream) about fantasies and longings, much more than we
dream of those closest to us.
the other hand, those of us who want to have it all try to find
a way to long for what we have. Goldie Hawn once said in an interview
that she fantasizes about Kurt Russell, her long-term partner. This
keeps the dream alive and is something I consider very good advice.
There's a rampant viewpoint that the thrill of the chase is the
only thrill there is. After the "prize" is "won," the game is over.
This is patently an unevolved viewpoint, but it's so ingrained and
reinforced by films and novels and songs, that we sometimes forget
we have a choice. The reason I mention this in a songwriting article
is that it affects the way we write. It's not just ruining our love
lives; it's ruining our songs. It's also helpful to know the difference
between something you're writing about and something you want to
curl up with for a lifetime.
people try to harness the muse and get it to go in an "appropriate"
direction. The catch-22 of this is that only when you know yourself
very well can you get this to work. And most people who know themselves
very well have given up trying to steer the muse. They just let
it be where it is.
have lots of students who are happily married who write about some
old relationship they never quite felt complete about. That's where
the juices are. They don't want to be back there in that relationship.
But that's where the muse is perched. So that's where they go for
the characters and the songs. I think this is fine. I once asked
my producer, Nik Venet, why a particular couple (both very creative,
great songwriters) couldn't make it together in life when they were
obviously so much in love and they wrote such powerful songs about
each other. He answered with a succinct wisdom he was known for:
"Fire needs more than fire. It needs wood."
back to our oyster analogy. It used to require a search of over
1000 oysters to find one pearl. Now, cultured pearls are made by
putting a bead in an oyster and putting him back into the water.
Then the pearls are collected. The cultured pearls are made the
same way as naturally occurring pearls, except that some enterprising
person decided to help nature irritate more oysters into making
pearls. I realized while thinking this through that I do that on
a daily basis with songwriters. I don't have to insert the bead.
They already have them. They just don't know where to look until
I direct them. Once they get the knack of it, they're off and writing.
a look at your own life. See where your beads are, and I don't mean
the perspiration on your forehead when you're trying to pull a song
out of nothing. There are plenty of sources of inspiration. Get
out your radar and find that muse. She may be perched on the question
mark of an old relationship. She may be looking out from the eyes
of your present beloved. Or she could be leaping from the pages
of an editorial that gets you crazy. Muses love to hide. But you're
a songwriter. It's your job to find them.
Schock is a gold and platinum songwriter/recording artist whose
songs have been recorded my numerous artists and used in films. "Ain't
No Way To Treat A Lady" has become a standard and was nominated for
a Grammy. Her fourth and fifth CDs, American Romance and Rosebud,
both produced by Nik Venet, have recently been released, as well as
her book, Becoming Remarkable, published by Blue Dolphin. In addition
to performing worldwide, she speaks, teaches and consults in person
and offers a correspondence course via the Internet. For further information
about her book, CDs, concerts or consultation, go to http://harrietschock.com/
or call (323) 934-5691. For reviews of her albums go to http://allmusic.com.