Went to Las Vegas last weekend to celebrate my birthday. Yes, I know. Why in the world would I go to Las Vegas? I don’t drink. I don’t gamble. But I didn’t want to be home alone with the cats, watching the snow come down on my birthday.
D used to go to Vegas a lot with a favorite customer of his. It sounded like such fun when he went, although he’d always call on day 2 and say how awful it was, that he was ready to come home. I never quite believed him.
My sister-in-law, Cindy, was my companion on this adventure. We stayed at a very nice hotel, 11 miles off the strip, called Red Rock Hotel and Casino. We figured out how to avoid the casino for the most part. We hiked in Red Rock Canyon, bathed in the hot springs there. Then nearly met our deaths in a kayak on the Colorado River. It was a fun trip, actually.
I’ve been in the studio every day since getting back. I’m in a good routine lately. Today I worked on one started two years ago. I think it was the first or second thing I wrote on piano. I’ve never been able to get past the first verse. But it came together today. About 90 percent, anyway. It’s a sad one, but I’m looking for a way to turn it around at the end.
My friend Meryl stopped by in the afternoon. I played her a song I started recording last week (I’ve got an acoustic guitar, a lead vocal, and a temporary background part on it so far).
“So, were you just sitting here thinking about what’s his name the whole time you wrote this song,” she asked me.
This is a question that comes up a lot and somehow I’m always surprised by it.
The writing of the song is what I’m thinking about when I’m writing the song. The person, the event, the feeling, the idea, is the spark. Maybe even the engine. But once I start writing the song, all the specifics of that song completely take over my imagination and I go into the world of that song.
I’m thinking about beginnings and endings, about syllable count and whether a line will sing well. I love the process. I suppose there’s usually an element of working through something I’m going through emotionally, but as is the case with the sad song I worked on today, I’m not limited by actual feelings or events. The song is fictionalized to be a better song. It has to feel balanced as a story. It has to flow.
I guess the reason I’m so adamant about distinguishing my work from my life is because if songwriting is just reporting, then the craft of it is negated, and I pride myself on that part of it. I love and respect the art of songwriting so much.
Of course, I do believe the deeper you go for the emotional basis of your song, the more weight it will have in the end. But the song is something completely different from the person or event that inspired it. If it comes out well, it can be the saddest thing in the world, but leaves me feeling happy, satisfied, deeply gratified. (I’d be curious to hear other writers’ comments about this.)