Viva Las Songs

img_0850_2.jpgWent 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.)

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6 Responses to Viva Las Songs

  1. cindy says:

    lori, you neglected to mention tornado-like winds & icy water. However, there were many highlights like our beautiful hotel room and view and the relaxing facials. It was a great weekend!!! Next time, Paris!

  2. robertf101 says:

    First of all – Happy Birthday! Las Vegas is a crazy
    place. The lights, the people, and the constant sound
    of slot machines. You were wise to stay off the strip.
    And away from the casinos. The area is actually quite
    pretty once your away from it all.

    Anyways, what I wanted to say was that I agree with
    what you wrote about the writing process. That the
    person may spark the song, but after that it has a
    life of its own. When I think about my pile of songs
    (finished and the ones started and left for dead), the
    first line, and sometimes the first verse, is about a
    specific person or related to a specific person but
    then it becomes something else. I had a cousin go
    blind in one eye a few years back which sparked a song
    with the first line of “What is it to see?” The song
    has nothing to do with going blind, nothing to do with
    my cousin. I guess very few of my songs are true, the
    emotion is, but the story is pretty much made up. If
    there is even a story. A lot of the time it feels like
    one continual ramble, just broken up into a pile of
    songs.

    Loving the new site, and online store!

    robert

  3. chuckpadgett says:

    I’ve never been able to fictioalize my songs. I’ve always been creative but not when it comes to making things up. Mayabe I take the honesty thing to the extreme and limit myself but I wouldn’t know where to begin if I was trying to pull something out of thin air. My songs have always been a product of my experiences and observations. I see songwriting as therapy, a way of exorcising thoughts from my head when they become overwhelming. I always loved that it was a way of pulling something positive (the happy, satisfied, deeply gratified feeling you mentioned) out of something negative.

    For me, the craft part of it is much the same as what you mentioned but with the added challenge of fitting all of the facts into a concise format. I love fiction but it’s not something I do well. (If I was a filmmaker, I’d probably make documentaries.) There is also the craft of picking the instrumentation that will best convey the story. Some work best as a sketch (guitar & vocal) while others beg for a painting (three part harmonies and orchestration). In the end, it all comes down to whatever works. The thing I love most about music is that while there might be a few rules, there really are no rules.

  4. jane says:

    the craft was perhaps the greatest thing i took from the workshop all those years ago. the notion that the song, the center, could be shifted and shaped, turned and remapped into something with an arch. before, the music just poured out in an idealized mush, relying on my voice alone to contextualize it. the notion and the art of the craft was new and ultimately freeing.

    but for me, i don’t think its a matter of fictionalizing; the song, the center, still has to come from an internal point of reference, an honest point of internal resonance. i’m not sure if it’s what you were referring to as difference between the song and the person/event that inspired it. at this point, i think that they are still intrinsically linked for me. i feel some sort of allegiance to the moment. a moment of catharsis between my heart and my head or, as chuck put it, a therapy of sorts. perhaps, that just marks where i still have to learn or cultivate the craft. though, i have to admit that i sometimes get a bit stuck in my musical dramas and they only repeat and loop the same arch with the same conventions… more work needed for me.

    and happy belated birthday. :)

  5. admin says:

    Love the debate re: fiction versus true fact. For me the act of “fiction” occurs as soon as I am concerned with the criteria of the song itself. The entire lyric of the song may be about the facts of my life, or my feelings about it. But if my attention, my loyalty, my interest is now about the creation of the song, then it is fictionalized. I have no obligation to the person or event that inspired the song. I can write whatever the song needs regardless of whether it happened that way or not. This is what I mean by “fiction.”

    Thanks for all the comments and birthday wishes!

    Love.
    Lori

  6. jane says:

    in my nerdy music studies, i came across this today and thought it entirely appropriate to this discussion. i guess this degree is good for something!

    “we can never rely on inspiration. when we most want it, it does not come. therefore the composer does not sit around and wait for an inspiration to walk up and introduce itself. when he substitutes for it is nothing more than talent plus his knowledge…

    Making music is actually little else than a matter of invention aided and abetted by emotion. In composing we combine what we know of music with what we feel. i see a piece of music in the form of a design… No matter what they say about ‘nothing new under the sun,’ it is always possible to invent something original. the song writer takes an idea and adds his own individuality to it; he uses his capacity for invention in arranging bars his own way.”

    - george gershwin, 1930

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