Monday, July 26, 2010

'I'm young again, even though I'm very old..'

So... I recently started writing songs again, maybe ten years after doing it seriously last time. I'm still re-learning the process - and obviously it's different for everyone - but I'm finding that more than anything it reflects how focused my mind is on any given day.

For example, I sat down the other morning determined to finish one song by the end of the day, but because I couldn't really concentrate I couldn't close it out. My head was all over the place and I ended up with melodic structures for four others. And no lyrics for any of them.

Lyrics used to be what came easy to me. When I played in bands in the past, I ended up one of the main songwriters by default because I wrote lyrics, but anytime I brought a melody idea to rehearsal it always turned out to be a collaboration, with everyone else throwing in ideas on tempo, key, rhythm of the lyrics, whatever. Very often by the end of a couple hours rehearsal, the only thing that would be the same might end up being the title. And the song was better in the end because of it.

There are two big things that are different now from the last time I sat down to seriously write a song. The first is GarageBand. My God, where were you when I really needed you thirty years ago?

At the moment, my relationship with Apple's app is very much more love than hate. The great thing is it lets me collaborate with myself; it's like having another guitar player there who knows exactly what I want on a particular track. The slightly less great thing is it's been stalling out on me and I've lost a couple of tracks I was trying to save. But overall it's just amazing for laying down live demos and then revisiting them days later.

If the melodies still "work" a couple of days on, they're worth persevering with.

Over the past week I've recorded seven or eight raw demos on GarageBand, out of which I might end up with two or three decent songs. But just being able to pick up a guitar and click a button when inspiration strikes is simply priceless.

There are other technologies, of course, that make writing and collaborating easier - SoundCloud, for example, which I've signed up for but haven't uploaded anything to yet.

But the second, and infinitely cooler, thing for me that's different is that my stepson plays guitar and - assuming I can distract him from his XBox - I can always jam riffs with him whenever I feel like I need to work something out and see if it plays ok.

He's actually a much better guitarist than I was at 16; he has an excellent one-on-one teacher, and it's only a matter of time before he finds a band that he can have some fun with. But the fact that I get to jam with him and watch him develop is just great fun for me.

So for now, songwriting's a puzzle and I'm just enjoying trying to put the pieces together. It's time to start thinking about lyrics again. That will be interesting. I realized today that the last time I wrote lyrics that got performed in public, I was 20 years old.

I might be the same person, but my idea of what makes a "good song" has probably moved on.

We'll soon find out.


Talking of songwriting, one of my absolute favorite songwriters is the late John Martyn. And now it turns out there's going to be a tribute album later this month. Although the list of artists sounds great, I have to admit I'm nervous about hearing some of my favorite songs "re-interpreted".

But maybe I'm just being too precious. For example, there were some tracks on this I could have done without, but then again, some others were magical. If the songs are strong enough, they'll hold up no matter what anyone else does to them.

And deep down, to keep a songwriter's music relevant and meaningful beyond the moment it was written, it should be constantly covered by new artists.


Happy Birthday to one of Rock's most charismatic figures, Sir Michael Philip Jagger, who turns 67 today. And if you believe the papers, he may be close to calling it quits on the touring front. Not sure I buy it. As the piece says, the Stones' first "farewell tour" was exactly 39 years ago.

And the public's demand for Mick and the band seems as strong as ever.

This is one of the first rock autographs I ever collected, about 25 years ago. I'm sad to say I didn't get it in person, but rather through a dealer. I just knew I wanted a Mick Jagger autograph, and this is a great photo of him (it wasn't signed contemporaneously).

I've only seen the Stones play live once, at Wembley Stadium on the Voodoo Lounge tour in July 1995. Great, great show. I also saw Mick sing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary show at Madison Square Garden, where he just blew the house down.

But since we're on a songwriting theme today, and thinking about the merits or otherwise of cover versions, here's what might well be my favorite Stones song to play live, covered the other night at the Stone Pony by two of my favorite artists.

1 comment:

  1. I like the way this post flowed. From the personal to the passionate.

    Age has its own ways when it comes to talents. I do sincerely wish that you get the verve to write passionately as you used to do.

    Best for everything,