A Spiritual Approach to Songwriting Songwriting as a Contact Sport TPR Songwriting Exercises Borrowed Exercises So You Wanna Write a Song? Songs I Like Anatomy of a Song 1 Anatomy of a Song 2 Anatomy of a Song 3 Anatomy of a Song 4 Tom Prasada-Rao doesn’t really teach songwriting. He encourages and facilitates and strives to create an environment of comfort and safety – a place where anything is possible. His process is to learn by doing with scores of quick, fun exercises. It’s together, not top down - he never gives out an assignment that he doesn’t do as well. TPR was the songwriting instructor at the University of Virginia’s “Young Writer’s Workshops from 2000 to 2007. That program was modeled after The University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop. It was there at UVA while creating the songwriting curriculum that he developed his craft. Over the years TPR has been on the teaching staff at The Swannanoa Gathering, Summer Songs, Lamb’s Retreat, Kerrville, Sister’s, and Rocky Mountain Song Schools, and Kerrville’s Boys & Girls Musicamp.”
A Spiritual Approach to Songwriting Lean forward into your life – Mary Ann Radmacher It’s never too late to be what you might have been – George Eliot Whatever you can do or dream you can do begin it – boldness has genius magic and power in it – Goethe There are scores of books at Barnes and Noble on how to write songs. Most are excellent, outlining this melodic device or that lyric technique, written by master teachers with proven pedigrees. They all have something valuable to say and they will help you get better as a songwriter. But there is one book I’ve never seen on those shelves, one I’d like to see someday. It would have 365 unruled pages and at the top of each page it would simply say: write. It is my belief that you learn to write by writing. I believe no amount of knowledge can substitute for the practice. And it is a practice – somewhere between brushing your teeth, and your morning yoga. It’s cleansing, it’s muscle memory, and it’s spirit filled. Giving yourself the time to write is an act of compassion: I am more important than the list of things I have to do today. When you write songs, you want to play them; and when you play them, you learn what works and what doesn’t. You create your own path. Then you can say, as you read your Jason Blume, Sheila Davis, or Pat Pattison book: “Thank you for that piece of advice.” However, there is something that precedes the practice: the belief that you can do it. But you don’t even need to believe now – just fake it ‘til you make it – and here’s how: Take the line you’ve had in your head forever, then add another line to it. Add another two lines and you have a verse. Did you know there are only nine distinct lyric lines in My Girl by the Temptations? Did you know there are only three different melodic lines in that song? Do you know how close you are? Let me combine Thich Naht Hanh with George Eliot and Goethe for a second. Breathing in, say: I have always wanted to be a songwriter. Breathing out, say: I am writing. Breathing in, say: I have always dreamed of writing a song for my mother. Breathing out, say: I begin now. back to top TPR at the Bluebird - Karan Simpson”
Songwriting as a Contact Sport THE RULES: 1) less is more 2) when in doubt repeat 3) KISS keep it simple stupid 4) when in doubt repeat Writing is a lethal contact sport with 2 halves in the game. The first half with it’s rush of adrenaline, testing the limits, running full tilt until you’re winded, leaves you breathless. The second half with it’s nail biting race to the end, gut check time, strategic conversations with the coach, slamming your bat to the ground, and even sometimes those interminable time-outs, makes you feel like you’re never going to win. The First Half: Exploring – writing anything and everything you can think of, without a filter. What is the point of your song? Can you attach a feeling or mood to it? Can you attach a place, a time, a person? This is the stage where everything is on the table, and nothing is stupid. Don’t say to yourself “that sucks.” Just write it down and move on. Put the point or title in the center of a page, then explore for a while. Write down everything – synonyms, antonyms, rhymes, leaps of lyric logic that may have nothing to do with your point. Think in terms of opposites. Imagine yourself as Salvador Dali painting your song. If you know what you’re feeling, ask yourself: What does it feel like in your hands, what does it taste like, whose face does it wear, what color is it, when did you feel it the most, why are you feeling it now, and what would you go back to change if you could? Kill your editor. Editor – gone. Buh bye editor. Editor, what editor? Get the picture? The Second Half: Editing – shaping, modifying, trimming, making sense of all this stuff you’ve written. Do you have pages and pages of stuff to work with now? More verses than you know the song can handle? If so, then good for you. If not, chances are you’re not done exploring. Now comes the hard part. Revive your editor, ‘cause now you’re going to have to kill your babies. (Brutal, I know – but that’s what it feels like) You probably have tons of great lines, really cool metaphors, awesome lyric rhythms and the like. This is where great songwriters are born, and mediocre ones are exposed. As good as those lines are, some of them have to go. Do you have the courage? When you think you’re done … Let me repeat what Tom Kimmel said to me when we were having trouble finishing a song – give yourself permission to write a bad song. Take the pressure off. It is a worthy endeavor whether you ever sing this song or not, so long as it leads to the next one, keeping you in the flow. Michael Smith at Lamb’s Retreat several years ago said something that’s stuck with me: “I sometimes think the only job of a songwriter is to set a mood.” Have you set a mood with your song? Have you created an environment where the listener can breathe? Want to find that for your song? Start with silence. I’m serious. Most guitar players play way too much, never muffling the strings, never altering rhythms, never giving the listener a chance to catch their breath. Dynamics alone (loud to soft, intense to almost careless) can make a huge difference in how good your song is. And we haven’t talked about a hook yet. A hook is something that reels you in to the song. The bass line in Brick House by The Commodores, the guitar riff to The Police’s Every Breath You Take, the clapping in Hey Mickey You’re So Fine, the piano in Bruce Hornsby’s The Way It Is, the word "Fire" in the Springsteen song … This just in – hooks are a good idea! Happy Fishing! back to top
SONGWRITING EXERCISES from TPR’s songwriting class Young Writer’s Workshops at the University of Virginia -- Each one of these exercises has helped produce songs for my students, feel free to use these with attribution … POP GOES THE WEASEL 1) Write new music to the lyrics of a pop song not adding any words but deleting or arranging them if you want. 2) Once the new music is written, write new lyrics to the new music. DREAMWEAVER 1) Make a note to yourself to remember your dreams, and write them down when you wake. 2) Make a collage of pictures from old magazines that describe your dreams. 3) Then write a song from the collage. THERAPY TIME 1) Identify someone in your life with whom you have an unresolved conflict. 2) Envision him or her in your brain, what are they wearing, what are their hands doing, what would they say to you? 3) Write the song with that person’s voice, from that persons’ point of view. OUTSIDE THE BOX 1) Pick a partner to writer with. 2) Write one line of a verse (the more outrageous or out of your box, the better). 3) Then hand the sheet of paper to the person beside you to finish the next three lines. 4) They then write the first line to the next verse and hand it back to you. 5) Write 3 lines to finish the second verse – this is an incredible exercise! NAPKIN LITERATURE This is an exercise I got from my buddy Michael McNevin, we usually do this on napkins at pizza joints. 1) With at least 2 people (works great with 4 or 5) one person starts by writing two lines. The lines don’t need to be in meter or rhyme. 2) Fold the paper between the first and second lines (hiding the first) and hand it to the person next to you. 3) That person writes two more lines, then hides all but the last line again, handing it to the next person. 4) keep going until you fill the page, or complete the circle, then read aloud. LIBERACE This exercise is useful once the students in the class get to know each others writing styles. 1) Pick someone in the class, you don’t have to tell. 2) Find a quiet spot and write a song in their style, with their idioms and syntax. This is one of the most fun exercises to watch! BABY YOU CAN DRIVE MY CAR I stole this exercise from the poetry teacher at Young Writers’. 1) Go out to the parking lot and pick a car. 2) Once you have the car, brainstorm about what you imagine the driver is wearing, what station they’re listening to, where they’re going, what they’re thinking. 3) Write the song from your imaginary driver's perspective YES I'M GONNA BE A STAR I stole this exercise from my wife Cary Cooper – who is an amazing teacher in her own right. 1) Take 8 ½ by 11 cardstock and cut the sheets square (8 ½ X 8 ½). Pass them out to the students. 2) Ask the them to visualize the cover to their next CD (one that hasn’t been conceived of yet). 3) Give the CD a title and draw the cover. (You will want to provide crayons, markers, scissors, old magazines, and glue sticks). 4) Then, on the back ask them to write the titles of the songs that will be on this album (songs that haven’t been written yet). This has never failed to produce songs for me. (See Anatomy of a Song 3) THE 20 MINUTE SONG (This is a fabulous thing to do first thing, first day. I’ve found this to be empowering for students who’ve never written before) 1) With a group of 5 or more, agree to time your exercise, agree that it will be stupid, agree to write the lyrics first, agree that you’ll put down instruments for a while. 2) Pick two topics that have virtually nothing to do with each other, brainstorm on those topics writing down everything that comes to mind, figure out how these two topics intersect. 3) Write a first line, then the second through fourth, pick a first line for the second verse, by now someone will have thought of the idea for the chorus – don’t dwell on anything, write a stupid bridge. 4) Get out your guitar or piano, use a simple blues form or folk song form or country or rap, anything that excites your students. write a melody, run it through a couple of times, and if you have the access, record it real quickly. This exercise helps with meter, with rhyme, with editing, with introducing melodic development, with harmony and rhythm – but try it out first with a group of contemporaries before you try it out with your students. FINDING YOUR SPACE (Useful to get everyone comfortable singing in front of each other, needs to be lead by someone comfortable with coaxing, someone who is persistent, and OK inside their own skin – usually my assistants, not me!) 1) With a group of 9 or more, find a space where you can make some noise. Go outside if possible (our favorite place is the graveyard). 2) First try 3 different groups, all the groups stand in one circle, one group starts with clapping a rhythm, another group adds a different rhythm stomping or a mouth noise, the final group picks a word with a note, and sings it. 3) Do this for several minutes, modifying the rhythms and notes, trying to incorporate what you see and hear around you. 4) Start incorporating singing into the exercise. This will help students feel comfortable singing in front of each other when you're back in your classroom. If this works, the students won’t want to stop, it will be so much fun, and some students will get song ideas out of it. To make sure this works, try it out with a group of teachers first. Try it out with percussion instruments too (BUT don’t make them too loud, you'll know what I mean if you use tamborines!) back to top
BORROWED AND ADAPTED SONGWRITING EXERCISES Writing Exercises adapted from The Observation Deck by Naomi Epel 1) Newspapers – personals, obits, classifieds, tabloids, existing headlines and write your own story 2) Bookstore – look on the shelves for book titles, or CD’s, or even DVD’s. Jot down the titles that stir your imagination. Pick up a few books and study the opening lines. You can’t copyright titles. 3) Address a song to someone you know, as if you’re trying to explain something. 4) Show, Don’t Tell – get specific, you are a painter. Which objects do you include, which ones do you accentuate, which ones do you leave out. 5) Pretend you are an object – a cup, a shoe, a book, a pen. Give it a voice using the words "I Am." Personify. 6) Write the letter or the email, you’ve been avoiding writing. 7) Find The Need – Kurt Vonnegut says "make your character want something right away." Set up the premise of your song as soon as you can. What are your needs and how are they reflected in the needs of your character. If there’s no connection, then it might be a tough one to write. 8) Start on page three – eliminate words, a day to write and a week to revise. 9) Find the right name – sometimes your characters don’t work because they don’t have the right name. Give a new name to your protagonist even if you don’t use it in the song. 10) start with "if", make a list, open a drawer, squint (look closer), locate the fear, find the desire, eavesdrop, re-arrange Borrowed Exercises from The Songwriter’s Idea Book by Sheila Davis 1) A Color Title – "Yellow Submarine" "Lady in Red 2) A City, State, or Foreign Place – "Moonlight in Vermont" "New York State of Mind 3) Day, Month or Number – "Sunday Kind of Love" " Pieces of April", "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover", "3 Times a Lady 4) A Female Name – "Suzzanne," "Sweet Caroline 5) Top 10 Words – "HEART", "NIGHT’, "IF 6) A book title – such as “The Language of Letting Go” (by my buddy Michael Bowers) 7) An antonym title – "I Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good 8) Idiom, Axiom, or Paragram – idiom "Save the Best for Last", axiom "Easy Come, Easy Go" paragram (new twist) "Friends in Low Places 9) Make up a word "Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious" 10) Start with "AND back to top Hannah at the keys - Larry Rumford”
So … you wanna write a song huh? So do it. That’s about all I can say. Oh sure - we can talk about mechanics, literary devices, resources, rhyme schemes, chord progessions, meter, rhythm … yada, yada, yada. In reality it doesn’t mean a thing. That’s not so much writing as it is editing (very very different). Sometimes I think the only thing that matters when you write is whether you think you can or not. Our youngest, now 9 years old, writes songs occasionally. From her earliest conscious moments she’s been around songs and people writing them. I ask myself what’s the difference between her and most of the other little kids I know. I think it’s that she doesn’t know that she’s not supposed to be able to. So she writes. She couldn’t tell a chorus from a verse, what the rhyme scheme or the meter was, or how she came up with the melody – she just does it. You know a lot more than you think you do. Think about it. You’ve been singing songs since you were little. This stuff is in your bones. Sometimes you just have to dig a little, that’s all. So, I invite you to do just that: Dig. Here are the cliff notes: 1) Have fun 2) KISS (keep it simple stupid) 3) Repetition is good 4) Less is more As proof of the above 4 rules, I submit one of the greatest songs ever written and also one of the greatest selling singles of all time, My Girl. Note two important facts as you read through this song: ONE) there are only 9 lyric lines in this song, and TWO) there are only 3 melodic lines. John Cougar said once of the great English songwriter Richard Thompson: Richard can say more in one line than I can in a whole song. What an incredibly gracious thing to say! But more to the point, what a beautiful notion, one that we should all aspire to as songwriters: to say more with less. You know the parable of the mustard seed? Songs are like mustard seeds – at their best, saying more in 3 minutes than a 2-hour movie or a 400-page novel. Mustard seeds are everywhere, you just have to plant them. Give it a shot – what could it hurt? What you are is far superior to what you want to become – Tara Singh back to top
Songs I Like Here is a list of 62 songs (with links) that are important to me, either as examples of stellar songwriting or as emotional touchstones. All I know is these songs speak to me in ways that defy the logic of language. I'm not one to say a song is brilliant because it has brilliant lyrics. I think a great hook makes everything about a song better. I also believe that the melody informs a lyric, and (to take it one more step) the singer brings meaning to the melody and lyric. So - I do think the songs below have brilliant lyrics - made even more so by wonderfully crafted melodies, voice, harmony, and groove. And that's what makes them great as songs, not just words on paper. But, regardless, brilliance is secondary. These songs speak the truth!. Steven Soderbergh said in an interview with Terry Gross, that a script shouldn't have too many great lines, just several. Which to me says: most of the lines are ordinary in themselves, but they serve as setup lines for the line that's going to hit you in the gut. That's how I feel with most of the songs below: if you read the lyrics on paper, they would have little power. It's the alchemy of the melody with a great voice, finally delivering that great line that stops the world for a moment. A Song For You - Leon Russel Recorded by Donnie Hathaway - the best recorded vocal performance ever! She Walked Away Just Like Jim Brown - Pierce Pettis The perfect analogy All the Diamonds - Bruce Cockburn The song I want at my funeral Poetic Justic - Tom Kimmel & Buddy Mondlock Scroll down to the MP3 player and click on the song. "I feel like the king, when the queen loses faith" slays me everytime Beautiful Fool - Don Henry Unexpected word choices, incredible detours that somehow find their way back home! Save the Best for Last - Phil Galdston, Wendy Waldman and Jon Lind The first time I heard this, I had to pull over to cry! By Vanessa Williams I Can't Make You Love Me - Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin By Bonnie Raitt (Bruce Hornsby on the piano). I can't make you love me, if you don't. The perfect "ordinary" phrase made immortal by the melody and Bonnie's voice. God Bless The Child - Billie Holiday & Arthur Herzog Not a wasted word! Long Time Gone - Darrell Scott What an incredible talent all the way around. I was looking for Love's Not Through With Me Yet but this will do, ha! I bet if Darrell and Richard Thompson ever got on the stage together it would mark the coming of the apocalypse. Rise and Fall - Chris Rosser "So ... we fill this cup of emptiness" Feels like I'm being cradled in the hands of god. Great Day In The Morning - Dana Cooper Can't help but feel good, even on a bad morning! Standing In My Own Way - Dana Cooper I do that A LOT! Something So Right - Paul Simon When something goes wrong, I'm the first to admit it. The first to admit it, and the last one to know American Tune - Paul Simon Not many people I know have a co-write with Bach. Strong Hand of Love - Mark Heard Recorded by Bruce Cockburn. One song, two heroes. Look Over Your Shoulder - Mark Heard This song took on new meaning for me in the days after Marks' passing. He'd just finished producing my first album Incoming and Pierces' Tinseltown. It's a premonition. A Case of You - Joni Mitchell No words except - I'm not worthy! Both Sides Now - Joni Mitchell This version is incredibly powerful! (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman - Carol King Live performance by Aretha! Almost makes me feel like a natural ... Overjoyed - Stevie Wonder I could make up a whole list of Stevie songs Superstitious - Stevie Wonder From Sesame Street - Did you know, on the studio version - that's Stevie himself on drums? All In Love Is Fair - Stevie Wonder Incredible melody and modulation! Dimming of the Day - Richard Thompson Bonnie Raitt's version. He's from another planet! Fields of Gold - Sting By my friend, the late Eva Cassidy The Gift - Annie Lennox I'm a recent convert, but what a great writer! "Take this overcoat of shame - it never did belong to me" Here's the studio version of the song Across The Universe - John Lennon With a group called The Beatles Let It Be - Lennon/McCartney A great clip of The Beatles Imagine - John Lennon How bad do you think this song would get crucified at a song critique? Working Class Hero - John Lennon JL hardly ever tries to get too clever - such an honest song. Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream - Ed McCurdy The song Pete Seeger made famous, performed here at a peace rally by John Denver Let's Stay Together - Al Green, Al Jackson Jr., Willie Mitchell Al Green! ('nuff said) Kiss - Prince (never mind the androgynous 80's video - great song!) Pink Houses - John Mellencamp Great acoustic version! Lean On Me - Bill Withers Great anthems are never literary masterpieces are they? They would never be great songs if they were. Pride (In the Name of Love) - U2 The chorus, without saying anything, says everything. Boom Boom - John Lee Hooker Now that's a great lyric! Serves Me Right to Suffer - John Lee Hooker What a great title! Chain of Fools - Don Covay Aretha's version of course. Sometimes repetition = great song! Fight the Power - Public Enemy Why can't hip hop be like this now? Shit, Damn, Motherfucker - D'Angelo One of the greatest choruses ever! The Message - Ed Fletcher & MC Melle Mel The Grandmaster Flash classic! (Sorry about the splash page) In White Light - Rachel Bissex Even now, it's so hard to listen to this song Let's Get It On - Marvin Gaye & Ed Townsend Nothing like getting to the point! What's Goin On - Marvin Gaye, Renaldo Benson & Al Cleveland Even dressed up like a leprechaun that's one sexy man Knockin On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan Repetition again: Knock knock knockin on heaven's door Forever Young - Bob Dylan Even as a youngster, he was an old soul. Georgia - Hoagy Carmichael & Stuart Gorrell The Ray Charles version - is there any other? The Look of Love - Burt Bacharach & Hal David Sung by Dusty Springfield - you could teach a course on songwriting with just Burt Bacharach songs. God Is In - Billy Jonas This guys' brain must be naturally hallucinogenic to come up with some of these lines. Vincent - Don McLean I sang this for Mitch Snyder's memorial service. The Most Beautiful Girl - Flight of the Conchords Brilliant comic relief. The Lady Turned Away - Jack Hardy Scroll down to the MP3 player and click on the song. The tag at the end of the chorus slays me! Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen The definitive version by Jeff Buckley - this may be the holy grail - The Perfect Song Golden - Jill Scott, Anthony Bell, James Darrel Robinson, Harold Lee Robinson my mantra by Jill Scott The Christmas Song - Mel Torme & Bob Wells Of course, by Nat King Cole. The songs starts, and I'm there. Holy Now - Peter Mayer Another song I feel was written for me. Save the Last Dance for Me - Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman The only place I could find the real Drifters version - about a minute into the clip. A perfect song. At Last - Mack Gordon, Harry Warren The Etta James Classic. The perfect opening line. Tiny Dancer - Elton John & Bernie Taupin The soundtrack to high school. That's the Way of the World - Charles Stepney, Maurice White, Verdine White Earth Wind and Fire - Real men sing falsetto! Oh, I almost forgot: Hold On - Tom Waits When he writes beautiful songs, they are magnificent. Take It With Me When I Go - Tom Waits I'm gonna take it with me ... I want to sing this one as I'm walking toward the light back to top
ANATOMY OF A SONG (Part 1, 2004) Analyzing the various lyric stages of the song: When Love’s Not Worth It Anymore Editing is the one of the most important aspects of songwriting. It’s the way that you turn an idea (however big or small) into a great song. I’m not sure this is a great song, but my intention on this page is to outline my process of lyric writing and editing in the hope that it might be helpful to others who want perspective on the process. 2004 has been a slow songwriting year for me (after 4 straight years of writing like a fiend). I’ve gone through these spells before, and so I counseled myself not to worry, that my life right now was all about doing the laundry, and that my creative side just needed the time to recharge. Most of the writing I’ve done lately has been co-writing with my partner Cary Cooper, whom I consider to be one of the best writers I’ve collaborated with. But I felt the need this time to jump-start myself, and when this idea came to me based on a conversation that Cary and I had about a month ago, I knew I wanted to write it myself – to get a sense of personal accomplishment. First, some thoughts about lyric writing: Usually I write a lyric before the melody and harmony. I feel that this is the best way for me to say what I want to say without the artificial confines of rhythm and meter. I want the lyric to have it’s own rhythm and meter, and then from there, create the melody and guitar part. Doing it this way has benefits later on in helping to create a melody based on the emotional and rhythmic content of the lyric. There are many traditional literary devices I consider important in lyric writing. A definable meter, rhyme, phonetic alliteration, metaphor and simile, pictures, and colloquialisms are some of them. I personally could care less about grammar. I just want to know however abbreviated or slaughtered it might be, that my language isn’t confusing. One device that I think a lot of writers give up on is repetition. When you think about it, no song survives without it. Take virtually any song you know, and if you remember it, it’s almost always because it repeats somewhere. Repitition doesn’t win you a lot of fans in literary circles, but if it’s good enough for the Motown writers and Joni Mitchell – it’s good enough for me. On this song I ended up using repetition in the last line of each verse. Sometimes I can really torture a metaphor, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to get it right. I am inspired by the Pierce Pettis song that goes: She walked away just like Jim Brown. I realize the songs I love most have those kinds of really cool unexpected images. I also realize that I am more visually driven in songs - that’s my window into the emotional world I want to reach. But it always takes something other than emotional words for me to get there. With all that in mind, here’s how I tried to get there – often breaking my own rules. From start to finish I guess this song took several weeks to write punctuated by Tom Kimmel and Robin Andrew’s wedding, recording Andrew Gregory’s new album, and a very long weekends’ worth of Dreamsicles gigs. Sometimes Love’s Not Worth It Anymore 1st draft VS1 sometimes loves not worth it anymore sometimes it’s too hard to say you’re sorry sometimes the ghosts of those you’ve loved before whisper sometimes loves not worth it anymore VS2 sometimes loves the hardest thing to ask sometimes hard’s the only way that matters sometimes when you say hard people laugh and then it’s hard to say it’s hard after that VS 3 sometimes you’re afraid of every word sometimes you just don’t know what to call it BR (it’s hard to admit that you’re lost in the process shining your flashlight into your closets) BR it’s hard to admit that it’s hard to let go of the wounds that you wear like a blanket that you’re like everyone else you want love for yourself and if that’s what you want you can have it My thinking in outlining the song was to have all the lines start with “sometimes”, and in the second verse go to humor, this time sexually suggestive, hoping to use laughter to convey a serious topic. Kind of how I did (much better I feel) in Survivor off the 2nd Dreamsicles album. I worked on the love/hard euphemism for a long time before I realized that it wasn’t the point (pardon the pun) of the song, and that this time it probably wasn’t going to work. I kind of rambled on the attempts at the bridge, thinking that I really wasn’t going deal with it until later. 2nd draft: VS1 sometimes love is love because you lose it but sometimes it’s impossible to prove it especially what the ghosts of those you’ve loved before whisper sometimes love’s not worth it anymore VS2 sometimes love’s the last thing you should ask for (sometimes love’s not quite the thing you asked for) it’s not sometime you figure out the math for it’s not like you can plan for what’s in store (but it case you wanna plan for what’s in store) just know sometimes love’s not worth it anymore After going to a house concert at Tom Noe’s house in Wylie TX, I quickly re-wrote the second verse. 3rd draft: revision of second verse: VS2 sometimes love is not the thing you asked for even einstein couldn’t figure out the math for but five will get you ten here’s what’s in store there’ll come a time when love’s not worth it anymore My thinking here is that the love/hard lines weren’t working, so I wanted to figure out a new angle. I knew that the first line and the last line of the 1st verse shouldn’t be the same, and I was giddy about the new first line I came up with, acknowledging the truth of it for myself. At the house concert the day before a storyteller (Mary Ann Blue) used the colloquialism “five will get you ten.” And I just loved the sound of it – ending up with a whole new math/addition angle that I proceeded to torture for a while. I’d been wanting to get Einstein in a song for a while too, and I thought this might be a good place. I dropped the idea of every line starting with “sometimes” and also started to struggle with the specific meter of the lines. 4th draft: working on the bridge and last verse: BR you lose your way there’s hell to pay when all that’s holy slips away and all you really want to say is i ain’t leaving baby no i ain’t leaving baby VS3 (sometimes it’s not over when it’s over sometimes there’s no way to ever know) VS3 sometimes at the end there’s still a sequel the images still flicker on the screen even when the credits start to roll even when love’ not worth it anymore I had the first two lines of the last verse then stumbled onto a long theme of love as a movie. I really thought I had it then and started to work on putting all the pieces together. I always had a bridge in mind but waited to write it knowing that those are my favorite parts in songs to work on. Bridges for me are the place where I usually say what I want to say, spell it out unequivocally, get to the point – yada, yada, yada. I started writing out lines and when I got to the” I ain’t leaving baby” line, I had to stop and cry for a few minutes, thinking about my ex. I went over to Cary’s house and was dying to sing it for her. Here’s what I sang: 5th and almost final draft: VS1 sometimes love’s not love until you lose it most times love’s impossible to prove when the ghosts of those you’ve loved before remind you love’s not worth it anymore VS2 sometimes it’s too late to say you’re sorry sometimes you don’t even get that far but five will get you ten you’re out the door if ever love’s not worth it anymore BR you lose your way there’s hell to pay when all that’s holy slips away and all you really want to say is i ain’t leaving baby no i ain’t leaving baby VS3 sometimes at the end there’s still a sequel the images still flicker on the screen even when the credits start to roll even when love’s not worth it anymore Usually when you sing a brand new song for someone for the first time all you want to hear is: “This is the best song I’ve ever heard”. And this time was no exception. The difficult thing, though, about playing a song for someone who’s really in tune with you and in tune with the process of songwriting is that it often times runs at cross purposes with your basic ego needs. Cary is a particularly blunt evaluator, and when she had questions about the last verse, I was hurt initially, then realizing that (1) the song wasn’t about her, and (2) my only intentions were writing a great song and writing my truth – I knew I still had some work to do. I worked on the last verse some more, going back to some lines that I originally thought were throw away lines, kind of a twist on a famous Yogi Berra quote. I realized that the song wasn’t about finding someone else after love wasn’t worth it anymore, but rather just acknowledging the fact that love doesn’t end even after it’s not worth it anymore. We all have the need to wrap our lives up in tidy little bows. But most times that’s not the way it works. So I figured that I’d narrow the scope of the song, and not make it quite the universal feel-good ending that the Barry Manilow in me really wanted. This is one of the hardest parts about editing – giving up your favorite lines, the ones you think show off how great a writer you are. Here’s where you have to decide if it’s about the song, or if it’s about you. There is a difference. When you finish a song, I think it’s really important to take pride in it, so forgive me for being a little self-indulgent. I’m really proud of the rhyme scheme, and the chords and modulation along with the melody of the bridge. The rhyme scheme in the verses has a twist that makes me feel good – A A B B. [I’m just chuckling to myself about the end of the previous paragraph] The twist comes in that the rhyme in the first line is on the penultimate syllable, rhyming with the last syllable on the second line. I especially loved rhyming “sorry” with “far”. It was so much fun to write. Back to teaching mode for a second. Remember: in songs the rhyme that counts is in the vowel – not the consonant. This is where a lot of your creativity as a lyricist comes into play. “Playful” being a very important concept especially for serious subjects – double check the songs of Pierce Pettis, or the poetry of Billy Collins if you don’t believe me. I’m also really proud of the first line in the song (first lines being perhaps the most important lyric in a song), and I’m also proud of writing a truth for me, one that I’ve only recently been able to say out loud without apology. Maybe that’s the thing I’m proudest of here – that in the context of a very complicated but committed relationship with Cary, I could tell the truth about my failed marriage. I hope there are other people who have similar experiences in their past to whom this song may speak. One thing I know to be fundamentally true is that no song has power unless the writer is willing and able to make himself emotionally vulnerable. And whatever deficiencies this song still has, I know I’ve done that here. I think the song with the lyric revisions is less picturesque than I hoped. It’s simpler, but perhaps because of that simplicity might be more honest. I hope it works this way. I’m not sure that it’s finished, and I have no idea how it’s going to play to audiences. This is where every writer has to ask “so what?” I don’t know what the answer to that is yet. To listen to the song, go to #16 on the MP3 player at the top of your screen: when love’s not worth it anymore sometimes love’s not love until you lose it sometimes love’s impossible to prove when the ghosts of those you’ve loved before remind you love’s not worth it anymore sometimes it’s too late to say your sorry sometimes you can’t even count that far but five will get you ten you’re out the door if ever love’s not worth it anymore you lose you way there’s hell to pay when all that’s holy slips away when all you really wanna say is I ain’t leaving baby no I ain’t leaving baby sometimes love’s not over when it’s over even as the credits start to roll do you ever really know for sure that love’s not worth it anymore tpr 10/25/04 dallas back to top The Sherpas - Tom Kimmel, Michael Lille, & TPR”
ANATOMY OF A SONG PART 2 (2005) Analyzing the transformation of a song, from it’s strange beginning to it’s unrecognizable end. You might recall the song Making Love about jumping on the bed, one that I do at almost every gig. That song, and this one below both came from assignments given to me by John D. Lamb when I was teaching at Lamb’s Retreat in Michigan. It’s a really powerful thing to be in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of other people all concentrating on the craft. If you want more info about it go to: www.springfed.org Or better yet, join me when I go back. The Assignment: In Italy and in other European countries, almost every home or hotel room includes a bidet in the bathroom. When a European hears that many Americans don’t even know what a bidet is, let alone ever having used one, you sense that they have latched onto something they can feel superior about. The U.S.A. may be the most powerful nation on earth, able to make great films and popular music, but, alas, they have poor hygiene. You sense that, for the average European, having a cleaner asshole than the average American is a great source of pride. The Goal: To get as many of the details and the intent of the assignment into the song, and have fun. First Draft: As usual I started with the lyrics, taking great pains to stay away from any kind of melody writing until I had the form sketched out. To get started I took notes over the next 2 days sitting in on lectures by Jan Krist, Jim Photoglo, and John Lamb. Many of the lines in those discussions found their way into this first draft – John talking about dreaming in cursive, Jim talking about how writing this song is simply rehearsal for the next one you’ll write, and Jan quoting Paul Simon about starting with the truth. My Ex-Wife’s Bidet let’s start with the truth I don’t think I’m gay I might be confused though my ex-wife wouldn’t put it that way guess that’s to be expected when your feet are made of clay and your only refuge is your ex-wife’s bidet I’d lock the bathroom door for hours upon end write poems on the mirror let the water have it’s way and then start dreaming in cursive start learning to pray like it was all just rehearsal on my ex-wife’s bidet at least I’m not a criminal who makes a sandbox of the world don’t worry this won’t hurt a bit hey what do you expect from a bush and a dick beware of your obsessions and your so called free elections kind of sounds like erections let that be a lesson you can hide behind God like housewives on TV but I’m the only one I know who’s really squeaky clean take anything you want that’s the American way just leave me with my diginity and my ex-wife’s bidet First Revision: As usual when a song is difficult to write, you brood over it. After several days, I concluded that if this song had a chance of working it needed some kind of bridge or chorus to give it some glue. The next morning I woke up with the words and the melody: “Oh what a cross to bear, Oh what a guilty pleasure, Oh what a sweet surrender.” I loved it so much. That chorus spoke the truth to me, and the melody echoed one of my favorite childhood hymns. I thought about what it meant to me, and after some soul searching I realized that it reached down deep to my problem of pain. We all have it somewhere -- something painful that is a touchstone, familiar, a comfortable cage. So I started digging, writing, realizing that if all I got from the assignment was to see path from there to here, then once again John D. Lamb did his job. I made the decision to just go where it felt like the new chorus was leading me – to me that’s childhood, high school, being a nerd, uncool, fat, on then outside looking in, where nothing I did was ever good enough. I also had a feeling that this old hurt, one that I treasured in a way, might be it’s own pathway to understanding and acceptance. No matter what we say we’re writing a song about, in the end it’s always an offering, an absolution, working out the math to your own salvation – and in this song it’s more apparent than most. I kept some of the form, the melody, used the new chorus, and started writing – trying to keep some of the cool lines from the first draft if at all possible the problem of pain TPR 11/9/05, TX congratulations you’re first runner-up pretty good try but not good enough you’re still the loser so you make it fit like your freshman sweater feels like shit and though you know better it’s still all your fault it’s kind of like karma but that’s not what it’s called in the eleventh grade when they had different names for a different boy with the problem of pain oh what a cross to bear oh for the hurt you treasure oh for a sweet surrender you pray for the day you start dreaming in cursive when you’re able to say it was all just rehearsal when you’re star of the show and it’s time to let go but you need to hold on cause it’s all that you know let’s start with the truth it’s there if you want it as the perfect excuse for not rising above it but there’s nothing to prove if there’s no one to blame your prayer could be answered with the problem of pain oh what a cross to bear oh for the hurt you treasure oh for a sweet surrender More Editing: I then did something I rarely do, but felt I had to in this case. I re-wrote the melody (this is something that’s easier to do when you start with lyrics). Then I changed the feel from 4/4 to 6/8 switching from a steel string to a classical guitar. It’s totally different, hardly related to what I started out with, who know’s if I’ll ever really play it out (but I enjoyed the rehearsal). To listen to the song, go to #17 on the MP3 player at the top of your screen: The Problem of Pain TPR 11/28/05, TX congratulations you’re first runner-up pretty good try but not good enough you’ll always be Pancho not Cisco the Kid sit down says the dentist this won’t hurt a bit there’s bad days at the office there’s pillars of salt there’s your quarrel with karma but that’s not what it’s called in the eleventh grade when they had different names for a different boy with the problem of pain oh what a cross to bear oh for the hurt you treasure oh for a sweet surrender you pray for the day you start dreaming in cursive when you’re able to say it was all just rehearsal when you’re star of the show and it’s time to let go but you need to hold on ‘cause it’s all that you know so start with the truth it’s there if you want it as the perfect excuse for not rising above it but there’s nothing to prove if there’s no one to blame your prayer has been answered with the problem of pain oh what a cross to bear oh for the hurt you treasure oh for a sweet surrender from a writing assignment by John D Lamb Lambs’ Retreat 11/5/05 Harbor Springs, MI back to top"Hands" - Jayne Toohey”
ANATOMY OF A SONG – Part 3 (2007) Analyzing a song constructed from an artificial premise, emphasizing simplicity. I’ve always had this thing for Jeannie … you know “I Dream of Jeannie.” (I’m almost 50 … sue me) I was teaching again at the University of Virginia’s Young Writer’s Workshops. I had taught there for 7 years, but I had recently married Cary Cooper (one of my favorite writers) and this year I asked her to co-teach with me. This song came out of one of her exercises: Take a square sheet of paper (8 ½ X 8 ½). On the front draw the cover of your next CD – pencil, crayons, markers, collage. Make sure you give the CD a title and take your time. On the back (or better yet, on a second square sheet of paper) write the titles to all the songs that will be on this album. Understand that this is fictional – these aren’t real songs on a real CD YET! The title of my fictional CD was Sahara. Some of the songs were – desert dreams, harem, 1001 nights, Cleopatra, and down toward the bottom: I Dream of Jeannie The first picture in my head was me and my cousins at the house where Udgee babysat all 12 of us, running there after school so I could catch the afternoon re-runs. We’d play games, eat mayonnaise sandwiches, and make believe we were lost in space. I’d watch Gilligan’s Island religiously, but Jeannie was the guiltiest of my pre-pubescent pleasures. So I started with all of us in the basement of that old house on Hood Street in Takoma Park MD, gathered around a Zenith B&W TV. Part of the exercise was to include as many specific details as possible. Here’s the first sketch: my mysterious epiphany is one I keep repeating it's not just the kid in me that dreams of Barbara Eden put me out to pasture all I want to do is ask her in between the laughter just call me master there were 12 kids between us wrapped around our Zenith black and white TV every night I'd go to sleep and I'd dream of Barbara Eden and baby that's still what's wrong with me In the last two stanzas I had found a lyric rhythm that reminded me of Cary Coopers’ style – more words delivered faster than my usual, but with very cool internal rhymes and immediate pictures. I wanted to get out of my lyric box so I decided to go with it and see what happened. Thinking that the image of me and my cousins would have to wait for another song, it felt more important in this one to tell the story of my affair with Jeannie. Here’s how I fleshed it out (pardon the pun): I'd go to re-run heaven after school from five to seven everyday from age eleven until I turned thirteen I learned about the yin and yang from ginger and from mary ann (and) the difference between now and then from a black and white TV and every night as I lay sleeping I would dream of Barbara Eden so baby wont you be my belly dancer and just for one night call me master the thought of claiming Cleopatra for my harem in the south Sahara was better than that Farrah Fawcett poster I'd see her gown fall down in curls with eyes as round as the big blue world but there was only one girl that I hoped for and every night as I lay sleeping I would dream of Barbara Eden so baby wont you be my belly dancer and just for one night call me master just for once can I be the one in charge and pretend that you're mine completely let's make believe that it's easy to be me oh how I dream of Jeannie in the intro to psychiatry page one can't help describing the Oedipus inside me as Tyrannosaurus Rex (as if) the reason for everything is the dinosaur of which I sing (but) for each failed attempt at being king, here's what says it best: every night as I lay sleeping I still dream of Barbara Eden so baby wont you be my belly dancer and just for tonight call me master I read this to the students in my class, not having any idea of what it would sound like. I liked the pictures in the lyrics, I read it in rhythm, and the feedback was that it might want to sound middle eastern (to go with the whole Cleopatra / Jeannie thing). So I tried it that way, ending up with a modal type intro, but ending up sounding like a folk ballad of all things, but, I couldn’t make it work for me. I wanted this to be funny, kind of like the Making Love song I wrote at Lamb’s Retreat several years back. This just wasn’t doing that for me. The feel needed to be different somehow. As much as I liked the middle eastern flavor, I decided to go back to a more pedestrian diatonic approach. Cary said she thought this song needed to be up, and I while I fought it for a while, I knew the truth deep down. This is where the guitar player in me screws with my writing. I wanted to show off a little, and when that notion gets in your head it does nothing good for a song. Some of the best writers I know have trouble with I, IV, and V. All you Hendrix’s take note. So I started strumming with my thumb in standard tuning in the key of E, yuck! Pretty soon yuck turned into cool, different, rhythmic but not the funky thing I usually go for. It reminded me of Making Love again (that song has only one chord progression in the whole song except for the bridge). But in the simplicity of the changes, the melody I was constructing was starting to serve the song better. I spent a couple of hours editing the lyric and I condensed the chorus, getting rid of the dancer/master rhyme. Then I wrote a whole new bridge, and when I managed to work in the reference to Seinfeld’s “Master of My Domain” I got really really excited (so to speak). Below is what I think might be the final version of the lyrics. It feels like a follow-up to “Making Love.” I know what this song is about. I hope it’s clear enough, but I have my doubts simply because the Seinfeld episode isn’t all that universal. But if you’ve seen that episode, you know what this song is about too. Don’t know what I’ll do if I have to rework the bridge again, that’s going to totally suck. One last word about the title: Usually I go for the most obvious, which in this case would be “Call Me Master.” But for this one, I wanted to give away the frame of reference from the start, and I also wanted to accomplish a commercial goal. Several years ago I got an email from Derek Sivers at CDBaby, mentioning that after being puzzled at the difference in hits on people’s albums (people of relatively equal standing) he finally figured it out – artists with a recognizable cover song got exponentially many more hits then those who didn’t. So consider this title a shameless attempt to piggy back on the continued popularity of “I Dream of Jeannie” on Nick at Night, even though the words of the title are nowhere to be found in the text of the song. To listen to the song, go to #18 on the MP3 player at the top of your screen: I Dream of Jeannie © 2007 / tom prasada-rao / BMI I would go to re-run heaven after school from five to seven everyday from age eleven until I turned thirteen that’s where I learned about the yin and yang from Ginger and from Mary Ann and the difference between now and then from a black and white TV and every night as I lay sleeping I would dream of Barbara Eden so baby ... call me master the thought of claiming Cleopatra for my tent in the Sahara now that was better than that Farrah Fawcett poster on my wall I'd see her gown fall down in curls with eyes as round as the big blue world but that was cheating on the girl that I wanted most of all 'cuz every night as I lay sleeping I would dream of Barbara Eden so baby ... call me master oh my god, what the hell jesus christ please don't tell they say it makes you go blind but I don't care, no I don't mind I forget, what's my name? just call me master of my domain in the intro to psychiatry page one can't help describing the Oedipus inside me as Tyrannosaurus Rex as if the reason for the song I sing is petrifying everything each failed attempt at being king but here's what says it best every night as I lay sleeping I still dream of Barbara Eden so baby ... call me master call me master, do it faster call me master july 9/10/12, charlottesville, VA young writer’s workshops back to top TPR & Cary Cooper - Ed Guthero”