At this point it's been a few months since I've written anything, and those were just parodies, which are pretty easy for me to write. I just take an existing song that has some relativity to the subject I'm writing about and I pen new lyrics, using the existing melody. An example of that is the parody of "Charlie On The MTA" that plays on my homepage. I also wrote another parody of that song called "Charlie & The HOA".
But starting from scratch to write a song takes a whole 'nother mindset. And it's hard to force it under normal circumstances. I have tons of notes that are germs of ideas for songs and I have tons of tapes (and now digital files) of little 30-second recordings of musical ideas. Sometimes I'll revisit these notes and recordings to get ideas, and often that results in a finished song at some point. This is my casual approach to songwriting and it's pretty haphazard. I don't write every day, though I wish I could discipline myself to do so.
But on occasion I am "commissioned" to write a song, either for some upcoming event or for a specific purpose. Most often it's a "self-commission" that I impose on my muse. But in a few rare instances I've been contacted by someone else to write a song - something specific for them. I'm in that mode of songwriting at the moment.
A couple years ago I met a gentleman named Forrest Fenn who had written a sort-of autobiography called "The Thrill Of The Chase." Forrest actually hired me to write a song with that title as a companion to his book. He paid for the recording and tacked on some extra to bring me down to Santa Fe, New Mexico to sing at his book-signing event.
Well, here we go again. Forrest's new book, "Too Far To Walk" is coming out this month and he has asked me to write a song to go along with this latest endeavor. I'm already scheduled to sing this (as yet unwritten) tune at his next book-signing event on October 1st. So the pressure is on.
I think I sometimes work better under this kind of pressure, knowing that I have a deadline to stand in front of an audience with a viable finished product. But getting started is the hard part. In Forrest's case I have a book to reference for ideas. Obviously I need to relate this song to his book somehow, so first I needed to read the book, or at least parts of it.
I love the title of this book: "Too Far To Walk." When I first heard it I had all kinds of ideas about where such a title could take me in a song. Then he sent me the book and after reading part of it, I now see that my course is fairly well set. The gist of this book is, again, autobiographical. Forrest has led a fascinating life full of adventure and huge success. But at age 83 he now perceives, and simultaneously wants to reject, his mortality. There are things in his life that he'd like to revisit - experiences that shaped his life and loom large in his memory. But because of encroaching physical restrictions, he realizes that he's just not able to do things he used to do in his younger days. As he looks at his reflection in the mirror he is struck by the reality that, in many ways, he's not the man he used to be.
In the preface to his book, Forrest writes of a fishing trip he took to Yellowstone. He spent three days on the Madison River, mostly walking in the shallows with his raft tethered to his belt. He reminisces about the tranquility of being alone in the wild, fishing a 10-mile stretch of the river and connecting spirtually with the place and the experience. He promised himself that he would do that again someday, but now he realizes that it's "too far to walk."
Wow!!! This is not just Forrest's life we're talking about here - it's all of us. Are all those adventures we had in our youth destined to just be memories now? How do we live with the fact that our bodies age and we lose the ability at some point to do the things our young bodies allowed us to do? And how do you put that into a song?
So I came to realize that there are two ways I can go with this song. And I may end up writing two different songs, because these two approaches are fairly divergent. One approach is to write a really melancholy piece that captures the sadness of the reality of aging. We all have to face it and if I can capture that reality in a lyric that is universally relevant, then I will capture the essence of Forrest's book.
But I don't like to take life quite so seriously - yet. I'm only 66 and my body still works pretty well. A few persistent aches and pains and a lot of extra pounds - but I can still bound up the stairs to my office at a pretty good clip. So I'm thinking about taking this subject a little less seriously somehow - still addressing the reality, but poking a little fun at it at the same time. My goofy thoughts are running along the lines of "I need to go to the bathroom, but it's too far to walk..."
OK - I'll keep you posted on how this turns out. And if you happen to be in Santa Fe on October 1st, join us at 5:00 PM at the Inn at Loretto. For more info call 505-982-8520.