Sunday, December 21, 2008

the surest cure for writer's block

i hadn't written a song for a couple of months, until the perfect storm of circumstance conspired to finally make it happen. shall i tell you about it?

every respectable songwriter has a train song. it sounds like a train. it's full of romantic images, folky scenes of hobos, wanderlust. full of yearning.

i wanted to write one, but i had no idea how. i was put off by the idea of repeating those worn-out images, fearful of not being able to come up with my own way to do it.
so it was just another idea on my brainshelf, ready to fall off and roll around when i was ready. there are always a few of those.

couple of weeks ago i attended a meeting of a Mariposa Folk Festival committee charged with instigating Arts U - two days of workshops before the 2009 festival at the Orillia campus of Lakehead University. my daughter had just come home for the holidays and wanted to see our good friend Susan, who has been something of a mentor. i invited Suse to come for a drink, but she was exhausted from working on the final touches of her PhD dissertation, and not a little distracted.

Susan emailed the next morning, apologizing for not coming, explaining that she was "on this freight train". she said it twice, just to make sure i got the point. she also said that she had been working on some songs, mostly while driving back and forth to school. i immediately responded, claiming the idea of the freight train, unless it was something she was already working on - quite possible, as we all need a train song. i added some lines that sounded like a chorus, and crossed my fingers that i could continue with her blessing. which came soon after.

i didn't set to writing it right away. needed to let it ferment, find a rhythm while walking, let some more ideas fall off the shelf. my usual process.

i happened to have lots of free time. a billion things to do before christmas, of course, but things went well and i set aside a day when i would have the house to myself. the day of the meeting of our writers' group, which added a certain immediacy to the proceedings.

this is the value of confidence, when you are good at something and have done it enough, and well enough, to know that chances are good that you will pull it off once again. i hadn't written anything in a while, and there are always doubts, fears of the block being stronger than your resolve to end it.

the other thing driving me was love, for my friend Susan, who i like to call Suse-my-muse. this would be the third song she had directly inspired.

i think i've said here before that my songs are gifts - of love, of thanks, of appreciation. it's what makes me do it. and it's the perfect gift - i'm enveloped in the spirit of a friend or lover, i indulge myself in the beauty of the artistic experience, i make something, which i give away and i keep as well.

it came pretty easily - my brain had been doing the work unconsciously for a couple of weeks. mostly i just opened the flood gates, and it was done by tea time.

i wrote it on the steel guitar, of course - sometimes there's no decision to be made. it sounds something like a train. i thought it wise not to stretch the metaphor too much, so the train images are mostly restricted to the refrain, and the last line of the bridge:

i hear our girl is in town
you'd like me to come around
this meeting is done, but i gotta run
run or be run down

i'm on this FREIGHT TRAIN, i can't get off
FREIGHT TRAIN, it never stops
FREIGHT TRAIN, call the railway cops
can't get off of this freight train

woods are bright with snow
your love would love to go
friends and trees will keep
while i'm buried deep
under all these things i know


imagine what joy will bring
when you stop, and hold everything
when love is in town. don't mind goin' down
with that diesel-driven thing

i'd love to write something bold
i write 'til it gets old
let me catch my breath, don't you catch your death
waiting in the cold


i like it a lot, and so does Suse. the writers' bloc didn't offer any changes, so i guess they liked it too.

so that's how it worked this time. stay tuned for the next one.
have a safe and happy holiday.
meantime,write something and give it away.

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