The Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence Award, awarded biennially, was created by PEN New England a few years back to celebrate the craft of songwriting, specifically the lyrics. So it’s no surprise that John Prine and the husband/wife team of Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan were honoured for their lyrical prose this year! This year’s honorees were chosen by a committee that included U2’s Bono, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello and Salman Rushdie.
These songwriters create such wonderful lyrical tapestries, fulfilling PEN’s description of the award:
Long before we were able to articulate our thoughts, we expressed joys and sorrows by singing. Patterns emerged, becoming language and making the world intelligible. That’s why the ancients depicted Orpheus, demi-god and singer, playing his lyre with animals around him in a peaceable kingdom, and it’s why we chose the lyre on the award medallion.
There is an unbroken lineage from that breakthrough Orphic moment, down through all the bards, troubadours, and balladeers to the present. Every literary genre is a tributary of that great river.
Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan
Here are some quotes from the event:
Prine’s lyrics are “sophisticated but simple… Who writes songs like that? Two people come to mind – God and John Prine.” – John Mellencamp
“It’s not always fun writing together. Sometimes the fur flies. It’s not an easy enterprise, but it’s satisfying… We’re different. If two people know all the same things, one of you is unnecessary.” – Tom Waits on writing with his spouse and fellow honouree, Kathleen Brennan
May the Muse stay with these 3 wonderful songwriters…
Check out this year’s SOCAN Songwriting Prize shortlist of 20 contestants (10 for the English language prize and 10 for the French language prize). Listen to them all, choose your favourite and vote!
For two weeks, from June 9-23, 2016, SOCAN invites music fans to vote for their favourite song from the nominees lot by visiting www.socansongwritingprize.ca or through Twitter using the hashtag #mySSPvote and identifying the performer’s name in the tweet. Fans can vote once daily through each platform for each of the English and French prize competitions.
The winning songs are planned to be announced the week ofJuly 4, 2016.
One of the faces of Americana music describes songwriting as the “life force that drives [her].” You should take the time to watch/read this wonderful interview of Lucinda Williams by Phil Hirschkorn of PBS NewsHour. Just one highlight in response to a query regarding whether she wrote everyday and was disciplined about her songwriting:
My brain is always going, and I’m always jotting down things. I might be sitting at a bar or anywhere I might be and hear something somebody says or something we’ll pop in my head, and I’ll jot it down on a lot of times on a cocktail napkin. I have a lot of cocktail napkins with lines on them. And I save everything. I put it all in a folder. And then when the muse strikes, I pull all that stuff out, bits and pieces. I’ve got 10 or a dozen songs or something right now that are almost finished. So I’ve always got kind of works in progress. But I don’t apply myself every day and get up at and say I’ve got to write between noon and whatever time. I don’t do that. I’m not disciplined about it necessarily. I had a therapist once describe it as “work,” because I was concerned, in the early years that I was going through a dry spell. And she said, “No, no, no. You just work on a J curve,” which means I might not write for a couple of months, and then, once I get into that mode, I might write ten new songs or something over a period of a few weeks.
As inspiring as her music may be to her fans, Larkin says writing is something she has to force herself to work at daily.
“If I wait for the urge to hit, there are so many other things I can do, like laundry, walking the dog,” she says with a laugh. “When I started teaching songwriting at Berkelee, I told them they had to show up for the process and exercise that arm. That’s what I have to do. I spend three hours a day. I start with my guitar. Sometimes I sit with it in a café at a set time and I don’t get up until I get something.”
That “something” might be a fragment of a lyric or melody that she can then return to the next day. Life being the way it is, she admits that she cycles through themes in her writing.
Simple, straight-forward, common sense – what songwriters hear all the time… but always a good lesson to bear in mind – you have to write to be a songwriter…
Thank you for the reminder Ms. Larkin and may the Muse be with you (and all of us)…
So, we received this week’s challenge on Monday, and look at me – caught the lightning bolt last night (Wednesday) and my entry just kind of wrote itself – though I think I could have done better in the mix (and as a non-performing songwriter I know that my singing is sub-par). Jordan Howard, Creative Director of CCS Rights Management is looking to pitch songs for a 19th century “Dexter”-style show starring Christina Ricci – so that took me to a pretty dark place: There must be some mistake, I didn’t mean to let them take away my soul… I know the devil wears a blue dress, but this neon blue image took over for me and the 30-30 shotgun image completed this macabre work… the longer version (yes, there is an even longer version) also worked in pentagrams and black candles for a full-on Satanist vibe…
I’m back on my Matt Dusk pitch song now – lighter fare for sure! I’m busy over March Break, so I’m making the most of my not-so-free time now… May the Muse, and not the Devil, be with you…
Okay, another tough week – country pop with an EDGE was the order for this week a la Ron Irving… we weren’t supposed to mention marriage or kids, so what do I do – my first line is about a “man and his wife” – but the song’s narrator isn’t married so I’ll take that as compliance with the rules. I didn’t have time to make a full demo so I layered some guitar and did a rough vocal to get an idea for the song. The “edge” comes from the cheekiness in the title – “one gun salute” and the double entendre in the last verse…
Let me know what you think and may the Muse be with you… and not shoot you…
For Week 4 of the SAC Songwriting/Blogging Challenge 2015
One Gun Salute
I read in the news ’bout a man and his wife
She took a lover and ruined his life
He couldn’t stand to see that gigolo
So one night when the cold wind blow
He got down low in the dirt & soot
And when he saw him he started to shoot
Gave him a one gun salute
I saw on the TV ’bout a man and his wealth
When he lost his millions he lost his mental health
He lay wounded by the stock market crash
So he took what was left of his cold hard cash
Bought a gun and went to his troubles’ root
Cornered his broker and he started to shoot
Gave him a one gun salute
I was walking down the street one day
When I took a shortcut down an alleyway
Got involved in a little Socratic dialogue
Making sense out of nothing at all
He asked me for my wallet, asked me for my loot
When I refused him well he started to shoot
Gave me a one gun salute
Bridge: Right now I should be in a hearse
Instead of in the arms of a beautiful nurse
She stays up all night and says prayers for me
She gives me life when she takes care of me
I wondered if we could be more than friends
Me and this Angel of Mercy who made me well again
So when I was checking out well she checked me in
She drew me a map on a paper napkin
So I went to her house later that night
She let me in and then she put out light
Love at first sight, there’s no dispute
Ooh baby, you’re just too cute