My failure to keep up with my blog and songwriting has me a bit down. A parental leave saw little time for me to pick up my guitar… But now I want to make some time to let the Muse in. I’m helping my daughter with her guitar and, selfishly, I admit I’m hoping that will get me going again… Wish me luck and may the Muse be with us all…
Earlier this month in Toronto, a master class in songwriting was offered up by two of the greatest Gords in Canada – folk icon Gordon Lightfoot and Tragically Hip rocker Gord Downie in the inaugural concert of a new six-part series, If You Could Read My Mind, named for Lightfoot’s 1970 breakthrough song.
Sponsored by the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, the two Gords perform stripped-down versions of some of their work and discuss their craft in an intimate setting that was perfect for the animated, funny, revelatory and – at times – touching discussion between the two men and host Laurie Brown.
It was hard not to notice Downie’s admiration of the 71-year-old Lightfoot – whose "austerity and economy of words" he praised – as The Hip’s lead singer got downright emotional early in the show which was being taped for later broadcast on CBC Radio 2 on Easter Sunday.
From a Canoe article on the concert, here are some quotes about songwriting provided by the Gords at their concert earlier this month:
[T]he Orillia, Ont-born Lightfoot said he first began writing songs in Grade 12 – his first ever was a novelty tune called The Hula Hoop Song which was inspired by a Life magazine cover – and was inspired more seriously later by Dylan but admitted that "recording was like going to the dentist."
He said he still has a technical rehearsal with his band every Friday to keep his guitar skills up.
When Downie asked Lightfoot about dealing with writer’s block, the onetime drinker didn’t miss a beat: "Alcohol."
Downie, who hails from Kingston, Ont., couldn’t remember the first tune he wrote but said he first sang at a house party – The Doors’ opus The End of all things – "trying to infuse it with 15-year-old angst."
Later, he recalled, he and his Hip bandmates hung out at The Prince George Hotel catching travelling blues legends like John Lee Hooker in concert but Downie admitted he didn’t learn to play the acoustic guitar until he was twenty.
Both men agreed their songwriting had been hugely inspired by nature over the years, helping to forge the Canadian identity, with Lightfoot revealing he went on massive canoe trips in Northern Ontario and Quebec, sometimes a month at a time.
The only problem – and it’s a good one to have – the CSHF now faces is how to make the next five concerts as entertaining as Thursday night’s premiere deluxe edition.
Lightfoot and Downie’s natural chemistry set the bar high.
May the Muse stay with you Gords…
The Boss will be a guest on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle program this coming season on CTV in Canada (and on January 27 on Sundance in the U.S.).
From a New Jersey Star-Ledger article by Jay Lustig about the 2-hour season finale with Bruce and members of his E-Street Band:
Songs performed by the entire ensemble include urgent versions of Springsteen’s "The Rising" and "Seeds," as well as a soul-shouting duet on the Sam and Dave hit "I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down" and a well-conceived medley of Springsteen’s "Radio Nowhere" and Costello’s "Radio Radio."
Costello opens the first episode by singing Springsteen’s "She’s the One" and introducing him as the "past, present, future of rock ’n’ roll." The artists’ respect and admiration for each other is obvious as they discuss Springsteen’s development as a musician and a person, and their musical philosophies.
"The greatest rock ’n’ roll musicians are desperate men," Springsteen muses. "You’ve got to have something bothering you all the time."
"You can’t always be a nice guy in the song, is what it is," Costello responds.
The pair also zeros in on specific topics, such as Springsteen’s early years performing in Asbury Park (he calls it a "low-rent Fort Lauderdale" and says the town’s isolation from the recording industry meant "you were left in a bit of your own wilderness"), fatherhood, the influence of Bob Dylan and President Obama’s inauguration.
The most amusing segment comes when they talk about the way Springsteen’s songwriting changed between 1975’s "Born to Run" and 1978’s "Darkness on the Edge of Town," becoming … well, darker.
"One reason it was different is there was some young English songwriter at the time who said the songs on ‘Born To Run’ were too romantic," says Springsteen. "I can’t remember his name right now, but …"
Costello looks genuinely surprised. "Was it me?" he asks. "It wasn’t me."
"I’ve been waiting 30 years for this moment," says Springsteen, with delight. "What do you think? Of course it was."
I’m looking forward to catching this episode for sure… The Muse is with these two and here’s a clip from the episode:
Kudos to Malachi Greenidge, a Guelph singer-songwriter, for putting the contest together. As related in the article:
The singer/songwriter competition will allow local musicians to not only expose their music to the crowd, but get judged on their song. Every night, five judges will judge the talent on lyrics, song composition, melody, vocals and originality. The winner will walk away with $1,500 and all participants will receive a T-shirt and a CD of their performance.
“It’s not a singer contest,” Greenidge said. “It’s not who can come out and belt out songs like Whitney Houston.”
The judges have been asked to only judge vocals in relation to the songs and songwriting, Greenidge said, adding he didn’t want to mimic a Canadian Idol contest.
May the Muse be with Guelph… check it out if you’re in Guelph on a Tuesday night…
Kudos to Blair Packham et al (which “al” includes Rik Emmett, Ember Swift, Steven Page, Zack Werner and more!) for setting up SongStudio ’09, described as a “week-long adventure in songwriting at Toronto’s Ryerson University” and scheduled to take place this summer: July 18 – 24, 2009.
Just a bit from the website (which you should visit for yourself):
The week will focus on learning how to write your best songs ever. Best of all, you will get many chances to perform your songs, for supportive, attentive audiences in a warm, nurturing environment.
SongStudio’s format is designed to help you acquire strategies and tools to help turn your ideas into real, finished songs. Good songs that speak to your audience. If you have something to express through song, we can help. Maybe you only write lyrics. At SongStudio, chances are you’ll meet someone who needs help with their words, or who only writes music. And in the meantime, we can help you make your lyrics communicate more effectively, and help you learn how to write effective, compelling melodies and chord changes.
Something else happens at our workshops. Some might call it networking. We prefer to think of it as making friends, and if the last four years are any indication, many of the friendships made at our past workshops will be for life. This is a beautiful thing. So often, songwriting is a solitary art. When the experience can be shared, a community builds.
At SongStudio you will sing, you will laugh, you will listen, you’ll “talk shop”, but most of all, you will grow as a writer and as an artist.
Sounds like a wonderful, creative environment… May the Muse be with them all!
I first posted about this a while back and more recently here…
I won’t repeat what was said in my past posts, only to add that the National Post carried this article today on the show.
I enjoyed the article and am really looking forward to the show. I hope you’ll watch it too… Some quotes from the article follow:
“They try to compare it to a talk show, but [David] Letterman goes on five times a week with three people every night,” Costello, 54, says. “I could never go on that often — there aren’t that many witty people in the world.”
“Any host, really, just has to set the scene,” says Costello, who writes every show and draws upon his huge musical knowledge in talking with guests such as Herbie Hancock and Elton John. “I steer the conversation toward a subject I’m interested in — that’s really all I’m suited to do.”
Costello’s onstage familiarity with jamming gives his show an improvised feel. What began with a dependence on a teleprompter gave way to playing with his guests by ear.
“The show really changed with Bill Clinton,” says Costello, explaining how the former U. S. president’s people informed him he’d only have 45 minutes to shoot. However, the famed raconteur and, according to Costello, quite able saxophonist made it clear he was in no hurry to leave.
“I’d only written about 20 minutes of questions, but found the last part of our program was the best bit,” he says. “I still spend loads of time researching, but perhaps I’m not the weak conversationalist I thought I was.”
May the Muse be with you… this Friday at 10:00 p.m. on CTV (and for 13 shows in total!)
The free Musicshake mixing program (Windows platform only, see interface screenshot below) “lets users create personalized, professional sounding music using a variety of modules and pattern-combination methods, which is quite addictive once you get the hang of it (takes about 10 minutes and there are templates to help get you started). You can convert music you make to mp3 and download them to your computer, or convert them into a personalized ringtone. You can also show off music you create to your friends and place it in charts to promote your work to others.”
Musicshake then lets you monetize that creation on its website and share the proceeds with you 50/50. So budding composers, why not check it out. Here’s a video of the proggie in action:
May the Muse-icshake be with you… now go create…
From the recent edition of Rolling Stone:
In the current issue of Rolling Stone, Elvis Costello superfan Nick Jonas sits down with his idol to talk about writing habits and handling fame. “As far as fans go: The only difficult thing is when they go in our house,” says Jonas. “That’s kind of odd for anybody, I think.” Costello sympathizes, as he spent his early days as a pop sensation. “Around 1978, every single we released in England was a hit,” he says. “It was hard to take seriously when it was happening, because I just thought it was so absurd. I was suspicious of the success.” Check out the new issue for more on Costello and Jonas, including what pop records they’ve loved in the last ten years.
Maybe one day I can meet Costello… till then…
Caught this article in the local Metro News freebie paper today… some items are worth more than you pay for them… Good on the League of Rock founder, Terry Moshenberg, for having the vision to give us middle-age wannabes a stab at minor glory…
From the article:
While a few 20-somethings proudly count themselves among the League’s ranks, most members tend to be older. With an average member’s age hovering around 45 there are certainly no illusions about participants starting a stadium-busting career in rock, but the League is no joke either.
On the contrary, the emphasis is on making real music, playing in a real band and sounding really good. The League offers professional mentors for every instrument, counting stars like drummer Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, Rod Stewart guitarist Robin Le Mesurier and lead singer Dan Clancy, a four-time Juno Award winner with his band Lighthouse. Moshenberg suggests the authenticity of the program is what keeps members coming back.
“Everything is real, really authentic and very honest. It’s not karaoke,” Moshenberg said.
Maybe… you have to live in Toronto or the GTA right now, but I think this is an idea that could take off in any major urban area… may the Muse be with you…
I had a productive evening last night with a co-writer that I met at the Songwriting class I took last fall. Adriel is a multi-talented guitar player, singer, songwriter and production wiz. We laid down the basic tracks to a song we wrote in class (Love Is Just A Breath Away). As soon as we finish the track, I’ll post it up here… Check out Adriel’s link and let him know that I sent you… some great tunes there…
Keep the faith!