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.
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…
Well, Heather Gardiner, Head of Music Supervision & Licensing for Vapor Music, issued this week’s challenge – to write a 60 second piece of music for use in an advertisement (that could also be cut into 30 and 15 second pieces):
The spot features a child so we’re looking for something child-like, light and playful, fun, capturing the moment and that captures the spirit of a child. However, we don’t want to be emotional or heart-stringy — we’re looking for something that’s purely fun.
That was my focus this week – and with my 4-year old son’s help, I just kind of stopped at the “purely fun” part of the task – I mean the piece is called “Super Happy Fun Time” for heaven’s sake! I didn’t quite get up to the feel of having a contemporary song, and was more like a Pee Wee’s Playhouse filler song. But it was fun…
May the Muse be with you… in Super Happy Fun Time way…
Well, I had a rough week with this challenge. As I’ve already stated, these are uncharted waters for me… My daughter just turned 13 so you think I might be hearing a lot of current music in the house, but God bless her soul, she listens to a lot of older tunes (her favourite – The Beatles). I wrote one song (Waking Nightmare) base on Rehtaeh Parsons‘ tragic death after her attempted suicide. I didn’t end up having time to record that one for this week, but I thought I’d put a line or two here:
I can’t fake that smile
It’s been a while
Since I wanted to anyway…
Why do I have to be strong?
When you know what’s right from what’s wrong
Not exactly light fare… Some of the lines in that song (and the working title) were right from Rehtaeh’s journal. Very sad…
So, another song took hold later in the week inspired by the recent campaign that started earlier this month with a Super Bowl Ad – the”Like A Girl” campaign. The campaign shows differences in how people perceive the phrase, “like a girl.” And thus, the first verse is:
He meant it as a joke
When he spoke
But a little piece of me broke
Shattered my glass house world
The girl takes ownership of the phrase and wears it proudly. I gave myself some wiggle room to be able to put it into the third person if need be, but my daughter helped me out with vocals on this one. Here it is:
May the Muse be with you… and can’t wait to see what Week 3 has in store (and still working on the Week 1 challenge!)
Tune into your PBS stations on January 2, 2015, for the gala event that was held earlier this week in Washington. The Library of Congress awarded Billy Joel, one of my favourite songwriters, the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Tony Bennett, John Mellencamp and Kevin Spacey were among those on hand to celebrate the music legend, while Barbara Streisand, James Taylor and past Gershwin winner Paul McCartney appeared in video greetings.
Huffington Post wrote about the event here and this is just a snippet from that piece:
Joel’s tunes were enough to have Republican and Democratic congressional leaders sitting side by in the divided capital, clapping to the same beat.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor saluted Joel, a fellow New Yorker, for creating an enduring lyrical and musical legacy for the nation.
“For more than five decades, Billy Joel has inspired new generations of performers, musicians and singer-songwriters,” she said. “Tonight we recognize Long Island’s favorite son, even if he is a Mets fan.”
May the Muse stay with you Billy!
Here’s a video snippet from Euronews with Kevin Spacey on the harp with the Piano Man:
Just enjoyed listening to an interview of Willie Nelson on NPR. Mr. Nelson is promoting his new album, Band of Brothers, which is to be released today. Here’s a little snippet of the interview:
ARUN RATH: Now you are such a great songwriter but it’s been more than a few years since you released an album and one with so much new material on it. I’m curious have you been writing songs the whole time or are all these very recently written?
WILLIE NELSON: I’m sort of a spasmodic writer I guess. Roger Miller said it pretty well. He said when a writer has to sometimes stop and let the well refill because you run out of things to write about or good things to say. So I think he’s right. Also you have to have some kind of challenge or goal. And there was this new album that we wanted to do. And I needed some new songs. And I said well you know why don’t I write something?
And when you’re Willie Nelson, you can do just that…
Listen to the interview now:
May the Muse stay with Willie and be with you (and that’s even funnier with the reference to Willie as the Yoda of songwriters)…