I do a lot of thinking. Probably more than is really necessary. Having written my share of songs, and having heard some amazing writing by other songwriters, I’m always trying to be open to ideas and perspectives that I might not have had on first glance. i’m like a human idea squirrel, seeing things, hearing phrases, having little epiphanies that I tuck away for later use. And while those things are in there, they’re stewing, some might say composting, waiting to be reborn as new ideas, in new ways.
I think a lot about why I write- is it all a big vanity project? Am I capable of having a new, independent thought? Is anyone? Does anyone really care about this? Will what I write make a dent in the social consciousness? Will I actually be able to touch someone’s life? Would my efforts be better spent rolling up my sleeves and serving lunch at a soup kitchen? I think a lot about that one.
I am reminded of a great book I used to read to my kids, called “Frederick,” by Leo Lionni. The story is about a family of mice preparing for the winter. All are hard at work gathering and storing food, except for Frederick, who sits very still. He is disdained by the others, who ask him why he doesn’t work. He protests, and says things like “I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days,” “I gather colors, for winter is gray,” and “ I gather words, for winter is long, and we’ll run out of things to say.” And, sure enough, the long, cold winter takes its toll, all of the food eventually eaten, the mice dispirited. They turn to Frederick:
“ ‘Close your eyes,’ said Frederick, as he climbed on a big stone. ‘Now I send you the rays of the sun. Do you feel how their golden glow…’ And as Frederick spoke of the sun the four little mice began to feel warmer. Was it Frederick’s voice? Was it magic? … And when he told them of the blue periwinkles, the red poppies in the yellow wheat, and the green leaves of the berry bush, they saw the colors as clearly as if they had been painted in their minds.”
It is easy to see how Frederick’s supplies are equal to those of the other mice, how his words sustain them just as surely and fully as the food they had eaten.
I like to think that our songs are food for sustenance of the soul, drink for the parched spirit, rest for the weary mind.
I tell my songwriting students, and myself, that songs are like snowflakes – no one is exactly the same as any other (sorry, George Harrison; you might have proved an exception). No one else brings to writing the sum total of our experiences, viewpoint, choice of words or images. My fondest hope is that one of my songs, drifting in the universe, will to someone, feel like the warm rays of the sun, or conjure up the beautiful colors of the springtime. I hope that one day, I will be Frederick. So may we all.