Writing Songs…It Ain’t Easy

This may be the most appropriate topic for me to write about this week. After I finished the multiple post My Favorite Albums by The Beatles series, I was kind of burned out. I wasn’t sure what to write about since I haven’t bought or listened to any recently released albums and did not feel like doing another Selected @ Random entry so soon. No topics that were popping in my head got me excited and I was very close to just throwing in the towel this week. Luckily, as I was lying in bed I thought of a subject:

My inability to write songs.

Now, inability is probably the wrong word here because I have, in fact, written several songs, some of which have been performed by a few of my bands. So maybe I should just say that I have a really hard time writing songs, and good ones at that.

I will start by saying that I am not, nor have I ever been a wordsmith. Growing up I always hated writing, especially in high school, and teenage me would probably be surprised that I was writing regularly for fun. But in reality this hatred was geared more towards school papers. Musically, things have always come much easier to me than words, but even constructing a full song has always been a bit challenging for me. I reality, the whole process has always been something that I’ve never gotten the hang of and still am trying to figure out.

The first song I ever wrote was called “Bowling for Hamsters.” I literally wrote the words in my 7th grade English class on my binder, and the chorus went something like: “Got my bag/Got my ball/I’m going bowling/Bowling for hamsters.” I am not even sure if that’s what I wrote or not, but it’s definitely close. As you can see, it’s not very good and not very poetic. Granted I kind of forced myself to write it, because I was in a band (called Goodbye Blue Monday) and I wanted to submit a song to the group. The other members thought it was funny and we finished the song together. I think we played the song once.

My next attempt wasn’t any better. It was the following summer and I was at Appel Farm Arts Camp. I was in a rock band and instead of doing a cover song for the rock show we decided to write our own song. The problem was that none of us wanted to write lyrics. So finally, I volunteered to do it. I ended up writing about a guy wanting to own a pet shop, even though some girl, who was friends with the guitar player, wanted me to use her poem (I was a stupid boy at that time and afraid of girls). All I can remember from the song is the beginning, which went something like, “Let me tell you about a guy named Joe/He wanted to own a pet shop, don’t you know/He started making some cash/And to the relators he made a dash.” Awesome, right? Yea, not so much. Luckily the music wasn’t too bad, so the song didn’t totally suck.

After that I pretty much gave up on writing songs for the next five years or so. I was a drummer, and though I co-wrote a song with the rest of my band mates of Zanzibar Scuf (“F Thing”), I had no desire to write songs because I wasn’t very good at it. Not even in the slightest. And as a drummer, I wasn’t really messing around with other instruments. I had played piano for eight years and knew a few chords on guitar, but had no real desire to create anything original. I’d help shape songs that my band wrote, but I wasn’t going to be the one that provided the initial draft.

This changed during my sophomore year in college, which was an emotional rollercoaster. I had my first “real” relationship in the fall semester, which ended with me being dumped for the first time ever, and then my father passed away at the beginning of the spring semester. Needless to say, I had a lot of emotions in me and they needed to come out. I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up writing a song, called “Don’t Leave Me”. And it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great, but it had a lot of potential. Musically, it was standard rocker, based on a I-IV-V blues progression, and involved chords that I could play on the guitar. Lyrically, I was somehow able to express my feelings of loneliness in a way that didn’t sound forced and was fairly fluid. It wasn’t mind-blowing, but it was good. Though it was never recorded in a studio setting, over the years the song became a staple during live shows for Zanzibar Scuf and my next band, The All New Cheap Moves. More importantly, however, I figured out a good way for me to write songs: I needed to be depressed.

It just happened that I wasn’t too depressed for a few years, so I didn’t write any songs. But a few months after I graduated college, I fell into an emotional hole. As I worked my way out of it, I was able to write a handful of songs, some of which were pretty good. Soon after, The All New Cheap Moves formed and we played most of the songs at one point or another. But once again, as I got into a better emotional state, my songwriting started to taper off. Since then, I’ve only managed to co-write a full song, and come up with a handful of musical ideas but have struggled to come up with quality lyrics.

And that brings us back to the simple fact that I am pretty bad at writing songs. And even though musical ideas are always popping up in my head, unless I’m near a guitar, they are usually fleeting. That’s why I’ve come to really appreciate songwriters, because I honestly don’t know how they have so many ideas that are so damn good. It’s so hard for me to write one decent song over the course of months, yet there are so many artists (including some of my good friends and relatives) that just come up with absolutely fantastic material so often it’s mind boggling to me. I mean, I’m not a huge fan of formulaic music that is written for the sole purpose of being on Top 40 radio, but I can’t hate the songwriters (even if I really want to, like in the case of The Black Eyed Peas and Kid Rock) because they really know how to write hooks, even though some of them just rip off other artists (see the aforementioned two artists). These people have a talent that I don’t have and I just have to admire them.

So as I hit another bit of writer’s block in my attempt to finish this entry off, I’ll leave you with this: Songwriting is an art, and just like every other type of art, there will be different types of artists who produce different genres of art. And even if you do not like what certain artists create, they still deserve your respect, because not everyone can do what they are doing, even many people believe they can.

I’ve uploaded five songs that I’ve written. Listen below.

Zanzibar Scuf – “Don’t Leave Me” (live March 2005)

The All New Cheap Moves – “Hoodoo” (2006 demo)

The All New Cheap Moves – “Feelin’ Good” (2006 demo)

The All New Cheap Moves – “Can You See” (2008 acoustic rehearsal)

Josh Frisch – “Soul Shine” (2010 demo) lyrics by J. Dunaway


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