Craft and Inspiration

I can’t believe I’d never run across this blog from the New York Times:

It’s “Measure for Measure,” a pretty absorbing glimpse of the songwriting process from an impressive bunch of accomplished musicians and lyricists. For someone who’s been dabbling in songwriting for over 15 years now, discovering this blog is like finding a bag of M&Ms in the pantry that you had forgotten you bought.

Okay, horrible analogy. Whatever.

In the most recent entry, Rosanne Cash reflects on the role of precision in crafting a song versus the intense transience of inspiration. She writes:

Apart from “which comes first, the music or the lyrics,” the question I am most often asked (mostly by music journalists) is whether it isn’t “hard” to “reveal so much” of myself through my lyrics.

This question annoys me to no end. I always sputter that the songs aren’t a diary, a blog or a therapy session. I’ve never had a fact-checker come in to go over my lyrics. I haven’t worked through all my childhood issues and achieved enlightenment through songwriting. I can write whatever I want, and I’m the only one who knows what is indeed fact (or at least my version of fact…you see the problem?) and what is poetic license.


I’m a literalist when it comes to a lot of things, but I never really thought that my songwriting fell into that category. I’m a lot more creative and unbound in, say, my short stories and other creative writing, but my songs are all pretty straightforward. Par example:

She looks in your eyes
And sees inside your heart
You feel her close
Closer than ever before
And you feel her heartbeat
As you hold her in your arms
Never to let go
And when you look in her eyes
It’s no surprise
This is what you’ve waited for

Cash also observes:

I’ve found that the melody is already inherent in the language, and if I pay close enough attention to the roundness of the vowels and the cadence of the words, I can tease the melody out of the words it is already woven into.

That’s a good challenge for me. For some reason, I find it scarily easy to venture into the fantastic in my prose writing (see “Deadly Intentions,” a serial novel I wrote about a lustful cow, a murderous chicken, and a hunky farmer caught in between), but my songs are stagnating a little bit in the literal.

Not that I’m going to necessarily start making stuff up, as I believe in using songwriting as a means to channel the authenticity of who I am and where I am in my life journey.

But heck if my doctoral program has muzzled my right brain enough. Time to let the sparks fly.


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