How a Song Arrives
I’ve been writing songs since I was 7. A family friend had given birth to a baby boy, and for whatever reason, I decided to write a song about it on piano. I don’t remember the process, though I do remember playing the song at recitals. My piano teacher even let me make sheet music for the song using Midi.
Then, when I was 13, I wrote a poem that an older friend turned into a song. What a special thing to do, collaborating on music and lyrics. Again, I don’t remember the process. This was also the year I bought a guitar. And though I didn’t know how to tune it or play it, just its presence made me feel at ease. Like how some people feel about sleeping with a gun under their pillow except slightly less intense.
At 14, I bought a new and better guitar and used the internet to learn some of my favorite songs. There was a song rattling around in my head, and so I created chords for it on guitar in about 20 mins. I don’t remember how it happened. I remember when it was done.
And since then I’ve had many guitars and I’ve written hundreds of songs. And I often describe the writing process as reception: I receive a song from some kind of higher power. It comes gift wrapped.
Noodling on the guitar brings about some interesting chord changes, and sometimes I’ll play a cool chord progression for a while until a song descends to claim the progression. It’s as if I have nothing to do with it at all.
But I’ve tried lately to catch myself, to observe what’s happening in my brain when these songs arrive. There’s one right now, on the tip of my tongue burning a hole in the roof of my mouth, trying to inject itself directly into my brain.
I can just make out the melody there, in the distance. I hear cadences, rhythms, even words, and a general spirit of the song, but I couldn’t play it for you. It’s a fetus. All I’ve got are ultrasounds but those only show me the shape of the thing.
At some point the song will be visible to me, the shadowy edges will become sharp, and the point of the song will smack my across the face. I already know the song by heart, but now I have to translate it into wave forms.
And this is how a song arrives.
I can’t go to meet it.
It has to make its way to me, like a weary traveler looking for a home.