I don’t have a new song to share (just a snippet), but I thought I would report on some compositions that have a chance of being recorded on my living room couch sometime soon.
I get ideas for songs all the time. Most of them offer a moment of amusement as they float in and out of my mind. The ones that stick get a working title and a file on my computer. A few of these continue to claim my attention as I go about trying to be a productive citizen. Typically, there’s an initial burst of inspiration, resulting in some rough lyrics—followed by the hard work (and pure joy) of fleshing out the “story,” hammering out the meter and rhyme scheme, and puzzling out the words. Sometimes, a tune that naturally undergirded the lyrics as they formed becomes the final melody. Otherwise, I listen. And wait.
Here are some song ideas that have stuck, in various stages of being realized. (All titles are working titles.)
An abandoned brick factory in the Hudson River Valley, the song “Sixteen Tons,” the Romantic poet Lord Byron, the musical Hadestown
Your mama was a leopard, get a look at those spots
Intrigued by a photo of the ruins of an old brick factory, I began writing the lyrics for “The Factory” in New Orleans last November—to the melody of “Sixteen Tons.” Merle Travis’s 1947 folk classic about a coal miner evoked a vibe that felt apropos for a song about a brick factory. My lyrics were largely intact within three weeks. Then came the excruciating task of extracting the iconic “Sixteen Tons” melody and replacing it with my far, far, far lesser one. I am in the midst of recording “The Factory,” but you can listen to the preliminary bridge here.
Preliminary Bridge for “The Factory”
The sights and sounds of Paris
When you were learning how to spell
Did you ride this carousel?
I penned the lyrics for “Ma Belle” (French for “my beautiful”) about six weeks ago, in Paris and on the flight home. So far, every line either repeats or rhymes with belle. The song contains a complete sentence in French, and I don’t speak French at all, so I’m preparing myself for total humiliation. (I might have done better with a song inspired by Madrid. Or London.) “Ma Belle” is presently sans mélodie.
“The Christmas After This”
Christmas, the play Love’s Labour’s Lost
We’ll reminisce this
About two weeks ago, I started writing a Christmas song! I have hardly kept my fondness for Christmas music a secret from this blog. (See Christmix Tape and Please Have Snow and Mistletoe.) I am thrilled by the idea of contributing to this timeless canon, even if only a few people will ever hear “The Christmas After This”—which is based on a monologue from one of Shakespeare’s early comedies. The best part is that I have almost half a year to finish it!
“Isaiah’s Bucket List“
A few notes jotted down
An Uber driver in Dallas
Isaiah gave me a ride from a hotel in downtown Dallas to DFW. He told me that before retiring, he had driven a bus for thirty years—winning a trip to Jamaica as bus driver of the year (twice). Isaiah wants to visit three places before his time on earth is up: Alaska (because he’s amazed that people can live where it’s so cold), New York City (because you can get a pizza there at three in the morning), and Hawaii (because the air smells like flowers). Isaiah has a wife and two grown children. He thinks the big houses on the highway are too close together. His voice is like molasses.
Finally, a few songs that are just working titles at this point:
“The Day We Never Met”
“Turn Your Back”