When I was a teenager and still figuring out how to write fiction, I was also writing all kinds of lyrics. My lyrics and poetry were interchangeable at the time, especially around 1988 onward, because I was essentially trying to mimic my favorite alternative rock songwriters of the time: Robert Smith, Morrissey and Marr, Andrew Eldritch, Martin Gore, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis, and so on.
A lot of the songs were rather simple but fun, influenced by the sounds I was hearing on college radio at the time. I even had a band back then — my buddies Chris and Nathan got together occasionally as The Flying Bohemians. Some of them are kind of embarrassing to listen to now, but some of them I’m still kind of impressed with. My songwriting improved considerably once I headed off to college, and for a few years, up until about 1994, I had a handful of pretty cool songs I was proud of. Unfortunately I had absolutely no way to lay them down other than as acoustic demos on my boombox, so they didn’t sound nearly as good on tape as they did in my head.
For a good few years afterwards my songwriting kind of dried up, for various reasons. A lot of mental and emotional baggage I had to sort through, where the writing became less lyrical and became more poetic. It wasn’t until around 2001 that when I started jamming again with Bruce and Eric, my friends from my candle job. I kicked out maybe a dozen new songs that were even better.
I think the last true song that I’ve written was less a complete track than a possible idea that I could eventually stitch together one of these days — and an instrumental at that, based on a sample I made of the rhythmic click-clack, click-clack of the District Line as it left Earls Court station in London. I’ve been too busy with my self-publishing career to take my songwriting seriously.
That’s not to say I haven’t completely given it up. Over the course of the year I’ve been making it a point to pick up one of my guitars and just noodle around on it a little bit, even if it is to learn the chords to a pop song. And if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll use my phone and record a few minutes of a riff that I’ve come up with. [For the record, the software I’m using is the free version of Hi-Q mp3 Voice Recorder. It’s lo-fi, but it does a fine job of picking up sounds, even if they’re unplugged.]
What I’d love to do is get back into the habit of writing songs again. I remember how to do it, and I know enough not to try to pump a well that’s long past dry, so to speak — I’m no longer trying to write out my direst emotions into a Cure pastiche like I used to. And I really don’t want to write message songs or protest songs, either.
I think what I need to do is remember how to latch onto a melody. I mean latch onto it, play a riff and think ‘yeah, I can do something with this.’ That’s how I write my novels now; it only goes to show that my writing process would evolve accordingly. I latch onto musical phrases all the time when I’m listening to whatever I’m listening to. Thing is, I haven’t been acting on it. Like I said — my writing career kind of took precedence for a good number of years there, so I didn’t have the time or the spoons to do it then.
I’m thinking that’ll be one of my possible resolutions for 2018; to remember how to write songs, and see if I can lay a few of them down.