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Faith,Hope, And.....Song Ideas ( A Blue Collar Musing)
By Mick Polich - 10/14/2009 - 09:40 AM EDT

Faith, hope, and…song ideas…..

The Biblical verse that I’m swiping from is 1 Corinthians 13:13 (and I’ll just pick the “New International Version” from the congregate of versions): “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Charity, of course, gets throw in there from time to time, but symbolically, people glean the most message from the basis of faith, hope, and love.

So, where is this going?

Well, I have had plenty of drive time up and down the middle corridor of this great nation of ours this summer and this fall – 13 hours one way from north Texas to Iowa, across the sprawling prairies, wheat fields, and Midwest lineage of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. That’s plenty of time to be bored, or use what I call “head trip time”. Being a Midwesterner, nothing is quite as awesome as seeing a distant thunderstorm sprawling across the vast, enormous, Kansas/Oklahoma sky, and being reminded of the power of nature, the spirits, and God ( even if you don’t believe in a higher power, you gotta admit, we’re not the biggest dogs on the block when it comes to nature, at least….). Tooling up I – 35, it’s time to kick it into 80 m.p.h., keep your driving up, but write some of those long – lost song gems you’ve been pining for up in your brain.

I’ve writing installments to this column, as well as a few albums worth of material making that drive – I don’t like to squander any opportunity. Plus, my imagination is bigger than my pocketbook, so if you don’t release those forces some time, somewhere, you’re going to be more pent-up than a stopped-up septic tank. Instead of bemoaning how much of a long –ass drive this all is, I choose the therapeutic latter…..

Ever notice how certain landscapes, topographies, and areas invoke certain musical moods?  A couple of movie soundtracks come to mind ( and it’s the stuff played DURING the movie, rather than the usual, star – grabbing money CD/download to the general public) – “No Country For Old Men”, and “Friday Night Lights”, both shot in Texas with Texas – centric stories. Now, I’ve discussed the “No Country” soundtrack – minimalist, ambient sounds ( singing bowls, wind, 60 – cycle hum), but the “Friday” soundtrack takes a left turn entirely from what’s ‘expected’ from a sports movie soundtrack ( delay processed guitar loops, ambient noise, almost spiritual music in nature…). Having lived in Texas for awhile now, I feel these two approaches in scoring music to set a tone fit perfectly with the sometimes endless, bleak yet vast and beautiful landscape of Texas, thus serving as kind of a sonic metaphor of hopes pinned against almost insurmountable themes (in “No Country”, it was accidental drug money found as a possible escape from a small town, lower middle class existence – in “Friday”,a possible football championship that gives hope to a town that’s been hit by economic fade, racism, and class division from bigger schools and towns.).

With that imagery in mind, and that inspiration, I wrote music to another EP/CD on my way up I – 35. I fairly versed at writing in my head during long period of supposed tedium (i.e., driving cross – country). Boils down to using your time wisely, folks,just use it wisely…..

Pre – production on my CD’s usually begins at the moment of concept – I dream up thematic elements, and figure what could be arranged to sound cool from there. Since I’m guitar-centric, I’ll riff off of that instrument first, UNLESS I want to go left field, and maybe start with a drum loop or bass riff that’s been buzzing around in my head. My keyboard playing is pretty much there for any coloring or sound washes – beyond that, I’m not attempting any Bach fugues, kids. Pre-production to me is basically arranging everything from song structure, instruments, use of effects, etc. It STILL blows me away how naďve some musicians are when they get into a studio to record - a time period doesn’t go by when I don’t read about some ‘pro’ musician that has a producer/engineer do everything for him, her, the group, their dogs, and drunken misanthrope/hanger – ons, to record a song or album. In-Studio Music Theory 101, this-is-how-the-guitar-plugs-into-the-amplifier  - guess I was just raised by the right music folk because I assume you would know a lot of that stuff before entering a time-is-money place like the recording studio( assuming you’ve got the Big Contract with the Incredibly Shrinking Record Company….). Knowledge is power, peeps – take that to the bank, and you’ll be putting a little money into the bank when you’re writing and recording your songs.….

‘Economics’ has been a term that I’ve used in my writing vernacular as of recently – you learn to say more with less. Now, you don’t always have to adhere to this rule – I mean, if you think that you need more to say more in your songwriting, do it. But for me, the general rule has been this concept. Clint Eastwood comes to mind – if you’ve been following Clint for awhile, he’s gone from the Man With No Name to Dirty Harry to esteemed director and producer. But what strikes me as interesting is, for as many flops as the guy has in movies, when he hits a home run, it sails. The crew, the cinematography – fairly consistent, with a few twists (think “MysticRiver”, “Million Dollar Baby”, and “Gran Torino”). But Clint’s economic style, which the ability to be open to a few new concepts and stories to work in, has served him well over all. Who would have thought that Rowdy Yates would be a film auteur? You can be creative on deadline, and with a budget – in my case, it has to work in both ways!

Soaking in your surroundings does affect what you write musically, as well as where you are in your life, and how you’re feeling about life so far. I think that people can bring emotions to pour into their songs, just like an experienced actor or actress. You cash into your bank emotionally, and whip up what you need. I also think you’ll have enough stuff happen to you that there’s no need to consciously bring negative spirits into the mix (i.e., the ‘tortured artist’ syndrome). Some people have that energy about them, and they certainly don’t need any help bring those vibes into their lives. This is all old hat to some of you out there, but, believe me – everyone has enough material for getting to the core of an emotionally driven song……. 

Practice – that’s about the size of it to while writing your music. I still have lyrics, as mentioned some time ago, that I wrote from the mid to late 1970’s, and my, my, the content has changed. How can it not? Maybe some days your mind says 18 years old, but the reality is what it is. Why not embrace it? Hell, you’re quite lucky to have made it this far, chump - squeeze the orange, and get some juice!

 I think people get fearful of their own mortality, diminished lack of power and prominence as they get older – thus comments about their once – favorite groups, musicians, or songwriters lacking the fire, verve, and cajones that they once had. Well, you ever thought that their outlook has changed thru aging, and, just maybe, yours has, too? Thus, your music buds and budettes will singing about content other than what they sung about when they were 18 years old? Time’s a mo’ fo’, a great equalizer, and a game plan changer – take it the current state of affairs, and use it. I’m probably more pissed off about stuff than I was at 18, 25, or 30 years old – or maybe I just care to say how I feel a little more……

Next time, embrace the road trip, long plane ride, or static life period – I say this as much for me as I do you, dear reader. Have some faith and hope in your self to find and execute your song ideas, and to pursue your own songwriting journey at whatever stage you’re at in life. Like I say, there’s always an audience waiting and wanting the quality craft of your art!

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