Archive for the ‘Creativity & Inspiration’ Category

Running with the muses

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

I saw on Spence Smith’s blog where he mentioned that he goes out every so often for a run while listening to music that inspires him, and how creatively refreshing that is, and so on.

I do this, too, and have created playlists in iTunes and now in Pandora called “muse songs” and “muse artists”. In some cases it’s the songs that inspire me to write, and in some cases it’s the consistent genius of the songwriters.

Spence listed some of his muse songwriters:

James Taylor, John Williams, Sting, Bono/The Edge, Chris Martin, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Hornsby, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Jacob Dylan, John Hiatt, McCartney/Lennon, The Rolling Stones…

And in fact, Spence’s muses and my muses overlap a bit, which is not surprising, I guess, since we’re both songwriters (at very different levels of accomplishment, mind you) looking to the undeniable greats of recent pop music for inspiration. My muse writer list includes (but as they say in legalese, is not limited to) Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Aimee Mann, Shawn Colvin, and several others. My muse song list includes “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell, “Everytime You Go Away” by Hall & Oates, “The Boy in The Bubble” by Paul Simon, “Ghost” by Indigo Girls, and again, several others.

Of course now having written this, I want to throw on some headphones and go out for a run and soak in the creativity of these geniuses. And I will, soon, but for now, I’ll start with just the part where I put the headphones on, right here at my desk.

Cross-medium inspiration

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

I’ve been getting creatively inspired a lot lately. I already talked about going to hear the Peter Plagens lecture at the Frist and how creatively inspiring that was, but then on Thursday night we went to the Société Anonyme show at the Frist with Brad and Jed, and Brad spent a good chunk of time explaining why “Tu m’” was, as he put it, the Rosetta Stone of modern art. So I listened and I looked hard at it, and I saw it. And I kept coming back to it as I circled the exhibit. I’d look at other pieces, the Mondrians and the Miros, and then I’d make my way back in front of the Duchamp piece that did begin to feel like the punchline to the whole show.

All day Friday, I kept thinking back to that piece. I’d be working on the budget at work, and I’d think about the genius of using a tool to say I don’t want to use this tool anymore. And I’d think about the shadows from the bottle brush, and how much there is going on in just that part of the work alone, not even to mention the rest of the composition.

I’m not a painter or any other kind of visual artist; I’m a writer. And lyrics are my primary medium. But looking at visual art can inspire me in ways music doesn’t reach. (I bet Randy at Ethos totally gets what I mean here.) It’s like rewiring my brain; all the lights seem brighter and the circuits seem faster. And I see dimensions of things I’d been blind to.

Whether that translates into more and better songwriting, I have yet to see. I’m writing here and there, but nothing yet has screamed epiphany. But even if it’s not about that, even if the net effect is just to reset my powers of observation and make me live a little more in the moment, hey, that’s powerful stuff, I’ll take it.

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Odds and ends: the weekend recovery edition

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

I’m so lame. I never got around to posting on Blog Action Day. But my excuse is that I’ve had a real roller coaster of a week. I went from, well, managing myself on Monday to having two direct reports on Wednesday, and that’s only part of it. So yeah, I really do think activism is important, I just didn’t take the arbitrarily designated day to talk about it. I wish I could link to my activism category, but I’ve been slow with this whole content import and re-tagging thing, so I’ve only gotten around to tagging one of my old posts with it. Oh well. There’s always next year.


On Thursday evening, Karsten and I went to hear Peter Plagens give an art lecture at the Frist with our friends Brad and Jed, and I’m pretty sure we were all creatively inspired. It was awesome. He basically talked about the struggle to embrace the new once you’ve become comfortable and familiar with the not-so-new, but unlike that rather trite-sounding summary, he was articulate and witty and insightful.


Speaking of embracing the new, I spent this morning working on updating the top-level site. I needed to replace a lot of the clunky tables, image-based text styling, and Dreamweaver-generated Javascript from oh-so-long-ago with a more adaptable CSS-based design. I’m not in love with how it looks yet, but it’s definitely a step in the direction I’m trying to go. The idea is to incorporate the blog and the rest of the site a bit more seamlessly, but I’m obviously not there yet.


Karsten is spending the day working (and I’m occasionally collaborating with him) on a project we’ve been trying to get around to finishing for several months now. Between all the chaos of the house renovation, my day job, our flea and rat troubles, sick cats, and vacation, it’s been delayed a bit. So with any luck we’ll have a scratch demo recorded by tomorrow night, even if it’s only a chorus. The artist we’re communicating with about this song has been waiting long enough and we need to get this one wrapped. I’m also trying to round up some other song ideas she might be interested in, so I guess we have next weekend already planned, too.


This vodka and tonic is simply perfect. I am a bartending genius, I tell you.

Runnin’ & Writin’

Monday, June 25th, 2007

I need to remember that not only is a good workout healthy and stress-relieving, but it also always seems to leave me chock-full of good song ideas. Awesome.

Purity vs. technique in songwriting

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Mark at This Guy Falls Down has some musings on songwriting and his “songwriting hacks” series (which can be found by riffling through the Creative Process category on his blog archives).

I just don’t think participating in the creative process is an area where you can find a clever workaround. The creative process is not one to be manipulated. I guess it works, if all you want to do is be a “hack”.

Now, I have a lot of respect for Mark, but hey, I’m willing to go toe-to-toe with a Grammy winner. Because I do think there are ways to manipulate the creative process, and I don’t think it necessarily makes the creator a “hack.”

Besides, most of what Mark wrote about in the “hacks” series weren’t manipulations to the songwriting process, but guidelines to make the process easier. Saying that you should read good material to be able to write well is hardly a controversial idea, as writing advice goes. Saying that you should work on one song at a time is a matter of preference and experience (I don’t write as well unless I can flit back and forth between multiple songs in progress). Of course, Mark did say at the beginning of the series that he was taking liberties with the word “hack” anyway:

I’m hoping to share some advice I’ve picked up along the way as a musician, particularly as it pertains to songwriting. I call this advice “hacks”, even though that’s probably not the proper use of the term, simply because we’re on the Internet here and it seems appropriate.

But I guess I’m arguing that you could talk about songwriting “hacks” in a way that’s closer to the “clever or elegant solution to a difficult problem” meaning of the word. I’ve even talked about some of those kinds of things here over the years. There are scads of books written about songwriting technique, and some of them get awfully clever with the difficult problems they tackle.

Creativity is a fickle mistress. Taking a purist approach to songwriting and letting raw emotion drip from your pen is usually the best way to get to the heart of a feeling or an experience. That’s the art of it. But once you have the raw material, there are definitely tricks and techniques that comprise the craft of songwriting, and knowing a little of Mark’s music, I know that he’s very capable with those tools and techniques. And I’m pretty firm about advocating that craft in creativity is nothing to be ashamed of.

I also think it’s very natural to go through phases where we vacillate from a more purist approach to a more crafted approach to creating. As long as we keep creating, the balance seems to restore itself eventually.

NaSoWriMo update

Monday, November 8th, 2004

I’ve been a total slacker on songwriting this weekend, but I forgot to mention that on my way home from work on Friday, I came up with an idea for how to finish a song I started months ago. True to my usual auspicious beginnings (which mostly end up sitting around unfinished), I had come up with a great hook and a tentative chorus for it, which, when I showed it to Karsten, got him excited enough about it to write a truly inspired chorus melody. To which I said,

“Oh, shit.”

Nothing seems to freak me out more than having to write lyrics to an existing melody — especially when the melody is so fantastic. ‘Cause then there’s no wiggle room, no way to say, “Well, I can’t think of an eight-syllable way to say ‘I wish I knew the real you like I know the fake you’ in pentameter with an ending anapest, so I’ll just go with that line and he can rewrite the melody to accomodate it.” (What a weird example. I wonder what nether reaches of my subconscious that little gem just came from.)

Anyway, this one was freakin’ me out big time. And Karsten kept dropping hints that if I wanted to work on this song, he was open to discussing anything or helping me talk through how it was going to go, and all that.

Still, no progress for months.

And then Friday, boom! The story flow occurred to me, and as soon as I had that, I knew how to write the song. So I raced home, nodded hello to Karsten, made a beeline for my desk, and wrote the whole thing out.

It’s not Lennon, it’s not Simon, but it’s a start. And it’s good enough to give back to Karsten so he can finish the melody.

3 down, 27 to go.