I have spontaneously written many songs in my life - while putting my kids to bed, at family gatherings, or while walking around the house with my guitar. Recently, however, I've been a bit more serious about songwriting - serious like, really getting into it and having a ball! Here is some of that story.
A song a day before breakfast
In 2011, I read somewhere that Malvina Reynolds, the great and prolific composer of Little Boxes, What have they done to the rain, Turn Around, and a gazillion other songs - it was said she "wrote a song every day before breakfast". I assume that was an exaggeration, but I wanted to put it to the test, so I launched a challenge with my family and some friends to do just that: write a new song, every day, for a week, before breakfast, and post it on YouTube. I was working at home at the time and had the luxury of doing that, and other people fit it into their schedules, and by the end of the week, there was quite a collection of songs! Some of mine are here:
"Clap your hands, go into a trance, and dance, Dance, DANCE!" My second song in the week of 'songs before breakfast'.
My first song of the week - includes a reference to our old dog "Dogbrain".
Day 6 - This is very short. I particularly like this song, which is based on a quotation from Thoreau I had just stumbled upon. Piano, this time, not guitar.
The PFS Era
When Helene and I got active with Portland FolkMusic Society, we started going to song circles, and that helped me get back into the whole singer-songwriter space. I set two personal goals for the song circles: one was never to repeat a song, so I would have to learn at least a couple of new songs every month, and the second was to sing one new song I had written every month. I have fallen short of both of those goals, but the song circles have pushed me to compose more.
Here is Malheur in Oregon, which I wrote about the ... takeover? Occupation? Terrorism? I don't know what to call it. Anyway, the events at the Malheur Wildlife Center in January 2016.
I didn't like anything about what happened there: not the selfishness of the guys who conducted an armed seizure of a public good; not the FBI's excessive patience and unwillingness to take simple non-violent steps like turning off the occupiers' electricity; not the weak case that the government presented; and not the judges acceptance of the jury's argument that the one juror who didn't agree with the non-guilty verdict of the other eleven must be 'biased', and therefore replaced the one holdout. "Malheur" is the French word for unhappiness, and that whole circus made me feel malheur. Hence the song.
In May 2018, I had a strange, unexpected, and ultimately moving experience. You may know of a plan to spend about half a billion dollars to widen I5, the Interstate highway that cuts through our city. I know that some folks are really frustrated at the daily traffic jams, but - carbon emissions aside - there is a lot of evidence that widening highways simply doesn't work: they simply draw more traffic, a phenomenon called induced demand. Why don't the City Councilpeople know this? I asked?
Portland City Council reserves time for citizens' comments before every meeting - limited to three minutes each. I called to reserve a place, which I got, and then asked, "Uh - could I sing a song?" With no hesitation at all, the Clerk of the Council said, "Sure!" I didn't have a song in mind then, but I knew that the theme had to be induced demand. Helene told me it should have a memorable hook, so I put that in, and sang it to the Council on May 9, 2018. I hadn't realized that the City Council taped all their meetings, and the performance got picked up by a number of media outlets, from very favorably (Portland's new transportation hero) to the letters column in The Oregonian, where one reader posted a funny song disagreeing with everything I said, and another said, "The only thing that song induced was vomit in my mouth." It certainly got people talking about induced demand!
For a tree to grow up, you need someone
Finally, I have been inspired the videos that Zeke Hoskin makes of some of the songs he writes. Zeke is a brilliant song writer, and much of the brilliance lies in the lyrics, always clever, always thought provoking. And he never mumbles. In fact, to make it completely clear what he is singing about, he sometimes makes videos of his songs with images seasoning the story, and just so the listener doesn't miss anything, Zeke puts all the lyrics in the video. This is a first attempt to emulate Zeke.
I recorded it because I have the good fortune to have - not one, but TWO tree-planting friends in Uganda, heroes who put a consistent message out about the importance of replacing the trees that get cut down, by the thousands, every day. This is just a love song to them.