Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Joe Montana and The Art and Magic of Songwriting?

Lyrics in Songwriting Example:
Book Excerpt: The Art and Magic of Quarterbacking by Joe Montana

"Remember, the more you throw, the better you get." – The Art and Magic of Quarterbacking, Joe Montana

Okay so I have to admit that I was such a huge Joe Montana fan back in 'the day' that I lost all interest in football after he retired (what was the point of watching football without Joe anyway?). There was just something so great about him -- his commanding yet understated presence; his extreme professionalism and ability to perform well under pressure; his calm, cool and collected appearance ---- and his last-minute-4th-quarter-no-way-anyone-can-pull-this-off comebacks... I mean who wouldn't want to be like Joe?

Now... any book written by Joe Montana will undoubtedly make it into my book collection and I have been known to wait in line for hours just to get him to sign one of his books for me --- but who could have ever guessed that a quarterbacking book written by Joe would be one of my favorite books on musicianship!!! But there you have it... I'm sure that this has absolutely everything to do with all those years of study under my Vocal Coach and Mentor (thank you Janet!) learning how musicians are akin to athletes --- that we must constantly and consistently do repetitive drills; we must practice diligently and specifically to address our trouble spots; we must maintain a clear, calm and centered focus (aka be 'in the moment'); we must continue to build our tools so that we can effectively think on our feet; and we must study our craft so relentlessly that everything eventually becomes 'instinctual' enabling us to transcend the mechanics and create art. Let me tell you, if I didn't know any better I would have thought that Janet was Joe's ghost writer!

So let me take this one step further... I'm sure that we can all see how the above principles apply to musicianship in regards to mastering an instrument, but I want to stress here that the same principles also apply to songwriting. Any good book on songwriting will tell you that you must "practice practice practice" in order to develop your skills (repetitive drills), you must work on eliminating your weaknesses (practice diligently and specifically to address your trouble spots), you must maintain your focus (be 'in the moment'), you must build your tools so that when inspiration strikes you won't be technically disabled (build your tools so you can think on your feet), and you must keep assimilating all of these basic principles until they eventually become second nature enabling you to maximize your inspiration (study relentlessly to build the instincts necessary to transcend the mechanics and create art).

That said, I'd like to share some excerpts with you from Joe's (or Janet's) book "The Art and Magic of Quarterbacking" (or "Songwriting") that really resonated with me:

"From practice and hard work come instincts. From instincts come art – and on the best days, if you’re fortunate, some magic."

"Developing the ‘touch’ is something that is acquired through repetition and drill work."

"We never stop working on the fundamentals. We don’t leave all that stuff in training camp."

"A game can’t be mastered without studying the playbook. And I mean study."

"You really have only one goal when you’re on the practice field. To walk off it a better player than you were when you got there. That means taking it seriously and addressing your weaknesses."

"Practice. No short cut around that. You can never be too in shape. You can never be accurate enough, because you can never perfect the art of throwing to someone who is moving. You can never study enough film, and you can never go over your playbook pages too much... It won’t come easy – but nothing worthwhile ever does."

"You will face adversity. For every magic moment I’ve had, I’ve been picked off, benched, thrown down or knocked cold. Every athlete has doubts and low points."

"Be relentless, keep getting back up."

And last but not least, the phrase that Janet instilled into my very core (again, here by Joe):

"It comes down to one thing: preparation."

What can I say except -- thank you Janet for work ethics that have served me well as a musician, a music industry professional and a person!

The Art and Magic of Quarterbacking (book) - Joe Montana

Joe Montana's Art and Magic of Quarterbacking: The Secrets of the Game from One of the All-Time Best

Joe Montana Links:
Joe Montana Wikipedia

At a Loss for Words...

Lyrics in Songwriting Example:
"Here Comes That Rainbow Again" music and lyrics by Kris Kristofferson

I decided to start this Lyrics in Songwriting blog because I'm teaching a music composition class and I noticed that many of my students (who are music majors) have great ears for melody and harmony but are coming up short when it comes to writing strong lyrics. Of course they're immersed in music and performance classes all day long so they're constantly sharpening their musical skills -- but they're not necessarily enrolled in other courses that explore non-musical creative disciplines that would also be helpful to them as emerging artists. It seems to me that it would be extremely beneficial to them if they were also required to study literature and creative writing as part of the music program. But, unfortunately, literature is not a requisite course for most music majors, so here I am starting a blog to essentially 'muse' about lyric writing and study some of my favorite songs to see what makes them tick.

Okay, so the first song I want to talk about is "Here Comes That Rainbow Again" by Kris Kristofferson. It's a 'simple' song, but I've always found that the simplest songs are sometimes the hardest to write. It's basically three chords (I, IV, V) with a modulation mid-way through the song. No bridge. Just Verse Verse Chorus Verse Verse Chorus. Not much rhyming, just on the 2nd and 4th lines of the verses (and not always perfect rhymes at that). Plain and simple yet powerful and very clever. And based on a scene from The Grapes of Wrath.

"Here Comes That Rainbow Again"
By Kris Kristofferson (music and lyrics)

The scene was a small roadside cafe
The waitress was sweeping the floor
Two truck drivers drinking their coffee
And two Okie kids by the door

"How much are them candies?" they asked her
"How much have you got?" she replied
"We've only a penny between us"
"Them's two for a penny" she lied

And the daylight grew heavy with thunder
With the smell of the rains on the wind
Ain't it just like a human
Here comes that rainbow again

One truck driver called to the waitress
After the kids went outside
"Them candies ain't two for a penny"
"So what's it to you?" she replied

In silence they finished their coffee
And got up and nodded goodbye
She called, "Hey you left too much money"
"So what's it to you?" they replied

And the daylight grew heavy with thunder
With the smell of the rains on the wind
Ain't it just like a human
Here comes that rainbow again

These lyrics hook me in right from the start. I can actually picture the cafe, the waitress, the truck drivers and the kids in action -- like a slice of real-life Americana. Or a scene from a movie. Simple, yet descriptive and real. Verse 1 literally sets up the scene for me. The second verse starts the action (let's call it Act 1). Great colloquial dialogue. And the best part for me - the words 'she lied'. That's the 'twist' the 'aha' moment when we're clued into the 'secret' that maybe all's not what it seems to be. Love it. Although the chorus is not one of my favorites (sorry) it echos the idea that through the course of the ordinary/tough/drab day, human beings can do wonderful, surprising little things that can literally turn the ordinary into something special. Verse 3 continues the story (Act 2) with an implied 'scolding/accusation' from the truck drivers and a defensive 'mind your own business' reply from the waitress. Now for Verse 4 (or act 3, the finale). The first two lines are descriptive, simple but again, vivid like a scene from a movie. Then the lyrics come in for the proverbial kill - the final twist, the unexpected 'pay it forward' conclusion. There are two things that I especially like about these last two lines. Number one is the phrase 'she called' - it implies that the truck drivers are literally out-the-door (such a 'neutral' phrase and yet what a vivid picture it paints). Number two is the truck drivers' reply which is identical to the waitress' reply to the truck drivers in Verse 3. Perfect resolution, but what else would you expect from Kristofferson?

The Essential Kris Kristoffersson (CD) with "Here Comes That Rainbow Again"

The Essential Kris Kristofferson

Kris Kristofferson links:
Kris Kristofferson: The Essential Kris Kristofferson
Kris Kristofferson Wikipedia