I like helping songwriters get better. I think I have a knack for it. I wrote a letter to Paul Simon last week with some very salient and insightful suggestions on how to improve “Sounds of Silence” (spoiler alert… it needs a bridge).
What I mostly enjoy about teaching songwriting is that it seems to only work in glorious places. I have been flown to Belfast. To California. I am currently writing this on a beach in Hawaii. I grieve for the songwriters in Detroit, or Ann Arbor, who will be cursed to forever search for rhymes… for the simple reason that there are no palm trees where they are. I can psychically see you all jumping up and shouting (I picture you as all fairly limber) “There are no palm trees in Belfast!” Well, you got me. But that’s not the point. The point is… to learn ANYTHING you have to go at least fifty miles from home. That’s why college was invented. Look it up.
This conference was terrific. Lots of talented people needing just the slightest nudge to get them in a position to replace me. How is THAT for an ironic position to be in? Let me show you how you can write well enough to get the last available slot on the next Kenny Chesney CD. If that is their dream… I am the guy to talk to, because I am more than ready to hand the reins of power to someone younger and more vital.
Here’s an interesting fact… wherever the conference is held dictates the kinds of songs you will hear. There are many locals at this conference so they write a lot of songs about nature and the sea and the beauty that surrounds them… you know the kind of crap I’m talking about. I try to show them that the insertion of “pickup truck,” and/or “beer bottle,” in their lyric will get them that slot on Kenny’s record.
Here’s an example of the kinds of things I teach:
The student has the title, “clambake,” to reflect his/her island heritage. I immediately suggest matching it to the rhyme “cake,” because when seafood is presented as the main dish of a soirée it is, nine times out of ten, paired with some form of pastry. It is an historical fact that when they opened King Waimea’s tomb they found crockery containing petrified oysters and another containing Entenmann’s. Look it up.
Once the rhyme is established, we create the scenario. Who is singing and why? Why on earth are they singing? Can we politely ask them to STOP singing? Are they at the clambake because of some natural disaster? Is the beach, at clambake time, the refuge for the last five tourists left alive in the world? (Vin Diesel movie idea). Are they in love? Is a love affair an appropriate activity during the beach apocalypse?
We wrap the whole song up with a catchy chorus… possibly ending with the lines:
“We face the west and mourn our loss..
Someone pass the cocktail sauce!”
See how easy that is? For THAT I get flown to Hawaii and California and who knows where else, to pass that kind of insight to the next generation.
We are here for two more days. When I get home I look forward to a Thank You note from Paul Simon.