Brothers and Sisters of the Shoulder of the Road

Just heard Irl Hees’ amazing upcoming cover recording of a song of mine, “Time Has Humbled Me,” from my 2003 album Crazy Faith. More on that truly head-turning recording later, when I can share it. Before I heard it, I asked Irl if he was happy with the recording. He told me a story that I count as about the highest compliment a songwriter can get. He said the husband of one of the musicians on the track was listening to a rough mix of the song in the car, and had to pull over onto the shoulder of the road to finish listening.

Now that’s what I’m talking about. As songwriters, our mission in life is to disrupt traffic any way we can.

We songwriters are part of a secret society I like to call Brothers and Sisters of the Shoulder of the Road (or maybe, for that old-time feel, Brethren and Sistren—always thought that should be a word!). The rites of passage into this tribe are three moments in your life involving cars and roads, moments that can tell you something about whether you’re meant to be, or are becoming, a songwriter.

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The Chance Collisions of Seeds

I saw this terrible and sad video on Facebook this morning. Another eery slow disaster showing us again that this beleaguered and much put upon earth is still, at all times, much stronger than we are.
It is my prompt, my triggering impression that inspires this lyric seed, almost immediately rhymed with a rhyme that completes the seed, creates a trajectory for a theme:

I’ve seen a bridge pushed down by ice
I’ve heard of lightning striking twice

I’m reminded of using the same rhyme pair in “Crazy Faith.” This feels different yet related in a way, creating a thread between that old song and this new one waking up. In fact, this is lightning striking twice! Just like the song says:

The two facing mirrors
of song and circumstance
the hall of mirrors
down which my doubles dance

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Sentence Fragments Part 2: Putting Fragments to Work

Revision Strategies

Stuck with a lyric that is just not flowing properly? Read over and sing through your lyric. Listen for places where you have crowded the line by assuming you needed a whole, grammatical sentence, but could get by with less. Remember, less is more, or, in Fragmentalish: “Less—more!”

 Writing Challenge. Write a new song, lyric first, where at least one section, or section type (e.g, verse 1, or all the verses, or the chorus) is written entirely in fragmentary lines rather than complete sentences. How long can you sustain a series of these before you need to close off the thought, provide a complete statement? Use a shift from fragments to other kinds of lines (questions, statements, imperatives) as a way to create contrast between the sections. Notice how the effect of the length of lines is colored when the line is a fragment.

In this blog, I’ll always do my own challenges! When you’ve completed your “Fragmentarian Song” let me know; we’ll compare our fulfillments! Post it to SoundCloud or another media site, and send a link in a comment to this post.

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The Songwriter’s Journal


Songwriting Journal.

I believe a songwriter needs a journal—a primary container for your songwriting work. Expect to fill a series of these over time. In your journal can go not only actual song drafts but also pre-writing or supporting material: object writing exercises, back story writing, rhyme worksheets, project ideas and the like. Get accustomed to the idea that you can write stuff down that may not look anything like song lyrics, to help you get to the final song. Some materials, like rhyme worksheets, could be resources used for multiple songs.


Every songwriter needs to sort out their own approach to keeping their songwriting journal, and specifically boundaries or separations between that journal and other material you want to keep in journal form. I’ve spent many years honing my own “life and art journal architecture” and the design is constantly shifting. Here’s a picture of the archive of most of my 160+ journals, dating from the Tarot card “research diary” I started around age twelve:



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Sentence Fragments

In ordinary narrative writing, sentence fragments are no-nos. In lyrics we use them all the time. Often lyrics wind up clunky and less rhythmically assured if we assume we need to write in complete sentences.

You can get some practice with lyric “raw material” in sentence fragment form by using sense-based writing tools, like the object writing techniques Pat Pattison has introduced in his books. These involve generating associative streams of words, not yet intended as rhythmically or rhymically shaped lyrics. (Wait—is “rhymically” a word? “Rhymic” apparently is, so why not?) When writers first try such techniques, their prose is often too “journalistic” and correct, as if they were constructing polished short stories or essays. This generally means words are not flowing out fast and loose enough: there’s too much editing going on. To defeat this, some writers try spitting out isolated words in lists. If you’re object writing about an apple, you’ll get: “Red. Sweet. Crunchy.” The sweet spot for the best object writing “flow” is between these extremes: the phrase or sentence fragment is perfect. A series of sentence fragments creates snapshot pictures or other sensory “bursts” for the reader, and potentially for the listener as well. And, while the goal of these techniques is not to arrive directly at extended lyric passages or entire lyric sections, it is possible to lift out isolated gems—an image, metaphor, phrase or line—into song lyrics. These will often take the form of sentence fragments.

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