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On being Creative

 

kens eyespaintOne of the things I am privileged to do is interview up and coming singer/songwriters. I started doing this when my partner David Dodds and I created songwritersmarketplace.com. an international site and San Diego Acoustic.com a local site.  Our original intention was somewhat different from what now exists, but there is no complaint from us.  Originally we wanted to post articles about songwriting and reviews on equipment. We still have the articles,from very talented folks who generously contribute to the site, on all things of interest to singer/songwriters (hopefully) the interviews was something I did because I knew so many talented people and it was just a natural outcome to chat and give promotional help to these people I cared so much about.

What came of it, as a true blessing, was the gift I got within each and every conversation with such creative people. As my site so ‘modestly’ asserts I am a poet, artist, author and a singer/songwriter. Most of my life I have plied those crafts on the side, while I labored as a contractor in the construction biz. That decision was made early in my life because it would give me the opportunities to gig, do art shows and write, particularly when the building market was slow. It certainly was difficult at times for my family, but all my creative endeavors have on those occasions contributed financially in difficult times.

My point being that when I look back through all those years it wasn’t my 6:00 to 6:00 job that kept me sane it was the fruit of my creative self. Every creative person I chat with says the same thing, “I write songs (paint, sculpt, write, dance, act etc.) because I have to.” The story is always a bit different as to what happen to start the process and every story is unique and remarkable.

The hardest thing any artist faces is whether to make their efforts into a full time endeavor, whether that effort will provide enough income to live at least modestly well.. Today’s economy is not at all helpful. And discourse among artists as to whether their work is devalued is  a conversation artists have had since there have been artists. The word ‘Selah’ in Kind David’s Psalms is said to be a note to accompanying musicians to present a musical interlude – one wonders if they complained about the low wages King David offered for their services.

The gift of creativity is apparent and needed by a society that seems, more and more, to devalue the work of, heart, mind and soul –synthisized into one dull grey phrase ‘intellectual property’.  I don’t think that any artist will deny that technology  has been a help, but can also point to where it has been a hinderence. In a recent interview with a remarkable singer/songwriter the current condition of the music bussiness is a result of the Internet – the ‘Gate’ is open.  The simple truth that everything both good and awful is put up on the web, the screening process of the old business has been removed. What the music business, the publishing business, the business of art will turn into when the cultural and technological dust settles no one knows.

What I know for myself and all those fantastic creative people I chat with is that there is no dampening of creative output in the world or the appreciation by society for the exceptional. Whatever the world becomes, the manifestations of creativity; art, music, and literature, will be a part of it, because it is what it is to be human, a spirit or a muse built in and permanent.  If you are a person that expresses their creative side continue and work hard to develop your craft  joyfully, even if the world now seems indifferent. Do it because you must.

On Songwriting ‘Red Bone’

This is one of those songs that was seeded by just hearing something that made the Muse ring. I was half-watching a movie and in the film one of the characters had a Blue Tick Hound named Red Bone. The idea that percolated in my head that night while I slept was of a bad man with the surname Redbone – with a dog Redbone tracking him down. I loved that irony. That's it. I wanted an old time feel and a repetitive hook. A friend first hearing the song said 'Don't tell me the name of the song is Redbone.'  Maybe too repetitive, but that's the hook.. The first verse was just to set the scene – poetically descriptive with the fifth line tag telegraphing the outcome.

Redbone

My Red Bone riding on the warm wind
Red Bone howling at the moon beams

Red Bone sniffin' out the bad man
Sam Red Bone soon hanging from an old oak tree

The second verse I wanted to tell the reason for chasing him down. The trick was to do it with solid imagery, but being as clear as I could as to how bad the men was.

A nightmare came out the darkness
The willows weeping cause the witness
That deed surely evil with the madness
Leave behind a life full of sadness

The next was to soften the song a bit by painting with words the feeling of the hound running and baying in the moonlight. I was really happy with the feel of this verse. The fifth line  tag bringing back what it was all about.

My Red Bone running on the warm night
Red Bone howling in the moonlight
My Red Bone nosing out that bad man
Sam Red Bone soon hanging from an old oak tree

The third verse threw me a bit. I suppose I am making a statement here about the affect of murder and whether a person should be allowed to live after tearing an innocent from life and loved ones. The damage is horrendous and unforgivable to me. I do present here that he almost gets away and I imply that he could murders others in trying to get away.

The story hidden in the blood stains
Lost dreams they never gonna gain again
Sam Red Bone climbed on a freight train
The track laid for a man gone insane

I wanted this verse to resolve the story.

But my Red Bone is one with the warm wind
Red Bone howling up at the moon beams
Red Bone done chased down that bad man
Sam Red Bone got his neck stretched, yeah

in an old oak tree

I wanted to put a twist in the story – what if you were involved in such a way that you knew the victims, perhaps saw what the monster had done. Redbone does corner him and you have him in your grasp – it's dark  – it's out in a lonely wood. Would you deliver justice for fear that some Judge may let him go because you didn't give him his rights properly?  I suppose the question I wanted the listener to wrestle with is that it is easy to be an observer and be lenient  when this evil is removed from you. Justice to often isn't served – and some times justice is misguided and just gets it wrong by convicted an innocent person. But here Redbone's nose can't lie.

Justice here done in the darkness
Sam judged swinging from a oak tree
No more bad deeds in the midnight
Red Bone We chased him down in the midnight
Red Bone We chased him down and made it all right

Simple Americana Lyrics, a clear story, a field call arrangement made this song work for me as a songwriter. The rest is up to the listener.

'Redbone' by Ken Lehnig © 2003 Desert Windsong Pub. BMI

Copyright Ken Lehnig © 2011  previously published SongwritersMarketplace.com  All rights reserved

The Ramblings Of A Vagabond Poet

On Writing Songs and Poetry

Here I am rambling again, walking down a dusty road, with musty bits and clever things floating in my much too crowded head. Crickets are cricketing and birds are birding and all is well in the world. All of those annoying emotional chinks and tragedies are all in the past and now I can reflect, changing memories into myth with the use of elaborate word choices and perfected lies. It is a world where I am the hero in the story and the bad is forever vanquished. Every couple hundred steps I stop and sit down on a convenient rock, next to a verdant field, and play a few lines from the lyrics in my head. My old guitar seems to already know the chords and magically places my fingers perfectly -and I, with my beautiful Bocelli vocal chords conte par tiro-ing up into the too-blue Tuscan sky.

Oh man! Wouldn’t that be the ideal way to do what it is we do? What if writing prose, poetry, and lyrics was just as easy as waiting for Br’er Rabbit to pop out da blackberry patch and add a few dippity-do-das to a near perfect song, finishing it for posterity? Or maybe some little cute singing bluebirds, or sing-sewing mice, could help with the perfect Disneyfying ‘o dat last stanza. Oh well. It dippity-do-not work dat way wit me. Getting it down on paper or computer screen is a slightly more mysterious, lonelier, rougher, and grittier process for me.

When I was a younger man, and the need for creative out letting was a near mental disorder in me, I would go to seminars and read all the books on how to write poetry, lyrics, and prose. It was all, so very, helpful, as far as the nuts and bolts were concerned, but every exercise failed me in the end.

Let me give you some examples of techniques I have tried over the years:

!. Have a journal by your bed and when you think of something, as you tip over into dreamland, wake up, get up, and write down that brilliant thing. When I read them in the morning I thought most of it was incomprehensible and I didn’t write the context for the thoughts. Even attempting to be more descriptive made it even worse. This technique was terminated. My scratchings started to take on the tone of a true schizophrenic and sleep deprivation made social interaction almost impossible.

2. Keep a pad in your car and jot down those snippets that come as you drive. I once noted a toothpaste billboard and the light bulb went on. The brilliant song hook was ‘I only see her smile’ – it never became a song, because I rear-ended a late model primer gray Volvo, just as I finished the unintelligible word ‘smile’.

3. Warning: This next technique should never be used – unless you are Edger Allen Poe, Hemmingway, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, or Hunter S Thompson. I have to admit that in my earlier years I may have used this technique, on rare occasion, to no real benefit. It was the worst stuff I have ever penned. I keep it still, to remind me of my foolish ways. The use of any mind altering substance (Yes, that was what I was alluding to.) is said to assist in the creative process – but in truth what sounded good last night, when you wrote it -, probably was not all that impressive in the morning. A wise friend of mine once told me ‘The problem with any mind altering drug induced insight is that you can’t be responsible for that insight in the morning.’ Since this does not apply to any of my readers, or any of the folks I know, I wonder why I even bothered to list it. (Warning:  If you are drinking Absinthe, thinking you will somehow be Oscar Wilde  – stop it, you won’t write any better, the green fairy will just have you feeling like crap in the morning.)

4. Try riffing. A technique where you just let your mind go and see what comes out. Actually this isn’t a bad thing, but what comes is usually garbage and it can go terribly wrong. I had a gig at Tehachapi Prison years ago. My brother and I were supposed to do three songs. Then the producer said that we had a half hour to fill up, because the other act hadn’t shown up. In those days I did suffer stage fright and I retreated pretty far into my head. My brother whispered for me to calm down and to just make up a blues song. I didn’t have any other material ready, so that was all there was to do. The song was a big hit – ‘melted some faces’ as the saying is today. I even ended the song with an impromptu comic monologue.  We were the hit of the evening, just after the first Stripper to be allowed to perform in a state prison. (She was, indeed, more memorable than me.) Okay, so what was the disaster? When I got down off the stage I couldn’t remember a single word I had sang – or said. (Either did the inmates; the Stripper was simply more ‘poetic’.) If you use this technique please record it, something may be useable.

5. Flip through a dictionary or a thesaurus. This never worked, for me, but my vocabulary improved for when, and if, I did actually write any poems, stories, or lyrics.

6. Use Creative Subliminal tapes. These NEVER worked for me, but I did use them right after the failed ‘Journal by the bed’ technique – the tape put me, immediately, into a deep sleep and I would awaken refreshed and ready to arrange flowers and pick out fabrics. (A warning: Since you can’t hear any words on these tape/CDs make absolutely sure that you know what’s on them. To this day my color-palette  sense is just sensational.)

 

And finally ‘The Rambling Vagabond Poets Seminar’: Be prepared to write – be a writer. Tell yourself a hundred times before you go to sleep that you are a successful writer. Put signs all over your house that read, ‘I am a great writer.’ Prepare a place in your house that is perfect for a writer. Buy the perfect computer for you. Buy the best Dictionary (‘Reader’s Digest Complete Wordfinder’ is mine.), Have yellow pads and pens available – sometimes it’s important to be tactile. The words sometimes feel different when you write them down. Purchase a separate recording device and read aloud and record what you write – play it back and be critical. Print out your good work and put it in a notebook. Having your work in print, on a page, is much different than having it on a screen, and a lot more real. Post your work on writing forums (Lit.org is a good one.) and let others read it, and trust in yourself to comment on other writers work – they are right where you are, and a little nod of encouragement and helpful tips will go a long way. Read other writers, but don’t emulate their style (Unless its just for fun.) Find your own voice and style. Always believe that with every word you write you are getting better and better. And for me and all of you: Pin your rejection slips on the wall in front of you, with pride, and know it as a sign that you are getting closer and closer to being that terrific writer that you have always imagined you would be. (I’m on number 14 on my first novel. The 14 rejection form letters are pinned to a vintage LOONEY TUNES © poster, on the wall in front of my desk. (Bugs reminds me to relax, smile, and breathe.) And, to let you know that I am not, in any way, deterred. My second novel is just a few hundred words from being complete.

Keep writing!

Let me know of any other crazy things you all have done to nudge the muse and I’ll mention them in future articles.

Ken Lehnig(c)2011 2012