For the record, I have never written so much as a song lyric, much less an entire song.
However, I've made a career writing about, interviewing, reviewing, enjoying and listening to songs written by the very best in the world. Honestly, I was always more into the melody than the lyrics.
In recent years, I've had the opportunity to take some pretty deep dives with local- and world-famous songwriters thanks to my work.
Songwriting has lately become a favorite topic of mine in these interviews, and I've learned a lot. For instance, just about every artist I've ever talked to will tell you straight away that there is no magic formula for writing a song. They'll tell you that some songs come out of the blue in fully formed fashion, while others take hours, days and even years to finish.
Some writers set aside a certain time of day to write, and others write when the muse hits. Some are prolific, turning out dozens at a time and some go weeks or months without the muse striking them. Some see a song in a tree or a cloud, and for some, a song comes from a life-changing experience.
I once sat in the East Brainerd living room of Confederate Railroad frontman Danny Shirley, along with Keith Harling and Roger Alan Wade. Harling was riding high as the new kid with a new Nashville contract and a hit in "Papa Bear," while Shirley, at the time, thought he was nearing the end of his career.
"My success outdid my talent years ago," he said that day, repeating a line he'd used before.
He's still going, by the way.
Wade, in case you don't know, is a truly talented local songwriter who can write a funny song like "If You're Gonna Be Dumb, You Gotta Be Tough," or a classic like "Country State of Mind." He told me last year he often writes the funny ones as an exercise to get his brain working for the serious ones.
Anyway, at one point during my visit with the trio, Harling told the group he was spending most of his days in an 8-5 type of environment, writing with other people. Wade looked at him in disbelief and said, "What are you writing about? Nothing happens before midnight."
I once asked another artist who was coming to play McKenzie Arena about the "sophomore jinx," a malady that supposedly hits new artists who suddenly have a huge hit song and find themselves constantly on the road playing shows almost every night chasing every dollar they can while the iron is hot.
The theory surrounding the jinx is that an artist has a lifetime to write the first one based on real experiences, and then all they know for months at a time are tour vans or buses and hotel rooms. It doesn't make for great song fodder.
"Yeah," this particular artist said to me, "nobody cares that your limo driver is having a bad day."
Another of my favorite local writers is Nathan Bell. We've had several conversations about songwriting over the years. Bell is the son of poet Marvin Bell and understands that every word is important.
He is a very funny guy who takes songwriting very seriously, and as such, he has a list of words that should almost never be in a lyric — words that are overused, trite, cliched, inane, lazy or silly. These include: soul; girl; old guitar; my guitar; that old guitar. Per his list, "highway (empty or otherwise)" should also be avoided.
Not everyone will agree, though Bell would probably say, "You should," and that's the thing about music and songwriting. Just because you or I connect with a particular song, doesn't mean it's well-written, or even a good song.
There are probably as many reasons to like or dislike a song as there are ways to write one.