The Wirk…

I am going through a cyclical sort of period of intense ability to focus, so I’m hammering out a lot of shit that’s been sitting on the back burner. I wrote a screenplay about ten years ago that sorta sucks, but there was one exchange that I really like where a character says, “I’m a painter, I’m always painting, even when I’m not” or something to that effect. And it’s true.

I’ve been working on a piece of music, a song for a children’s series that I’m really excited about being involved with, and I’m also working on music for a show that my co-producers and I are writing called “Fleet Week”. According to our schedule for Fleet Week, we have about three months to have a completed script and start casting for a January performance slot, so I’m feeling a little bit of pressure to try to throw some songs together for that, but the deadline for the children’s song was, um, three weeks ago. So that has sort of taken precedence.

Wanna know how I write music? Okay, I’ll tell you.

There are two ways. Way one is the easiest way, and that’s when I start with a melody line. I’ll be lying in bed or… who am I kidding, it always happens to me lying in bed. I never sit down, pen in hand, and suddenly a melody line comes to me. Mozart did that, all other composers heard melodies and harmonies only once they were well away from the paper and quill, where you would realize that they were slipping out of your mind faster than flour through a sieve…

But sometimes I hear the melody line and I get somewhere fast enough to jot it down, sometimes it’s just sung right into a tape recorder but often I’m able to figure out the key and time signature fast enough to get it down.

Key and time signature might seem like something that should be fairly obvious, but it’s actually very weird. Key signatures are hard to determine for a lot of the most interesting things. My mom once told me to just write everything in C and put in the accidentals and then when a key started making itself known you can go back and stick it in. That was when I was about 8, now I’m pretty good at knowing the key, but a lot of times it changes really fast.

Time signature can be just as weird. You can think something is in 4/4, but then as you write it down you realize it’s actually 6/8. And as you play it slower, you realize that it’s just a waltz (3/4) with four bar melodies, and then you speed it up and it’s not a waltz at all, it’s a march, in 12/8, that swings. It’s really not all that easy.

You think I’m showing off, but really, the real musicians who are reading this are thinking, “Dude, if you can’t hear it’s 12/8 right off the top, you’re an idiot.” And they’re right, I am. An idiot who LOVES TO PLEASE THE WOMENs.

Anyway, this is sometimes the fastest and funnest way to write music, but if the melody line is off by a hair, if you start tweaking, man, you are screwed. I’ve tried to take dictation from that part of my brain that sings to me all the time, and if you get the rhythm a little bit off or if the triplet doesn’t fit or something, I just want to throw the whole thing away. And I have. Lots of times.

I’ve thrown away stuff before I even get it completely written. I’ve opened music files to find acres of empty staves, key signature and time signature not just written in, but changes as the empty staves roll by. Just no notes at all, like at some point I selected ALL and deleted and then saved the changes and quit.

Because even when I’m not writing, I’m writing.

The other way is fiddling. I don’t know if writers of words can do this, can just sit down and start stringing phrases together. Sometimes I think they do.

“I have a pomegranate, but not a seed.”

“You have no earthly idea.”

“Yeah…wait, what? Oh! Yeah, wait… what?”

“Faster than flour through a seive…”

And then you start writing a play? I don’t know. If someone does this, I’d be psyched. But I do, I sometimes pick up a guitar and just start screwing around, playing with this and that. A few times this has led me down (up?) the path that, y’know, primrose or something, where you go down a path and it leads the wrong place? Goddamit, what is that? Anyway, a couple of times I start playing something and I like where it’s going and then I really like where it’s going and then I start making up a tune to fit it, and it’s like God is speaking through me and then… it dawns on me that I’m singing “Maneater” by Hall and Oates.

This hasn’t actually happened to me that much. Also, the fun thing is if you sit down at a piano and start writing out melodies and progressions and designs and then you try to switch it to guitar, the weirdest shit happens. Same with the reverse. I wrote a country sort of ballad on guitar that, when switched to piano, sounds like Randy Newman. Which is oh so much better than sounding like a country ballad.

Sometimes I use a combination of the above. I’ll get a tune in my head, a melody line, and as I try to get it down I find myself fiddling into something infinitely better.

So, I really just wanted a new post up because I hate that I was baited into writing that last post. I have to get back to the music, because I’m closing in on finishing the wonderful ballad duet between a Coast Guard Captain and a national monument, and I want to write it down before it leaks out of my brain.