I was a weird kid.
By the time I was 10 years old, in the 5th grade, I had committed myself to memorizing The Raven by Edgar Alan Poe and had decided that I was a writer. I was melodramatic about everything in my life. Coming from a white, middle class, nuclear family, I had very little to feel so dramatic about. Still, I felt everything, as intensely as I knew how. I was as awful as you can probably imagine, spouting all varieties of 10 year old nonsense into couplets and awkward rhyme schemes. I began filling page after page, notebook after notebook with virtually every thought that passed through my brain.
As this began transitioning into songwriting, the rhymes grew tighter, and the verses less awkward. Working within the parameters of chord progressions and a 5 minute, at the most, time limit, was certainly helpful in nurturing a kind of efficiency that had been previously lacking.
In 1999, I wrote the first song that made me stop in my tracks. I played it again and again, and knew that I had finally written something good.
Hundreds of bad songs, and even worse poetry later, I had finally been able to put forth something that I wasn’t eventually embarrassed by.
And so began the pursuit of quality.
I’d love to tell you that it’s different now, but it isn’t. For every one song I think is worth pursuing to an eventual end, either recorded or played live, there’s at least 10 clunkers.
But, that is the process.
I studied a lot. In High School, I’d often skip classes and bury myself in the back left corner of the library, the poetry section, reading through every book they had in the ridiculously small collection. One day, I stumbled on Lyrics 1962-1985 by Bob Dylan. That was a game changer. Chimes of Freedom, for instance, just kicked the proverbial mental door wide open. How do I get myself from writing terrible poetry and rudimentary lyrics about the girl in my Spanish class, all the way up to something of this rarified caliber? I’m still pursuing that.
Allowing that I’ll likely never write anything as profound or grand as Chimes of Freedom, but making sure that I always try has been the real secret to any success that I have had in my chosen craft.
From there came Springsteen. The mechanic in the back of the building, retooling the engine and laying out lyrics like film. Cinematic, often simple, and somehow larger than life. Springsteen gave me John Steinbeck, much the same as Dylan gave me Woody Guthrie and the Carter Family. The Rolling Stones gave me rock n roll, and blues music. Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and most important of all, Chuck Berry.
Chuck took me a good 10 years to get my head around. Smart. The smartest guy in rock n roll. Amazing riffs, and absolute, teenage, gasoline fueled, sexy songs about simple things.
I look up to my collected musical and literary heritage as a fan, and a student.
I always think of myself as someone just outside of this upper echelon of artists, only a few which I’ve named here.
I don’t really know if my work can ever be as good as theirs, but just like the comparison to Chimes of Freedom, maybe I’ll never be that good, or working on that level, but as long as I keep trying, I’ll be better for it.