I’ve been starting at this blank post for most of the day, feeling a vague need to fill up the empty space, but without any clear sense of what to write about. I suppose I was hoping to let my thoughts accumulate until they spilled over – which I think they finally have – and now I’m in a rush to catch them and set them down before they fade away.
Ordinarily I’d set these thoughts down in my other, hidden journal, but I haven’t written there in ages, and in any event it felt more appropriate to put them here, though I can’t necessarily say why. Maybe it’s just that they might have a better chance to get seen, I don’t know.
[And before I begin, please forgive me if any of this sounds familiar; I can’t remember if I’ve written this down in public before, and I’d rather not go looking when I could be writing instead. I know I’ve emailed some friends about this, and I think that’s as far as I’ve gone with it, but in any event: indulge me for the moment if my memory is poor.]
Basically, here’s the gist of things: I’m in a weird spot. I have this album that I desperately want to finish, and the only reason why I haven’t finished it yet is because I’m at the hardest part, and it’s scaring me to death.
My creative process has had a number of different sizes and shapes throughout the years. When I was in high school, I wrote a song a day – verses AND choruses AND bridges, full lyrics, and I did this all in my head during idle moments or dull classes. I knew which ones were better than others, and the best ones I took to my band; there are still dozens and dozens of songs in that notebook that have never been played, not even by me.
In college, my process changed. For one thing, I’d met up with other singer/songwriters, and so collaboration became a key part of how I worked. For another, my collaborators were English majors, and they frowned upon my lyrics – too sentimental, too corny. They wanted them to be more ironic and detached, but in fairness to everyone involved it’s hard to tell someone that their lyrics suck without the writer taking it personally, especially if the writer knows that the criticisms are quite valid.
I was never good at abstraction, like Beck and Pavement and Sonic Youth; and even when Radiohead made being depressed en vogue a short time later, there was still an artiness to their lyrics. I’d always been told that it was more important to be honest than clever, and I still feel that way, but certainly one can do both at the same time, or at least incorporate honesty within obtuseness. I never quite figured out how to do it, and so eventually I stopped altogether; when I was singing live, I mostly improvised, knowing that the club’s shitty sound system would render at least 80% of whatever I was singing unintelligible anyway, especially considering how goddamned loud our amps were. Eventually I stopped singing altogether, and focused solely on guitar; my last band featured 2 far better songwriters than me, and I was more than content to let them lead the way.
I did come out with an album a few years ago (Untrue Songs, for only $7!), and there is singing on it, but that album is essentially a “greatest hits” of stuff from my hard drive, and some of those lyrics are transposed from poems that friends wrote, or are simply sketches of things that I never went back to finishing. (I am guilty of succumbing to that as-yet-unnamed disease where you listen to your demos so many times that they end up becoming the finished product.)
So the thing about this new album, the one I’ve been working on for 2 years now? This is a whole different can of worms. This is all new material, and while I wouldn’t ever call it a “concept album”, there is a central and specific thing that I wanted to write about. And, funnily enough, one of the people that inspired the whole project to begin with is someone I have absolutely no desire to communicate with anymore, or even think about, which, while being incredibly beneficial for my mental well-being, has taken some of the creative wind out of my sails.
So I’m at this point now where I need to write lyrics about a subject I’m no longer particularly interested in; and yet I can’t just simply sit down and write about anything, because I’m no good at that. I need a specific idea in mind; I used to be a bit better about free association but I’m garbage at it now, and in any event when the time comes for me to get in front of my microphone and start singing, I need to feel confident in what it is I’m actually saying. (I know I’ve pasted this link before, and probably in this exact same context, but, again, indulge me because it’s especially relevant here: this New Yorker takedown of the lyrics of Coldplay’s Chris Martin is my worst nightmare.)
I’ve been reading a lot of good books lately, which has certainly gotten my wheels moving in a vaguely turning-like motion, and I know I need to get my shit together eventually, because goddamn it I want to finish this thing – if only because the music part of it is still really good, I think, and I want you guys to hear it, and it’s killing me that you can’t yet. But I also need to get back into an actual work routine, and that’s the part that I haven’t quite figured out yet. The house isn’t really “new” anymore, and my music area in the basement is as “finished” as it can be given my current budget and space constraints (and keeping in mind that my almost-4-year-old loves to run around down there). My excuse is simply that I’m lazy.
I really want this album to be good. And if this album is going to be good, then the lyrics need to be good. And that’s the part that I haven’t quite figured out yet.
The aforementioned books? Underground Airlines by Ben Winters, which I think I’ve talked about already; Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, which is as brilliant as everyone says it is; and I just finished John Darnielle’s Universal Harvester, which is marvelously well-written, even if its tantalizing premise starts to unravel and turn into something else by the end. I’m now reading Complicated Game, which is an in-depth look at XTC’s songs written by Andy Partridge; I’m also about to start Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes, which is getting insanely good word-of-mouth on Twitter. I remain hopeful that it’s actually readable, unlike Girl on the Train, which I found so annoying that I gave up about a third of the way through.
As for games – I’m continuing to slowly plod along in Yakuza 0, which is a very weird and yet strangely enjoyable experience. (I should also point out that everything in Carolyn Petit’s excellent piece for Feminist Frequency is right on the money.) I did in fact give up on Resident Evil 7 – I made it up to the first boss fight in the garage, died a few times, and then remembered that pretty much every review I’d read singled out the boss fights as being garbage, and so I decided to hang it up. That game is creepy as hell, and I knew I wouldn’t last particularly long with it, but yeah, that first boss fight kinda sucks.
I’m also going through some backlog stuff – replaying a bunch of PS4 favorites on my Xbox One because I’m an idiot and re-bought a ton of stuff on Xbox One during the endless holiday sales in December. I’ve been wanting something deep to sink my teeth into, but it’s tough – what I’d really love is to be playing The Witcher 3 for the first time, instead of the second. Same with Dragon Age Inquisition. I love both of those games, but they’re hard for me to come back to since I’ve already explored them so thoroughly the first time around.
I did play an hour or so of Psychonauts: Rhombus of Ruin last night, which is pretty good! I needed an excuse to dust off my PSVR, and it was a pleasure to hang out with Raz and the gang again. I’ll probably finish it tonight – I understand it’s rather short, and I’m probably at least halfway through it at this point.
Next week is Horizon Zero Dawn; that might be just the sort of game I need right now. I hope so, at any rate.