There’s a path behind the place where I live, and a black gum tree on the path. Up against it stands some big leaf aster. I don’t know if you know what that looks like, but this tall beauty has bluish flowers, and large heart-shaped leaves. It’s just a gorgeous color.
Whenever I get to this spot where this tree stands, I get a type of … signal. I can’t explain it but I pay attention, because I know something’s going to happen; I’m going to get some words or a melody, or something.
What I love most about being a songwriter is that I stand all my life in the direct path of signals, the strangest, most beautiful alphabet in the universe. I get to translate pulsations into notes and lyrics that restore and console, reconstruct and heal.
The signals don’t always quickly reveal themselves, and when this happens it’s no use blaming the walk. No matter what, I have to stay on the trail and follow the things that motion me on. They often make no sense, and I don’t always feel like following them, but they always lead somewhere.
When I pay close attention, I see that no two walks along the path are the same. Each brings a hidden blessing; a miracle which is unique to the path on that day, and which cannot be saved for later.
If I don’t notice the aster, this bluish signal, if I don’t use this blessing today, it will be lost.
Sometimes I wish I had become a newspaper delivery boy. Or a milkman. Or a bridge toll-taker … do people still do that for a living?
I love the routine of those jobs.
Or maybe, the clown wielding the wide broom who follows the elephants in the circus.
Or a carpenter … yes, a singing carpenter who dresses the plank in the floor with his singing nails.
Better still, I wish I could say that I’d been a kite maker. I can’t think of a more aesthetic machine than the kite. I can’t think of an aircraft that’s better for the world or the soul. Everyone loves a kite.
Some days I wish I could say I’d been one of those things. Then again … no.
Songwriting isn’t routine. It isn’t easy, or certain. It’s not a dream job, and it doesn’t come with a guarantee. You know when songwriters say things in interviews like, “I just channel the muse … the songs just flow out of me”? No, they don’t. It’s work. Each time you take up your guitar and sit by a blank page, you start from scratch. It’s a struggle. And for most, there’s very little reward in it (outside of the big prize, touching an audience).
It’s not easy … and still:
For me, the worst day as a songwriter is still better than the best day as something else. It’s the work that’s worth doing.
Now, in the studio, second cup of chamomile tea cooling, guitar in its stand, melody waiting patiently for words to be finished.