You might not get back…to the Muse

Some writers and lyricists have a muse; others just go solo or have a co-writer to bounce things off of and consider the process a much more practical and grounded affair than do the muse-poets. Some only write when inspiration strikes or they feel compelled to do so; others adhere to a schedule. For myself, I’ve found that the writing music bit has worked well using just about any method, but the writing of many lyrics and spoken word pieces has actually been a muse-assisted process, and I’ve never really been certain how much of it to attribute to the relationships first described by Robert Graves. But by sticking to the habit of writing lyrics and poems only when inspired, I didn’t burn out; forcing words or turning it into a rote process.

Sure, I would always jot down good ideas or lines when they appeared, and could obviously finish up a piece that was mostly done when not feeling the ‘connection’ to an external source. But for what felt like more serious endeavors, especially multi-hour writing sessions once or twice a year, there did seem to be someone or something that would kind of ‘hold the door open’ across the Arch for my imagination. Then it was all up to my felt-tip pen to madly scribble it all down before the curtain closed.

Many times the inspiration, or fuel, was my earthly muse; and that (devotional?) mindset combined with the poet’s sharp eye in some kind of intense primitive or pre-Bakti ritual. It was pretty amazing; some of those days I cranked out four or five completed song lyrics and three or four spoken pieces in their entirety in one sitting. It really felt like a not-just-me experience, and many of those songs ended up being among my best ever, without having to add or edit a single word. Other days, you’d struggle just to get a decent verse or song title. So I don’t think people can just dismiss the muse-poet theory out of hand, but it’s obviously not how everybody works.

And while the music continues to flow unabated, my lyrics have slowed to a crawl for five or so years now (except for the odd political diatribe, which I can never resist and never need muse-assistance for, lol!).  And it doesn’t just feel like bad writer’s block. Is it an erosion of the connection with either my Muse (door-holder) or muse (person), is it simply a lack of desire to sing (thus not needing new lyrics) so I can finally just concentrate on guitar after all these years, or is it something more? All down the line, from the rookie to the pro, no one really knows when they will stop writing. Either it will not interest them anymore and they feel they have nothing left to say, or they may be physically or mentally unable to engage in the practice anymore. No one knows. Patti Smith is still writing compelling work well into her 60’s, Rimbaud was done by the age of 20.

In my own little quest to keep some aura of novelty about the process by coming up with new vantage points or subjects to write about, I’ve based entire songs around such disparate themes as the false dichotomy of nouns and verbs, the imagined biography of that stalk of broccoli in the store display, or the travails of two characters who were each other’s first-person vantage point in the dreams they had every night and neither knew definitively which one was real and which one was the dream. It kept the writing process challenging by having to explore out-of-the-ordinary themes. And while some were indeed muse-assisted, many weren’t; often just inspired by wit or a sense of playfulness regarding the human condition.

So one day I decided to do a short ditty on the ‘end’ of a writer’s output; not just when they had temporary writer’s block or weren’t interested in writing anymore, but when the connection was cut, their antennae was irreparably broken or the portal was closed for good and the Muse was gone. It was a song called “You Might Not Be Told” and it was written just after meeting someone who, unbeknownst to me at the time, would soon become my own muse of sorts for many years to come. When ‘Ira’ moved away four years later, I recorded a demo version of it (found below, replete with 3rd verse throat clearing!). There was no way of knowing when my own lyrical adventures would one day come to a halt.

The takeaways: Figure out what works for you as a writer, and go for it! Whatever your methods of creating and exploring, you never know when you won’t be able to do those things anymore, or get to be near those kindred spirits who inspire you. Don’t take those activities or people for granted. And in writing, whether trite or grande, silly or strange, don’t shy away from what you let yourself write about. Be fearless, be imaginative; both you and your listeners deserve to hear more than just standard-fare subject matter and pop sloganeering. Give it a go; why end up having that much less of an adventurous scrapbook? And that applies to life as well.

      You Might Not Be Told (demo)

You might not be told,       when the faucet goes off,                                                          You might not be told, might not be told.

You might not get back                    …to the Muse                                                                    or from your trip to 7-11, baby, you might not get back                                                          -You might not be told.

You might not be told, when the faucet goes off,                                                                You might not be told, might not be told.

Might be standing next to it, might have welded it to “On”,                                              might be wading in its throes,  -sharpening pencils spitting out ten pages a minute!!            -but you might not be told                                                                                                         You might not be told.

4 thoughts on “You might not get back…to the Muse

  1. Good advice. And very comforting to hear that there is no one method for writing set in stone. Sometimes I write lyrics, then write the music around the word “flow”, and sometimes I write the song, then try to write lyrics to fit the music “flow” In the end I’m simply satisfied I waded through the process and actually finish what I started.

    • Good points on ‘flow’, Jay. Many times I did catch myself trying to put the square peg in the round slot, ignoring ‘flow’. Also, sometimes that music/song just wants to be an instrumental and sometimes those words just want to be a poem, not song lyrics. Gotta be receptive to where it’s trying to go, as you said.

  2. I agree with all of this, Jeff — I also find writing lyrics a lot tougher than I used to, which is why I think I turned to other kinds of creative expression.

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