Be Careful What You Wish For

April 13th, 2006

This month, my tale of woe begins in the most unlikely of places. Or not, depending on how rich your sense of irony is.

As many of you know, I’m a fairly prolific songwriter. I’m not JP Jones, he of the 300 songs, but I’ve got a bunch of ’em. Those of you who purchased my 3-CD compendium of about 7 years of songwriting are well versed in my degree of diligence in this area. Truth be told, I’d like to be writing more; my goal has always been to write a song a month, and I’ve only reached it in one or two of the 30 years I’ve been writing.

Why do I have such an absurd goal? After all, the chances of my playing a 6-hour gig in which I have the opportunity to perform a significant slice of my oeuvre are about the same as those of Pedro Martinez being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. To be truthful, sometimes I wonder myself. I’ve already got enough good material to play opening slots and open mike features from now until doomsday. So what’s the point?

The fact is, I’ve always thought of myself as a songwriter first. I’ve worked hard on my singing, and my stagecraft, and my guitar playing, but (at least at first) it was all in service of improving the odds that people would hear my songs. In the intervening years, I’ve grown to love the stage, but I still feel, well, irresponsible if I don’t write.

But here’s the problem. As I’ve gotten better at songwriting, my patience for writing mediocre songs has plummeted. My notebooks are full of songs I’ve written halfway and dropped, because I know they’re not going to be great. And I’m arrogant enough to want to write a great song, every time out. Again, the odds of doing that are infinitesimal, but I never claimed to be rational.

So last year, this whole pile of neuroses finally caught up with me. In the first three months, I wrote three of the best songs I’ve ever written: “Are You Ready?”, “Nantucket”, and “The Land of Misfit Toys”. I’m thrilled with these songs. I play them a lot. I get lots of compliments on them. And I’ve barely written a damn thing since. After all, how am I going to improve on those? I wrote two more ordinary songs last year, two songs this year. The songs this year may even be pretty good. But they’re not as good as “The Land of Misfit Toys”.

So chill already, you say. Play me “The Land of Misfit Toys” again, you say. I like that one, you say. Just shut the garret door and walk away for a while, you say. Nope. Can’t do it. I’m a songwriter, and That Would Be Wrong.

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