I wrote my first song when I was 14 years old. Over the years, I’ve composed hundreds of songs. It was that interest — music — that led me to take a year off from pursuing a doctorate and led me down the circuitous path that has been the rest of my life.
I don’t write songs nowadays, more focused on screenplays and writing about writing. But I can’t help but think at least some of who I am as a writer derives from all that time studying and composing songs.
Which is why I say that one of my favorite ‘screenwriting’ books is “Songwriters on Songwriting,” a collection of interviews by Paul Zollo with some of the great songwriters of our time, from Mose Allison to Frank Zappa. For what are songs but stories?
Each day this week at this time, I will post insights from a songwriter about their craft in the hope their words may inspire us as writers.
Today: Jackson Browne.
Generally, when you go to work on a song, do you find that you have the creative energy it takes to see it through?
Yeah. When it’s going on, you know, it’s going on. I always think it’s just a matter of time; it’s just a matter of whether you’ve given yourself the room, or gotten yourself to the proper reflective place. I know that you write songs with the same thing that you make love with, or that you receive music with. The same part of you, the same creative center. The Greeks called it “Eros” — not just meaning erotic, but love of beauty and the appreciation of beauty. It’s the same thing you read a really great book with, or that is engaged when you see a fine movie. You can squander it, you can piss it away. You can waste it. And I think there are times when you’re tapped out…
So you have to be in form. That is you have to be used to doing it, to get the most out of the inspiration. Although, I wish it was just like a big old huge voltage switch that gets switched on, and keeps you completely caught up in what you’re doing until you’re done. It’s been that way many times, but it’s unreliable. If you wait for inspiration to happen and are not conducting a creative life where you’re involved with your music and your instruments, then that inspiration will happen and you’ll have a couple of good ideas and it will be be gone before you can respond to it.
So I relegate everything to the creative act as being what I’m here to do. And so anything that helps is something that I incorporate into my lifestyle.
Notice this refrain in Browne’s words: creative center… conducting a creative life… relegate everything to the creative act. As writers, we are quite literally creators. We make something out of nothing, a vacuum that becomes filled with images, emotions, moments, voices that we then work with until it takes shape as a Story.
Therefore it makes sense that we should do everything we can to ‘conduct a creative life,’ to feed our ‘creative center’. Even if writing is our avocation, we must not neglect our creative soul.
Read books. Watch movies. Take walks. Work in the garden. Meditate. Do volunteer work with a nonprofit. Play board games with your family. Whatever feeds your creative “Eros” is fair game.
Without a doubt, I have seen Jackson Browne in concert more times than any other musician. The first time was when he opened for America at the Hampton Roads Coliseum in 1975. Subsequently in New Haven, Berkeley, the Santa Barbara Bowl, the Greek Theater, Santa Monica Civic Center, sitting in with Bonnie Raitt, David Lindley, and so on.
Here is a song Browne wrote when he was all of 16 years old: “These Days”.
What’s your favorite Jackson Browne song?
For the rest of the Songwriters on Songwriting series, go here.