Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The WV Blues Still In Me - "If You're Stealing From Me, It's Been Stolen Twice"

Ron Sowell (Music Director for NPR's Mountain Stage) once said something to me like, "if you're stealing from me, it's has being stolen twice!" Meaning, he has copped all of his songwriting ideas from others. I don't believe this, but there is something to be said about using your idols/friends/favorite writers to drive you in your own songwriting.

This tune I wrote today, may or may not become one that will last or become recorded. The fact is, most of my songs do not, but the writing process might interest you, so I'm posting it. I'm also going to suggest until the day I write my last tune, that "bulk is the answer". Writing daily or as often as possible will free you up to getting to something you dig. Dig?

A few times throughout my many years of songwriting, I refer to old folk songs when I i'm out of ideas for lyrics, or even melody. With today's tune, it is probably obvious that I turned to "Girl From the North County" by Bob Dylan. Of course, the lyric "Remember me to one who lives there, she once was a true love of mine", is a line that is older than dirt. Nobody knows where it comes from, so anyone can use it. Paul Simon did in Scarborough Fair

And Neil Young (kind of) in Powder Finger (last verse)

It is a powerful image I think. Being stuck somewhere far away and pining away for your home.
Try thinking about that. Maybe this is already your situation. I know it is for a lot of West Virginians. We've been forced to leave the state to look for a "better life". Hazel Dickens had to move away at an early age and spent a lifetime writing powerful songs about her home place.

I spent most of my 20s wanting to get out of WV and every time I left, I spent all my time away, wanting to get back.

I don't know why I picked Johnson City in the song. I have been there and love it.

The past is a powerful source for future songwriting.

Try painting word pictures from your past in a song. Or, maybe better yet, try mixing those images with books/movies/songs that you love. Lift lines from famous songs and insert them into your verses, simply to kick start your muse. You'll of course have to remove them once they have done their job. I did this with this tune. I took (yes, Dylan again... damn, sorry, I do listen to other artists.. ha) Dylan's "Sweetheart Like You" and inserted the first line of his tune into this one. "The Pressure's down, the boss ain't here"
I like to take lines I like and "work against" them. Meaning, I think of what the opposite is.
"The pressure's high, the boss is still here", led me to a whole verse. I changed the first line to, "now the heat is on, the grass is green" and so on, and this lead me to the final verse. Dylan is dropped and what we have is an original verse.

I could write volumes on how I've used this technique to get lyrics.
Try it.

Okay, now for the song.
Let me know what you think. Thanks!

The WV Blues Still in Me
By Todd Burge
©2011 Bunj Jam Music BMI

Thought there was some prize
For not staying put
And taking my dreams across those mountains
But now I work each day
To get a little bit of pay
Just to have more of it taken away

Johnson City is pretty in places, I know
And there are a lot of things to do and go to
But if I’m staying broke
I’d rather be back home and have
Family and friends to cling to

Once I was driving away from the land that I love
And I would have moved a mountain to get here
But once I got to where I was going to
I just wanted to go back there
So remember me to my friends & family
If you ever get back home to see them
As I’m broke down in East Tennessee
With these West Virginia blues still in me

Now the heat is on and the grass is green
And the kids are out laughing and screaming
Sounds of joy surround this house
And it has me school dazed and dreaming

About how I was aimed to make a name for myself
And she was determined to change her’s
We crashed in the middle
Then in the end
Simply forgot our intended beginning

follow Todd Burge's songwriter blog here

Songwriter Night with Todd Burge
The Radio Show and Podcast


Gary E. Andrews said...

I was coming home from Little Hocking, Ohio some years ago after enjoying the musical fruits of Marietta and Parkersburg, and heard Boy Dylan on the radio as I drove by the mighty Ohio River at Sciotoville. Dylan nicked a line from Stephen Foster, I think, "...with a toothache in my heel..." That line, and others, inspired me. I turned off the radio and sang, "Ive' got a toothache in my heart, From where you bit me, An imprint like tattooed art, from when it hit me. You laugh at all of my jokes, Then say you don't get me. What's Wrong With You (Is What's Wrong With Me). What's Wrong With You (Is What's Wrong With Me).

That became the title, a refrain-type chorus, ending each verse. It's rather unique, to me, something I probably would never have thought of without that initial inspiration from Dylan, via Foster, who may have picked it up elsewhere, as he often did.

Someone once said, "It's all been done before. The trouble is, to do it again."

As I recall, the inspiration was overly productive, and I later cut lines from the verses to simplify it to the length of the above excerpt.

Starting points are readily available in whatever your senses can detect, if YOU are turned on and seeking inspiration. Tune in. Turn on your natural fascination with the human condition and create a singer-character to show and tell their story. But don't drop out! Peace.

toddburge said...

With a toothache in my toes..
That's a cool image for whatever reason. I always like... "i've got blood in my eyes over you" too.

Gary, this "Ive' got a toothache in my heart, From where you bit me" is really a brilliant twist on the old phrase... I believe it predates Foster.. I'm thinking i heard the line in Old Dan Tucker.. anyway.. It inspired a good one from you. I'd like to hear the tune.

Thanks for the comments!

J Little said...

i had dylan's version of "farewell angelina" stuck in my head for a few weeks (waltz)& wrote down some lyrics as i was working
(sorta crappy, but i'm both a novice and a drummer!)

"...we got away with the money sack, one flat tire and two heart attacks

we saw your gold city’s sunset scene
and a white dove shit
on your black limousine

went down like warm beer
in a fever dream when we stole the diamonds from the crown of the queen..."

toddburge said...

Drummer and novice my rear... who cares about that, these are find lines!

I especially like this
"we got away with the money sack, one flat tire and two heart attacks"

very cool. You should sit and churn out some more. Sometimes for me, all i need to get lyrics to flow, is the "math" of the song to be figured out.. using public domain songs as a template will do this on occasion. I love the method.

I used it on another tune of mine that is now about a decade old called "My Fat Chance is Getting Thinner".

I was having upper back problems for a while back then and playing guitar seemed to aggravate it. So, instead of playing guitar for hours everyday, I would play the mandolin and was attempting to learn old fiddle tunes... the standard fare like "old joe clark" and all that.
I attempted playing Wayfaring Stranger (the original fiddle tune where the melody for Wayfaring comes escapes me now) and while in the middle of it, had the idea for my original lyric. My first murder ballad i think. Maybe my only up to this week's song called "Grow Up" which as you may now is posted on my blog. Keep it coming!

My Fat Chance is Getting Thinner
with Tim O'Brien and Robert Shafer on Mountain Stage
(you have to hang in for about 3 mins)

My Fat Chance... a live studio version

Thnaks for tuning in!