It was another night in February, and the usual ritual began.
The family had gone to bed. I did a few chores, then, as I do each night during Song-A-Day, I sat down at the piano and fired up my music software.
It was late – later than I like it to be when I’ve got a tune to write.
No problem, I thought. I’ll just do something simple: maybe a short piano improvisation or a sparse looped ambient piece that I can put together quickly, so I can get it posted and get to bed at a semi-decent hour.
I pulled up my favorite Rhodes patch and immediately launched into fast, rhythmic funk groove. I kept playing, and started to hear other parts that could be added: a fast bossa-like drum groove, a nice fat bass, some sort quirky synth lead melody, maybe some other backing parts, and…
Crap. This is not the tune I wanted to write.
This tune was going to take time: time to work out the parts, time to learn to play them (the tempo was dauntingly fast), time to mix all the different pieces. It was too late to start something like this.
But Song-A-Day is a stern mistress.
When you’re trying to post a new tune each day, you don’t really have time to obsess and you certainly don’t have time to go against the flow. This was the song that showed up that day, so that was the song I needed to write.
Nonsense, you might be saying. Why not just save what you did for another day and go back to one of your original ideas, one that would be simpler, and let you get some sleep? That’s a perfectly reasonable question, but I can only say that I’ve tried that in the past, and it doesn’t seem to work very well.
That damned tune, inconvenient as it was, was in my head and wasn’t going to go away easily. I could have forced myself to do something simpler, but I don’t know how satisfying the results would have been. This was the tune that was here, now. And sometimes it’s best just to go with it. So I did. And a couple of hours later, I had something I rather liked.
I certainly paid a price for it when I awoke early the next morning with a toddler sitting on my chest asking me if I was asleep, but listening to the tune now, I’m happy that I stayed out of the way and allowed it to come through.
Here’s the tune (“Your Fault”) in its final form:
And, just to run with this idea a little further, here’s a remarkable talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, who makes a pretty convincing argument for bringing back the ancient idea that creative inspiration is not something that comes from us, but rather to us from a source outside of ourselves. When I first watched this several months ago, I thought it was a useful metaphor, but now it seems very real to me: not just an interesting way to think about creativity, but something that actually reflects the truth of how it works. It’s certainly something I’ll keep in mind as I continue on through the end of the month.