Sometimes my sound system switches to bluetooth and my own purchased music commences. Un-summoned. It’s like there’s a ghost in my car. I’ll never get the hang of my gadgets and why they do the things they do. They have a mind of their own.
One time, before I left a session at David Gamon’s, he helped me find the best route home…on three different Apps. I forgot they were all open. When I started my drive, they each shouted different directions. Take the 710! Take the 210! No, the 5! Life in the age of Waze. Remember maps? Thomas Guides? Don’t get me wrong. I couldn’t survive without GPS. But I think one at a time will suffice.
Anyway, one day curving up Laurel Canyon, I didn’t realize my iPod had engaged. I simply started hearing music. It could have been Satellite Radio. It could have been KCRW. Whatever. My mind was on something else. Then I noticed the song that was playing had a familiar ring to it: it was a demo of something I had written a few years back.
I put myself in an awkward position: I asked myself if I liked it. In other words, if I had turned on the radio on purpose…and it was playing, would I have switched the station…all things being equal? You know that game, right? Or am I the only one who plays it? Do my songs hold up? Would I invite my song to be a member of a club of songs I love?
I had about an hour’s ride ahead of me. I decided to stroll down memory lane and let the playlist shuffle through random demos. Most of them had never found a home. But they are like old friends. Flaws and all. Bring ‘em on. It's been a while.
One of them took me a minute to place, to remember with whom I wrote it, and where it had been conceived. Oh, it’s the one I wrote with xyz. Boy, we had high hopes for that one!
But another mile down the road I realized why nobody responded favorably when I sent it out:
- First off, you couldn’t UNDERSTAND THE WORDS! How did we not catch that in the mix?
- Craft-wise, some amount of songwriting vagueness is cool but in this case, the storyline was all over the place. But you wouldn’t know that because you couldn’t UNDERSTAND THE WORDS! And even if you could, there was no money line, a payoff or otherwise, that summed up what the f**k was going on.
- The background vocals were crazy loud. Maybe that’s why you couldn’t UNDERSTAND THE WORDS!
What was I thinking? I would never send that song out today. But back then, we swore it was a hit. They’d be fighting over it. No way it won’t chart. Maybe a Grammy! But the poor song was never even put on hold.
Distance is key.
We grow. We learn something new at every session. We learn from every writer we write with, whether they’re coming off a ginormous hit or never had a hit at all. Sam Hollander, Lindy Robbins, Wally Gagel...I thank you.
And because of this I'm a better writer today. And so are they. Hopefully.
As for songs that did get cut—some happened not to necessarily be my best work. Some songs just got lucky. So I guess we’re even. Weighing my wins and my losses. My few successes, warranted or not, have balanced out my hundreds of failures. And trust me. There were hundreds…of failures.
Alternately, sometimes I hear a song that still sounds as good as the way I thought it sounded the day I wrote it. But sadly, it didn’t get cut either. Even though it deserved to, IMO. Some of my best work gets left behind, never to be heard again…except by my own ears via a playlist of demos inadvertently stumbled upon because of a ghost in my car. On the 710. Or was it the 210? Or the 5?
Thank you, ghost. It’s fun to take stock.
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