SONGWRITING MONTH DAYS 17 & 18: Woody Loves the Kids

I had to make a last minute emergency drive across the country yesterday and so I didn’t get a chance to make a post.  Today I’m playing catch up.

PROMPT FOR DAY 17: Learn a Woody Guthrie song.

If you know me, you know I love me some Woody Guthrie.  I think it’s a singer/songwriter’s duty to keep his music alive, since he wrote hundreds of songs that are considered a big part of (our) American heritage.  Check out this biography page if you need more info about this dude.  There is a reason I call him Saint Woody. There is a reason I named my dog after him.

Because his songs are super easy (G/C/D anyone?), this prompt shouldn’t take too long to complete.  You can find an archive of his song lyrics here. Feel free to add your own tune. You know, like you’re Wilco or Bily Bragg or something.

PROMPT FOR DAY 18: Write a song for a child.

It could be a children’s song. It could just be a song that’s dedicated to a child. By the way, Woody Guthrie wrote tons of them.

SONG OF THE DAY(s): Why, Oh Why

This is my favorite children’s song that Woody Guthrie wrote.

SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 13: Tom Waits

 

PROMPT: Learn a Tom Waits song.

If you don’t know who Tom Waits is, and you’re a songwriter, you’re in for a treat.  This dude has been writing songs since the 1970’s (maybe earlier) and has a huge range of styles and subject matter to delight his listeners.  He can be tender and outright frightening.  His songs have been covered by everyone who is anyone in the singer/songwriter field.

He’s kind of like Bob Dylan (who also gets covered a lot) because his voice is not  exactly what we would call pretty but his songs lend themselves to all kinds of voices.  The man just writes wonderful songs–songs that invite anyone to reinvent and play with what’s already, well, a solid piece of music.

For instance, if you’ve watched THE WIRE, you will recognize that each season begins with a different version of Tom Waits’s, “Way Down in the Hole.”  High five to the person who complied all the versions into a single Youtube video:

Season 1: Blind Boys of Alabama

Season 2: Tom Waits (himself!)

Season 3: The Neville Brothers

Season 4: DoMaJe

Season 5: Steve Earle

My favorite Tom Waits album is called Mule Variations.  I think it’s a good place to start if you’re not too familiar with his music.

SONG OF THE DAY: Chocolate Jesus

This is one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Kim Taylor, covering a great Tom Waits song.

SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 10: Up To You

TODAY’S PROMPT: Learn a song, any song, just because you like it.

Today, songwriting month is as easy as you make it.

I’m probably going to learn a Harry Nilsson song today because I love him and have no idea how to play any of his songs.

TODAY’S SONG: Think About Your Troubles

This my favorite song a lot of the time. Not just favorite Nilsson song. Favorite song.

SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 9: Character Reference Song

It’s the 9th! 9 can be divided by 3.  We’re writing a song today, is what I’m saying.

TODAY’S PROMPT:  Take a well-known character, historical (real) or fictional (fabricated), and reference him or her in a song.

You can choose the point of view.  You can write a first-person song, where “I” is the subject, from your own perspective or the perspective of the character. Like the Johnny Appleseed song, “The Lord is Good to me…”

You can write a song to the character, so that the character is “you” (second person).

You can do what Bruce Springsteen does with the Ghost of Tom Joad, and retell the person’s story in the third person.

Famous examples include:

John Henry & The Battle of Davy Crockett (Traditional)

Candle in the Wind (by Elton John was originally about Marilyn Monroe but got re-appropriated Princess Diana).

Kryptonite (Three Doors Down. Remember? From like 1997?)

Sam Cooke has songs about two of my favorite Bible ladies: the woman at the well (Jesus Gave Me Water) and the bleeding woman who gets healed by touching Jesus’s clothes in a crowd (Hem of His Garment).

Drunken Ira Hayes (Johnny Cash).

Buffalo Bill (Jeff Wilkinson).

Hurricane (Bob Dylan).

Wonderful (is about Stevie Wonder by India Arie).

Sabu (The Elephant Boy–by John Prine).

*Special thanks to my dad for helping me come up with these examples.

SONG OF THE DAY: The Ghost of Tom Joad

Because I love, love, love, The Grapes of Wrath.

Songwriting Month Day 7: New Kind of Song

TODAY’S PROMPT: Learn a song in a style that you’re not too familiar with.

I’m about to learn a reggae song today, I think. I know none, so it’s going be a challenge.  What does Nora sound like singing reggae? Time will tell!  At the very least, it will be a chance to learn a new strumming pattern.

I’m very interested in the styles that people choose, if they choose to do this prompt.

SONG OF THE DAY: Vietnam

My brother is a huge Jimmy Cliff fan and he put this song on a compilation CD he made for me while I was living and working in Thailand.  Music in English that wasn’t terribly popular, or at least, world famous, was hard to find in Bangkok. My friends and brother knew this and sent me a lot of music while I was there.  This was before I had iTunes. I still listen to the majority of that era’s tunes (I learned to love Lucinda Williams during that time!), and this Jimmy Cliff song is no exception.

 

SONGWRITING MONTH DAY 4: Learn a Crowd Pleaser

Originally my prompt was going to be “Learn a Beatles song,” which is probably how I will approach this assignment, but then I decided to open it up a bit.  Though I think hating the Beatles is silly (it’s like refusing to read Harry Potter–not a real aversion to the books, just an aversion to what’s “popular”), I wanted the prompt to appeal to Beatles-haters, too.  (My version of crowd-pleasing.)  Also, to get more at the essence of what I want to gain from the prompt itself.

Okay, so playing songs that other people might a) be able to sing along with, b) recognize, and/or c) request is not my strong point as a musician.  I have a green notebook that serves as a song archive. (It now has a songwriting month section–hurray!)  I bring this book to jam sessions or singalongs and stuff and then realize, again, that I tend to learn how to play songs that nobody has ever heard.

The most “known” song in the book might be “Shot in the Arm” by Wilco.

Actually, it’s “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “What Child Is This?”  Not songs people are requesting most months of the year.

(Oh wait–I just remembered that recently, I learned “Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Talk About” for a fundraising event, but before that the most popular song in my book was “Shot in the Arm,” or a few Radiohead songs, or whatever. You get my point.)

This is the Woody Guthrie in me speaking, but I believe music, in general is meant to be a communal experience.  We’re not learning to play all these songs so we can sit in our rooms and listen to ourselves sing (though I will be doing a lot of that this month).  It’s a good thing to create songs and learn songs with the purpose of sharing them.  For instance, my friend Laura, who is also musician/fiction writer (there are a few of us!), sings and plays Destiny’s Child’s “Jumpin’ Jumpin” on the guitar.  It’s funny but more importantly, it is fun.  She does this for the sole purpose of making other people happy (also, perhaps, for letting the world see how awesome she is).

So, today learn a song that you know will please a large group of people–not just yourself.

SONG OF THE DAY: Dusbowl Refugee

Since I mentioned him, I’m sharing a Woody Guthrie song that he wrote to delight and connect to a specific crowd.  That’s his whole life, by the way–he wrote songs to lift up people. It’s why I tend to refer to him as “Saint Woody.”

SONGWRITING MONTH: An Invitation

I have decided, at least this summer, to be a genre-by-month artist.  I did Poetry Month in April and was so happy to see thirty new poems at the end of it that I’m going to try to be productive like that always–by tackling a creative project one month at a time.

May is Revise the Novel Month (as you know). Now the novel’s in the hands of some trusted readers.  I do plan on thinking about it during the month of June, maybe doing some free-writes associated with my protagonists, but I decided that I would dedicate June to songwriting.

I’m a songwriter, too.

I have a Facebook page for my music: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nora-Bonner/44922051108

And a (really old) Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/norabonnermusic

I have come up with a Thirty-Day curriculum that’s pretty ambitious. I’m thinking it will require that I set aside at least an hour a day for playing my guitar and then some.  I have geared up for this by playing five songs a day—you know, for the calluses.

Each day this month has a songwriting assignment.  Some of them are to learn songs that already exist.  Some of them are to write songs in different styles.  My hope is that I’ll be able to get through a song without stopping (rather than say, nail it).  I’d like to learn a bunch of songs that I can have in my repertoire for later nailing.

I will post the assignment on my blog and perhaps, if I have time, I’ll also post a link to a song that holds some significance in my life—not sure if it will be related to the assignment.

I will, if all goes well, come out of June knowing how to play thirty more songs than I did when I started.  Ten of these songs I will have written and twenty of them are from other artists.

I invite anyone who wants to write songs to participate in that aspect.  Lots of the assignments are lyric-driven.  I’m a writer, remember? I think about the words first.

I also invite you to share songs and musicians with me.  I want to know what you’re listening to.  I want to know why—the significance of this music in your lives.

I don’t know if anyone will join me on this semi-crazy endeavor but if you feel compelled to do so, please do.

I can’t even tell you how excited I am for this.

(I’m also expecting this month to feel a bit like Cash in this song:)