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 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.”

Thought for Day Nine: Mischief/Curiosity/Fascination

Mischief is one of my favorite things in the whole world.  I love mischievous characters.  (Amelie is one of my favorite movies for this reason among many.)  Mischief, in my definition, is when a person throws a bit of harmless havoc on the world, shakes things up a bit, in good fun.  Woody Guthrie, who I sometimes call St. Woody, has mischief all over his music. For instance, this line from his most famous song, THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND, that my elementary school music teacher (conveniently) left out when we sang it in her class:

As I was walking, I saw a sign there/and on that sign it said, NO TRESPASSING./  But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing./  That side was made for you and me.

As famous actor, Joel Mitchell would say: It’s funny because it’s true.

Mischief is funny because it’s surprising, and that surprise brings out in us a deep sense of truth while we’re caught off guard.  This, ultimately, is why I think mischief is good for stories.  We want our characters to surprise us while they are on the path to their MacGuffins. One way to make that happen is to give them a mischievous streak.  This is why Huck Finn is one of the greatest characters of all time, in case you were wondering.

My friend Bethany used to (don’t know if she does any more) have a magnet on her fridge from Thailand that read: Make yourself laugh once a day. Or something like that.  Super Jane Austen Scholar, Susan Morgan, recommended that we (her students) try to pull off a joke within each of our academic articles–one of the greatest and most fascinating pieces of advice I ever heard. (I think about the things Dr. Morgan said in her class at least twice a week. She definitely has a streak of healthy mischief in her pedagogy). I am crazy about both of these tips (Dr. Morgan’s & the magnet’s) because I think they foster a certain amount of healthy mischievousness.

Also, from my understanding, there is a fine line between mischievousness and curiosity. Writers need to stay curious all of the time.  If we don’t, our work becomes unbearable.  Also, people who aren’t that curious are pretty unbearable, amiright? Without curiosity, we have no fascination, and without fascination–in people, in our work, in the enormous floppy ears of our dogs we named after mischievous folk singers… Without fascination, what is the point?