Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In progress

Browsing a Billy Joel fan site, I came across a May 2009 interview in which he talks about what he's doing creatively these days.
Well, I never stopped writing music. I'm just writing a different kind of music now. I'm writing instrumental music and thematic music ... I stopped writing songs back in the early '90s. I'm not really interested in songwriting these days ...
I think I can understand where Joel is coming from. He wrote lyrics prolifically for around three decades. At some point, maybe you run out of new ideas. Maybe you feel you've said everything you needed to say.

Sometimes I wonder if I'll get to that point.

I hope not. Or if I do, I hope I find another outlet, as Joel has. Here's why.

I feel different when I'm writing. Life continues to dole out its usual frustrations, but there's a buffer between them and me. I have more compelling things to think about, like whether I should stick a certain phrase in the first or second verse, and what I can rhyme with "memorized."

I'm making it sound like songwriting is nothing more than an excellent distraction, and that's not quite right. It is an excellent distraction, but there's something else going on too.

When I write songs, I feel like I'm bigger than my problems.

Bigger. Better. Above.

It doesn't matter how many songs I've already brought into the world. I'm always happiest when I've got something in progress.


Jannie Funster said...

I too feel this way sometimes! Maybe words will not always burn in us so much we have to put them in lyrics. It's just such a wonderful journey in music whatever happens, twists and turns reflecting our core values as we evolve.

John Wenger said...

What a wonderful, concise commentary on the creative process.

I was a mathematics professor at a community college as well as the grievance chairman of its union, and in both capacities I had the same experience you do. As a mathematician, I discovered new theorems (not often) and I looked for new and better ways of proving and explaining old theorems. As a grievance chairman I would write essays of explanation, polishing my remarks until they expressed exactly what I was trying to say.

I imagine the same thing is at work when someone makes furniture (something I am totally incapable of doing), as he takes a piece of wood and shapes it and smooths it until its form conforms to the idea in his mind.

All art is like this. The artist becomes the creator, the master of his craft, and it brings joy to both him and his audience. It is one of the great joys in life.