John Steinbeck is one of my all-time favorite authors. I know that's kind of likes saying, "You know who's a great songwriter? Bob Dylan." but it's obviousness doesn't make it any less true. "East of Eden" is one of his most famous books, and some would argue his best. (Not me, but whatever.)
He wrote that novel in big bound sketchbooks and would "warm up" every day by journaling on the left-hand pages, before working on the novel itself on the right-hand side. A few years ago the left-hand portion was published under the title "Journal of a Novel". It's a fascinating look at the writing process. He talks about everything from moving his desk to get better light, to what he's planning on writing in the novel that day, to how his family moved to a new house last year and he's still getting used to it. It may be as much fun to read as the novel itself, though for completely different reasons. (You should read both.)
I officially started writing for "Leonard the Lonely Astronaut" on Tuesday. I already have a number of songs written, but I have about a week before we start building the ship and I'd like to take this time to concentrate just on writing. In homage to Steinbeck, and because warming up seems useful, and because it will allow folks to follow what is intentionally a very private and personal work, I'm going to try to treat my blog as the left-hand side of my notebook.
So here goes…
This record has been different for me. I have a LOT of fast or more upbeat songs. Some of that is intentional, I get tired of feeling like I can only play two songs off of each album at band shows and I know that the slower, melancholy stuff comes easier for me, so I'm leaving it for later, to make sure I have enough "up" tunes. Also, since I started running a few years ago I've discovered different music, stuff that moves and keeps me pushing forward in that third mile. I think it's all been steeping inside me for a while and I'm having a BLAST. It's so fun to get psyched up about what you're writing. To have it in your head and want to sing it out loud just so the people around don't miss out on what's so exciting.
I'm trying to fit the narrative of a lonely man inside the up tunes, and it's been making for a really interesting endeavor. Getting into his head. I've set up so that one of the guitar amps and a vocal mic are live and recording all the time. I put on my headphones and just play and sing. Jam. Mess with a pedal and try something else. And every now and then I'll catch something. Some release of emotion. Abandon. It's not a lot of words at this point. Mainly vowel sounds or a few phrases over and over, changing just a bit minute by minute until it takes a form that feels natural and true.
I might do that for two hours, then listen through and grab the highlights to make mp3s of them so I can carry them in my pocket and work from that moment where something clicked.
And I'm getting a new sense of Leonard. In the darkness and loneliness of the past years of his life, he hasn't had much fun. There are songs of introspection and melancholy, but there's a lot of fun. Release. Joy. When nobody's watching and nobody's mad at you, you just get to be a kid again. In a good way. You turn it up and have fun, because you can. No other reason.
So those are the songs I'm going to try to discover today. A few working titles of things that seem promising: "The Beat of My Heart", "Give Me a Pill" and of course, "Space Pirates".
And now, time to fight the emptiness of that right-hand page…