Thirty-odd years ago I walked into an open mic night at an Old Town Sacramento cafe called the Gandydancer owned by Phil Stowe. I had a bandaged right-hand index finger that I had sliced that afternoon with a chain saw. I was going to play some music and sing at my very first gig. It was my very first ever gig. I was terrified. I was so nervous and had so much adrenaline pumping that I squeezed the strings out of the notches on the nut of my six-string. The joke was that I could empty a coffee house faster than a fire alarm.
Friend and fellow songwriter, Brian Johnson, had suggested, well, told me, that if I was to be on stage I should be larger than life. I was not to sure what that meant, but I was going to try to do that. I stood there and gave it my best shot. It was just not enough. I was shaky, terrified, really bad, but I held the attention of the few folks that had wandered in to hear what was going on.
My finger picking didn’t happen because of the bandaged finger, and fear closed up my throat so I sounded worse than usual, but I had words, by God, I had words. Folks laughed, and applauded my words!
Words are a songwriter’s stock in trade. But it isn’t just words, it is how they are put together. I am a storyteller, and that means that I write songs that tell stories. Stories need to be interesting, to be interesting. What this means is that if you are writing from your life’s experience, and you are a dull, boring, person, your stories will be boring.
A good liar is usually a great storyteller, and a great songwriter. I like lying a lot! Well, I like taking the truth and building on it, flushing it out, embellishing somewhat. Song hearers would rather hear an interesting and exciting lie than the dull, boring truth.
Every song I have written, has at the least some, tiny, obscure, connection to some experience in my life. My song, “When the Days Are Gone,” begins with the line, Ridin’ on a hoss like your soul is lost, hell bent for leather and damn the cost, has some elements of truth metaphorically packaged in movie myth. I never rode a hoss hell bent for leather, but I’ve been chased by the police and got away (most of the time), I’ve been shot at, and I’ve bandaged up friends after fights when they were cut up by broken bottles. Truth/fiction woven together, is always best in a song. I wouldn’t advise this technique as a good methodology for human intercourse such as found in relationships and the like, but it sure works great in a song!