Writing songs is a lot like pioneering. The white, blank page is a western horizon, and the guitar is a horse, still wild, yet sometimes rideable. If your writing music it’s because something on the inside of you is unsettled and restless. It’s not that the other songs are bad because they’re not. It’s just that for the songwriter there’s a need to head off into wilderness of life, and melody, and emotion, and lyric, and try to stake some sort of a claim. It’s this gnawing notion that even though everything has been said, that there might be another way to get there, a more interesting way, a short-cut even.
I have a song due in a few hours. I say due, because in my community, even though lots of us write pretty often, we come together every summer and write every two weeks from May to August, and if you don’t have a song on the due date, you’re out. There’s nothing like a due date to keep you in the pioneering spirit!
Anyhow, I’ve been hacking my way through this song for the past week and up until this morning, I wasn’t totally sure where I was even going. That’s the thing about writing, you have to embrace a certain amount of mystery. Where am I going? I don’t really know. I’m just following an instinctual path that’s barely there, one worn down by the wildlife. And then, when it seems like it may be a path to nowhere, the dense forest reveals a stream where thirsty souls can find a drink, and I think I may have found that stream, for this week anyway.
You know, that’s songwriting – looking for things that you can’t even articulate at the beginning of the journey, things that you know immediately when you stumble upon them. It’s searching for a melody, cutting out a lyrical path from a forest filled with options, and making a home where there was nothing, or very little before. Songwriting is a restless heart that just knows that there’s more ‘out there’, that perhaps we haven’t seen it all. It’s a heart that just can’t settle comfortably into what already is. Praise God for settlers, they really are good people, but we’re not them. We’re wilder, Daniel Boone types. We’re marking out the territory of the human heart, mapping it out moment by moment, line by line. We’ve got calloused hands, and wrinkled faces, and a notion that West is a better direction than East.