Every few months, and I wish it were move often, I sit with my dear friend Peter Berryman at what used to be Cafe Zoma, and we talk. Every conversation fills me with inspiration, recognition, wonder, and reflection. And lots of joy at the connection.
One of our topics is music and songwriting. He said two things during our last meeting that stuck with me. Well, more than that, but at least about songwriting.
Peter is an amazing lyricist, in a class of his own. He says that sometimes when he is writing he’ll assemble an editorial committee, composed of some of his favorite writers. Now, many writers talk about an internal editor, and sometimes not in a good way. The editor that prevents them from writing with his or her imposing presence. “Don’t listen to the editor when you write,” goes the advice. “Let them in later.” I’m not sure at what point Peter’s editorial board joins the process, but I love the idea of choosing a group specific to the project. Not one person, but an assemblage of talent. Sometimes Tom Waits might be on the board, or Yip Harburg, or Jack Kerouac, or Woody Guthrie. And as a writer you get to hear their point of view. And let them disagree. Imagine. Woody Guthrie: I like that line. Gets right to the point. Yip Harburg: The rhyme is simplistic. Tom Waits: I understand that line too easily. Give me some mystery.
And then you get to decide whose advice to listen to. It’s a new way of conceptualizing influences, animating them in the present rather than just thinking of what they added to your work way back when. It’s different than writing by committee, too, which is rarely successful, and often painful.
The other technique Peter uses is to imagine some singer he doesn’t like very much singing his song. If he is okay with that, then the song must be at least passable.
I love interviews with songwriters.Here are some favorites.
Paul Simon on the end of his career. Fascinating. He’s one of my favorites.
Leonard Cohen talks with David Remnick. When I grow up, I want to be David Remnick.
Charlie Puth podcast switched on pop. He’s our boy.. “Boy”
If you are a songwriter, who would be on your committee? Or, your committee for any part of your life. Maybe we all need a set of guiding influences that we consult with regularly to help us along this shining line of life.