Tag Archives: Art

Why I can’t write songs

I feel like I am good at a lot of things. Not trying to sound braggy (if that is even a word) but when I sit down and tally it all up I am proud of what I can do. I am pretty good at academics (just applied for PhD programs) and I enjoy studying. My drawing/art ability is in a moderately good range. I was lucky enough to be born healthy and my body responds well to diet and exercise. I also love to play music and listen to music. As I said, I am not trying to brag. I think the relative anonymity of the internet is what is allowing me to say all these things. If you were to ask me in real life about any of the above I would probably severely downplay it all. Heck, I’ve been married for 4 years and my wife’s family didn’t know I had any artistic ability until about two weeks ago.

However, there is one nagging thing I can’t do- write songs.

Well, let me rephrase that- I can write instrumental songs, I just can’t write songs with vocals. I’m not sure where the breakdown is. Most likely it is in my poor ability to sing and thus create vocal melodies. Given all the above cool stuff that I am at least okay at it really shouldn’t bother me. But it bothers me.

Some of my favorite memories are of me and my friends (Cory, Chris, and Kyle) jamming in Kyle’s basement. It was very Zen. We would just pick a riff (usually created by Cory), and just go. We would create songs from nothing, without speaking, just reacting to each other in the moment. It was so freeing to just let go and play, letting the music make itself. Quite the opposite of the experience when I sit down to write a song by myself. Trying to write a song myself is like starting an engine that has rusty parts. Even if it seems to get started it just never performs right- always disjointed, kinda jumpy, no flow. I want it to be a Zen experience, or cathartic at least. That’s what it should be, right?

Me and Cory. I'm trying to sing back up.

A huge part of Zen is interdependence, or interdependent arising. This means everything is co-created, affecting everything else, and in turn being affected by everything else (sorry to any Buddhist scholars out there, I know I kinda butchered that). I think that our band was like a little microcosm of interdependent arising. We created music, both affecting the music the others were creating while simultaneously being affected by the music created by the others. In my mind I believe this may be one of the invisible elements that I long for but cannot achieve (or at least, appear not to be able to achieve) on my own.

I think my real issue, though, is a problem with reality. Reality just won’t be what I want it to be, what it should be. I am creating my own problem with my point of view. When I sit down to write there is a subtle internal “turning away” that happens. Sort of like when you are unhappy with your body and you stand in front of a mirror- you don’t want to look directly at yourself, but just kind of peripherally acknowledge that the image you see is you. I am probably only peripherally acknowledging that writing lyrics and melodies is hard for me to do. Actually, I suck at it. There, that feels better.

At my usual place in Kyle's basement.

Buddhists would probably call that a samskara. It’s like a film that goes over your perception of reality causing you to not be fully in the present. And the funny thing is that it is all internally created. I do this a lot actually (and you probably do too). I go to work expecting an easy day and when I arrive I find my schedule is suddenly packed, so I get frustrated. Why am I frustrated? I like my job and what I do, but I turn away from the reality of it. It’s the expectations I have, and having to let go of those expectations, that can be frustrating. Actually, the letting go is the liberating part. The frustration is when I still try to apply that expectation and make it fit over a contradictory reality.

As I write this I am already feeling better. A lot better, actually. Letting go of expectations is refreshing. Managing all those expectations, having to work to make those expectations fit, and having to react when they don’t takes up a lot of energy.

So next time I sit down to play guitar or bass I won’t worry so much about writing a song. I’ll just let the music make itself.

One of my favorite.

Thanks for the read,