One of the things I haven’t been able to do is to write songs that are entirely fictional; that is, songs with fictional characters and fictional plots. Or to be more precise, good songs with fictional characters and stories. I’ve written some but they’re no good. You won’t hear them. They lack genuine emotion; they seem phony. Well, they are phony; afterall, they’re fictional.
But how does Bruce Springsteen write songs like “The River” or “Youngstown” that have fictional characters, but have such great emotion? How did Harry Chapin write “Taxi”, which I assume is a fictional story with fictional characters, but brings tears to my eyes? How do you do that?
Any songwriters out there have suggestions?
I realized last year that I can’t do everything at once. I can’t write songs, go out and get gigs, promote the gigs, practice with the band for the gig, play the gig (the easiest–and most fun–part), record a record, promote a record– all at once. Especially when I still have to have a day job. It’s too much. So I have to focus on one of 3 things: write, record, or gig. I recorded a record last year (Misfit), did promotional work and gigging in the Spring and early summer. Now I’m shutting down the promotional work and gigging (with a few exceptions), and getting back into songwriting. It’s been 2 years and I’ve been missing it. I thought my songwriting had gone to a new level around 2008-2009 when I shut it down to record and gig. So it was disappointing to stop. But I think I can get it back. I’ve got some new songs in the works, and gonna dig up notes (musical and lyrical) from 2-3 years ago and work on them. I’m excited to see what I come up with in the next few months!
It seems I ease back into songwriting by writing goofy songs. See my blog from way back when called something like “The Solution to Writer’s Block: Don’t Care”.
Enviro Song or The Last Generation
(not sure about the title yet)
by Rob Roper 2nd Draft July 4, 2011
The earth is not so hardy, and
efforts to save it are way too tardy, so
Let’s have a party.
There’s a big hole in the sky
caused by all the cars we drive, so
Let’s all get high.
The scientists say we’re on the brink, and
pretty soon we’ll be extinct, so
Let’s have a drink.
Some say it’s not as bad as it seems
But they’re being paid by the oil companies.
Hey there pretty lady
the world is dying and we can’t save it, so
Let’s get naked.
Unless there’s some weird mutation
we’re gonna be the last generation, so
Let’s have a libation.
The animals will be glad to see us go
Except maybe for Fluffy and Fido
(Repeat 1st Verse)
This is one of my most popular songs. I began writing it in October 2005. It started with the melody. I went jogging, and got this Irish folksong melody in my head. (I was a big fan of The Dubliners). Then came the words “here’s to”. I had to figure out, what are we drinking to? Being me, I never want to go mainstream, so obviously we can’t drink to success or love or happiness or any of that stuff. I’m a contrarian. So I thought, let’s drink to mistakes. I went home and started making notes. Here’s page 1. Note what I underlined. I quickly decided: this is a song about forgiving yourself. A friend of mine emailed me today to say that the song brought him to tears. Most people think it’s just a funny song or a drinking song. That’s only on the surface. This guy got it.
I first posted this in February 2010. I revised it a little. Converted a B section to a chorus, and changed some lyrics in the 2nd half of verse 2. I’ve been wanting to write a song that had a sense of place.
by Rob Roper 4th Draft March 29, 2011
Gabriela was pretty
though she always looked down
She was like Tucson
a grown-up little town
I should have left them
ten years ago
But the saguaros and the Catalinas
just won’t let me go.
On 4th Avenue
College girls drink
Spending daddy’s money
with fake I.D.’s
But Gabriela won’t be there
Her dad works in the mines
And she lives on the southside
where they drink beer, not wine
I should rent a truck
and pack up my stuff
But the sun is too hot
in Tucson today
so I’m just looking for some shade.
Out in the desert
Snowbirds play golf
The winter’s too nice here
It’s making me soft
Oh give me four seasons
Winter snow and all
Where the trees
are pretty in the fall
Gabriela, my dear
Summer’s almost here
The Palo Verdes
have lost their yellow leaves
Oh you’ll probably call me
sometime in June
Then you’ll disappear
like a summer monsoon.
Oh, the sun is too hot
in Tucson today
and I’m just looking for some shade.