I went in to my friend Alex’s Almira Studio last night to record a new song I wrote while I was in Houston. I don’t write a whole lot of songs, but when I do I find it’s a lot of fun and very satisfying.
Houston is a very bayou-y, bluesy town, and the new song popped out after a few days of that bayou and those blues.
It’s a funny relationship between songwriting and poetry. I tend toward free verse, which doesn’t always lend itself to songwriting, but limericks make great songs (as Johnny Cash or Ben Nichols from Lucero would tell you.) Townes Van Zandt and whatever that guy’s name is from Deer Tick both write great songs that are kind of halfway between free verse and form — they rhyme a whole lot, but they don’t chain themselves to their rhyme schemes, and even though there are a bunch of rhymes, it comes out feeling like free verse. An example of an entirely free-verse song is Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do,” which (studio impresario Alex Battles tells me) is actually just a poem written by some poet. Sheryl’s producer found it, and they recorded the song more-or-less verbatim from the poem.
I just Wikied that bastard — Wyn Cooper’s the name of the poet, and the song earned a Grammy nomination for best lyrics. Bravo.
The most musical of poetic forms is certainly the villanelle. I think villanelles look silly on the page; when you read them aloud is when they really start to pop. Alex has had some success creating songs from some villanelles written by Maureen Thorson and I, but villanelles don’t seem to translate directly into songs the way limericks do, and there were some of our villanelles that Alex wanted to make songs out of, but they just wouldn’t quite fit.