When I was in college, I remember a friend quoting Arlo Guthrie as saying that there are songs in the air all the time, just waiting to be written down. All we have to do as songwriters is be open to catching them.
Then, last week, someone tweeted about a song I wrote that describes not being able to sleep on Christmas Eve called “Santa’s Coming to my House Tonight.” She said, “Why didn’t I write that?!” To me, that’s a wonderful compliment. It means I was paying attention enough to catch one of those songs.
I have often had that feeling over the years. Every time I hear a song that resonates deeply with me, I realize that it had been waiting to be written. And that someone who was listening at the right time wrote it down.
Sometimes that process feels easy, and the songs just seem to appear. Other times, it’s not so easy.
A few years ago I was asked to write a song about flying from place to place in a spaceship. Immediately I thought to myself, “5-4-3-2-1, Blast-off! Another Rocketship Run!” I felt like I had already written the song. I knew it was there, waiting for for me.
But I couldn’t write it. Every time I tried to come up with the rest of the song, I got stuck. I stayed up late at night, closed myself in our little back room in our apartment – sometimes for hours – and spent a week or two letting ideas roll around in my mind, but nothing worked.
“Maybe if I get something to eat! Maybe if I rest…maybe if I try it on the piano…maybe if I meditate? Maybe if I DON’T think about it.”
I just couldn’t hit on anything that felt right. This was a song that I had been asked to write specifically for Jack’s Big Music Show (a series that The Laurie Berkner Band had a continuing presence on in the form of a song in every episode). I was suddenly writing at the request of a network AND I had a deadline. These were both very new experiences for me as I had always just written songs when I needed them as a music teacher, or because I was inspired. The days passed and still, all I had was that chorus.
Finally it was the day before I was to bring the song in to play at Nick Jr. I had scheduled a rehearsal with the band to work out the parts – on this song that didn’t exist yet.
I sat down on the couch in our living room two hours before the rehearsal and started playing a reggae kind of groove. That’s when it started coming.
By the time I got to rehearsal, I had the reggae-inspired song, “Rocketship Run,” which became the title of my next album.
So do I just work better under pressure? Or was I finally able to catch that song out of the air? I’m not sure, but I’m glad it was there. Maybe I’ll ask Arlo what he thinks.
Want to hear some of Laurie’s songs? Check out her holiday album A Laurie Berkner Christmas