Quotes That Helped Me (Songwriting Edition) – Part 3

I had intended to post a different blog today. I’ve been working on a companion to my folklore post – for sister album, evermore – and had hoped to post it today for the one year anniversary of it’s release but I’ve been so unwell over the last month – the side effects of my new ADHD medication have been brutal – that I just haven’t been able to finish it. I have a good chunk of it done so I’d like to finish and post it at some point but I guess we’ll see. I still wanted to post though and this is what I had finished. So I hope you enjoy these quotes (here’s part one and two, if you’re interested) and hopefully writing will start to feel easier soon.


“A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.” – Paul Gardner

“You wind up creating from silence, like painting a picture on a blank canvas that could bring tears to somebody’s eyes. As songwriters, our blank canvas is silence.” – Rodney Atkins

“Hearing about a visual artist’s approach can change the way you think about songwriting.” – St. Lucia

“When you don’t write songs for a while there’s a fear you won’t be able to do it again.” – Tim Wheeler

“Write until you can’t write anymore.” – Billie Myers

“If you’ve got a really strong concept, then it’s easy to write. Whereas if you’re not sure what the true story is, it’s bloody hard.” – Shelly Poole

“Often the simplest song is the hardest to write.” – Patti Smith

“All of my acoustic playing came from my songwriting. All of the chords I’ve learned and all of the voicings I play them in are a direct result of composing.” – Mat Kearney

“I don’t think about commercial concerns when I first come up with something. When I sit down at the piano, I try to come up with something that moves me.” – Lamont Dozier

“My task as an artist is to stay as close as I can to my own essence.” – Trixie Whitley

“A song is an ever-changing, ever-evolving and morphing thing.” – Simon Tong

“My songwriting has evolved, just as I’ve evolved as a person.” – John Oates

“I write about what I know and what I’ve experienced. That’s the only way it can be real to me. I love songwriting. There is something so satisfying in coming up with an idea and turning it into a song that means something to people…” – Aaron Tippin

“Songwriting is such an intricate part of me as an artist and as a person; I couldn’t just let someone else do it.” – Shakira

“It doesn’t stop. It really doesn’t stop. It’s the way I live every single day. I don’t do anything else. I have no other interest other than music. At all.” – Steven Morrissey

“No one can attack you when you’re songwriting; it’s you and a song, which is a great place to be.” – Gin Wigmore

“People haven’t always been there for me but music always has.” – Taylor Swift

“Songwriting is a great release. It helps me work through things.” – Jo Dee Messina

“I’ve always used songwriting as a way to help me organise reality.” – Jason Mraz

“You need to work at the craft of songwriting, but not only the craft. When I see people working both on themselves and the craft, and they combine those things… I just go, ‘That’s just fabulous.'” – Fred Eaglesmith

“Music is energy, emotion, expression, escapism, enlightenment. Music is so much more than just entertainment.” – Rasheed Ogunlaru

“I write a song because I want to. I think the moment you start writing it to make money, you’re starting to kill yourself artistically.” – Pete Seeger

“Something good happened to my writing when I stopped being afraid to do something simple, for the fear that people might think I couldn’t do something more complex. Don’t be confused by the word simple. Simple is not easy, it is clear voiced, and fearlessly elegant.” – Carrie Newcomer

“I always saw songwriting as the top of the heap. No matter what else you were going to do creatively – and there were a lot of choices – writing songs was king.” – Jakob Dylan

“Every musician out there wants to be judged on the merit of their songwriting, the merit of their performing abilities.” – Laura Jane Grace

“Nothing can stop a great song, so just keep songwriting.” – Manika

“Songwriting is the way of perpetual want. Songwriters are the blessed/cursed people. You will never have a moment’s peace in your life. You will always be wanting the next song.” – Jon Stewart

“Closed in a room, my imagination becomes the universe, and the rest of the world is missing out.” – Criss Jami

“You’re never quite sure where the song is going, because you might not find the word to rhyme with the end of the line. You have to find associative meaning to get you there. So it’s rather like doing a crossword puzzle backwards. A kind of strange, three-dimensional, abstract crossword puzzle.” – Annie Lennox

“Creativity is the greatest rebellion in existence.” – Osho


I hope these have been inspiring and thought-provoking. I’m always looking for more quotes so if you have any that you love, about anything, please stick them in the comments!

An Unexpected Trigger

NOTE: Spoilers for Unforgotten Series 4.

Back in March, I watched the final episode of Unforgotten Series 4 and if you haven’t seen it – spoiler alert – Cassie, the main character (played by Nicola Walker), dies from injuries sustained in a car accident. It was incredibly shocking and upsetting. It’s something that’s been in my head on and off all year and I would really like to leave it in this year. I guess that’s why I’m writing about it now.


Screenshot 2021-11-22 at 21.08.41

(x)

As I said, I was very upset when the series ended with Cassie’s death. That’s not exactly surprising since I do get very attached to my favourite characters. Upset isn’t really a big enough word: there was shock, distress, grief, anger… it was overwhelming. And in an attempt to process some of these emotions, I wrote a song about grief called ‘Incomplete,’ a snippet of which I posted on Instagram…

And while that helped a bit (coincidentally, it’s the second TV show featuring Nicola Walker that I’ve written a song about), I could feel it all hanging over me. It felt so shocking and so brutal and I felt oddly fragile in the wake of it. It was later that I learned about ‘the alienation effect’ after a researching rabbit hole that ended in me reading about the film, Psycho (a film I’ve never seen by the way – I’m looking at you, ADHD). In his essay about Psycho, film theorist Robin Wood wrote: “[The murder of the main character, Marion] also constitutes an alienation effect so shattering that (at a first viewing of the film) we scarcely recover from it. Never – not even in Vertigo – has identification been broken off so brutally. At the time, so engrossed are we in Marion, so secure in her potential salvation, that we can scarcely believe it is happening; when it is over, and she is dead, we are left shocked, with nothing to cling to, the apparent center of the film entirely dissolved.” I could be wrong – I’m not a film expert by any measure – but I think that’s what’s happened here; this quote certainly describes how I felt about that final episode. Cassie was the focal character, the audience surrogate almost, and she was the glue that held together a show that regularly changes almost the entire cast (along with Sunny and the rest of the team, of course) and her death was incredibly shocking. I’ve always felt things deeply but I haven’t spoken to one person who wasn’t upset by it.

While there were, of course, other factors impacting on my mental health, it was the trigger of that particular period of depression. But months later, even after my depression lifted a bit, I still couldn’t shake it. I still found it very upsetting and I was still having nightmares involving car crashes; as deeply as I feel things, this seemed to be sitting differently. Eventually, it occurred to me that it was potentially more than straightforward upset over the loss of a favourite character and the loss of a favourite show (maybe – I’m still not sure how I feel) and that the storyline – a sudden, completely unexpected, shocking death – had triggered me as a result of the trauma around my Dad’s death, trauma that is still relatively undealt with. It completely blindsided me. I’m still relatively in the dark on my triggers in this area, given that my coping mechanism for most of the last thirteen years has been to, essentially, bury it: facing it just felt insurmountable. But now that I’m starting to unearth it again, it appears that that earth is packed with landmines. The metaphor wears thin, but hopefully you get my point.

I don’t know how I feel about all of this but putting my thoughts into words has helped. This year has been so busy and so emotionally chaotic that I feel like I haven’t had the time or brain space to even start processing it all. In regards to the show, I don’t know whether I’ll watch the next series. Right now just the thought of it is upsetting. Nicola Walker said in an interview that “Cassie’s death wasn’t for effect; [Chris Lang, writer of Unforgotten] is going somewhere with that conversation about grief,” and while I think these are important conversations to have, I’m not sure if I have the emotional bandwidth for a fictional one when I’m already trying to manage my own very real one. I don’t know. But I really don’t want to go through this again if I can avoid it.


“Cassie’s fate may have caught viewers by surprise, but it was something Walker had discussed with the show’s creator and writer, Chris Lang. ‘We were talking from the beginning, really, about what he was doing with this character and this story he wanted to tell,’ Walker told TV Insider. ‘Chris and I were always interested in looking at the cost of being involved with these sorts of cases that we all love watching on television. Cassie does not have superpowers. She’s an ordinary person who’s really good at her job, and it took her to the place of having an emotional breakdown… We talked a lot after Season 3 about where it was going to go, and it was a joint decision,’ she adds. ‘I think the clues were there in Season 3. The title of the show is Unforgotten and I think there’s a great deal of narrative beauty to this woman. She’s not going to be forgotten. I felt like she was quietly very unusual on television because she was a real person.'” (x)

I keep coming back to this quote. I agree with it, with what she says about Cassie, but I still don’t understand why Cassie had to die, why she had to die in a shocking, brutal way. Maybe I never will. Most of all, I’m sad. I’m sad that a show I loved will forever be entwined with distress and painful memories.

A Somewhat Reluctant Birthday Post

My birthday this year was definitely weird, hence why I’m only just writing about it a couple of months after the fact. I’ve been struggling to process the last few months just because of how much stuff has happened: the final project of my Masters wrapping up, the final assessment, the Masters being over, the sudden death of my Granny, her funeral, performing again for the first time in eighteen months, changing my medication, graduation, the celebration of life for my Granny… It’s been a lot and I honestly have no idea how I feel most of the time. But I’m hoping that, by putting it into words, it’ll help. Somehow.

So, for the last few years, I’ve been trying to ease my anxiety around birthdays with some birthday rules I picked up from Tumblr a while back. My first post about them is here, but the basic idea is to do something you wouldn’t normally do and buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy, to make each birthday unique and special. For some reason, this year was harder than the previous ones and I really struggled to commit to an idea for both rules. But, given that it’s now two months later, I think I need to let it go and stop obsessing. Whatever’s causing my anxiety over this, it’s taking up too much energy that I need elsewhere.

So, I’m writing it down and putting it to bed…


Rule #1: Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

I was going back and forth on what to do when the perfect thing fell into my lap: the opportunity to perform again for the first time in about eighteen months! And not only that but it was two gigs, the first at the original Hard Rock Cafe in London and the second at the Hard Rock Cafe in Piccadilly Circus. So, while I was very nervous, I was also very, very excited. Given the tight turnaround between getting the gigs and them actually happening, Richard and I only managed to practice together once. Fortunately, we are very well practiced at the Honest EP songs and picked them up again quickly so we could, for the most part, focus on the other songs we were playing.

The first night was actually the night of my birthday and I was so nervous that I could barely breathe. My body felt so awkward and it was almost like I couldn’t remember how to perform, how to hold my body, how to not bump into the microphone, how to talk between songs… But, by the second half of my set, it was all rushing back and I was just overflowing with that unique joy of getting to do the thing you love most in the world (well, other than the songwriting itself but you know what I mean). I was SO HAPPY. I was positively giddy with it. It wasn’t my strongest performance ever but after eighteen months of playing to my living room, I wouldn’t have expected it to be. It was jumping in at the deep end. And although it felt so awkward at the beginning, it all came back very quickly and I couldn’t wait for the next night so I could do it all over again.

The second night went well, on the whole. Despite the night before, I was still nervous and it was a very different space; the lower ceiling meant that the sound bounced around differently and it took a while to adjust (just like everything, adjusting to the space you’re performing in is a skill that requires practice) but, again, I had so much fun. Performing songs that I’ve written about things that matter to me… it’s when I’m doing that that I feel most comfortable in my own skin, most in sync with the world around me. It’s the best feeling. Everyone was so lovely and I had such a great time.

It was just so fun to perform again. And it was so fun to perform with Richard again (and what a trooper he was, having moved house the day of the second performance). I loved getting to play the songs from the Honest EP, I loved performing some of my unreleased songs, and I loved playing a few brand new covers (including ‘Lullaby’ by Kalie Shorr and ‘this is me trying’ by Taylor Swift, both of which are among my favourite songs). I’m so grateful to everyone at both shows – those working in the venues and the other performers – and my friends and family who came to support and celebrate with me; it was just a complete joy and I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my birthday any other way, even if I was beyond nervous about it.

Rule #2: Buy yourself something you wouldn’t normally buy.

I was very aware that Taylor Swift was releasing Red (Taylor’s Version) in November and given how much the original means to me, I knew I would want to spend money on it when it came out. So I tucked some money away until the album was released on the 12th November. As much as I loved it before, I fell in love with it all over again, not to mention the new songs: they’ve added so many new layers to the world of the album. It’s a stunning album and every time I listen to it, I feel like I’m learning even more about songcraft.

Along with the album and the vinyl, I treated myself to some of the accompanying merch, including the scarf and the notebook. Oh, and the jumper with ‘Taylor’s Version’ across the front; that was just so perfect. What she’s doing with the rerecordings is incredible and, as someone entering the music industry, it’s both encouraging and inspiring to have a woman like her advocating for the rights of songwriters and artists. Plus, it seems fitting. Her music has had such a huge impact on my life; I wouldn’t be who I am now if not for her music.


So while both of these things were Good Things, it was a weird and hard birthday. There’s just been so much to process – so much change – and so much anxiety; it was hard to settle on a decision because nothing felt right. But I’m starting to think that, given everything going on, nothing was going to feel right. So it’s time to move on. It’s time to stop worrying about it. I did the best I could with that birthday I had and it was good, even if it was messier than I would’ve liked. Such is life.