Songwriters are inspired by an inner voice and spirit, coupled with a desire to move the listener. But finding the subject matter for such creation can often be a tedious and difficult pre-occupation. Certainly, there are tricks and tools of the trade. Some writers engage in the practice of free writing (where you write continuously for a set period with no regard to spelling, grammar, subject matter or continuity thereby opening up the creative flow); others are regular Morning Pages writers following the liberating techniques espoused by Julia Cameron in her hugely popular ‘The Artist’s Way’ (the seminal book on the subject of creativity…again liberating the creative force within). Every songwriter has their own unique approach to the process and the response to stimuli around them. Some advocate reading poetry. Others suggest casting an eye over beautiful works of art. Hit songwriters will often find inspiration in such places as billboards, book titles, overheard conversations. But there is nothing more inspiring than observing what’s going around you. The late John Prine is the ‘master of observation’ – the retelling of the ordinary and yet far from ordinary in their telling.
In the Irish World Academy, we are surrounded by creative people, creative moments and conversations about creativity. We are buoyed and inspired by the actions and creations of others. We are encouraged by hearing of the frequent frustrations of artists who suffer from writers/creator’s block. And yet, a walk through the corridors of the Academy building or a conversation in Blas Café over a coffee will fuel the soul with a desire to give that inner voice the opportunity to shout aloud! What’s going around us is motivating!
In these strange times that we are currently experiencing lies a goldmine of inspiration – an endless rich vein of subject matter – an opportunity to shout aloud. Not only are we being afforded the rare opportunity (and time) to be more reflective, we are also seeing an amazing outpouring of human kindness – a true testament to the goodness of humanity. Frontline medical carers, supply-line managers, transport workers, broadcasters, journalists, street-patrolling Gardai, educators, supermarket staff (and many more) – an endless list of selfless and sometime dangerous (life threatening) activities performed by ordinary people. THAT is inspiring!
Global crises inspire great songs. World War 1 inspired Ivor Novello to write ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’; Glouster born Ivor Gurney wrote songs in the trenches including ‘In Flanders’; American George M. Cohan sang of ‘Over There’. Walter Kent’s and Nat Burton’s ‘White Cliffs of Dover, recorded by Vera Lynn in 1942 gave both hope and solace to many a war weary soldier in WW2. The horrors of 9/11 spawned songs by songwriters including Bruce Springsteen, Kanye West, the Cranberries et al.
Events that consume us today will surely motivate songwriters to harness that inner voice and spirit; to write songs that will move us; write songs that capture our sense of community; songs that pay tribute to the acts of great humanity performed by ordinary people. Quoting Julie Gold’s 1985 ‘From A Distance’ is pertinent;
‘From a distance, we are instruments marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope; Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of everyman’
But we are not watching from a distance – we are here.