Bob Dylan

Your Longevity as a Songwriter

If you’re a songwriter, do you look ahead in time and assume that there will come a point where you’ll simply stop writing? I’ve heard several songwriters talk about this recently, and to be honest, it surprises me a bit.

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And then YouTube fed me a link a couple of days ago, as if it were reading my mind — a link to an interview with Bob Dylan by 60 Minutes’ interviewer Ed Bradley. The interview is from 2004, and in it we hear this exchange:

Dylan (Talking about songs like “It’s Alright Ma”): “Those early songs were almost magically written… Try to sit down and write something like that. There’s a magic to that, and it’s not Siegfried & Roy kind of magic. It’s a different kind of penetrating magic, and I did it at one time.”

Bradley: “You don’t think you could do it today?”

Dylan: “Uh-uh [no]”

Bradley: “Does that disappoint you?”

Dylan: Well, you can’t do something forever, and I did it once, and I can do other things now, but I can’t do that.

I’ll say again: that surprises me. In a way, it reminded me of a modern day version of American composer Charles Ives, who wrote some incredibly innovative music during his lifetime (1874-1954), but who stopped writing in 1927.

Wikipedia describes Ives’ struggle with composing almost touchingly:

According to his wife, one day in early 1927 Ives came downstairs with tears in his eyes. He could compose no more, he said; “nothing sounds right.” There have been numerous theories advanced to explain the silence of his late years… While Ives had stopped composing, and was increasingly plagued by health problems, he continued to revise and refine his earlier work, as well as oversee premieres of his music.

It takes a certain kind of courage to write. And it’s more than the courage of laying out your thoughts and feelings. Good songwriting — good anything in the creative arts — requires taking chances, doing things that haven’t been done before, and having the courage to stand by what you’ve written.

Maybe that’s what happens: perhaps it’s not so much that you feel you can’t come up with ideas, but rather that you feel less confident to put those ideas out there and to stand by them.

Music is a kind of language, and when we start out as composers of music, we learn to speak the language with the dialect of that time. As with all languages, music is constantly evolving. What we were writing thirty years ago (or less!) will often sound antiquated, maybe even naive or quaint. That’s because new songwriters are “speaking a new dialect.” We’re still writing using the old one.

It all sounds a bit too sad for my liking. I hope you never stop writing, no matter how old you are. Creativity can still be — must be — a vital part of being an older human. Don’t let age, or the fact that the language is constantly changing, keep you from contributing to creative world around you. Stay confident. Keep writing!

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter. Hooks & Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Writing a Song From a Chord ProgressionTo discover the most important secrets of the chords-first songwriting process, read “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression.” It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle.”

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One Comment

  1. I didn’t even start until an age when many would feel they’ve run out of steam. When I was young, I lacked the experience, the maturity and most of all the confidence to create and perform music. I had to leap way out of my comfort zone asa late bloomer, but it worked for me and I’m in a so much better place today because of it.

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