Thursday, 23 June 2011

The joy of Music as Creative Therapy

One of our more humorous trolls suggested recently that I find myself a hobby. I appreciate the concern, but would urge him or her not to worry since I already have a few, one of which is writing music. It's something I only got into properly at the relatively late age of eighteen, but have been doing for over a decade now. Most of what I wrote in the early years was of course complete junk, with predictable hooks and hackneyed lyrics, but of course all crafts and talents are nurtured in the course of time, and though it's not for me to judge whether my own material is particularly good or not, I'd venture that it is a mile better than what I was passing off as music 10 or even 6 years ago, albeit starting from a pretty low base!!

When I first learned to play guitars and keyboards, the process of repeating stuff you'd heard elsewhere was indeed useful as a means to an end. However, the thought of joining the ranks of young men who will go to an open mic event and blast out Champagne Supernova never appealed to me. What I always wanted to do was create something of my own, from scratch and alone if needs be. My ideal situation is to have another brain and pair of ears around, someone with whom you can share the creative workload, bounce ideas between each other and act as a filter for any misguided thoughts that the other person may have. Occasionally I've taken a creation of mine and then said to the other guy, "rip that up and redo the whole thing from scratch". The results aren't always what you wanted to hear and are never what you expected, but then that's not necessarily a bad thing.

People have different drives and motivations for wanting to create anything, be it a piece of art, a poem, a song, whatever. Some are possessed by the notion of seeing their name up in lights, something I was once told could happen by a small label bod outside a bar. Thanks but I think I'll pass, plus what I do is hardly the kinda thing that is gonna make you millions. Some musicians wanna rock out, be big stars and have a crowd sing their anthem back to them in a packed football stadium - can't say that's me either. Two things appealed to me about writing original material - the notion of leaving a mark on mortality, a piece of work that will remain here long after you have been buried, is not something that too many people will manage in their lifetime. Even if you never made a dime out of what you wrote, it will be there, either on a CD or buried online somewhere.

However, the biggest satisfaction I get from writing is that I find it therapeutic. It's something you can at least trust yourself to get vaguely right when everything else around you appears to be crashing and burning. It's a means by which you can either escape what is bothering you or express whatever you're feeling about the situation, depending on the general mood. One of the great advantages about writing down lyrics that originate from angst or frustration is you do not have the pressure to deliver the killer line there and then that a disagreement or argument with someone would place upon you. Another plus is the fact that nor does the other party involved necessarily need to read it, especially if they happen to be a boss at work, a relative or a member of the opposite sex...

These tend to be the songs that I remembered most fondly - one of my favourite lyricists of all time, the one and only Morrissey, explained in an interview a few years ago that the most rewarding part of what he did was people sending him letters explaining how his work had helped them get over "the death of their pet hamster and that sort of thing". It's quite clear from much of his own work that he was also ridding himself of a few personal demons or "getting something out of his system", which is what one member of his band attributed two of the songs on Mozzer's 1995 Southpaw Grammar album to. It's always pleasant to come out of the other side of the storm, then play something back, preferably to an audience, while realising how the creative process aided your recovery.

Rabbit in the Headlights', easily the best composition from my limited collection, always stands out in my mind as an example of this - this bunny will never tire of listening to it, performing any version of the song to those who want to hear it, and thank the man upstairs for the night I was lying on my bed, angst-laden and listening to Talk Talk, when the whole idea flowed very rapidly into my head. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, and the whole thing was written and mapped out within 24 hours. The Colonel and I had a demo recorded in less than a week (actually the demo remains superior to the version you can hear online to this day) and went out for a drive with a mate of ours, listening to our new work of art and revelling in its power as we played it on repeat. A great buzz of recording any music comes from the first time you listen to it - most of the time you just want to play the same track on a continuous loop and an in my experience, an extremely reliable measure of the quality of your work is how long you can do this for before the buzz gives way to boredom.

I've got some far from brand new music which I never quite got round to wrapping up, but will make sure it is in the can before the summer is out. The art of producing something euphoric or anthemic, and backing it with words from the deepest part of your soul or brain has left me with a collection of soundtracks to good times, bad times and bloody miserable times, and I wouldn't exchange anything that I wrote, even the truly dreadful stuff, for all the tea in China. I should also be grateful for the day that I wandered into a guitar shop and saw not a means of making money or being invited to debauched parties, but a tool which would aid my life, and could assist the expression of everyday observation, thought and feeling. When I'm writing, my guitar and keyboard are to me what a pen is to a Malpoet or a rifle is to a marine - they are the best chance I have of completing the task ahead, and seldom if ever let me down.

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