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Talking Inspiration To Writers...


So… let’s assume I’m playing for the Willamette Writers conference (I don’t know that for sure as this is written), and that I’m playing for an hour like I recommended, and solo. (A lot of assumptions, here.) I assume, too, that it’s not usual for them to have a writer as their entertainment.

Near as I can tell from their program, their “writers” umbrella covers not just books, but a wide range of formats from film to poetry—but I didn’t see music or songs mentioned anywhere. I nonetheless describe myself as a “writer,” because I do think what I’m doing isn’t any different from what they’re doing, whether that’s occurred to them or not. I just do it in (shall we say) soundbites. I probably do want to tell them that—along with thanking them for inviting me.

It appears the focus of their 2010 conference is inspiration, and I do have a couple of thoughts on that. (Brief ones, of course—I deal in soundbites.) When I compared myself to William Shakespeare in one of my “Joe Show” videos last year, I noted Bill and I didn’t have a lot in common, but we’d probably have the same advice with respect to inspiration: “Keep your eyes and ears open, and remember the world is a very strange place and people are really weird critters.”

So I suppose I could offer up a bunch of songs where the inspiration came from all sorts of different directions, and in the Rap, talk about the sources. Like:

OTHER PEOPLE are my biggest source of inspiration these days—once people find out you’re a writer, they’re constantly feeding you ideas, and eventually all those ideas turn into songs. The best example is probably “Hey, Little Chicken,” written for Gene Burnett’s album of chicken songs. “Dead Fishes,” incorporating John Voorpstiel’s ploughman-in-the-field imagery, is another.

I ASK QUESTIONS—usually of the “Has anybody ever written…?” variety. That’s how I got “Twenty-Four Seven,” the love song that was entirely cliches, and also “I’m Giving Mom a Dead Dog for Christmas” (from Steve Goodman’s description of country music) and “When I Jump Off the Cliff I’ll Think of You” (the bluegrass song that really is all about death).

I SEE STUFF. “Can I Have Your Car When the Rapture Comes?” was a phrase on a bumpersticker. “The Abomination Two-Step”—do I dare play that one?—was prompted by an “open letter to George Bush” that got me re-reading some of the stranger books of the Bible. Stan Good’s “Un-Easy Street” was triggered by a newspaper article, and “The Termite Song” by a U.N. scientific report.

I HEAR STUFF. “Meet Me at the Stairs” came from a comment by a performer at a bluegrass festival. “Hank’s Song” was prompted by a discussion of what’s wrong with country music today. And the question, “How come there’s no good songs about the war?” produced “No Good Songs About the War,” my attempt (prize-winning, in fact) to show by example how a protest song ought to be written.

NOT BEING ABLE TO DO SOMETHING is inspiration, too. I got “The World Enquirer” because I couldn’t remember the words to the bluegrass song about Jimmy Brown the newsboy. “The Writer’s Block Blues” is about not being able to write. And “The Taboo Song” was my response to the Times of London’s list of things you can’t write about.

That list there is an hour’s worth, easily—and I haven’t covered everything. I could probably do more than an hour if I needed to. And now, I’d like them to say “Yes, Joe, we want you to do it.” I wonder if they will?



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