Rock She Wrote
Of course, I’m not a songwriter, gifted or otherwise, not by profession anyway. I’m a novelist and an essayist/columnist/ad writer/blogger/VERY occasional poet. So it’s been an interesting creative exercise to write Turk’s songs.
At first I thought I’d just have a few lines here and there, tossing them into concert situations for verisimilitude. Turk quickly disabused me of that little notion. No, he said quite firmly, he wanted COMPLETE songs. And a lot of them. And man, did he know how to push! I don’t think I’ve ever taken quite as many orders from one of my characters (not even Aeron!) as I’ve taken from Turk. He wouldn’t let me write anything else until he’d wrung a few songs out of me. And then a few more, as long as I was in the songwriting zone…
I really love it when that happens, of course. When all of a sudden I’m not calling the shots for the book but the book is calling them itself. It’s what all authors hope for and long for, and the thing is, you can’t ever plan for it. It either happens or it doesn’t. You can put yourself in the frame of mind for it to kick in, but all you can do after that is trust it.
And it’s not just writing the songs, oh nooooooo! I set up a whole discography, progressing a fictional band from their first album to superstar status: figuring how many songs on each, what kind, more folky, more bluesy, instrumental, whatever, long-form pieces and little short 2-minute singles. Then I laid out their album release history as well: maybe two albums a year very early on, then one a year, as the albums and musicians alike got more sophisticated and the work took longer to get out.
And factoring in tours, too. I created a complete touring schedule for late 1969, starting with Lionheart at Woodstock and running through the big knockout four-hour show at the Garden in early December. Did I ever have fun with that…I even designed a Lionheart logo and had it printed up on a mug and a t-shirt; bands did very little merchandising in those days, but I wanted some merch for myself, at least. And later there's always cafesociety.com...
Anyway, getting back to the songs. As I’ve said before, they come from a very different place than the books do, and Turk’s songs come from a totally different place than, say, the pieces I wrote for Taliesin or Morric. Jim once told me that he always knew when something came to him whether it was a poem or a song, and not just because one came with music and the other didn’t. I dutifully agreed—after all, he was the pro—but I didn’t really understand until a few years ago, when I started writing for Turk.
I have about fifty of them now, thirty or so of them completed, the others in various stages of construction. They were a bit folkier and simpler when he started, and by this stage of his career they’ve gotten much more complex. They’re very Sixties-sounding, too. Nothing protesty, lot of love songs.
I’ve been using some Airplane songs for models, especially the looser, free-form ones like “Hey Frederick” and “Eskimo Blue Day.” Also Cream, Stones, Beatles. There’s one or two I’d absolutely love to have someone like Eric Clapton do, and I can hear in my head what they’d sound like. Though nobody, not even E.C., is the guitarist Turk is. John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service and James Williamson of the early Stooges probably come the closest; Sandy Bull too, though he wasn’t a rocker.
But the songs are Lionheart’s and nobody else’s. They’re not Doors songs manqué, either; I have some unpublished Jim songs lying around (including some extra verses we wrote together for “People Are Strange”…), and these are NOTHING like them. I can’t even say they’d be the songs I’d have written if I’d been the rock musician in the family and Jim had been the novelist. They’re the songs Turk writes. I just type them up for him.
I wish I were a decent guitarist or singer, so I could make little demo tapes. But I can’t play or sing well enough for that. I do have the hooks and the lead lines in my head, though, so maybe one day I could work with a real musician or band and finally hear what the songs would really sound like. Well, sort of. Nothing will ever be as good as the Lionheart I hear when I’m writing.
But that’s the whole point, really.