I am part of a songwriting group where we write songs and bring them and share them with other songwriters. We have a monthly theme and assignment. We co-write, we do shows together sometimes, we have a great time. We meet at a winery after hours and have a few sips of the leftover tasting wine. It’s sort of a mix between a lude, boozy book club, and holy eucharist. I’ll explain.
The last time we met, the assignment was to just write a song and explain your process to everyone. My process was to take an old song I had written 20 years ago, and then translate it into Spanish. I’ve done it before and it’s impossible. I can’t do it. I end up rewriting the lyrics to the song but keeping the music usually. Sometimes the music changes too. In the process I change, or at least I learn something about myself that I didn’t understand before. Here is an example of another song where I did the same thing, it was originally called Broke Dream, Country Travelin’, Railroad Blues, and I wrote it in my 20’s. I rewrote the lyrics for Monkey Lizards in my 40’s and the song is called Casa de Sueños. If you don’t speak both languages, you’ll have to take my word for it, they are different.
The other part of my process was to write and record the song in an earthship. We went and stayed in one of those off the grid outside of Taos, New Mexico over spring break this year and it was amazing. They are these houses made from mud and trash that need no running water, electricity, or any government “help” to function. They are heated by a greenhouse with food. Banana trees growing happily in the desert! Anyway, it goes on and on, home sweet anarchy! Also, New Mexico is home to the most beautiful sunsets in the country, and roughly half of what I still have of a heart.
We played our songs and talked about them. I talked about how hard it is to rewrite an old song, something I have been doing more of lately. I also played a new song I wrote on the trip that felt full of life. In songwriting and recording and playing, you always get to experience that newness. While playing the songs and talking, I had the thought that we are all looking for what Jacob was looking for when he found that angel in the middle of the desert and beat him to a bloody pulp so that he would be blessed by him. That is what I realized songwriting is like. When you write a new song, you are wrestling with an angel. You know that you might never get another chance so you hold it down kicking and biting and cussing. You fight all night until you have won, and you can demand that it give you it’s blessing.
That’s when you find a new song to write. When you rewrite one of your old songs, you are wrestling with yourself. And that can be a much more dangerous matchup, especially if one of you has to lose.