It has been a few weeks since I completed writing the most recent song – The Seige of Gloucester, so I was beginning to wonder when the inspiration was going to come for a new song.
As the song began to take shape, I thought it would be interesting to track the development of the song.
Falling back on a method I have used in the past, I decided to pick up a book that I read many years ago – ‘Ragman and other cries of faith.’ – a collection of stories by author Walter Wangerin.
In one of the stories, so beautifully written, I noticed some particular phrases that drew me in, from which I wrote the following lines:
Living in a shotgun house
Three rooms in a dead straight line
Built on just a half a city lot
They listened to his heart
Never told him what they heard
Just some scribbles on a chart
It seemed that I had the beginnings of a song here. A shotgun house is one where you can see all the way through from the front door to the back. You could fire a gun through both open doors! A bit like a traditional terraced house where I live. Although it’s not ‘my language,’ I like the sound of shotgun house, so I’ll stick with that.
Now I had to consider – did I want to try and write a song that follows this story ? That would feel forced to me. It would feel like I would have to ‘steal’ even more from this story, when all I was looking for was a starting point. I would rather let the song emerge.
Some songwriters (Joe Henry among them) talk about the song existing already, and the art of the songwriter is to bring the song to birth.
So … I’m looking for this song to emerge.
I noticed in another book I’m reading these words: “She’d never really thought about the way the dead would gather at the edge of a town, all their names spelled out so you’d know whose they were for as long as that family lived in that place …. And there she would be, after so many years, waiting in sunlight, all covered in roses.”
I wrote down these words:
Gathered at the edge of town,
Remembered after many years
waiting in the spring sunlight
While the Walter Wangerin story was about the experience of a young church minister visiting an elderly man, today I began to try and discern the story that was beginning to take shape here. It seemed that this was going to be a story about a life. Some of that life would have been lived in a ‘shotgun house;’ there would be a verse about being in hospital for some heart investigations, and a verse set in the cemetery at ‘the edge of town.’
Later on today, we were out walking along the North Wales coastal path, and I was mulling over where I had got to with this song. I was thinking about the roses growing around the headstone in the cemetery in the quote above, and thought perhaps the song should have a chorus, and that roses could appear in a slightly different way in each chorus ?
Then another thought came to mind. I suddenly had the image of the shotgun house, with the three rooms, one behind the other, all in a ‘dead straight line.’ Other images came into my imagination … maybe three headstones in the cemetery ‘in a dead straight line,’ and maybe an image of three children. ‘Standing in a line’ in a photograph. I have a photograph of my mum, Nancy, and her siblings, all eight of them, standing in a line, one behind the other – from the eldest at the back – Mary, Wilfred, Bessie, Bertha, Bernard, Margaret, Ruth, Nancy, Hugh.
That’s as far as I’ve got … but I thought I’d try and make a record of the process …
Hopefully I’ll come back soon with a completed song, or at least more of the process.