My Earliest Songs

In my last post, I mentioned songwriting. My earliest songs were little things I made up in my head as a kid. These childhood ditties were never written down or recorded, and I never even thought of them as songs; they were just thoughts I had which happened to be tuneful. There was “The Old Tin Can,” “Come Back Here, Little Kitty,” “I Wanna Get Up (Now, Now, Now),” etc. Note: I’ve only added these titles long after the fact; as I said, I never consciously composed these things, so why would they need titles?

Once I did start making attempts at actual songwriting, my earliest efforts were little piano instrumentals, carefully written down in my very first book of staff paper. The first one was called “Prelude,” in emulation of Bach. (I doubt if I had any idea what a Prelude was, only that Bach seemed to like the word.) More or less concurrently with these piano pieces, I began writing lyrics down on the pads of outdated calendar sheets I used as writing paper. (My grandpa had an office supply store which sold calendar refills—this was a few decades before iCal, Google Calendar, etc.—and we grandkids, my cousins and I, always were gifted some outdated refills that were left over at the end of the year. I know at one point I had some of these things dating back to 1964!)

The first time I put lyrics and music together in coherent form down on paper was for a song called “Space Attack.” I’m guessing I was around 12 years old. I even had big plans to record it, and tried to do my own version of multi-tracking by bouncing back and forth between two cassette recorders. Needless to say, the resulting sound quality was not great. But I had been bitten by the songwriting bug, and that bug stayed with me for many years. Between the ages of 17 and 27, which was probably my most productive period, I cranked out hundreds of songs. Many of them are still floating about here and there, but many have also been lost, and even in my memory all that remains of many are titles and fragments, if that much.

I’m hoping that someday (hopefully still a good long way off) when I am faced with death, I get one final request. My request will be that instead of seeing my life flash before my eyes, I get to hear some of those long-forgotten songs played for me.

Prolific versus Non-Prolific

Some writers are very prolific, and some writers are very good, and these two groups are not the same. Oh sure, there is some overlap—those writers who are both very good and very prolific: Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Stephen King, for example—but in writing, as in most things, quantity does not necessarily equal quality. There are other writers who are/were very good but not very prolific. John Kennedy Toole, whose A Confederacy of Dunces is one of my favorite books, is a good example. His only other known book was The Neon Bible, written when he was just 16. It’s a remarkable book for a 16-year old author, but that is its only claim to fame. The other famous example of a good-but-hardly-prolific author is Harper Lee. Like Toole, she won a Pulitzer, and like Toole, she is known for just one book: the brilliant To Kill a Mockingbird. Her only other book, Go Set a Watchman is basically a first draft of Mockingbird. As such, it is interesting to read, but only as an historical oddity. It’s not very good.

As a songwriter, I have not written anything of note (See what I did there? Songwriter – “note?” Clever, huh?) in years, but during my prolific period, I was…well…prolific. I wrote a TON of songs, and most of them have one thing in common: They are very, very bad. There are a few that I’m proud of, and a few that I enjoy on a personal level for various reasons, but you won’t be hearing any of them on the radio any time soon. (Actually, does anyone hear anything other than angry right-wing chatter on the radio these days?)

As a blogger, I have been very un-prolific lately. I’ve been in a rather weird head-space, but then that describes nearly everyone in this time of COVID-Climate-Protest-Political crises, so I can’t very well use that as an excuse. I can, however, use it as the topic of a blog post on Prolific versus Non-Prolific.

This has been that post.