Tuesday, October 02, 2012

"Picture Michelangelo with a briefcase and a beeper" - Songwriting With Dan Bern in Anchorage

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We had to write and sing a one line song to introduce ourselves.

Then we had to write lyrics in a


pattern - haiku like, 2 syllables, 2 syllables, etc - about a moose encounter.

And then sing it to the group.

Regular readers know that I can listen to music, but making it?  That stopped when I hung up the oboe in high school.  My talents clearly lay elsewhere.  But Dan Bern is such an incredible songwriter/singer, that I signed up for this songwriting workshop with the expectation that I'd just get to know more about him and where all the songs come from.

He writes and sings in the troubadour style of Woody Gutherie and Bob Dylan.  Long song stories that take you to on  unexpected places where you meet a surprising cast of characters.  And when it's over, you often have to gulp as you realize what it was all about.  He even has a song about Guthrie handing the torch to Dylan from his deathbed and how he (Dan) climbed in to sing to Bruce Springstein on his deathbed.  Here are the lyrics and here's a short audio clip.  He's written about lots of celebrities including Charles Manson, Marilyn Monroe, Tiger Woods, Joe Van Gogh (Vincent's son),

He writes songs about important issues of the day - True Revolutionaries, Gambling in Sports (he's a big baseball fan), Alien AbductionAIDS,  or Dan's first ten days as  President. 

Check out any of those songs and you'll see his imagination is not ordinary, and he's got music in his genes.

And Dan was Dan last night and everything he did  - including the introductions - was part of learning songwriting.  So I had no choice but to sing my intro, and while it was more talking than singing at first, I began to realize during the class that I've just had this image of me as not a singer all these years.  And there's no reason why I shouldn't liberate my inner singer.  Songwriter at least.

He also answered questions - about where inspiration comes from, writing groups, - with advice that's good for any creative process, like writing a blog even.  Like, you could write three lines (or three days) and when you hit the fourth, you nail it.  And have to toss all that came before. 

I first heard Dan long, long ago.  I'm not even sure, except it was at Loussac library and it was probably 1997 (When Dan Bern  - the CD came out.)  My son had heard Dan open for Ani DiFranco in Anchorage and essentially told us we had no choice but to go hear Dan Bern who was coming back to Anchorage.

And he was right.  By the last song of the evening - Estelle - I was in the zone. Such a wild and crazy adventure lament. (The link goes to a YouTube of it.  Still one of my very favorites.)  We've gone to quite a few Dan Bern concerts since, including the great pair of shows at Cyrano's November 25 (Mike, there's no year listed on the tickets, just the date).  In the last few years I haven't kept up with Bern's music so I'm looking forward to the Saturday night concert at Out North.  (There are concerts Thursday and Friday night too.  Check at OutNorth 270 8099 X 203.)

But I'm rushing this post out, even though it reflects my being tired, because there are still a few spots in the song writing workshop Tuesday night and Wednesday night.  While people are going to all three, you can go to just one or two.  Call Out North at 279-8099 extension 203 to get your space.  This guy is the real deal. 

If you look carefully at the second picture, you'll see we all got fortune cookies.  Our homework is to take something from the fortune and make a short song - use the fortune itself, or just one word, or the thought. 

I've put a lot of links to song lyrics (many of which have a 30 second audio clip and Estelle to a video and a lot can be found on YouTube) but this one - Art on the Run - seemed appropriate for a blogger who is trying to get this up so people can see it while they can still act on it. 

Take the best idea you got sprouting from your brain like cauliflower
Stick it in the microwave leave it for a quarter of an hour
Write poems on the freeway, write screenplays in between submitting faxes
Draw pictures at the Wendy's drive through window, on your way to do your taxes

Because you're not a child you're not a child
Days flash by, like numbers on a TV dial
Forget that novel, man; could be haiku is more your style

Making art on the run, art on the run, art on the run
Art on the run, art on the run, art on the run
Chopin in his Chevrolet and digital machine
Singing melodies while pumping gasoline
Picture Michelangelo with a briefcase and a beeper
When's the last time that you had a really good night's
SLEEEEEEP?   (All of Art on the Run is here.)

For those of you outside of Anchorage, he'll be in Palmer on Sunday.  And if you're Outside (of Alaska), here's his tour schedule.

Barbara, he'll be in Toronto October 18. 

It's late.  I'm going to open my fortune cookie now.

Let's see, do I write about loyalty or should I do one on numbers?

1 comment:

  1. Our days are numbered... carpe diem...

    It's great to offer such a course and inspiring for you to take it. I'm in Ottawa and right now Toronto might as well be in Alaska, but thanks for the heads up. (Husband recovering from a hernia op.)

    Everyone has a spark of creativity in them but most people are afraid to show it. For years and years, I asked everyone who came to our studio (we have had over 3,000 sit-down "tea-tables" for buyers who come to look at our work) to draw something -- like a cup of coffee or a shoe -- or a cupcake, or a refrigerator or a toilet THEN in a few words answer "What's the easiest thing you've ever done [piece of cake]?" "How does a refrigerator work?" ["Intermittently."], or "Advice for living." [My favorite for this eventual POSTER of all the toilet drawings and answers was "Don't wait."]

    But the drawings! They were sublime! 99/100 people would say, "OH, I can't draw! Don't make me draw!!" and then, when I paid them no notice, they took up a magic marker and drew like angels -- quirky and truthful and funny and sweet little drawings far more worthy to be in The New Yorker than those printed. They were children again, before they were asked "What is that!?" and quit drawing.

    Only one man in all the many many hundreds refused. He started to draw, made a tiny mark, then surreptitiously slipped the paper into his suit breast pocket. I learned later he worked for the Canadian equivalent of the CIA.

    My point, and I do have one, is that you and your classmates will be surprised & enchanted with what you all come up with. And your teacher will be jealous, like I am when I see the drawings that came -- bidden -- around our tea table.


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