Poets, Preachers & Painters

Patti Smith is an artist who refused to limit her creative impulses to any particular discipline.

Patti Smith

She is a poet, prose writer, performance artist and photographer and is best loved for her music – her songs.  In an interview with ‘More Songwriters on Songwriting’, Patti stated, “In times of strife, we have our imagination, we have our creative impulse, which are things that are more important than material things.  They are the things that we should magnify”

Barbara Kingsolver

In a similar vein, the American novelist, Barbara Kingsolver was asked in an interview in 2015 to offer her top writing tips.  One that caught my attention was,

“Pay attention to your passions. They are the key to starting and finishing the book you are meant to write. I don’t believe in talent. I believe in passion.”

Martha Graham, a dancer and choreographer whose influence on modern dance is comparable to Picasso’s influence on visual arts and who was the very first dancer to perform at the White House, said,

Martha Graham

“Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.”

I began writing songs in 1964.  By the spring of 1965, I had become brave enough to share my songs on bohemian nights with close friends in subterranean apartments; talking about “poor old Hemingway”; reading Ferlinqhetti; drinking liqueurs; and fearing absolutely nothing.  By that winter, I had booked my first public performance.  I was 17 and I had something to say.

Northern Lights Coffeehouse December 1965

Patti Smith, Barbara Kingsolver, and Martha Graham have given us some clues about how to get started, and to complete, our creative adventures.  But, Patti also spoke in that same interview about the evolution of those very passions that comes through life experience.  She said,

“When I wrote the lyrics for my 1975 debut album ‘Horses’, I had a particular body of people who I was speaking to, and that was people like myself, who I felt were disenfranchised … I didn’t even think I had anything of interest to share with the masses … But in the eighties, when I stopped performing and I got married and had a family, I became more empathetic to social issues and the humanist point of view.  And I think my lyrics changed.  I was speaking to a larger body of people.  As a mother, you want to speak to everyone.”

When I was preparing for the new album, Place & Time, I was motivated to write a song that was grounded in the notion that our aspirations – our dreams some call them – can drive our creativity; and a song that acknowledges Patti’s suggestion that becoming a parent enhances and broadens our “creative impulses”.  That new song, Children Of Dreamers, brought me to reflect; to be critically honest with myself about my own experience; and to invite the listener to join in that reflection.  The places and images that thread through the song’s quintessentially Canadian references and the poet, the preacher, the painter, and their children are meant to trigger familiar and sympathetic reflections for the listener.  The lyric structure of the song uses a traditional verse and chorus form and the guitar chords, utilizing open strings,  were chosen to develop a meditative harmonic focus that would enhance those lyrics.

I know, I know, what about hearing the songs for crying out loud?  OKAY – stay tuned for news about the release of the album, Place & Time, in the next post.

AND, I will tell you about the second song on the album that addresses a historical and contemporary journey.