“Are You Taking This Seriously Enough?” Seriously?

Paul McCartneyPaul McCartney just turned 74 but he’s still not sure how to write a song.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Did you hear Macca on NPR’s All Songs Considered?

Yes, one of the best songwriters of the last six decades or so says he still isn’t sure how it all works.

If I was to sit down and write a song, now, I'd use my usual method: I'd either sit down with a guitar or at the piano and just look for melodies, chord shapes, musical phrases, some words, a thought just to get started with.

And then I just sit with it to work it out, like I'm writing an essay or doing a crossword puzzle. That's the system I've always used, that John [Lennon] and I started with. I've really never found a better system and that system is just playing the guitar and looking for something that suggests a melody and perhaps some words if you're lucky.

Then I just fiddle around with that and try and follow the trail, try and follow where it appears to be leading me … I'm of the school of the instinctive.

I once worked with Allen Ginsberg and Allen always used to say, 'First thought, best thought.' And then he would edit everything. But I think the theory is good. 'First thought, best thought.' It doesn't always work, but as a general idea I will try and do that and sometimes I come out with a puzzling set of words that I have no idea what I mean, and yet I've got to kind of make sense of it and follow the trail.

You can hear the whole interview here. (It's a cool podcast, too.)

If you listen, check out McCartney's youthful enthusiasm for the process. He’s still scratching his head about how it all works.

Do you ever noodle around?

Do you ever just not worry about the big picture, the big idea, the big concept?

And try to write a few words?

Just because?

(Words are cool. There is an endless supply and they don’t mind if you make a mess at first.)

Anyway, if you listen to the interview, check out McCartney’s enthusiasm, his eagerness. He talks about a few experimental efforts and stretching himself out. Think you know McCartney? Check out this effort with Freelance Hellraiser (Roy Kerr) on "Twin Freaks."

That’s a long way from “Eight Days A Week.”

Or “Paperback Writer.”

I was 10 years old when The Beatles blew up. My older brother and I bought every album when they came out. We listened over and over.

And over.

And now here’s Sir Paul decades later, after two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (one with The Beatles, one as a solo artist).

He’s still writing music--and enjoying it.

I do like it. I do enjoy it. I mean, when I get a day off and I've suddenly got loads of time on my hands, I might do the kind of thing where I'm at home — I live on a farm — so I might get out for a horse ride or something. But when I've done those things that I want to do and there is still a couple of hours in the afternoon, I'll often just gravitate to a piano or a guitar and I feel myself just kind of writing a song. It's like a hobby, and it's a hobby that turned into a living. But I like to think of it that way and I sometimes kind of pull myself up and say, 'Are you taking this seriously enough? Maybe you should try a little bit more.

Yeah, sure, can you imagine if this McCartney’s output if tried a little bit more?

If he took it seriously?

Listening to McCartney chat about the process makes me want to get out some words and push them around a bit, see what happens.

paperback writerIt's a thousand pages, give or take a few
I'll be writing more in a week or two
I can make it longer if you like the style
I can change it round and I want to be a paperback writer...
- Lennon & McCartney

Mark Stevens
at
Mark Stevens is 2016 RMFW Writer of the Year. He writes the Allison Coil Mystery Series--Antler Dust (2007), Buried by the Roan (2011), Trapline (2014) and Lake of Fire (2015). Buried by the Roan, Trapline and Lake of Fire were all finalists for the Colorado Book Award; Trapline won. Trapline also won the 2015 award in genre fiction from the Colorado Authors League. Kirkus Reviews called Lake of Fire "irresistible." More about Mark on his website.

4 thoughts on ““Are You Taking This Seriously Enough?” Seriously?

  1. Thanks for the inspiration with my morning coffee, Mark. Sgt. Pepper’s is my all time favorite. Their lyrics and melodies were insightful and fabulous. What an opportunity to peek at Paul’s process. Thank you for sharing. Oh, and I think they wrote “Paperback Writer” in honor of Kay Bergstrom. 🙂

  2. I think the creative process is the most mysterious thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’ve been reading a lot lately to get different points of view on creativity and have come to one big conclusion. No one really knows how it works.

Leave a Reply