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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Paul Zollo Interviews Billie Joe Armstrong at Bluerailroad: Why It Matters to the Writer of Fiction and Why It Matters to Me

I've discovered an insightful interview: Inside Green Day with Billie Joe Armstrong, by Paul Zollo, in an online magazine of the arts: Bluerailroad. Zollo sets the scene for his interviews, and discusses the background of each songwriter, so the reader imagines the conversation in real time.

Armstrong's interview took place soon after the 2000 release of the Green Day album, Warning, one of my personal favorites, at a time when some critics considered Green Day to be in a slump. You would never know it from Zollo's balanced article, and Armstrong's thoughtful responses to Zollo's questions.

Zollo, the author of the classic Songwriters on Songwriting (De Capo Press, 4th ed, c2003), and Bluerailroad's editor, is compiling a second collection of interviews with prominent songwriters, to be published as a Volume 2. Generously, Zollo is publishing a selection of the interviews at Bluerailroad, including the full text of an incredible interview with James Taylor, a Woody Guthrie tribute, Armstrong's interview, and a monthly question and answer column with Bob Dylan.

Within some of the interviews, Zollo, a photographer, as well as a singer, writer, and songwriter, intersperses his own photographs of the artists, and a selection of their songs. True to its name as an online magazine of the arts, Bluerailroad also offers original fiction and poetry.

You will also find classic interview excerpts from Songwriters on Songwriting on Paul Zollo's blog at American Songwriter. In her 1989 interview, Carole King discusses writer's block:

"Songwriters, both lyricists and melody writers, are often plagued with the thing most often known as writer’s block. All writers are, writers of prose as well. I have found that the key to not being blocked is to not worry about it. Ever... Trust that it will be there. If it ever was once and you’ve ever done it once, it will be back. It always comes back and the only thing that is a problem is when you get in your own way worrying about it." ~ Carole King

Here's a tiny sample from Billie Joe Armstrong's interview with Paul Zollo:

Zollo: "Where do you think the great songs come from?"

Armstrong: "I don’t know. I really don’t. It comes from somewhere deep down inside of you that you didn’t even know existed. It’s kind of like seeing a shrink or something. (Laughs) There can be a lot of anger, or sadness, or joy, that you had but you didn’t even know you really had – but it can all come out. You feel a connection with it, and so other people can, too. You strike a nerve." ~ Billie Joe Armstrong


Since that time, Billie Joe Armstrong has had a lot of time to think about his songwriting process and where his songs come from; but sometimes I think it's best, like he said it then, to say it plain. A fellow writer, Alisia Leavitt, recently posted on her blog about a cathartic experience she had writing a scene in her novel-in-progress. She titled the post: Becoming Emotionally Involved. The more I read about songwriters and their process, and writers and their process, the more I am convinced song= story= poem= narrative= art= life, and that creativity, in music, writing, or the visual arts, all comes from the same place; we just use different languages and the instrument of the individual to express it, and emotion is the key.

I'm planning to buy Zollo's book, Songwriters on Songwriting, appreciating the insight I can gain from each artist's view on the creative process, and I'm looking forward to the second volume. And now, I wonder, all along, have I been missing something? Should it have been obvious to me that song= story= poem= narrative= art= life? It has come to me as a revelation, why, I am drawn to music, beyond being a human, and why, Billie Joe Armstrong's songs have had such a profound effect on me, even though I cannot identify with their details. I always knew a song was a poem, but I didn't know it was a story, my story, rendered in the emotion it conveys.

When I was a little girl I heard a song on the radio in the dark in the middle of the night: Richard Harris singing Someone Left the Cake out in the Rain. I don't think that I can take it, cause it took so long to bake it, and I'll never find that recipe again. Oh, no. Oh, no.... I've barely heard that song again in my entire life, but I'll never forget those words and the melody, because of what combination? The unusual words (on the surface silly), the music, and the emotion in the voice, parts of it ruined for me by the hokey music, but the overriding emotion winning out, Richard Harris singing me his story. I was "arrested" by that song, and it made an "indelible mark." And somehow, that song relates- to Billie Joe Armstrong- and to every other song, and to every other novel, and to every other poem, and every other painting, and every other drawing I've ever loved or responded to- all parts of me, and who I am.


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Note: Paul Zollo kindly contacted me and sent me a complimentary copy of Songwriters on Songwriting. Thank you, Paul.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Paul Simon's Song Lyrics and the Art of Fiction

I can't say it better than the title of this post: What the Short Story Writer can Learn from Paul Simon’s Lyrics, an essay by Phil Sandick, posted in June 2009, at Fiction Writers Review.

Based in part on Sandick's response to the release of Paul Simon's book, Lyrics 1964-2008 (Simon & Schuster, c2008), the article is an excellent overview of how Simon uses fiction writing techniques, including dialogue, characterization, and scene. "These lyrics read like a collection of short stories," says Sandick, and he justifies that statement with a thorough, engaging and convincing analysis.