An intriguing thought strikes me, as I near the completion of the first draft of a new song. To the extent that form follows content (yes, Mr. Sondheim, to the best of my ability), it feels right now as if process follows form. My recollection of getting my handful of Bardic songs to date on the page, the process of working through each one feels as if it mirrored the nature of the song. “The Bastard’s Tale” came out quickly, rushing to the page, hot, angry, and urgent, impatient to get to the point. “My Thirst” lurched drunkenly to and fro during the writing, staggering for a day through the wrong tune, which had to be rewritten, shortening every line by a couple of syllables–this had the effect of tightening the jokes and making the song easier to sing as if inebriated, but at the time the rework was a touch like a hangover. “Call Me Will”, whose concept had eluded me for over a year, was coy and required stalking for a few weeks even after it took shape. It took patience and guile to lure it into place, but once I had it pinned, I was surprised at how little rewriting it actually required–it more or less sank right into the page in the end.
The new song, “The Name of the King”, is basically a march (it’s entirely concerned with war, but it would be inaccurate to call it a war song). Since I first got the full tune and selected the rhyme scheme for the refrain about a week ago, it has continued at a steady march, a few stanzas at a time every few days, as I focused my energy on the part of the story I wanted to flesh out. It has required stops for rest and regrouping–I’ve rewritten a number of rhymes and stanzas–but it steadily approaches the goal, now two stanzas shy of a complete draft. I’m pretty sure it’ll need polishing up, like a soldier before inspection, but it’s a workmanlike piece, pursuing a workmanlike goal–getting a new song done. My patrons and colleagues have gently urged me to up my cadence this year and produce more new work at a faster tempo than previously (while two songs in two years was a big improvement over the seven-year gap before that, I agree it’s not enough if I want to do this things seriously). In the end, if the song achieves its objectives, I know I’ll be satisfied with it, even if the rhymes and the scansion are uneven in places–I did pick a scheme for the refrain that’s a bit knotty.
But the goals are simple–create a piece with some uplift that’s been absent from my first few songs (even if I can’t resist doing it laced with irony), and have something I could bring with me to a Bardic workshop next month if I’m able to go.
All right, bard, enough navel gazing. Two more stanzas to cover before any more down time! March!
Update: Okay, done now. Complete draft. Much better.
Second Update (One day later): Okay. Ran it by the wife, who is the perfect sounding board. She loves me, but she won’t lie to me, and she’ll tell me when a song isn’t working, what isn’t working, and when I’ve found it and fixed it. Straightened the syntax, re-edged the rhymes, tightened the scansion, and spit-polished the diction. (It actually took all of that, but it wasn’t as tough to do as I had feared.) Now this song is tight enough to bounce a drumbeat, and mirror-shined till I can see my story in it. Not going to say it’s perfect, but it’s the song I set out to write, and as a songsmith, I love it when a piece comes together. It’s ready for workshop.