Friday, February 20, 2009

Song writing. Songwriting? Writing songs.

I recently put myself on a songwriting regimen which requires me to write a certain number of songs each month for the next few months. I've got a few friends here in NYC keeping me accountable to make sure I deliver. Physical beatings have been threatened if I don't write.

Additionally, I have to write a song on the theme "snowed in" for a songwriter's series I'm playing in CT next month. My favorite "snow" song is "Valley Winter Song" by Fountains of Wayne. Occasionally those guys are a little too self-consciously poppy for me, but that is one beautiful song, and sometimes I walk around in the New York cold listening to it over and over.

I harbor a secret dread that my best songs are behind me, products of the overwrought emotions of my fleeting youth. A friend of mine recently used the phrase "self-forgetfulness" to describe the perfect state for creation and for life in general, and I believe that is true of my state when I wrote my first songs. I didn't think twice (as I do now) about whether I had the ability or the talent to write good songs . I simply wrote, awkward phrase after awkward phrase, until one day the phrases weren't awkward and the songs worked (although admittedly, some of them worked awkwardly).

The first song I ever wrote, as a kid, while mowing the lawn on a hot southern Saturday, was a pre-adolescent sadist fantasy called "Hop Away Little Frog," in which I warned various forest creatures against the perils of venturing too close to the mower blade, then described in ever-increasing detail the results of what *could* happen:

"Hop away, little frog, thank you, thank you.
Hop away, little frog, so I don't run over you
with the lawnmower that I'm pushing little frog
Hop away, hop away.

If you don't hop away, you might be dead.
This lawnmower blade could chop off your head
Or it might chop off a leg or two
Or it might chop up every part of you.

Hop Away, little frog, thank you, thank you.
Hop away little frog, so I don't run over you
with the lawnmower that I'm pushing little frog
Hop away, hop away."


  1. I wonder if I could get my band to cover "Hop Away Little Frog".

  2. how could you ever mow a lawn after that without singing that to yourself? AWESOME!!
    and THANKFULLY i was told at a very young age that i am deathly allergic to GRASS!
    frogs in my neighborhood are safe!

    write with abandon! you ROCK!!

  3. Thanks RCM you rock too! And Len, you have my full permission.

  4. "Hop Away Little Frog" is downright charming, and when I read it, it came with a tune built in.

    I know what you mean about the fear of "writing yourself out." I realized it in dismay while combing old journals for song fodder. I hope I didn't use up all my words.

    Speaking of winter and words, this is a lovely season to read Mark Helprin's "Winter's Tale," especially if you're in a chilly New York City.

  5. oh yeah, a good book, that. Thanks for the good words!

  6. You're right Jason, you'll never top "Hop Away Little Frog." That was your Pet Sounds. But seriously, songs on "Bright As You" are your best work ever. Don't worry about things and what people think.

  7. Looking forward to the future song efforts AND blog ramblings...

  8. You can't read Helprin's "Winter Tale" without reading the rest of the trilogy! I gots 'em if ya need 'em. :-)

    Eh, you're not written out, you just have to learn to get beyond the young angst and write from the grow-up heart. Which is a lot harder, since there are more outside pressures to manage, and not so much time for self-indulgence and introspection. You can do it! The best is yet to come...

  9. You could always entitle your blog, "Hop Away Little Frog," but . . . then you might not get much traffic.

    Seriously? What's wrong with BEARS!!! ? Especially with 3 exclamation marks? I think it's hilarious. I realise this does not stand me in good stead of winning any sort of contest, but personally I think you should keep it. Or write to Christie Eppler and ask her. She's good with blog-names. Unlike me.

  10. Getting back into the writing thing is hard. I don't buy the modernist view of artistic creation--that it's a divine lightning strike of genius you have no control over. I believe that the more you write and the more you listen, the better you get. True craft takes time and experience, and you are lucky enough to have both. You'll get back into the swing of songwriting in no time.

    Also, there are lots of words! Ask me for some if you get stuck. LOW RATE$$$!!!

  11. You know, ol' Bobby Dylan got to a similar spot. No longer could he open his mouth and have something like "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" hop right out. He panicked. And then he wrote the songs that wound up on Blood on the Tracks. Bastard.

    Hope NYC is treating you well!

    Love from your favorite half-uncle.

  12. since we moved to memphis in 2004, i finished 2 songs and quit writing in my blog, so i kinda know how you feel.

    this past new years, jennifer put me on the spot and asked what i wanted to accomplish this year. first thing i could think of was to write 12 songs, one for each month. january's wasn't great, but it's there... and i wrote most of the lyric to february today...

    hope yet remains...

    ps... come see us in memphis some time...

  13. Hey! come on over to my site and be inspired with some words and stuff. Toby's Mom .. aka "Old Yeller"

  14. Daggum, when I first heard "Hop Away Little Frog" I knew what you were always telling us was true: You have music in your soul.

    I was thinking we could have a "Jennifer's Big Spree" writing challenge. You can write a song and I can write a short-short story based on our adventures next month.


  15. Blog away J..I haven't seen you play yet, but already you have entertained me on this cold, rainy Sunday...

  16. Jennifer, sounds great! Thanks everyone for your comments.

  17. "Valley Winter Song" is one of FOW's best. When they're on, they're on. And when you're on you too are ON. So keep up the songwriting Jason. That should lead to more songs and less doubts. You could call your blog "overwrought emotions of my fleeting youth." But that might be more than just a bit too Emo/lame.

  18. Hey Jason, I'm trying to think of names for your blog. But what I'm coming up with is sounding awkward. I don't know if I should share. How about Two Lions? At least it goes with your Bears/animals theme. I thought of it when I saw your facts on mountain lions and it made me think of your Lion Song.

  19. Nice site. I like the new songs. I like the old songs. I feel awkward writing on this blog, since I hardly know ya. (Blame BA)

    But I can't resist offering suggestions for names for your blog. I need new sponges.

    Train Bears for Movies
    Train Bear Movies
    The Train I'm On
    Move, Train Bears
    Between Trains
    Before Me and Between Us
    Emo Bears
    Bear Emo
    Train Emo Bears
    Soul Blue Bear

  20. fifty-cent ferry...

    ...though the juxtaposition of bear and salmon costume is rather evocative.

    Thanks for the good music.

  21. Jason..i'd love to know the tune to HOP Away Little Frog

  22. Your song reminded me of one my mom created long ago for us kids to sing (loudly)while walking through the fall woods:

    Hey all you hunters there
    Don't you shoot me, don't you shoot me!
    Hey all you hunters there
    Don't you shoot me, don't you dare!

    Sort of the frog song in reverse, don't you think?

  23. Hey there - I just "found" your music because CC Chapman played a song of yours on Accident Hash - his podcast - and I love your music. You're really talented!

    I highly doubt you're written out!

  24. I was just discussing this very thing with a fellow songwriter friende of mine yesterday.

    I think there is something to be said for the fact that everyone good seems to move from the time where music just comes to them to a place where they have to work for a song to come together.

    For me I do find that I need to really make time to write and that I'm just a bit lazy at times. I also tend to forget how many songs I trashed to get to the ones that are really good.