Sunday, January 23, 2011


Inside the Art of Songwriting
Jimmy Webb

The author of By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Wichita Lineman, and MacArthur Park, Jimmy Webb should know something about the art and business of songwriting. Tunesmith is part pop psychology self help book, part memoir and part music theory and poetry writing textbook. That is a lot to cram into a 422 page trade paperback.

What got me started reading this book was a comment by Steven Sondheim on NPR's Fresh Air that he, of course, used a rhyming dictionary when writing songs. I had thought that those rhymes just fell out of his mouth like pearls, I guess. Looking for a good rhyming dictionary on led me to a list of songwriting books, including this one.

I have to disagree with Webb in his preference for perfect rhymes over the more interesting, IMHO, false rhyme, which he deplores - and also employs on occasion. Back in the day when I was an English major, using all perfect rhymes was considered a sign of immature, singsongey writing. Oh right, he is talking about writing pop songs.

The chapter on music theory is mostly wasted. Either you read music at a level where you already know the material he is covering or it's gibberish to you. I have a collection of music theory textbooks, some of which I have even read, but my music reading is pretty well limited to lead sheets. When he puts a three staff piano score under my nose, my eyes glaze over. I guess that guy who teaches the easy way to play piano on PBS wasn't around when Jimmy wrote this book.

I enjoyed reading about Jimmy Webb's adventures at Motown West, hanging out with Johnny Rivers and working with Art Garfunkle. His tales of wrongdoing on the part of record labels and music publishers are valuable lessons for the aspiring songwriter.

The music industry is a far different landscape now than when he started out in the early 1960s and was changing rapidly in the 1990s, when Webb wrote this book. His ideal of writing songs and pitching them to artists, producers and label executives is long dead, except perhaps in Nashville. I know that there is an Amway like organization which feeds songs from people all over the country into some inner sanctum in music city, where the high priests of country music choose songs for the big hats to record. I've met a few people on the bottom rung of that ladder. These days you have to be your own performer, producer, executive and have your own Facebook fan club if you want your songs to be heard.

My only problem with Tunesmith is that I have one of Jimmy Webb's songs stuck in my head. "Wouldn't you like to ride in my beautiful, my beautiful baloooooon."

Keywords: memoir, music industry, songwriting, Jimmy Webb

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What Draws You To It?

Book Blogger Hop

Over at Crazy for Books the question of the week is:

"Why do you read the genre that you do? What draws you to it?"

I'm not married to any one genre but lately I seem to be drawn toward non-fiction titles. I'm not sure why that is. I remember, when we were kids, my brother asking me why he should read whatever fiction title it was that I was gushing about "when it isn't even true." Maybe I'm becoming an old curmudgeon as he was a young one, although I find that there is much on the non-fiction shelves that isn't even true, also.

I think it's time for me to indulge in a nice crime novel.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Einstein's God

Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit

Krista Tippett

You may already know that Krista Tippett is the host of the Sunday Morning NPR interview show that recently changed it's name from Speaking of Faith to On Being. This book illustrates why, after years of broadcasting the show, it was decided to change it's name. The conversations pursued are often only tangentally religious, except in the most broadly defined and Unitarian sense.

The book is made up of a series of radio interviews transcripts with introductions and commentary by Tippett. Each interview is with someone involved in the sciences and each interview attempts to derive some spiritual nuggets from the interview.

The first is with physicist Freeman Dyson, who knew Albert Einstein in the '50's when they were both at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. Einstein is credited with saying "God does not play dice with the universe," which has been interpreted as a statement of faith in a personal God. Not so, says Dyson, who opines that Einstein's God was the mathematically elegant and mysterious nature of the universe, as demonstrated by his own special and general theories of relativity. Einstein objected to the random nature of results being found in quantum physics. It turns out he was wrong. God does play dice with the universe on the subatomic level.

Einstein's God contains interviews of thirteen scientists, two of whom are also religious figures, V.V. Raman, a physicist who is also a scholar of Hinduism and John Polkinghorne, a British physicist and theologian. Others interviewed are a biographer of Charles Darwin, several psychologists, an astrophysicist and a rheumatologist.The conversations are about the conflict that Darwin felt between his religious faith and his revolutionary theory of evolutionary biological change, the  biological basis of revenge and forgiveness, the spiritual effect of clinical depression, the possibility of harmony and acceptance between scientific pursuit and religious faith . . .

On those rare occasions when I have been awake early enough on a Sunday Morning to catch a broadcast of the program I have never failed to become engrossed in the conversation between Tippett and her guest. I did find it a bit more difficult to follow some of these interviews on paper. Perhaps my personal devolution has advanced to a stage where my own opinions intrude too much into what Tippett & co. are saying.


This post is in the 61st
Book Review Blog Carnival

Published at Her Ladyship's Quest.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What got me started?

Literary Blog Hop
This week's question, posed by The Blue Bookcase is

"How did you find your way to reading literary fiction and nonfiction?"

That's a hard question for me to answer. I read books like For Whom The Bell Tolls and even Ulysses while still in elementary school, not that I understood Joyce. My mother took us all on regular visits to the Concord, MA public library, which was, in my memory, an enormous place, chock full of every book imaginable. Nobody told me that I couldn't read anything I wanted to so I did.

My reading habits have been regressing ever since. Soon I'll be reading nothing but comic books.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Jon Swift Memorial Roundup

Don't miss the best blog posts of 2010 (as defined by the participating bloggers) at Vagabond Scholar. Oh, sure, I have a post in it.