Random Thoughts On Songwriting

July 22, 2010
Chelsea, MI

When I made the film, THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, it premiered at the NY Film Festival. Big hall, maybe two thousand people in attendance, a lot of hype on the film, and the Festival organizers paraded us into one of the Royal Boxes, and as we looked down upon the crowd they looked up, applauded us like Kings and Queens, and then promptly turned away as the lights went down and the movie began. In an instant, we longer existed. Perched from above, I watched what was our film become theirs. I watched them take it and it take them. It was no longer mine, no longer something I was making or doing or hoping would work. Like watching your child leave home, I wished it well.

It’s the same with a good song. You experience it as you write it. You find that moment, that story, that image you want to illuminate. Combined with the right melody, chord structure, and unpredictable yet plausible rolling along of the lyric, you give it away. You hope they take it. A good song is a gift. You’re doing something they can’t. They are waiting to be transported. All the way back to the Greeks, to  the guy at the end of the bar who says, “This one time I was hitchhikin’ through Texas…” to every fairy tale that starts with “once upon a time” – as people, as human beings we are suckers for a good story. Tell me a story. Tell it with structure, unpredictability, originality, something only you would think of, a point of view only you would have, and when you execute it, we will recognize it as our own, and this shared piece of art, in the end, will change them. They will leave the hearing of your song different. More than they were. Maybe you moved them. Maybe you made them laugh. Maybe you just made them think. But you gave them something only you could give them. And now it’s theirs.

I have a few songs that do that. They always land. They’re usually from the heart, from something that bothers me, makes me happy, sad, angry, a right I want to wrong, something I honestly – key word – honestly value in my own experience and by sending that feeling through the craft of songwriting – any story well told has an engine full of nuts and bolts and many moving parts underneath its hood – it becomes universal. Every artistic experience, when shared, be it a song, play, novel, painting, film, you name it, they all hope for one thing and that’s to shine a light on what it means to be human.

If I had to pick one of my own that does that on a consistent basis, it would probably be GRANDFATHER’S HAT. A song about someone who’s no longer here. Someone we miss. Someone in whom we see ourselves. Someone to whom we still remember by wearing something much like they wore. This song came from my wearing this old fedora simply because I liked it, and someone walking up to me and asking, “Is that your Grandfather’s hat?” I looked at him and instantly thought, “That’s a song.”

— Jeff Daniels

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About Official Jeff Daniels

It has been brought to my attention that someone like you might want to know what someone like me is doing, why I did it, and how I feel about it after I'm done doing it. "People want to know about stuff like that?" I said. "Can't get enough of it," they said. "What about when I'm not doing anything?" "Especially when you're not doing anything," they said. "What do people like me do?" "Twitter and tweet." "I don't twitter and I can't bring myself to tweet," I said. "So write a blog." "Can I write a blog about how much I hate twittering tweets?" So, when inspiration strikes, when I'm compelled to express myself, or when I happen to think of something that is better shared, I'll blog it for those who want to know. Beats twittering a tweet --- Jeff Daniels
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2 Responses to Random Thoughts On Songwriting

  1. yasmin says:

    Dear Jeff

    Just found your blog….. i understand about the Grandfather’s Hat song…… you were obviously inspired very quickly. I love your songs very much and i think some of them are hilariously funny, like the Happy song. Keep up the entertaining. And understand that those who have left this Earthly life are around us in Spirit.

    You remember Charlie from Dumb and Dumber, well sometime ago i was ” inspired ” to try and write his story, but it’s not in a song…. though it is based on very limited info and some would say it’s speculative. I wanted to try to make people see him as a Human Being not as just some actor only remembered for certain things. I put it out in a public forum .You will find it here : http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0734236/board/flat/106052400
    If the link doesnt work go into imdb under his name and look under the discussion board. I titled it ” Rediscovering a man called Charlie Claverie.” I wrote it after an unusual event that really took my breadth away…….

    Also someone else out there in our World wrote a really nice poem about Charlie, he too was inspired……

    There is something, Jeff , that i would very much like you to see, but not through a public forum, but whether you would ever believe it is something i have no way of knowing…..

    All the best Jeff in your work and life in general. Please take care
    In Love and Light
    yasmin
    Birmingham. UK
    xx

  2. wendy says:

    Hey Jeff, nice to find your site. You should put up an mp3 now and again. It would be nice to hear a song and your thoughts about it.

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