When all else fails – The Devil’s Motorcycle

Sometimes it fails. Sometimes there is nothing. Henry Miller is quoted as saying: “when you can’t create, you can work”. I agree with that. You still need to exercise your not inconsiderable creative biceps every day. Especially if you have to spend a large part of it answering and writing very unpoetic emails, reading contracts, creating spreadsheets and generally doing (very necessary and remunerative) left-brain stuff (apparently that’s not even a thing – but anyhow we digress). 

A lot of people start by object writing, maybe prompted by Pat Pattinson. But that’s only one type of writing. For example at the time of writing today’s offering on the highly recommendable www.objectwriting.com is “Ding Dong”. It’s ok. I’ve done it. It was actually fine. Though after a while it can get a bit samey and – I think – not that productive. (On the other hand if you’ve spent a few months – or years – off from writing, then do this for 30 days straight and be amazed at the results.)

So we are feeling a bit less than fluent. But because we listen to Henry Miller we know that we should at least be working out. You’ve come to the right place. And have fun doing it? Yes!

What we’re going to use is that thing where you are convinced for years that a lyric is one thing only to find that it’s really something else (usual far more sensible, dammit)? This probably doesn’t happen so much now we can instantly Google or SoundHound anything – humbug.

So for example, Beelzebub – according to me (but not it transpires to Queen) – has a Devil’s motorcycle. Well, what else would he have?! 

How can we not find something to write about here? All sorts of sensual imagery going on. Go on, write about that for 10 minutes using all your senses. I’ll do the same. Done? Here’s my effort. Not a masterpiece but it isn’t supposed to be – it’s a method of getting the mind working in a creative way. Any nuggets? Anything usable? Maybe not, it doesn’t matter, but I bet you didn’t wake up this morning thinking of the devil’s motorcyle… 

What next?

“Been spending most their lives living in a Gangster’s pair of dice…” Sure. Let’s let our minds go crazy like small dogs! 10 minutes… 

So what did you go for – smoky casino, or fluffy ones dangling in the getaway car…?  (Thanks to The Jimmy Fallon Show for that one – I also like “Pennsylvania!”).

Somewhere in my mind I am sure that Axelle Red had a song containing the lyric “let’s get a dream and soda”. There are only two possibilities here: either she really did this, in which case she is instantly a member of the SongExpresso hall of fame; or she didn’t and it was something more ordinary (but guess what – that means I invented it so I can use it!). Google doesn’t know this lyric – anyone out there know this song and can fill me in?

A few more while we’re at it:

“Sparing his life from his pork sausages” (Queen again)

“Got my first real sex dream” (Bryan Adams)

“Olive, the other reindeer” (trad. – she was an inveterate laugher and namecaller)

“Four candles” (enough for a whole album there)

Got any more great ones? Share them here… And use them for the times when you’ve got nothing. As Jean-Luc Godard said: “it’s not where you take it from – it’s where you take it to”…


Robbie phones up – “hey, need a new song – thinking anthem! Let me know, thanks!” Mariah leaves a message – “hey, need a ballad, romantic, you know, thanks!”

Whoa. Where to start. Review nuggets stored in Evernote. Boff. Play guitar five minutes (all I get is “Stairway”). Look at notebook for three minutes. Lots of lines. Page a bit curly at the bottom. I draw a cat (actually two circles, two triangle ears and some whiskers). I shade in the cat, tail, eyes, looks quite g… I throw the cat into the bin. Robbie must never know.

On the other hand: “hey Sherman Brothers, need a song that demonstrates Mr Banks’s realization that he needs to spend time with family and has been overworking. Needs to show that deep down he’s a good person and not an ogre. Should be something playful, needs to be suitable for all the family and friends to join in, something social, outdoors. OK?”

Now we’re talking.

It’s easier to write in context – if we have a movie scene in our minds then we see characters, places, activities. How do they feel? What do they say? Where do they go? What are they thinking? How do they feel inside? How did they get there? 

So if inspiration is short, don’t sit down with a guitar (noodling) or a pad (doodling). Your mind is like packet soup. Powdery and dry; looks like nothing; tastes like it was made in a lab (actually it was); smells like anything except teen-spirit. You can shake it, pour into a cup, put your fingers into it, but it won’t be dinner. It needs something from outside to awaken it, bring out the taste, and reconstitute those molecules. Water, heat, recipient, utensils, attention. Maybe a herb; cheese; I know, croutons! Now we’re cooking (ahem).

Do something active but song-focused. Don’t watch a movie and come back later. Watch a movie and dig into the characters, situations, senses. What’s going on? See anything you like? Press pause. Write down everything and see where it takes you. Go for a walk, sit in a cafĂ© (of course!), watch people, dogs, plants, things… Where do they come from? Is the man in the gabardine suit a spy? Let it flow. Write everything down now, rearrange, look up You Tube. Try the I or the he/she. Dust off the rhyming dictionary, go wild with the thesaurus. Let it blossom, let it grow. You’ll get something (not necessarily a song). Keep it. Tomorrow you’ll get something more (maybe something good).

Do this before Robbie or Mariah call. They won’t know you didn’t prepare it especially for them.