Karin from West Texas writes:
How important are lyrics to you? Do they have to be true? Since you write your own lyrics, do you feel they are written in stone or do the lyrics evolve/change after many live performances? How long does it take you to write one song’s lyrics? Do you write the lyrics first and add music or what?
Roly: To start with…in general I think I’m what you might call a seasonal writer…not all that steadily prolific. It’s not a vocation for me so I wouldn’t be waking up saying, “I’m a songwriter and by mid-afternoon today I’ll be having a new song all done.” In addition…I think that rather than talk much about writing…it’s better to just do it. This stuff is easily jinxable. I saw a book one time entitled “How To Write a Song”! I think the first line was something like “You’ll need a good sharp pencil”. I’m joking.
You can catch a song anytime anyplace as long as you give yourself a chance. Some songs come easily I’m sure…but on the other hand John Prine once told me that it took him twelve years to write this one song. I can relate to that. Sometimes (not always) it’s the process of hanging language onto an existing melody with the hope of naming some reality that’ll be available to people at any time in the future. A song like “A-11” by Buck Owens is a song about a certain song on a certain jukebox that kills him in a certain way because it was *The Song* for him and a certain love a certain little while ago…but a time that certainly no longer continues for those two. He’s telling the guy at the jukebox…play any song you want to but please don’t play A-11. Now you couldn’t be more specific than that but somehow that song frames an experience that everybody’s had and which somebody somewhere is gonna have again every time the sun comes up from today on. That’s what songs ought to be able to do for us in my opinion. I’d fix the lyrics of an existing song if necessary….sure.