Today is the National Day on Writing, a nationally-recognized celebration of the primary role that writing plays in each of our daily lives. While the National Day on Writing certainly honors wordsmiths that have no intention of pairing their work with music, putting words into organized form is something that comes naturally to ASCAP songwriters. So we figured that we'd pay tribute to two of our favorite musically-inclined writers - one who is a music writer who has written about many ASCAP members in the past, and another who is an ASCAP songwriter and also a respected, published author.
Cosmo Lee: How Unseen Fruit Changed My Writing
By Etan Rosenbloom, Membership/Marketing Associate and Blog Coordinator
Every songwriter has influences. Some never escape them; others are able to learn from them and do their own thing. You can say the same for any kind of writer. As a music journalist, the writer that has impacted me the most over the last few years is Cosmo Lee, a writer for Decibel, former contributor to Pitchfork and Stylus and, until just last month, the curator of Invisible Oranges, the best heavy metal blog on the internet.
Lee and I are pretty dissimilar stylistically. His sentences are spartan and compact, while mine tend towards flowery adverbs and too many sub-clauses. And yet his writing about metal has had a powerful effect on how I think about writing. Lee is an ideas man, more interested in the whys and hows than the whats. In other words, where many music journalists are content to describe and judge, Lee illumines. He uncovers the mechanics of music's power, and strives to understand its purpose and appeal. He's also a creative and wildly ambitious writer - both necessary qualities when you're writing a treatise on every single song from Metallica's first four albums. As a blog editor, Lee was non-pareil. He wrote album reviews, conducted Q&A interviews and compiled lists, of course. But he also produced terrific digital mixtapes, talked gear/music theory, and explored unconventional topics like luthiery and disgust vis-a-vis metal. One of my favorite posts found a classically-trained vocal coach offering her thoughts on five classic metal vocalists. The range of ideas that Lee addressed in his run at Invisible Oranges is a continuing inspiration.
It takes both cultural and self-awareness to be a great writer about anything, and so it's no surprise that some of my favorite articles by Cosmo Lee are actually about writing itself. Check out his guide to writing about music series for his sound advice and a sense of how voracious a cultural sponge he is. Lee's chosen topic for the last few years was heavy metal. But the way he writes, and the suggestions he makes, could be inspiration to any writer. "The inquiry should start, not stop with you. As music inspired you to write, so should your writing inspire others to think," Lee writes in the second installment of his guide. Words to live/write by.
Browse all of Cosmo Lee's writing on Invisible Oranges: http://www.invisibleoranges.com/tag/clee
Joe Henry: From Songwriter to Author in 20 Years Flat
By Erik Philbrook, Editor-in-Chief, Playback Magazine
Every August I look forward to having lunch with ASCAP songwriter Joe Henry (not the L.A.-based, Grammy Award-winning songwriter/producer Joe Henry who just released the great new album Reverie, although I wouldn’t mind having lunch with him too). My Joe Henry is the Colorado-based Joe Henry, the rugged Westerner who has written well over a hundred memorable songs by a wide range of artists, from Frank Sinatra and John Denver to Olivia Newton-John, Roberta Flack, Garth Brooks and many others.
For much of the year, Joe lives in Colorado, writing, reading and re-reading his favorite author (Faulkner) and generally being at one with the great outdoors. However, for a few months, he does tear himself away from his bucolic setting to collaborate with other songwriters in L.A., Nashville and New York City. I’ve been fortunate to catch up with him when he travels to hear some of his new songs in progress, to talk about music and literature, and to hear some of the stories from his fascinating past as a boxer, a ranch hand, and as a young man who received his MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop before songwriting became his bread and butter.
For many years, Joe would talk about his long-in-the-works novel, Lime Creek, about a ranch family living a harsh and heartbreakingly beautiful life in the West. Ironically, for someone so successful at writing beautiful, well-crafted and concise songs, it seemed like Joe was always working on it, year after year, never quite feeling it was “done.”
So it was with much surprise and a great amount of admiration to learn earlier this year that not only had Joe finished the book, but that he quickly secured a literary agent and then a publishing deal with Random House. Lime Creek was published in hardcover in June. Joe says he has been working on this book for 20 years. While that may seem like a long time for any writer to finish a book, if you read it, you will experience the distillation of a lifetime’s worth of wisdom, creativity, experience and hard work on every page. Joe’s gift as a songwriter truly makes his prose sing. Each paragraph packs an emotional wallop. It is a masterful piece of fiction.
I’ve read great authors. I’ve also been amazed by the lyrical virtuosity of so many great songwriters. Reading Lime Creek was the first time the line between author and lyricist had ever dissolved so completely before my eyes. I had always felt that the “Author” in ASCAP’s name, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, didn’t accurately convey “songwriter.”
After reading Joe Henry’s Lime Creek, it makes a lot more sense.
Read Erik Philbrook's interview with Joe Henry for Playback at http://www.ascap.com/playback/2011/06/Radar_Report/MountainTime.aspx
Do you have a favorite lyricist, music journalist or songwriter-turned-author? Help ASCAP celebrate the National Day on Writing by letting us know in the comments field!