people often ask me where I get my ideas from.. how i come up with these words and this music.. where it all comes from.. what it feels like to write a song..
it feels like a visit from the cat from next door.
usually, on the days i write a song.. i wake up in the morning with a feeling that something is waiting for me in the room.. that there’s an idea under the bed.. or some inspiration behind the sofa..
as if the cat from next door has decided to honour me with a visit.
this is a delicate moment. while i feel indeed honoured and a little excited by the visit, it is vital not to approach the cat straight away.. no .. i pretend it’s not there (although of course it knows i know and i know it knows i know).. and i go about my morning routine.. making coffee.. occasionally checking out of the corner of my eye that it’s still sitting in the corner by the window..
eventually .. once i have demonstrated that i can respect it’s space, that i won’t covet or force it in any way, that i will not try to trap it or claim it as my own.. once i have earned it’s trust.. finally.. we meet eye to eye..
the cat already knows the song.. but it would never lower itself to simply teach it to me.. rather, it wills me to discover the song for myself.. to work to shape and mould the song into a form which in the end will feel inevitable.. there is a way the song is meant to be.. there is a way the song wants to be.. and achieving this is as much about getting myself out of the way as it is about getting myself involved. the cat is not active in the process. it is both the guardian of the song and the representative of my artistic conscience. the cat simply gives me a little look every now and then that says ‘there is no way around.. you must go right through it .. through the thickest grove of the forest, through the darkest hour of the night, through the hottest reach of the desert or the coldest month of the winter.. no short cuts.. no cut corners.. only what is honestly and honourably fought for will ring true’.. the cat ensures the process is always intuitive and never habitual.
sometimes it’s painless and easy .. all over in 20 minutes.. the cat goes home and i’m left with a few scribbled-on pieces of paper and an odd combination of euphoria (‘this is a really good song’) and trepidation (‘people are going to think I did this alone and expect me to do it again’)..
sometimes it takes longer. sometimes it’s a wrestling match. sometimes i wonder if the cat should have visited leonard cohen with this one instead.. but i have to trust that if the cat chose to visit me then i must be able to uncover this song-secret.. even if it takes months.. for the cat seems to be quite sure of itself.
sometimes the cat goes home and I feel the song is done.. but two nights later i wake up with the cat heavy on my chest and it’s breath on my face and i know.. i have to change those lyrics in the second verse.. so i scramble out of bed, fumbling for the light-switch and a pencil.. the cat settles in to the warm spot left behind on my pillow.. knowing that it’s presence is enough..
the cat is not mine.
nor are the songs.
i sleep with the window open.