This morning, almost the first thing in my mind, is a scrap of a song lyric, emerging more or less fully-formed, as I strive to get out of bed and begin the day. Slowly, no rush.
Can you sleep away your life?
Of course. Most people do.
Most people think this busy-busy fair
is real, when nothing is less true.
Do you wake up in the morning?
Or has the sunrise passed you by?
When birds are calling
and ships are falling on the lake,
That's when the sunrise
calls you home.
When I'm out camping, the sun hitting the tent is what usually wakes me up. It depends where I'm camping, then, whether I wake at dawn, or an hour or two later. Without the artificial support of powered illumination—you know, lightbulbs, television, computer screens—I tend not to stay up as late, either. Even with a good bonfire to drum and play flute at, it's rare for me to want to stay up as late as one does back in Snivellization.
I'm a musician. I've mostly kept musicians hours throughout my life. Nightlife hours. I've never been a morning person.
But now I seem to have become one, mostly against my will. Over the past few years, my required nightly sleep has changed from nine hours to seven. I'm usually done after seven hours of sleep, anymore. Since the surgery, I tend to wake up earlier in the morning than I ever used to. Partly because since the surgery I can't sleep the way I used to, and I often wake several times in the night, do the needful, then go back to sleep.
I've also learned that, despite the usual unpredictability of the creative urge, to which I am long accustomed, lately I seem to write in the morning, in the first half of the day. Not exactly as part of the morning routine, but nothing is certain anymore. Lots of things have changed since the surgery.
The last vivid dreams before waking are often the first things I write down. I've kept a regular, albeit not daily, dream journal, for a few decades. I tend to have vivid, lucid dreams regardless, always in color, and it has always been that way. I have memories of dreams going back to childhood, and my journal is full of other dreams written down as notes and narratives and images and symbols. Once or twice in my life, I've woken up with the memory of dream-music, which I then wrote down; once or twice, these have become musical compositions. The same thing has happened with poems.
Scraps of lyrics appear these days with some regularity. I've taken to always carrying my little lyric-writing notebook in my pocket, the same way I always have a camera with me. (People ask me how I get such unusual and beautiful photographs; the secret is simple: Always have a camera with you, and always be willing and ready to stop and make a photograph. The same is true of poems: the readiness is all.) I like little unlined Moleskin notebooks for writing lyrics; a perfect size for carrying your pocket, along with a pen and your penknife.
And your pocket rocks. There's this beach in northern California, at the southern tip of Redwoods National & State Parks. I first camped there in 1993. In the morning, I found a round smooth black sea-polished basalt stone that sparkled in the sun and fit perfectly into my hand. I've carried a rock from that beach in my pants pocket every day since then.
Over the past few months, and on the recent roadtrip out West, and while camping Up North, I wrote almost no poems. Instead I've written a lot of sketches for song lyrics. Bits and pieces, as this morning, which will eventually shape themselves into songs. While I was camping, I did a couple of paintings on the iPad, using the ArtRage app, which I highly recommend. Best virtual paint tool I've used in years. While camping, I also wrote the music notation for the melody and chords of a couple of songs I'd finished the lyrics for over the past month. Now I will sit down and do a formal lead sheet, get that all spruced up and see about recording demos.
Singer-songwriter Beck is doing something old and new: he's releasing his next album as a book of songs, for the listener to perform. As with a century ago, during the height of Tin Pan Alley songwriting, during the time when every home had a parlor piano, Beck, a contemporary singer-songwriter, releases his music as written notation for you to take home and play for yourself. Sign me up for purchasing this when it comes out in December 2012; I think it's brilliant. It inspires me to think about doing an eventual album of my own new songs, and include notation. In this day of digital downloads and perfected studio recordings, to engage one's audience by making them play the songs themselves: an old idea made brand new. Context matters.
I wrote in "Dulcimer Song," one of the songs from my commissioned piece Heartlands, something about this. I find it interesting how all of this converges, and what was old becomes new again. Here's the relevant excerpt from the lyrics for "Dulcimer Song":
The parlor piano
around which we sang
the wheezing old organ
that led us in hymns
Daddy played the dulcimer
while Mama sang loud
And these were our Sundays
in our little farm town. . . .