A DREAM OF SONGWRITING
Updated: Feb 6
I’ve always been a writer, a storyteller. It’s the one constant in my ever-changing life. From magazine stories to television and film, journalism, a novel, a memoir…and then it stopped.
It wasn’t sudden. I was in a cabin on the side of a mountain in Central Victoria with nothing else to do but write. I even had a script editor in Santa Monica, Cal. There was a screenplay between us that I was trying to shape, but its shape kept shifting. In fact it was going in circles. There was also a novel that I was writing on spec. That, too, was describing an ever-lessening series of spirals.
I finally said it into my computer as I stared at his face reflected in it - his face over there looking out on the Pacific and Santa Monica Pier, with his dog by his side - and me looking at a hillside of eucalypts and kangaroos. I said, “This script is going nowhere. Maybe it’s time to abandon it.”
There was a silence and I knew that was the answer.
My agent returned the novel soon after. She found it unreadable.
I was alone with nothing. No persona. I walked on the mountainside in the wind and rain and screamed my anguish. There was no reply. Nothing. Without my writing I was…what was I?
I shifted house and needed some furniture. I had very little money but I’d hung on to my woodworking tools. My new place had a workshop and some old timber lying around. I made a table.
Someone came by, saw what I was doing, and asked me to make them a table. Another person wanted some kitchen cabinets. A floor needed laying. A library had to be built. I’d become a carpenter and joiner - my father’s original trade.
I had few power tools. I came to love the silence as my razor-sharp plane sliced a curl of timber. I loved the stories revealed in the grain and the knots. I took on repair and restoration work and found even more stories hidden in old pieces.
One rainy weekend I was heading down to the coast for a break from the furniture-making business. A friend was driving. Heading through the forest and hills I saw a sign on the crest: ‘Great Dividing Range’.
I saw it and, as it disappeared behind me, I repeated the words.
“Great Divide. Standing on the Great Divide…”
And it was like great doors opened in my mind and through them poured a flood of words, phrases, sentences.
“Boys and girls on either side,
Am I a Groom, am I a Bride?
Pink or blue, I can't decide."
I grabbed a notepad and pen and started, not writing, transcribing what was flooding my mind. I transcribed all weekend.
I could see that this stuff wasn’t prose. It wasn’t stories or a movie treatment or a feature article. It wasn’t poetry. It was song lyrics.
As I looked at these lyrics I began to sense chord changes. I’d always played a bit of guitar. There’d been a time I’d played rhythm guitar in a Show Band. I knew enough about chords to read a chart. But now I was hearing how they fitted these lyrics. I was hearing how the verse lifted itself into the chorus. I was hearing the modulations and writing them down.
I thought of what Hermann Hesse said in, "Siddhartha".
"I can think, I can wait, I can fast."
I had waited and that’s how I became a songwriter.