the chicken or the egg?

“So . . . what comes first,” asks my friend Jim. “the lyrics or the melody?” 

“Both,” I say. 

They come at the same time, like orphaned twin angels. They come while I am walking, freed of the distractions of my computer, email, groceries, bookkeeping, cat litter, everything. A phrase arrives and I sing it. This is a free-floating place: I am walking among stars or clouds, listening to the universe. 

I pull out my iPhone into which I sing my song snippets, accompanied by the swoosh of buses, percussion of rush hour, chatter of passers-by. The songs enter the world without any criticism from me. Much later, after the words are written down and the melody sketched out, I begin to examine them deeply, tweaking version after version. 

Years ago I had a drawing teacher who told us that we should walk out on our work and then come back later (a minute? An hour? A day?) to surprise it. So we can really SEE the work. I try to do that with my songs. I record them, listen to them before sleep and then surprise them in the morning. I evaluate, adjust a word, a space, a breath, a chord.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. It can take a long time. Maybe a month, six months, a year. Or even years, until that initial impulse snatched from the universe, recorded into my phone, becomes the final piece that ends up getting recorded. And that’s another story.