This series asks songwriters to describe their writing process and what influences them. Here, Dave Bidini (Rheostatics, Bidiniband):
Writing songs versus writing prose is different, but the same. I’m best when I just sit down and let myself go without worrying about the consequences, scribbling fast, instant and unfettered. Whenever an idea comes, I try and capture it as if it were a small animal – maybe a skunk or a possum – then study it, feed it, let it grow until it’s strong enough to send out into the world. Sometimes, though, the poor thing starves. I’ve got bags of old bones here, which I keep on hand just in case there’s some meat I may have missed, but this isn’t often the case. Rarely will a weak idea grow into a strong one, although it’ll never die from lack of study. Creative zookeeping is a full-time job. No one said it would be easy.
Our band’s latest song is called "Ladies of Montreal," and that’s a good example of carpe-diem-ing what is given the songwriter; the songwriter in this case being me. I dreamed the song, remembered it, and because we were playing that week, I showed it to the guys and we tried it. People liked it – the response was very direct – and so we recorded it almost immediately. The thing was more whole, and the achievement was almost as great as the result, just being able to see it through as quickly as we did.
On the other hand, two popular Rheostatics’ songs of mine – "Feed Yourself” and “Stolen Car” – took a combined 15 years to write. “Stolen Car” was born right around Whale Music time, and all I had was the beginning until five years later, which is when the song found its opening. With “Feed Yourself,” I’d written the story while on tour in 1991. Then, once I’d found the chorus – directly lifted from a friend’s (credited) song with different words – it fell into place. Crazy. But that isn’t how it usually works. Sometimes you wrestle the alligator and sometimes it wrestles you.
Funny thing about prose is that good writing can also happen in the lightning of the moment. One of my last magazine pieces – “Travels in Narnia,” which won the National Magazine Awards’ gold medal for Maisonneuve – was written in a total fever in Michael Green’s apartment in Calgary. I just sat down and it raced out of my head and heart. But the end, I was a wreck: like I’d been taken apart and stitched up all within half a day’s work.
My latest book, Writing Gordon Lightfoot, was similar – quick writing done over a short timeline to meet the demands of a deadline moved forward because of a publishing situation – and so was On A Cold Road, which was written as we kept moving. Maybe for me, that’s what is at the essence of creativity: propulsion. I need to find momentum and just sail. And hope that the messenger stays happy and well fed, evermore.
On Sept. 24, Dave Bidini joins sketch troupe The Imponderables at the Rivoli in Toronto for a live reading of his play, The Night of the Dogs.
Previously in this series:
How I Write: Glen Hansard
How I Write: Norah Jones
How I Write: Cold Specks
How I Write: Tim Foreman of Switchfoot
How I Write: The Civil Wars
How I Write: Dan Mangan
How I Write: Jim Bryson
How I Write: Sean Rowe
on Sep 17, 2012