"How do you know when you are finished with a piece of writing?"—Evie, age 10 Evie, you've asked a stumper. I wish I had a clear, concrete ... Read More
Ron Block is an amazing musician and a regular smart alec. Also, he’s got mad insights. This is part one of two posts featuring a mere 5 questions for RB.
1. I made fun of Twitter, then joined. You made fun of it (called me a Twaitor), then you joined. Is there a group that ends in “Anonymous” for guys like us?
I, uh, joined because I got free air miles on..uh…Southwest. Yeah, Southwest. I find 140 characters to be extremely limiting to my inner child, who has a very copious supply of words and phrases and doesn’t like to edit. By the way, it’s RonBlockAKUS. Not that I ever use it, except every few days.
2. Is it more important for artists who are Christians to convey truth or to create with excellence? (Note: Answer may not contain the words “False” or “Dichotomy.”)
There is often a false dichotomy constructed between those two concepts.
On creating with excellence: Artists who are Christians should first of all create art that is excellent. It should resonate with realness, honesty. There are many secular musicians who do this; Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Pat Metheny, Tony Rice, to name a few.
I have a friend, a great musician. A songwriter gave him a cd of a gospel song and told him, “The Lord gave me this song.” When my friend listened to it later, he said his first thought was, “Wow, God must be a really crappy songwriter.”
That’s technique. We should do our best to play, sing, write, paint as well as we can, and go on improving the talent we’ve been given. That songwriter may have had a real God-moment, but the technique didn’t allow it to come through. I’ve, uh, never experienced that, myself.
On conveying truth: If an artist experiences truth on a regular basis, rather than merely reading about it in the Bible, and is honest, his work will begin to show it. It will be conveyed. I hear this a lot in the music of Andrew Peterson and his Square Peg buddies, and also Fernando Ortega.
3. Why was it important to write the song, “He’s Holding On To Me?”
I have rarely written a song with the concept of “What I Want To Say” in mind. I’ve done it a few times for Alison Krauss when she has an idea of a song she wants. But even then it has involved the following method.
Usually I start my writing with humming melodies over guitar chords (or, in many cases, attempting to). One day a bluegrass sort of tune and feel started up. I used my quick little recorder to capture each little bit of it until I had a verse and chorus recorded, played and hummed with nonsense syllables (you should hear it. It sounds ridiculous). When that was done, I did what I usually do; I put the guitar down, sat at my laptop, and played the tune over and over. Quite often the nonsense syllables suggest words to me, and the song and subject begin to take shape. When I do it this way, at least in the past, I often get whole lines pop into my head. Then, later, if they need a little editing, I try not to be lazy about it.
I don’t have a lot of song-craft; often I get stuck and don’t know where to go with it, so I’m always learning as I go. Many times I’ve wished I’d gone to some school or other and studied composition and all that. But that’s what I get for spending way more time practicing banjo and guitar than writing songs or going to school.
Gospel songs are my primary output probably because I read a lot in that direction. I have often lamented (and I think my wife has, too, secretly, while sleep-talking) that I haven’t written one of those huge country songs. I just want to own a Scottish castle. Just one. I’m not greedy.
Songwriting is like a faucet. It has to be opened up frequently or the water turns to brown sludge. I’m finally writing again; sludge was first, then rusty water. Now it is less rusty but still doesn’t taste that good.
Part Two to follow. Meanwhile, see Ron at these places: