Chiming In

  • Deborah Straszheim

Songwriting Insanity

Perhaps the only surprising thing about the fact that Lionel Richie wrote the lyrics to the love song “Lady” while “in the toilet,” is that he actually admitted it.

Apparently, on the day of the recording, Kenny Rogers was in the studio looking at the lyric sheet, and realized he only had the one verse he'd finished.

“And I said, ‘Wait a minute. Where’s Lionel?” Rogers said. “I swear to God, he’s in the toilet, writing the second verse.”

Anyone who writes songs understands this. Maybe that’s because most us write during the course of our everyday lives.

Of course, it would be nice if we had time to quietly ponder the universe, uninterrupted, with only the company of a guitar or pen and paper, and get it all down. But most of us are starving artists. We work regular jobs, pay bills (to the extent possible), go about our daily lives and write in our heads.

My daughter has heard the “do-do-dos” while showering, chopping carrots and listening to the beep, beep, beep, of the Washington, D.C. Metro, signaling that it’s broken down yet again.

Since she sends me different guitar riffs to choose from via text message, I tend to listen to them at least 20 times, until they’re permanently in my brain, right before bed. Then I wake, usually between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., to go to the bathroom or because I’ve had a dream. And I’ll have what I call “a revelation.”

I’ve got the “do-do-dos.” Lyrics are suddenly in my head. I’ll pace back and forth, turn on the cell phone microphone, and sing them to her (while in the bathroom) so I don’t wake the children.

It’s like a form of insanity. Maybe writing a song is a little bit like falling in love. You can’t control when it happens, but you recognize it right away. You also know it might not be there tomorrow, or even a half hour later. So you feel compelled to run from the shower, head still in a towel, and get it down right then.

Of course, I’m not always pacing in the middle of the night, and she’s not always showering. Maybe I’m vacuuming. And she’s on her way to work. But we’re not living the glamorous life while we write, and yet that doesn’t seem to matter.

For my birthday, my sister gave me a set of pencils with inappropriate sayings, which I keep by my bedside for this purpose. One of my favorites speaks to this perfectly. No matter what the situation, (OK, so I’m in the bathroom at 3 a.m.) I know when it's time to pick it up. It says, “Write that sh-t down.”

Lionel Richie And Kenny Rogers ~ Lady

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