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GLIDE MAGAZINE/HIDDEN TRACK
By: Rayn Dembinsky
It’s been a while since we’ve featured our long running Writer’s Workshop series here on Hidden Track, so to get back into the swing of things we’re hosting a very special guest today. Longtime HT favorite singer-songwriter Bobby Long recently published a collection of poetry, so instead of focusing on the usual journalism we’re turning our attention to writing for verse.
Long’s career as a musician got off to a quick start due to his association with the first Twilight film, but since he’s developed into a serious singer-songwriter with a huge fan base and a penchant for Hank Williams. The new book Losing My Brotherhood is available at Createspace as well as via other online outlets.
Hidden Track: In reading your poetry, I notice some similarities to your lyrics, but some differences as well. I particularly enjoyed the material about childhood. Does writing for poetry open possibilities where writing for songs can be perhaps more restrictive?
Bobby Long: Yes I think so. You just have more freedom and there are certain subjects I feel don’t work well in songs or I at least can’t be concise with them. In songs, I tend to try and go deeper than just setting a scene, but you just don’t have the time to do it. There is just a much greater freedom with writing poems; it was really interesting seeing myself open up to it.
HT: On the flip side of that, when you write for a song, do you usually have a feel for vibe of the music that accompanies the words from the beginning?
BL: Sometimes but most of the time either the lyrics dictates a certain tempo or things just rise up out of nowhere. Also, you can start with the music and that can inspire you to write about certain things.
HT: This isn’t restricted to poetry or songwriting, but who are a couple of your most influential writers and what are some of the things you’ve learned from them?
BL: I really like Randy Newman a lot. He has a style that doesn’t see him writing love songs a lot, and I think that takes a lot of courage and a great deal of skill. He also doesn’t have the greatest classic voice, yet his songs are some of the most powerful, ironic and funny songs ever. I think that is what I mostly love about his writing is the vastness of difference, not only of his songs in different media, but the variety of his subject matter. He really has something to say and a great intellect and comedy delivery that often makes the first time listener either learn something or fall for his irony. His songs have a serious and almost classic style that, accompanied with lyrics like “boom goes London ” or “it’s money that I love,” is on its own.
HT: To highlight kind of the way you approach a song or a poem, would you mind taking an example of something you’re proud of writing and give a bit of a dissection of where it came from and what it means to you?
BL: I like and am always proud of things that have been running me up or down or had an emotional effect on me, and then I write and manage to subside or sidestep the thing enough to turn it into a song. When that happens, I not only am able to step away from what’s bothering me, but feel better. I find the hardest songs to write are the ones with the deepest emotional connection because you give away too much and that’s not my style so there is always a greater feeling of accomplishment.
The Things I Did And Do
I dropped some cigarette ash on your neatly cut hair
I made your morning coffee slightly cold
I wept at films that you deemed too bold
and pretended I didn’t need subtitles.
These are the things I do to make you flinch
I played Bach at a higher speed on the record player
I pretended it was broken when you picked out Van Morrison
I sang harmonies to every line when you fixed it
and dragged my feet when you asked me to change sides.
This is what I do to annoy you
I poured Starbucks into your independent coffee store cup
I lied about my mother’s age and said I was adopted
I read you Pablo Neruda when you picked out Frost
and changed the words around and made them all about summer.
This is what I do to confuse you
I never let you help me with the morning crossword
I went on walks for hours and didn’t call
I drank myself into such rich stupors I couldn’t stand
and lied about the trivial shit.
This is what I do because I am a bastard
I watch you sleep and block the morning light out of your eyes
I cook your favorite meal three nights a week
even though I’m allergic
I listen to your friends talk about their friends
I stopped going to the bar.
HT: What seems to be the setting where you get your creative spurts in terms of time of day, the physical location and that type of thing?
BL: I’m usually sat down in my house. One of the things I learned from Randy Newman was that he gave himself a disciplined job, like a schedule for writing songs by going to work or a place and writing from 9-5. I started to do this and found I was much more productive, and it enabled me to gather ideas. You obviously leave yourself open to a song, but having that discipline got me out of bed and it let me go to bed or step away.
HT: Storytelling in songs and poetry is a unique skill, but it requires more of a veil over it and tends to be less overt than something in writing. Do you ever think about tackling fiction or working on something with a narrative focus?
BL: Yes, I would love to, and I guess I’m working my way up to it. I am trying to write in a bunch of different forms to get better and evolve, but I would like to one day go down that route. Just like music though, I feel there is a ladder and I’m not gonna pretend that I’m anything special overnight. I need to write and throw away thousands of words before I’m gonna be there.
HT: How hard was it to convince someone publish the book?
BL: I didn’t really look around that much to be honest. I spoke to my (music) publisher who has been there from the start and asked if he wanted to be involved, and he was up for it.
HT: Finally, what was the first time you can remember realizing that you really loved to write?
BL: When I was a kid I guess, but definitely firstly through music. When I first started playing guitar, I just wrote songs a lot and I loved doing it.