This little blog is a long time coming…
Narcie (my wife) preached on Jeremiah 18:1-11 way back in September and I was struck by the parallels the text had with songwriting & the creative process, or at least how I see it. Jeremiah 18: 1-11 is a rather familiar text, the story of the potter and the clay.
18The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. 5Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.
11Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
Essentially God calls Jeremiah (one of the prophets) and tells him to head over to the potter’s house to hear the word of God. Personally I’m impressed Jeremiah didn’t say, “Yo God, just lay it on me. I’m watching the game!” But he went. And there he found the potter at work on his wheel. The text tells that the vessel soured, or collapsed – it went wrong. But no worries, because the potter just re-worked the clay into something found to be pleasing. If you’ve ever seen a potter at work or spoken with one you will hear them speak about “Letting the clay do what it is going to do.” If you come in with rigid hands seeking to control and instantly build, the clay will not respond. God was telling Jeremiah that just like the clay, the people of God can choose to be molded into something pleasing to God. God will mold us into something good – if we let God do what God does best.
As Narcie was preaching I was struck by the parallels to the songwriting process. Bob Dylan wrote in his book Chronicles: Volume One that songwriting was like remembering a dream. If you think too hard you’ll forget it, the dream slips away… Rather one must allow the dream to be remembered, we have to get out of the way and let the mind tell the story it concocted during the night. I love how Dylan articulated that – because the song is there (or at least enough to get started and let one’s craft finish). Much like Michelangelo said, The David was in the stone yearning to be freed.
I had a teacher, Nathan Smith, who described music as a ribbon of light that we could reach into and pull out a song or idea. This light could shine upon you, and it was your job to get the idea down; or it would shine on the next person waiting.
Back to songwriting.
I’ve dreamed melodies, sat at the piano and a song poured forth, listened to Enoch sing as he plays then run to write it down. But through all the various forms of initial inspiration one must let the song breath once writing begins. Whenever I have tried to force a song to be…the song fights back and will not sing. There have been times when I have had to give a song away – the last Redaction album I had to do this. I kept trying to write this song and could only come up with parts of it, and never could fit it all together. So I gave it to Andy who finished it (and it is awesome!) I was not listening to the needs of the song and what it was trying to do. Much like our lives, we need to try and live in a way that allows God to be known.
And that brings us back to Jeremiah.
As Christians are we forcing our lives into something, or allowing Christ to play a hand?
Are we choosing to be good clay?
Are we letting our song have life breathed into it?