Text: Solveig Hansen, 2018
“I am a rock, I am an i-i-island.” This line from Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock” kept spinning in my head as I searched for songs about writing. The song is about a guy seeking isolation from others to protect himself:
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island
Poetic songwriter Paul Simon wrote it. He also wrote A Poem on the Underground Wall, about a young man waiting in the shadows for the underground to close, a colored crayon in his hand. When the last train has passed, he swiftly writes his four-letter poem on the tunnel wall.
Now from his pocket quick he flashes
The crayon on the wall he slashes
Deep upon the advertising
A single-worded poem comprised of four letters
And his heart is laughing, screaming, pounding
The poem across the tracks rebounding
Shadowed by the exit light
His legs take their ascending flight
To seek the breast of darkness and be suckled by the night, ooh
This song is high on my list of songs with the theme of writing.
Another obvious choice is Paperback Writer by The Beatles. It’s essentially a pitch letter from an aspiring author to an editor. He desperately wants to become a paperback writer.
Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear.
It’s a “dirty story of a dirty man,” 1000 pages long with the potential to grow:
It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few.
I’ll be writing more in a week or two.
I could make it longer if you like the style.
I can change it ’round.
A promise of good sales, and of course a return address:
If you really like it you can have the rights.
It could make a million for you overnight.
If you must return it you can send it here.
There She Goes, my Beautiful World by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is about losing one’s muse and hitting writer’s block:
Well, me, I’m lying here, with nothing in my ears
Me, I’m lying here, with nothing in my ears
Me, I’m lying here, for what seems years
I’m just lying on my bed with nothing in my head
Everyday I Write the Book by Elvis Costello:
Everyday I write the book.
Chapter One: We didn’t really get along.
Chapter Two: I think I fell in love with you.
You said you’d stand by me in the middle of Chapter Three
But you were up to your old tricks in Chapters Four Five and Six.
Hemingway’s Whiskey by Guy Clark (delightful album title: Some Days the Song Writes You), unknown to me until now:
You know it tough out there a good muse is hard to find
Living one word to the next and living one line at a time
There’s more to life than whiskey, there’s more to words than rhyme
Sometimes nothing works, sometimes nothing shines
Like Hemingway’s whiskey
I was thrilled to discover Soltero (Tim Howard) and his I’ll Be a Writer:
I’ll be a writer when I finally go deaf
In the manner of whoever they say is the best
Committing to paper the chances I have missed
The girls I have loved
The dogs I have kissed
Write, edit, rewrite. The theme in Rewrite by Paul Simon is a familiar one for anyone who writes:
I’m workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right
Gonna change the ending
Gonna throw away my title
And toss it in the trash
Every minute after midnight
All the time I’m spending
Is just for workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right
Gonna turn it into cash
I love the lyrics in Virginia Woolf by Indigo Girls:
They published your diary
And that’s how I got to know you
The key to the room of your own and a mind without end
And here’s a young girl
On a kind of a telephone line through time
And the voice at the other end comes like a long lost friend
So I know I’m all right
Joanna Newsom’s Inflammatory Writ is another song about writer’s block:
Oh, where is your inflammatory writ?
Your text that would incite a light, “Be lit”?
Our music-deserving, devotion-unswerving
Cry “Do I deserve her?” with unflagging fervor
Well no we do not if we cannot get over it
Boy meets girl in the library. Great storytelling in Jimmy Buffett’s Love in the Library:
Near civil war history my heart skipped a beat
She was standing on fiction stretched high on bare feet
Love in the library, quiet and cool
Love in the library, there are no rules
Surrounded by stories surreal and sublime
I fell in love in the library once upon a time
Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” is apparently about a frustrated writer. “I Be Bound to Write to You” by Muddy Waters is about writing letters. “The Battle of Evermore” and other songs by Led Zeppelin make references to The Lord of the Rings. And the list goes on…