“Teach your children well
Their father’s hell did slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks the one you’ll know by”
“Teach Your Children” by Graham Nash
“Teach Your Children” is a song written by Graham Nash in 1968 when he was a member of the Hollies. Although it was never recorded by that group in a studio, the Hollies did record it live in 1983. The song first appeared on the album Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, released in 1970. As a single, the song peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts that year. On the Easy Listening chart, it peaked at No. 28. In Canada, “Teach Your Children” reached No. 8. Reviewing the song, Cash Box commented on the “incredible soft harmony luster” and “delicately composed material.” Stephen Stills gave the song its “country swing” and Jerry Garcia played the signature steel guitar riff that anchors the track.
I was 17 when “Teach Your Children” was released. It immediately resonated with me for its balance in recognizing the fears of the parents and the youthful idealistic wisdom of the children. It popped into my mind instantly when I was searching for a jumping off point to this months column.
Reaching the ripe old age of 70 has really got my attention. Although I am busy as an artist, writing, recording, touring and promoting my music, I often feel as if that isn’t enough. Working for my own success doesn’t really feel fulfilling. But recently, I discovered a TEDx talk about aging gracefully where the presenter stressed the benefits of giving back and teaching others. If you are interested here is a link to that talk titled “The Four Phases of Retirement.” The advice given stuck a chord with me so I decided to offer my services to teach a songwriting class (eight two-hour sessions) to a local, but very successful arts organization. To my total surprise they accepted my offer. So beginning in late January, I will make my first attempt at helping others write their first song or write better songs.
You would think, after writing several hundred, possibly even a thousand songs, I would understand my own creative process. But, unfortunately, when I thought deeply about how I write, I discovered that the actual source of my writing inspiration is a total mystery to me. Oh, I know how to edit a new born song: take out the fluff, tighten the lines, clean up the melody, clarify the meanings and distill it down to 2 verses, a memorable chorus and maybe a bridge. But editing isn’t writing. The actual writing process, the inspired part, is at least for me, an illusive, almost dream-like experience, one that I seem to have no control over. When it appears, the world slows down and often the words come faster than I can write them down. I become merely the scribe as I tap into some mysterious fountain of words and ideas. How do I give others a map to that fountain if I am not sure how I get there myself?
As you can imagine, a lot of soul searching and deep diving has ensued. I dug through the many songwriting books I have accumulated over the years, talked to other songwriters and begged friends who teach it to share their materials. Everyone was extremely forthcoming and helpful. But no one seems to have the exact location of the fountain. Though they all, at some level, agreed it exists.
Most of my songwriting friends tell me that journaling and writing regularly helps to access that fountain more easily. But I have had no such experience. Plodding through writing when I have no inspiration is just that for me; miserable useless plodding. When the fountain appears, I write. When it doesn’t I wish I could write and after sometime without inspiration I begin to believe my fountain has run dry. With the writing of this column I find myself in a long dry spell as a writer. In truth the last song I wrote was several months ago.
So here I am, in the middle of a personal drought of inspiration, about to attempt teaching others how to find their own fountain of words. It feels rather incongruous, allowing myself, who is struggling to write, attempt to teach others. I don’t intend to back out though. I will take what I know from past successes, information gleaned from knowledgeable friends and more than just a little hope that I can start others on the path of songwriting. I will do my best to impart what little I really understand about writing, with my unspoken hope that this activity will bring back my own access to the fountain of words. Perhaps my writing years are past, but I refuse to admit it. I am certainly not unhappy with my past output but I dare to believe my best songs are yet to arrive.
So, here I am, about to embark on a new journey. One I take with some trepidation, unsure if I am truly up to the task. But life is short and if I don’t challenge myself I quickly grow stale and stale is not a friend to fountain finding. So here I go. Wish me luck!
Until next time…
Randy Lewis Brown can be reached from his website or via email.
Randy Lewis Brown may be an over-the-hill, baby boomer and sometimes a cranky old coot, but he is also an award-winning Northeast Texas-based singer-songwriter and self-proclaimed “performing philosopher.” Despite his years, and an early bedtime, he remains steadfast in attempting to decipher the intersection of spirit, faith, science and the human condition. Who knows, maybe someday he will crack the code.