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Steve Ison
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Steve Ison

1/5/2009 9:35:15 PM

Life is absurd and then you die..
I don't always think that,but sometimes i do..Sometimes i think life is precious and then change my mind and it all seems ridiculous...My brains really gone to sludge recently.The only thing that keeps a sense of purpose is having to write a song every 2 weeks...
I don't have to do it at all of course but i have to do it if i don't want to just drift off into habit and feel my creative gift fade further into the distance..Which is really easy..i havn't written anything for a month now...The pull of T.V n computer is always there and is alot less effort..Its a cinch to grow old n lazy,even if you work hard in other ways.
It gets 'em all in the end

I never know what i want to say with songs.Most songwriters here seem very confident about messages they have,a strong point of view on the world,things they feel strongly passionate about-I've never felt that sure about things at all.I'm amazed i've written so many songs and have such a huge drive to do it 'cos really i have nothing at all to say..No messages-no insights,nothing..

I enjoy creating little illusions n fantasies,thats all....Its a walter mitty world where you can be anyone you fancy-then change your mind 10 minutes later and be someone/something
else....A little chance to feel mythic rather than mundane for a few chord changes..
Its just an escape from the 'real' world of newspaper opinions n work n drudgery..
Its quite a vacuous,amoral position..
I love the strength of character and integrity of the greats like Lennon,Ray Davies.Neil Young etc but far,far more i love that they're able to make beautiful drama.They create a space to dream and lose myself..So its their intuitive freedom of imagination i love really....Like a Ronettes or T.Rex 45 which has no message or lyrical insight at all but is beautiful and magical
I'm more passionate about THEM than any concerns in the real world if i'm honest....

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the perfect banana

1/5/2009 9:40:55 PM

Here's an exercise for you. Whenever you go to write a song, start with the words 'I have nothing to say'. If you aren't songwriting, repeat that mantra to yourself daily. Then, eventually, you will come to realize you actually do have something to say and you may even know what it is.

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The Man With No Band

1/5/2009 9:52:30 PM

" i have nothing at all to say..No messages-no insights,nothing..

I enjoy creating little illusions n fantasies,thats all."

Do you have ANY idea how much you just said ? ... and how much I just heard ?

Much more than "nothing" ... a bigger "message" than you know .... and an "insight" that I guess only one can see from the outside ...

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Richard Scotti

1/5/2009 10:13:10 PM

Steve, when you say life is absurd and then you die, you already have a theme for a song. One of the most important things a songwriter friend ever told me was: "When you think you have nothing to say, it's not really because you have nothing to say, it's because you don't want to say it". Once you figure out why you're hiding your true feelings, you'll try harder to reveal them. Most songwriters including myself are soemtimes afraid to get too deep into themselves because what comes out is too literal, too real. But many listeners in my opinion hunger for reality and feelings that are close to the bone. On the other hand I know how rewarding it can be to just create a mood or an atmosphere in a song that has no heavy meaning but carries you to another world. Try to combine your innermost feelings with an atmosphere of fantasy so that you are not hitting the listener over the head with a "message" but you are creating a mood where deep feelings can be expressed. The prefect example is "Waterloo Sunset" by the Kinks. The meaning is not literal but the song is about youth and yearning and nostalgia and home and young love and the beauty of being alive and yet it's just about a sunset. You have to find your sunset and figure out what it really means to you and write about how you feel about it not about what you think about it. When you think in terms of "the right subject matter" or "what topics should I address in songs" etc you are thinking too much and taking a detour from the subconscious where all good art comes from because the subconscious free associates and doesn't censor you. It just flows when you let it. Hope this helps.

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never never band

1/5/2009 10:13:35 PM ---- Updated 1/5/2009 10:37:47 PM

A Poet that I've always loved once said

"It is Pure Chance that rules the Universe; therefore, and only therefore, life is good."

Steve you're a precious Gem, absurd or not.
I think my passions for the "real world" are overstated nearly always because I'm trying so hard to give the impression...or an impression that it's what matters.
A lot of times it's not about how I actually feel but about how I think I SHOULD feel.
I'd far rather lose myself in a Painting or a song or a guitar solo than yammer on about politics or injustice, I'm a sensationist and a dreamer and a drop out, incredibly selfish by nature and embarrassed by the fact that I do care more about whats in the Metropolitan Art Museum or the Field Museum than who's in the white house... but I still yammer on for fear of being found out.



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The Man With No Band

1/5/2009 10:23:53 PM

"you are thinking too much and taking a detour from the subconscious where all good art comes from because the subconscious free associates and doesn't censor you. It just flows when you let it. Hope this helps."

See Richard ! ... I told you people think too much ... :)

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never never band

1/5/2009 10:49:35 PM

maybe i'm missing what it is you're saying...

because the responses I'm reading here don't seem to have anything to do with what I read in your original post.
Are you really just worried that you haven't completed a song this month?

Thats not what I read...


but maybe I see things that aren't really there sometimes.

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1/5/2009 11:24:58 PM

Steve -

Don't despair...could just be the winter doldrums. I've written two songs this past month, but then I might not engage for some time. But one thing I do know, is that when I do write, I like to tell a bit of a story, create a visual image in the lyrics that the listener might follow in his/her own mind. When I do that well I have the greatest satisfaction as a song writer. It may be coincidence, but when that happens, it seems the music just naturally evolves to support the story.

Of course, I may be completely wrong :>)

Okay, laurel resting period is over, Steve, time to write a HIT....

If you don't write 'em, I can't cover 'em.

I think you'll be fine in about 45 minutes, maybe less....


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Conversation Suicide

1/5/2009 11:33:57 PM

"Life is but one passion after another,
always heading towards failure..."

-Jean Paul Sartre

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Lars Mars

1/6/2009 9:37:30 AM


Couldn't put it any better than that!


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1/6/2009 9:48:16 AM ---- Updated 1/6/2009 9:49:44 AM

Whatever you choose to write about Steve, and wherever you draw your inspiration from works brilliantly for you ! Anything that filters through your radar ends up pure magic on the other end... and if you get into a bit of a slump at times it's probably because you are having too much sex and eating way to many chocolate covered sins !!! Tell your girlfriend to taunt you with naughty promises that will only be fulfilled after you've written a new song... and if you don't write a new song at least every two weeks than you don't get any candy !!!!!!! That'll keep your creative juices in line... and if that doesn't work... well, we'll save that one for later... (it's too horrific to mention)

I love you Steve both as an artist and a human being. You are the TOPS ! And you always will be !!!!

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1/6/2009 12:15:38 PM

"17 seconds - a measure of life" (The Cure)
so Steve, if you create 10 minutes of a new world with your music, that's making a pretty part of life much less absurd, much more worth fighting for!

rock on 8-)

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Tony Vani and Debbie Hoskin

1/6/2009 4:41:37 PM

I don't think it's really about, " I have nothing to say." I think it's really about, "It's all been said before." Is there really anything to say that hasn't already been said? Is anything really original at this point? Maybe find a way to say it in your own original creative way? None the less, it's all been said, by someone before.

How many love songs are there in the world anyway? Yet, people keep pumping them out and creating more.........

Sometimes I ask myself why I even talk..................

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Beth Fridinger

1/6/2009 5:11:33 PM

It is true it's all been said before, maybe in different ways...Life is very very strange...it has its ups and it has its downs.

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1/6/2009 6:10:42 PM ---- Updated 1/6/2009 6:12:47 PM

hang on bud.

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Hugh Hamilton

1/8/2009 12:38:59 PM

Whatever it is you're saying or not saying, keep it up.

I was just admiring some new-to-me work of JJ Cale's (including the recently released "Rewind" album of previously unreleased tracks from the 70s) and it's the kind of stuff that immediately makes me want to jump in with any instrument but especially guitar and singing. When I get that feeling, whether it's from listening to a song from a fellow member here or from somebody "famous" it makes me want to get on the cover bandwagon a bit and not have to "work so hard" - which for me is the writing. Especially have had some time enjoying his original version of "After Midnight" which is a nice contrast to the hyperactive Clapton cover of the same.

I'd like to chat about this in person some time but the bottom line to me is that you clearly love the thrill of creating but it's reasonable to bag it for a spell and recharge.

My first new tune in months is creeping out slowly this week...an open tuning on the new dobro acoustic guitar and the general sound of the guitar and the melody are there but I'm not exactly sure where it's going to go lyrically. I've drawn some inspiration from the kind of "message" writers you refer to and I must confess it can get a little inhibiting.

One of my favorite essayists is E.B. White and he wrote a lovely little piece about how being an essayist allows one to change personae at the drop of a hat. I suppose a lot of the bloggers around here do that (lol). He did it with a seeming sense of well-meaning and intention and although I don't think he usually wrote with an "agenda" he did somehow convey in his own way some revealing insights disguised as entertainment (not unlike Mark Twain and a host of others, come to think of it).

I hope your muse isn't absent too long, but EVERYONE needs a little R&R from time to time...

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Lars Mars

1/8/2009 5:28:14 PM ---- Updated 1/8/2009 5:32:46 PM

    There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
    Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
    Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
    It's easy.
    There's nothing you can make that can't be made.
    No one you can save that can't be saved.
    Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be in time
    It's easy.
    All you need is love, all you need is love,
    There's nothing you can know that isn't known.
    Nothing you can see that isn't shown.
    Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.
    It's easy.
    All you need is love, all you need is love,

The search for "relevance" infected many of the great sixties acts at one time or another. But forty some odd years later, it's their other stuff that is still around.

James Brown did "Say it Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" in 1968. It was a good tune with an important message in a troubled time, but it's "Papa Got a Brand New Bag" that we're still grooving to.

Same with "People Got to Be Free" by the Rascals. How far down most folks' list of Rascals faves is that? My guess is Groovin', Good Lovin', It's a Beautiful Morning, etc... all sit higher.

I think of your songs as more visual than text Steve. If you read about a Van Gogh, is it the same as seeing it?

Ask yourself if you'd be more proud of having written "Eve of Destruction" (if you don't know it, don't bother finding it... it was awful) than "Girl on the Train."

I know what my answer is.

It'll all work out... maybe grab a camera and take a few photos next time you're out and about...

Look at me... giving advice to Ison (sheesh - the nerve of some people)

Glenn -

End of sermon, now we'll all turn to our hymnals, page 444 and sing "Do Wah Diddee"

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Kevin White

1/8/2009 6:06:33 PM

Glenn - we should do dinner w/ our spouses. We're close geographically and I think we'd might enjoy each other's company. It'll be a nice diversion in the bleak of winter. I always like meeting other musicians, and I think we'd survive the meeting. :^D

Steve: Art is hard. It is all about illusionary. Life is not absurd.


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Bob Elliott

1/8/2009 6:40:39 PM

I'm not too big on messages from songwriters.

Life is fascinating, and it's hard.

If you ever have kids, one purpose becomes very clear.

I fascination pours all through my head about existence, but it is also so ugly.

And even that is fascinating, but I don't do messages.

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Hop On Pop

1/9/2009 4:55:22 AM

I haven't written a complete song in more than a year.
I mean, sit down and write it, front to back. I've completed a couple of things that I've had half-written, here and there, but to write a complete song, I'd have to go back to '07.

If you're worried about that, go back into your archives and dig up some song fragments that you have laying around that you've never finished. Then, finish them! Force yourself to record them... that will force you to finish them. That's what I did with "Tortured Artist", and hell, even (going back to '03 now!) "Ashes On the Water" did not have a complete lyric until the day before I went in to record it.

Just make yourself record some old stuff. That will force you to focus and even look at that old stuff in a whole new way. Maybe that will inspire you.

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Lars Mars

1/9/2009 8:11:40 PM

Kev, sounds good as long as cat food's not on the menu.

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1/9/2009 11:50:05 PM


back to Steve----you have just given me an insight into your creative world (or environment) and yes, we are all driven by different demons (muses) just cos you ain't polly-itical don't mean your songs are less----or more insightful !

----I mean a good tune has it's own message with no words at all----or a certain look in the eye can say more than 1000 words

btw----Sometimes I try to imagine your pic with a beard ---you look so damn thoughtful!!!

just keep away from the TV!

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Bob Elliott

1/10/2009 12:21:12 PM

"A little chance to feel mythic rather than mundane for a few chord changes.."

I'm fascinated by that feeling, and I don't think it's a parlor trick. I think it's real, and I base life around it...

I bet you do, too.

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1/11/2009 8:08:31 AM

A lot of great thoughts here... and I think quite applicable for all of us in different ways.

For me, simply put... Songwriting is free therapy for the soul! Seriously, I can't imagine what I'd do if I didn't have this means of expression. Lets just say, it's be messy. : )

I also think the best zen approach is to let go of expectations... pretty much the first and only rule... once you release expectations, you release disappointment.... seems logical to me.

Songwriting is an art of expression... which imitates life, which imitates art and so on. Maybe its the songwriting that's absurd... but, yea, I guess you still die in that equation too.

let's all write one together! : )

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Steve Ison

1/11/2009 3:12:51 PM ---- Updated 1/11/2009 3:17:18 PM

Hey thanks everyone for such interesting contributions insights and ideas about songwriting...Very cool :)
...Like Never Never band said,i wasn't asking for sympathy or worried about my creative'drought', just spilling out some inner thought processes i'd been ruminating on...

I've gotta add i don't think the songs i've written have ended up meaningless at all-rather that i've got a fundamental insecurity about my attitude to lyrics/styles compared with many people here who seem to be more sure about themselves in terms of feeling passionate about subjects personal/political they want to communicate.I never know what i want to write about until i start playing around with a vocal line in my head-free associating like Richard says till i get something interesting..and could never start playing the guitar thinking 'i'm gonna write a song about this'-That just dosn't work for me.

My main God is the aesthetic of 'the song'-and with lyrics trying to find a poetic
sensibility and something that works well with the music..I'll happily sacrifice
literal meaning if it sounds clumbsy or forced with the music for instance.

There's alot of freedom in that,but a sort of amoral vagueness too.Its more like acting.
I mean i feel i couldn't guarantee i could ever write a song i love again,even tho given the amount i've written and the energy i put in chances are i will- but its pretty uncontrollable-thats what i mean when i say insecure..'Specially when you can't see anything at all you've got to say till the music hits in a certain way and you say whatever...

Anyway,from what i can gather, most people here seem to resonate with these ideas-and don't seem fantastically secure and certain about their abilities/why they do it either,so i guess i misjudged alot of things lol

I read a quote from Chrissie Hynde once where she said to do with her writing,
she didn't really know what she was doing and-like everyone else-'blagging it'
and i could really understand that....

"A little chance to feel mythic rather than mundane for a few chord changes.."

I'm fascinated by that feeling, and I don't think it's a parlor trick. I think it's real, and I base life around it...

I bet you do, too."

Yeh Bob-Really thats what i want in a nutshell too.I gotta say i really find your attitude to your music and the way you communicate your creativity here really inspirational.
I've just started reading the utterly brilliant Dylan Chronicles for a second time and his attitude and way of talking about things reminded me alot of you.Often that sorta very pragmatic way of looking at things can seem to close down space and really compress and reduce life to me,but (like with Dylans book) i never get that feeling with you-infact its the opposite-its all about having a rock solid faith in the transcendent,life changing power of the music and keeping your mind always open to new ideas..which is really inspiring..Thanks :)

Todd..I don't get inspired to write more by doing more recording-old songs or no-
I get lazier and want to write less! AS Hugh says,the writings 'the hard part'..Its hugely unpredictable,takes the most energy and is the least guaranteed to get a 'result'-('specially if you go into it with a fear of failing attitude).Like great performance it requires you to shift away from your normal habitual,comfortable day-day consciousness and risk the unknown to be really worthwhile imho-so is easiest to avoid!

Glenn,Anjuli,Kurt,Never- thanks for the generous thoughts on my songs-appreciated :)

and Anjuli-Unfortunately,the offer you suggested would work best the other way round lol

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Richard Scotti

1/11/2009 5:23:31 PM ---- Updated 1/11/2009 5:28:09 PM

For me, songwriting is a combination of confidence and insecurity and trying not to have too much of either. My confidence gives me the hope that since I've done some good work, then chances are I'll be able to catch lightning in a bottle once again. But insecurity keeps me from getting lazy. Uncertainty about what I will do next makes me work harder to do it well. Songwriting is like a journey that is more rewarding than reaching the destination. Part of the excitement is not knowing where your next song is coming from or what the content will be. I just do what I do and hope for the best.

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Bob Elliott

1/11/2009 8:10:48 PM

Occurs to me. in a way, that often knowing what I want to say would make for a dumb song, in my case. I don't really want the things I could say. I want the things I couldn't quite say, so when I throw some of the magic of words and associations with various thingsin with rhymes and rhythm and some other stuff it might make meanings I can't pin down that would be moving to me.

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NoCo The Ron muga project

1/22/2009 11:02:26 AM

I don't know if i'm writing in the right spot but thanks for listening and WOW awesome tunes.I also don't know why i can't hear the other songs,i must have done something wrong.Cheers and great luck,Ron

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Steve Ison

1/22/2009 11:13:55 AM

No,you're not writing in the right place at all Ron lol,but thanks for your kind words anyway-and your music's great :)

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Bryon Tosoff

1/22/2009 1:12:58 PM ---- Updated 1/22/2009 1:14:19 PM

Steve, I have been there, in the drifting mode , I guess it happens to all of us. I found that once I got a few years into teaching music full time I found it challenging to sit down and maintain that creative aspect. It kind of disappeared or perhaps the energy I used to use towards the creative part of me was being channeled in to a different area of my being. I still would write or come up with instrumental classical or popular tunes but I guess I got too busy too, and went unbalanced working 12-14 hours a day between teaching and promoting took its toll on me. And nothing happened, although recently I feel a sense of renewal once I gave up that which consumed me..Work...Work Work
I got sucked in to the thing of doing doing doing and not just being ..human!!! now I have to say it has taken me about a year to recover. I was way burned out. Trying to be too many things to too many people and doing too much and not being who I needed to be. So that may not be a problem that you are experiencing because we all have to reinvent ourselves and re-evaluate where we are. I am going down a different path these days and now I am a more effective teacher, a better person and I am finding time to do what I like to do. Take time to read, relax , be me, and help others when I can and teach a little less. hope this helps. I know where you are at.....I love your songs. some they are so deep and some are so fun

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Hugh Hamilton

1/22/2009 1:28:59 PM

I LOVE THIS THREAD and what you folks have said.

The "mythic" - yes, though I'd use the word "eternal" but I think we mean the same thing as to the feeling involved. Timeless, infinite, unified, eternal and - dare I say it? Holy.

Steve, if you're a talented "actor" go for it. Whatever it is that satisfies you in creating, and whatever it is that resonates in others - it's there, and it's real. As I mentioned elsewhere today I listned to the first half or so of your album while doing the dishes last night. "Golden Pie" in particular resonated with me then. A wonder secular tip of the hat to gospel. Balm for the soul.


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riddle me this

1/22/2009 4:56:14 PM

Is death any less absurd? They circle around you so they can see you lying like a stiff. Then they spend 3000 dollars on a coffin to put you underground where nobody can see. Then you rot anyway.

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Steve Ison

1/23/2009 11:22:08 AM ---- Updated 1/23/2009 11:34:46 AM

Richard...I think its good to be confident in yourself,but definitely the more you can enjoy the journey of writing,playing,recording etc the better it is..Thats been a huge lesson for me.I definitely write better songs by not being consumed by trying to force a 'good one' everytime i picked up the guitar..I mean as if you can force good music anyway..

Bob..Nice one..I really like how you put that.Its the same for me too-totally..

Its chasing the mystic and untouchable..Suggesting things that can open up other peoples imaginations.Create a world in 3 minutes that gives them space to dream too-and of course the music is a huge part of that..

Bryon..No that definitely isn't my problem,but i can totally understand why that would drag you down..I'd do anything(and have done) in my power to avoid the 9-5 fate of spending most of my time doing something i don't want to do.You need space and time to breathe and contemplate as an artist,in my experience at least...

We don't have unlimited reserves of energy..I doubt i'd be able to write if i was stuck doing the 9-5 thing-and much respect for people here who have to manage it-but still...something has to give a bit i'd've thought..

Thanks again for your generous words on my music-and glad you're getting the space now to be more creative and free :)

Hugh..Well music is definitely my religion,so i don't mind any of those words lol

I think i was doing myself down abit with the actor thing..Its more like needing the freedom to morph into many different styles,moods,attitudes and not being really commited to any of them..Which one's 'me'? I don't know..None of them ? all of them?

Its like watching T.V and getting totally involved in a deep film and believing its emotional message.Then flipping sides and watching a film with a totally opposite point of view and believing that too..If the films are well done they can do that

Its more that sense of insecurity i was getting at i suppose..A rock-solid centre-a confident unshakeable belief system which alot of artists say they have,but i've never felt secure about being able to be that if i'm honest..
Glad you enjoyed your slice of pie :)

Riddle..Yes a coffin is pretty absurd when you think about it..
About as useful as cryogenically freezing your body in the hope you'll get brought back to life in the future..

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Bryon Tosoff

1/23/2009 11:47:08 AM

Steve, I should clarify something. I dont feel stuck, I really love the teaching and still do limited work in promotions , and it was fun. and made some great contacts met a lot of good musicians and all that. what really happened is I just allowed it to become way more then it should have in my life, it became a monster. of time so I had to re-evaluate how to use my time and get some balance again, ... But now that I think of it,I kinda am doing it again but without having to answer to an artist or contact djs etc so this listening on here at IAC is pretty fun and I dont have to worry about keeping the artists happy cause their record aint spinning lol.

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