The John Shinnick Web Site
Shinn the Musician (Prior)
Last update: April 3, 2023
An Old, Would-be Passion
(Not the Next Big Thing)
The term “seven-year itch” generally describes the phase in a relationship in which, at roughly seven years, the partners begin to feel restless or dissatisfied. My relationships have tended to last more like seven minutes, so this never applied to me, but I’ve had my own version. It applies to the restless feeling I’ve had toward life and a burning desire to move on to something new.
I typically call this something new “The Next Big Thing.” Most recently, I thought it would be cat ownership, but that didn’t work out so I’m on to something else, who knows what. Before that it was Unitarian Universalism. Before that, golf, martial arts and so forth. I don’t know if recording fits into this category or not, because the bug first bit me when I was in my teens. A friend of mine bought a nice reel-to-reel tape deck, and invited me and a mutual friend over to record on it. I decided then and there that I had to get me one of them!
A couple of years later, I did just that, and told myself that I had at least one good album in me. Oddly, the first song was, looking back, one of my best, if not the best. That was a little over fifty years ago. “Song for a Stranger” had a country feel to it and saw me playing all the instruments, guitar, bass, tambourine, banjo, and singing all three vocals. Sound on sound was a marvelous thing. There were a couple of things I’d have differently if I had it to do over again (which of course I do) but overall it came out pretty good, especially for a first try.
I still have most of the recordings I made through the years, which all things considered, is precious few. They fit into three categories: originals, parodies and covers. I’m guessing that I’ve recorded perhaps 30 songs total, if I include collaborations and exclude a couple of live band recordings. The originals should be my greatest source of pride, but instead are more a source of frustration. Let’s see. Song for a Stranger, Sometimes, Sunny Day, Sail, Happy Valentine’s Day, Jump from a Plane, Easy Come Easy Go, My Brain Is Too Small, Sufferings, Here and There, Hey My Friend, Looking Forward to Tonight, You and I, that’s thirteen original songs, or an album’s worth of originals that I’ve committed to recorded tunes. The album’s worth that I promised myself years ago.
Happy Valentine’s Day doesn’t really count. It was just a silly song I wrote for a friend who was coming to visit me, and should never see the light of day. Still, it was a recorded original, and gave me experience with the process. And therein lies the problem. If I had been even semi-serious about writing songs, I wouldn’t have been averaging one every few years. It would have been more like one a month. At least. Most would suck, but a few wouldn’t, and perhaps a couple every year would actually be good. Two a year? I’d have written a hundred good songs!
This machine should be in constant use constantly recording songs I'm constantly writing. Sigh...
I continually come up with ideas for songs. A line or two, the fragment of a melody, some piece of an arrangement. And then, they die in my brain. Paul McCartney was once asked how he wrote so many good songs. His response was that he probably didn’t have any more good song ideas than anyone else, but he finished them. Sadly, the last band I was in was not receptive to doing anything but covers, but this didn’t preclude me from writing and recording my own stuff. Even if it has gaping holes in it lyrically or musically, just write it down and record something. Anything. The song “Yesterday” started out as “Scrambled Eggs” just to give something McCartney had woken up humming to himself some form.
I’ve known all this for some time now. I’ve never had anyone to bounce ideas off of. No Lennon to my McCartney, no Richards to my Jagger, no Carole King to my Gerry Goffin. No one to hold my feet to the fire and applaud my efforts. No one to write for. But the band I’ve been playing bass for lately does two original songs. I have two that I haven’t recorded yet, but I can certainly do a one-take just guitar and voice version. They’re receptive. I played one in church (with some minor revisions) and it worked very well, getting a great response.
I used to room with an art major. I once asked him how one learns to draw. He simply responded “you just draw.” I suppose songwriting and recording are much the same thing.