Letters to Harry

This is a series of letters written to Harry Brenner by some "nearly famous" folks...

Hi Harry

Funnily enough, it has occurred to me several times to get it all down. Thinking along the lines of Dickens' David Copperfield, or A Rake's Progress type of thing. I think being born in 1950 is nice as well-overview of half a century and all that.

O.K. I'll try to address some of these issues, but as you say, kind of by installments. Uploading to the homepage is a nice idea. Or voice recorded for plays and downloads.

A funny thing happened this morning by the way. I dropped my wife and kids for their first day of school today (my wife went for administration purposes you understand-she's not still a fifth grader!). So, there I was waiting in the car for about 40 minutes, and I was playing "Voodoo Lounge" by The Stones on the car's CD player. To kill time, I started reading the lyric sheet and the liner notes. One song has a fiddle on it, another a penny whistle. Both played by Frankie Gavin. Now Frankie, from Galway in the west of Ireland, has a brilliant band called De Dannan, and I've played sessions with them many a time, in Ireland, London, and New York. Many is the tale I could tell regarding all that!

By the way, I've never ever got into all this before, coz I always think people will say "yeah, sure...".It all started this week when I was asked to write a (short!) bio for "Good as Gold"-I looked back at what I'd written, and realized it read like a "Who's Who"!

Glad to hear you're interested in all this anyway-I can assure you, it's just the tip of the iceberg!

Back to sitting in the car, and this may help to answer your questions about songwriting. An idea normally "falls from the sky"-often when least expected, and certainly not when I try to manufacture it. Many ideas are also constantly lurking beneath the surface, and occasionally , out of the blue, one will bob up to the surface. I sometimes use a dictaphone to record ideas, but here's the thing:I figure if something is "memorable" I won't forget it-so I try as much as possible to keep overall ideas in my head. I often work with one line, and then flesh it out. When I get what I consider to be a good song, it practically writes itself-I hardly even have to think of rhyme or meter. It's as if the song is in the air as waves, and it's chosen me to be its antenna!

In this case (this morning, sitting in the car-remember?) the line was "Like a Moth to a Flame" an idea on the lines of irresistible attraction. I wrote 3 verses without pausing. Often, the central line comes with a melody. I've rarely written melody and lyrics separately. Sometimes, as you say, an idea in the head can lose some magic when transferred to guitar. This however can be a challenge, something to overcome, to get the feeling back. Many songs work well transferred to a guitar progession, others are better with piano or synth.

"The State of the Heart" was, as you say, written on the beach-a very inspiring place. But no, I don't have a special place to go. I think the brain needs to be quiet and receptive, a rare commodity in these hectic times. Something else about all this. I spent many years pretty much unable to write anything. For the usual reasons-I thought everything had to be "brilliant". There's a quote from Steinbeck that you're probably familiar with. He had just finished his latest book, and was talking to his publisher. When his publisher asked him to describe his latest work, Steinbeck replied that in his opinion it was quite second-rate, should have been much better, but unfortunately it was the best he could seem to manage at the time. The book was "The Grapes of Wrath"!!!!

The John Lennon question:
I was recording in Magnagraphics in lower Manhatten with a celtic rock band I was playing in at the time called "Banish Misfortune". The scenario which unfolded is one which I have experienced many times over the years.( another example was at a rock festival in Geneva, Switzerland, supporting Status Quo-but that's another story...)As our booked time drew to a close, a sense of "electricity" pervaded the studio, and the engineers all became rather nervous. They then said that someone famous had booked the next session, and we'd have to beat a hasty retreat. I was a bit slow getting packed up (I still am!), talking to people etc. I still have a rather special Martin 00018 acoustic guitar, which is my pride and joy. In those days, I also had a customized Fender Telecaster, which I used to play through a 12 inch JBL cabinet with a fender head. I regret ever selling that guitar, and have rarely sold an instrument since. Anyway, Uncle John waltzed in the door, followed by small entourage, and because of the instruments, we started chatting. Here we are, a "scouser" (Liverpudlian) and a cockney, in NYC, both cracking jokes and talking about music when one thing led to another (bit of a jam, invitation to join in the session, which was quite experimental, pre-production, and probably in that form never saw the light of day). I'm sorry, but I honestly couldn't tell you what the title of the music was, and even if it had a name. Pre-production is a key word here, and one we could talk about in the future.

All the earlier talk about songwriting, by the way, is quite ironic, as I realize you are highly skilled and prolific in that area. It's interesting I know, however, to check out someone else's approach. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

For the many Beatles fans, I do have other stories to tell, and can you imagine (!) my joy when the opportunity came along to work with George Martin!

But that's a whole other story.

Brian Brooks