Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bickardt's "Blissful Surrender" and McMullen's "I Don't Write Much Anymore."

In a most extraordinary blog, Craig Bickhardt explored the urge to create. He opened with this question: "Do you want to write songs, or do you need to write them?" He then discussed this distinction in both concrete and spiritual terms. Here is how he ended it.

"I believe we make things because we are the pressure valve of the ultimate making of things. Through us escapes the blow-off of creative forces no one can imagine. That is our role in the big picture. There's really no self-importance in a creative act when you understand the mysterious and uncontrollable nature of it. It's all for the sake of an elemental energy in the pipeline that chooses your particular point of exit. Creative needs are like geysers in Yellowstone; warm salty mud being blown out of the way so the earth can keep its crust intact for another day. The earth doesn't respect geysers, it simply uses them. I am used, you are used; we're The Need incarnate and we'll never fully understand the unseen forces below the surface. There's no remedy for it but a blissful surrender."

copyright 2009 by craig bickhardt http://ninetymilewind.blogspot.com/

Here is my comment on Craig's blog:

Now, that's a mouthful. You have so many wonderful metaphors and similes employed in this description of the creative impulse, yet you are able to maintain that mystical sense of reverential wonder. Nice balance.

You have done songwriting as a job for most of your life; but, as you imply, the distinction between wanting to and having to does not fit many, including many professionals, who write songs. It would seem that many approach performing and writing as a glamorous road to the bigtime, like sports or acting. Most of what they turn out, in part because of the machine that homogenizes their sounds into a genre of interchangeable voices and faces and instruments, has an endless sameness to it.

Fortunately, for the inspired writer, like yourself (and hundreds of other great, dedicated, driven writers) enough of the good stuff does get through, does get heard, does get sold, to keep the dream alive.

I have chronicled in many places the decline in my own output—from 20 to 30 a year when playing regularly down to five or six a year down to one or two a year. When I went back to teaching full time (1978), I knew that I was giving up a part of the dream. You can't stop inspiration, but you can ignore it or give it short shrift. In 1980, I wrote this song,

"I Don't Write Much Anymore"

I don’t write much anymore;
Sorry, I don’t know what to say.
It’s too painful to ignore
’Cause I felt it slip away.

And you know it makes me cry—
Like a lover that’s been lost—
When the feeling’s passed you by,
And you know just what it’s cost—

It’s like you’re stumbling in the dark,
And you don’t know where to turn.
You’re looking for a spark
Just to feel it burn...
Let it burn...

Knowing that it’s gone
Is not enough to bring it back;
It’s like staring at a train
Moving miles down the track.
You can laugh or you can cry,
But that’s all that you can do,
And lying to yourself
Is never gonna’ make it less true—

It’s like you’re stumbling in the dark,
And you don’t know where to turn.
You’re looking for a spark
Just to feel it burn...
Aw, let it burn...

I don’t write much anymore.
Sorry, I don’t know what to say.
But I don’t write much anymore,
So I guess I’ll slip away.

©1980 Tim McMullen
All Rights Reserved

I was going to quote a few lines, but I decided to throw in the whole thing. I don't mean to be presumptuous—including one of my own pieces on your blog—and I hope you don't mind—but it addresses what happens when we diversify our talents. What I am suggesting is that if we have the creative impulse, it really can't die, but if we don't keep it focused (as a painter or a sculptor or a photographer or a writer), it will easily spread out to other creative impulses. For years I would get ideas that I thought would make good short stories, but I always stopped myself by saying, "I can't waste my energy on that. I'm a song writer." Who knows, maybe I'm really a short story writer in songwriter's clothing...Ha!

Two of my favorite female singer/songwriters, Joni Mitchell and Marti Jones, gave up performing and writing for years in favor of painting. Actors become writers and writers become directors, etc. Many great writer/performers like Nanci Griffith and Billy Joel get to a point where they say, "I just don't feel like doing it anymore." Fortunately for us, though, they often can't help themselves, and soon they are back at it.

Those of us who don't make a career of it, for whatever reason, can choose to be envious or inspired by the success of those we admire.

Let me just say that your fire inspires! (and yeah, this probably will become one for my blog).


  1. I remember, in the past most mostly, that there were times I wrote songs simply because terrible things had happened in my life. Writing a song about negative events was and is a way I have of making the event positive. When I hear or play that song I remember why I wrote it and am grateful for the pain, because I used it to create something positive. I too am compelled to create for many reasons. I agree with the pressure cooker theory. If I don't release the energy I feel like I'm going to explode.

    Bobby ps I like this write Tim.

  2. Lovely song Tim! I agree with Bobby's comment, it's that "sweet sadness" or "beautiful ache" that can make a song poignant. Although I know your honesty comes naturally, it takes courage to write songs like this. I hope you write more in the future. We sure need more songs from the heart. Thanks for speaking/singing yours as always.


  3. I know this will become very redundant, but thank you very much, Bobby and Craig.

    The line between maudlin and melancholy is tricky; I just wrote a comment on Keith Sykes' MySpace blog about inadvisedly watching a profoundly sad movie, Billy Budd, an hour or so before a performance, and then not being able to get through the sad songs like Red Foley's "Old Shep" or my own "Michael." Then again, I have always been a sucker for the sad ones.

    As Cheryl Wheeler has commented about the catharsis of writing (echoing Bobby), when she is feeling really heart broken and she sits down to write a song about it, once the song is finished, she has pretty much moved past the feeling. The joy of creation can be that uplifting. It is certainly rewarding to partake of that particular wine occasionally (it's an apt metaphor for a near-teetotaler like myself).