There are two types of inspiration for me: inspiration that sparks ideas for plot, characters or settings; and inspiration that drives me on, fires my enthusiasm to write.
The first can be anything, from a chance remark to a picture, from a line in a song to the look of a landscape feature or building. The second tends to come from the work of certain songwriters, whether it be a turn of phrase or the entirety of the lyrics; people whose craft and mastery I could never hope to match but who just make the English language so evocative and finely tuned that it seems like the most natural thing in the world.
A very few people cover both aspects for me. And by far the chief amongst those is Kris Kristofferson.
This week I had the privilege of seeing him live. It was not for the first time, and every time has been magical. I just love his words; the strike deep within me. At times stunningly simple, at others so evocative that a picture is painted instantly in your head.
Of course, his words work so much better when you hear them from the man himself, in that gravelly voice, as laid-back and worn as it could only be through having lived the life he sings about, and they lose a bit in the written form. I admit that this sounds a strange statement from someone like me who creates most comfortably in that same written form, but words always work best in the medium for which they were put together, and he writes his to be sung. However, anyone who has heard me sing will thank me for not trying to work out how to insert sound files of my own renditions into this blog.
They are still great, the words, in whatever form you find them. Consider the way he can capture the image of a person in just a few words, such as:
He’s wearing yesterday's misfortunes like a smile
He's traded in tomorrow for today
And there’s the best description I’ve known of a hung-over morning, alone in the world…
Well I woke up Sunday mornin', with no way to hold my head that didn't hurt,
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, so I had one more, for dessert,
Then I fumbled through my closet, for my clothes and found my cleanest dirty shirt,
And I shaved my face and combed my hair and, stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.
You can almost feel the declaration of love in:
Wakin' in the mornin' to the feelin' of her fingers on my skin,
Wipin' out the traces of the people and the places that I've been,
Teachin' me that yesterday was something that I never thought of trying,
Talkin' of tomorrow and the money, love and time we had to spend.
Lay your head upon my pillow,
Hold your warm and tender body close to mine,
Hear the whisper of the raindrops
Blowin' soft against the window,
And make believe you love me one more time,
For the good times.
There is the acceptance and pain of reality in:
And I cursed the sun for risin',
'Cause the worst, Lord, was yet to come,
'Cause this morning, she's just leavin'
But, come sundown, she'll be gone.
Though there’s optimism in:
It's hard to keep believing when you know you've been deceived,
To face a lie and dare to try again,
But there's nothing like a woman with a spell of make-believe
To make a new believer of a man.
And a plea to be allowed to remain optimistic:
Never's just the echo of forever,
Lonesome as a love that might have been,
Let me go on lovin' and believin' 'til it's over,
Please don't tell me how the story ends.
And, goddammit, there’s just loving someone:
You're the biggest gamble that I've ever tried to win,
Maybe more than I can stand to lose,
But girl I never thought I'd ever feel this good again,
More than I could dream of coming true,
I'll take any chance I can with you.
Maybe what you see is what you got and what you wanted,
Take me at my word that it’s the best that I can be,
I will go down trying hard to teach you how to trust me
And I’ll love you ‘til it happens, darling, or eternity.
You were young enough to dream,
I was old enough to learn something new,
I'm so glad I got to dance with you
For a moment of forever.
Come whatever happens now
Ain't it nice to know that dreams still come true?
I'm so glad that I was close to you
For a moment of forever.
There’s straightforward philosophy:
If a cheated man's a loser
And a cheater never wins,
And if beggars can't be choosers
'Til they're weak and wealthy men,
And the old keep gettin' older,
And the young must do the same,
And it's never gettin' better,
Who's to bless, and who's to blame?
There will be bigger fans than me of the man, who will know even better lines than these, and there will be many who feel that so-and-so captures things better, but it’s all about what works for you, and this is what works for me.
I’ll finish with one more that works for me. Although it’s about a singer-songwriter, it is still the best description I can ever think of seeing of why writers write. Here it is, in its entirety:
It was winter time in Nashville, down on music city row,
And I was lookin' for a place to get myself out of the cold,
To warm the frozen feelin' that was eatin' at my soul,
Keep the chilly wind off my guitar,
My thirsty wanted whiskey, my hungry needed beans,
But it'd been a month of paydays since I'd heard that eagle scream,
So with a stomach full of empty and a pocket full of dreams,
I left my pride and stepped inside a bar,
Actually, I guess you'd could call it a Tavern,
Cigarette smoke to the ceiling and sawdust on the floor,
I saw that there was just one old man sittin' at the bar,
And in the mirror, I could see him checkin' me and my guitar,
An' he turned and said, "Come up here boy, and show us what you are,"
I said, "I'm dry",
He bought me a beer,
He nodded at my guitar and said, "It's a tough life, ain't it?"
I just looked at him, he said, "You ain't makin' any money, are you?"
I said, "You've been readin' my mail,"
He just smiled and said, "Let me see that guitar,
I've got something you oughta hear", then he laid it on me.
"If you waste your time a-talkin' to the people who don't listen
To the things that you are sayin', who do you think's gonna hear?
And if you should die explainin' how the things that they complain about
Are things they could be changin', who do you think's gonna care?"
There were other lonely singers in a world turned deaf and blind
Who were crucified for what they tried to show,
And their voices have been scattered by the swirling winds of time
'Cause the truth remains that no-one wants to know.
Well, the old man was a stranger, but I'd heard his song before,
Back when failure had me locked out on the wrong side of the door,
When no-one stood behind me but my shadow on the floor
And lonesome was more than a state of mind.
You see, the devil haunts a hungry man,
If you don't wanna join him, you got to beat him,
I ain't sayin' I beat the devil, but I drank his beer for nothing,
Then I stole his song.
And you still can hear me singin' to the people who don't listen
To the things that I am sayin', prayin' someone's gonna hear,
And I guess I'll die explainin' how the things that they complain about
Are things they could be changin', hopin' someone's gonna care.
I was born a lonely singer, and I'm bound to die the same,
But I've got to feed the hunger in my soul,
And if I never have a nickle, I won't ever die ashamed,
'Cause I don't believe that no-one wants to know.