JEFF SHATTUCK MUSIC

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Songwriting and how to deal with the despair of infinity.

I first heard the phrase "the despair of infinity" from Catherine, who said it as I was standing before a wall of wine in a supermarket and trying to decide what to buy. Kierkegaard came up with the phrase, and in my opinion, if captures the essence of songwriting perfectly. I mean, there are so many ways a song can go, both in words and music; further, until a song is burned into bits and released out into the world and heard by enough people for there to be general agreement on how it goes, it can be changed. And this overabundance of choice is murder. I mean, I'm glad the songwriting canvas in big, but does it have to be so huge?

Perhaps if I were a highly confident, decisive soul immune to insecurity and sure in my convictions, songwriting would be easier. But I am not. I am tortured at the thought of having to COMMIT to much of anything, and songs are especially tough. Worse, I constantly second guess my ideas, which means that pretty much every song I've ever written is vulnerable to revision, especially since not a single one is "owned" by the public consciousness and can be changed, without anyone caring a whit. So until I'm a mega superstar, famed far and wide, I will fiddle with my songs to my heart's discontent. And I will suffer the despair of infinity every time I do.

The latest song to plunge me into this unique mood is Demons and Saints. I first wrote this tune over a year ago, but as with so many songs of mine it is neither a number one Billboard hit nor even recorded, and thus prime flesh for my fickle fork. As of today, I am happy with the arrangement, but the words in the verses, well, I've decided they suck. Consider:

"There was a time when I had dreams
I had hopes and I had fears
I could walk on life's balance beam
Without falling into tears"

"Life's balance beam"? "Falling into tears"? Somebody shoot me. I mean, those are terrible. But every time I attempt to rewrite them, my mind wanders off down one path, then another, then another. There are just too many choices. What to do? Well, I've found that contrary to so many writers, I need to know what I'm writing about before I start. I can't let a song guide me, I have to guide it. Just the way I am. So, with this song as with so many others I have worked on, I have taken a step back in order to write a single line describing what the song is about and paste it to the top of my lyric sheet. In this case that line reads:

Sometimes your bad memories start to outnumber your good ones and there's little to nothing you can do about it.

And this is how I will beat the despair of infinity. Not with a line of something illegal, but with a line of words. It's worked before, I hope it works again.