so how does one write a song?
first of all you have to be a songwriter. 
what is a songwriter? 
it's someone who writes a song. 
so first thing you have to ask is: 
what is a song?
a song is words you sing with music you play
what words do you want to sing? (as against words you want to speak)
maybe there's something in your life
that is hard to resolve, maybe hard to understand
maybe hard to accept
in a song, you, working both from the facts and the emotion,
not only liberate the emotion in its confession
but also tell a story that the future listener
can place himself within and, from his own experience,
know just what you mean which makes the unspeakable singable
then again, there are many blessings and joys in our lives
and one can sing something about all that
which is much more difficult
"you are the sunshine of my life" was the most difficult song ever written
and why? because to feel that degree of certainty is rare 
and to be honest is very important
and in the creases of desire and doubt lie the most interesting tales
and one more thing, before i speak of the music:
you don't have to know lots of chords and notes
or even be that articulate to LIVE as an artist
the art of living that way, even if only some of the time
is a kind of zen thing, as George Harrison sang:
life is going on within you and without you
not meaning "in your absence" but rather 
inside of you and 
outside of you
and we can be observers to all this
which implies a certain detachment
(though not necessarily an emotional distance)
but rather seeing a beauty or clarity
that jumps out
and that maybe we can distill 
(not discarding the residue)
but in, finally, the music 
we can score the scene in such a way
that the emotional connotations of the chords
(at its most basic: major is happy and minor is sad)
will make the words yearn, mourn, or celebrate
and that, ultimately,
the listener will sing along, if only in his head
this is where it's really important to understand/
feel the music
next, as each chord has its own power
the much greater power comes from the progression of chords
the chord progression
where each chord sets up expectations in the ear of the listener
as to what's coming next
and our job, as songwriters, is to satisfy that expectation
but do it in a way that's fresh, that hasn't been the default 
Bach and Beethoven were masters of this
and the Beatles too
oh yeah,
I forgot the most important point of all-
that a song isn't a monologue
it's not something you write for yourself
for only you to hear
it's like whispering (or yelling) 
in the ear of a listener
so as you write the song,
imagine someone being in your presence 
listening to your song
you don't want to confuse that person
but you do want to surprise that person
even if it's just the rediscovery of something already known
the listener is your friend, be kind to him
don't show off to put yourself above
or be so obvious that you condescend
another important point
structure is very reassuring
the popular song in our culture
has a beautiful familiar structure
after the musical intro we have the verse (A)
followed by the chorus (B)
then, often a second A then B again
it's not a hardfast rule, but
often the verses tell the story (or fill in the details)
and the chorus is where the emotion is distilled
words, melody, chords in the nature of 
something that is worthy of being repeated after each differing verse
and maybe learned and sung along with
then the bridge (C)
opens up the door to let in some fresh air
both in the harmonies and the words
and takes you somewhere new
and then safely returns you 
to the chorus you're already familiar with
or, being a bridge, sheds a different light on the chorus
so that when you've crossed the bridge 
you find yourself in a familiar but new place
the bridge is probably the hardest part of the song to figure out
but then again it is a taste of freedom
that you can do with as you like 
once you've made it back, the rest is easy
a couple of personal examples/exercises
ride the A train. 
It's the only social situation in our everyday lives
when we can, without being rude, more or less 
stare at another person
the A train has such an interesting international clientele
that I'm always imagining the stories of the people 
sitting across the aisle from me
Whether you tell a story or not
you always must have a context
so make a story up, accuracy is not essential
find an emotional essence in it that you understand
write the song (or in my case, type the words into my iPhone)
So I sit at the piano maybe with a few words or an idea
maybe not
maybe my hands just improvise something
the hardest part is to maintain my enthusiasm 
long enough to write most of a verse worth of music
it's hard because i am very judgmental with myself
it's pretty rare to come up with something new
after every chord there are choices
choices where to go next
immediately you know which is the default 
the obvious chord that will work but have no spark
then often a possibility may present itself 
that is unusual and thus interesting
but will stick out and not support the melody or the words
or that will confuse or lose the listener
so the trick is to find a place to go somewhere between 
those two poles
To have the patience to allow enthusiasm to trump being judgmental
you have to love yourself enough, trust yourself
that you'll find a path-
and those choices are of the essence
even the simplest chords
in the simplest progressions
can have great emotional power
if there's one thing i don't have 
it's a methodology of how to write a song
I can't say "OK, now I'll 
sit down at the piano
write some words, play some chords, sing a melody
make a song
it's not like making an omelette
where every step is predictable, 
you've done it before and it always works out
I'm grateful for every song that emerges
i try to treat it well
hope it can, like a child, go off to live in the world 
and have a happy life

"BANTU" live at the I.D. studio theater (Bronx,NY) 10/22/23