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What Songwriters Learn From Their Own Music

Kevin Lustrup is a good friend of mine who happens to be one of the greatest artists I’ve ever known. Just a fantastic old friend from punk rock youth Chicago. I just love his art. I mean, I’m madly attracted to it and it turns me on quite a bit. Since I am all over the place all the time, I would like to randomly display his art as a moving gallery through this blog post about art. While the two aren’t directly related, they are both ardently about the pursuit of beauty and truth, as well as forward thinking writing.

Last year I noticed he didn’t have a website to showcase his work so I contacted him about gifting him a site and 2 months later the world has access to his genius once again at If you like his work, originals are reasonably priced and he’s available for commission work year round so you should gift a family member or friend and buy some work from this prolific genius.

In addition to being an incredible visual artist, he is also a veteran musician. We often think about what the art means to ourselves or humanity but rarely consider what these works mean to the artist?

Kevin Lustrup website

The number of songwriting styles that exist are countless. Each artist creates art though their own unique lens. Unless you are directly imitating and copying a snow flake, no two works are ever the same. But what do the songs written by songwriters or art made the the painter mean to the originator?

When I listen back to songs I wrote in my youth, I often stumble across deeply profound hidden truths about myself I didn’t even realize I was speaking back then. This unique insight got me thinking about what art means to other artists as they grow older. Most of the time the artists own words will continue to provoke questions throughout their own personal life and unravel to them who they really are, assuming they write lyrics and prose of meaning (so… trap mumble rap doesn’t apply here).

Some artists don’t directly mean anything specific when they write. They just pick words out of hats or library books and piece them together. Ryan Adams explained this system in a recent magazine interview, that he simply stacks a pile of books up and goes through them, pulling the best lines and words to call it a Ryan Adams song (yikes). Other artists wake up and ask their friends, “have you ever heard this song before?” having just deamt a masterpiece in sleep. The song Yesterday was written in Paul McCartny’s sleep one night and scribbled out over eggs and coffee. This is a wonderful feeling and I encourage you to try as you’re falling asleep (lucid dreamers “practice” this technique by starting control as you fall). Sometimes when I hum a new song with lyrics, I’ll write them down and realize hours later what the heck I am actually saying. It is always something telling and profound, shouting at me from the other side. Calling out to me from far and distant places.

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Great songwriters move us and change matter with thought. They change our beliefs and thoughts like mid-evil sorcerers with their arcane magic. They remind us of what is pure and true, or evil and awry. They inspire us to do better and to lean into our real feelings once more. They even help us get through the most difficult times of our lives, bringing us all together over the theme of an overarching ideal. When I have studied what obscure song lyrics mean to the listeners compared to the songwriter, it’s more often than not quite different. The more far out the lyrics, the more interpretations that can be.

The other day I was thinking, “at times I wish someone else other than Dylan wrote those Dylan songs…” because as brilliant as he is as a songwriter, he’s such an awful singer my goodness. The line of thought fit great in a song and I wrote it. The next day I was on a bus going into Manhattan and a drunk old man sitting next to me asked, ” you know who the most overrated singer of all time is? Bob Dylan. Great music, terrible singer.” As if to close the book on it in my universe. Either way, his songs have moved and shaped who I am today, they are incredible and I remain a Dylan fan to this day.

This is a blog, not a book. Enjoy the ride.

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As a songwriter you must take the listener down to the bottom of the dream with you. So that they can feel what you feel… to gently touch an old banister and feel the silky age of the pre-war wood on their fingertips. Close your eyes. You can feel it too.

“Like a worn down banister I know every turn. Every silent step and every time you fell. Every broken faucet leak and every broken far off dream, becomes a sagging rafter beam in a home of broken dreams. Like silken hair, blowing everywhere as her head remains perfectly still. Like a slow-mo perfect golden still. Silken ocean waves are pounding against my door. Will the ocean ever dry up and be a desert floor? Or will I feel endlessly like a helpless leaf, beating about the foam? Sinking back, all the way back, back  to my home.” – JML

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Sometimes you need to hear it in a song for if I told you to your face you’d scream and run away, but if I sing the melody you might stay and think, “could this be me?” Music has a powerful way of showing us that the things we don’t like about other people are usually the exact same things, that if we look close enough, are the things we do not like about ourselves. This reflection trick is songwriting 101 and I never grow tired of it.

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This moment, oh this moment. It was never before, and will never be again… When I am not here I’m there. To me, there are only two things in life; creating music and waiting to create music. Therefore, I am either here or there. To be in the moment is, I believe, man’s greatest ability. Yet all the animals of the earth do it naturally, as natural as a tree.

You should see my son, he’s the better part of what I am, so never break his heart or you’ll have broken me. The people and values you hold dearest are the songwriters greatest influence. He or she can draw directly from them. Like inspiration on tap.

I have only recently discovered that being present (along with gratitude) may truly be the secrets of a content life. We are all so uncomfortable, even in luxury humans seem to be restless. Never before, never again, I’ll only be here right now. I’ll only be able to give you this once. The irony of it all is that now is forever.

Forgiveness is a writers lyrical Greek tragedy. It surpasses us, it is even bigger than us. We have all done _____, when we said we wouldn’t do it, so forgive yourself. This concept is one of writers many tools to work with. It is the end of most great stories. Love.

Another great songwriters secret weapon is the exploitation of one’s vulnerability. Your kindness. Your innocence. Artists are the most sensitive in both meanings of the word and only a true artist can understand the true plight of another artist.

Youth is where your heart remembers wisdom that it forgets in time.
In youth you travel forward, in age we tend to go back… back to our past where we get stuck in our minds.
Let it all go crashing sideways. The narrow is long and gone.
If we all could just remember when the shadow’s getting long what the sun looked like in the morning.

… for when you find something long forgotten you rediscover what you knew it all along.

Trying to see what I’m doing but I’m in my own light. Trying to be like you and I’m coming into to sight. Turn around on the other side of the sun, I give all I am to my sons, Reflection.

Why can’t I always feel this way? What do I do when this is gone? Back in the upside down the thorny crown of wonder…

… get out of your own light

You’re the only thing that I’ve ever done right, how could you think that I’d throw that away?

My lyrics are lazy when my body is tired. Or maybe I’m tired from from being lazy?

Every time that I bend over just to pick something else up, I spend a penny of my life just as you have with this blog post. So grateful for your time.

Go into the fray and write!

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