For the past couple years, I’ve had a casual, informal writing partnership with a friend I made in California named TC Ragstix. Through my well-advertised dryspell, he has been almost as encouraging as Ehren Ebbage.
Looking over the material I’ve eked out over that wretched stretch, I dare say that some of it is my (our) best work. (Believe or not, this often happens to artists during their worst creative droughts. They keep poking and digging, seemingly without any inspiration, despising the execution of every stroke. Finally they step back and look at what’s there: “Hey! That’s not half bad!.”)
TC’s contribution is substantial enough that I will be sharing writing credit on my 2013 release (whenever that happens — hopefully before 2014).
I credit TC for getting me unstuck when it comes to creating absurd, fun characters. He said: “Don’t be afraid that humor is gonna overshadow whatever serious stuff you’re talking about.”
Me: “Yeah, but I don’t to write novelty songs.”
TC: “If you do it right, your songs will be more meaningful. You disarm the listener by creating something fun, and then you melt their hearts, or you hit ’em the gut… or maybe you just wanna make them think.”
He went on to say, “What is wrong with you Northwesterners, always so deep and meaningful… All that grey wet weather?”
When I ran these thoughts by Ehren Ebbage, he nodded: “Humor has always been a part of your work, Shipe. You didn’t already know that?”
No, I didn’t know that. But now that he’s mentioned it, I’m thinking of “Imitation Man,” “Villain,” “Honky Tonk Romans,” “Another Disaster,” “Junkies on Film,” “What Right Do We Have to Fall in Love,” “American Wisdom,” “Livin’ in Exile,” and “Better Off Without You,” “Surfin’ the Shock Wave.”
But what’s really funny is that, in every one of those songs, I was being deadly serious, broaching subjects that i find profound and unsettling, if not downright dark. It seems like every time I dive into stuff that affects me most deeply, at my best, humor naturally arises.
It reminds me of what Bruno Kirby said about acting in comedy: “You can’t really play a result (comic effect)… I just play the character’s point of view…”
The humor comes from fully and sincerely embodying a characters value system and all of its associations. The humor is almost unintentional, which is the best kind of comedy.
Anyway, I am convicted into sharing songwriting credit, even though he doesn’t want it. If it weren’t for him, my live solo acoustic sets wouldn’t be kickin’ forward with “Jesus,” “Beast is Back,” “The Decider,” “A Drinkin’ Man” (he preached me into playing on ukulele). Oh, and “Pit Bull Rescue Woman” which was originally the brainchild of John Grimshaw.