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Becka Brown: blog

Inspirations and Tribulations

Posted on July 14, 2010 with 0 comments

For this, my first blog, I wanted to publish my answers to an interview, which, if you've come this far on my site, and still really want to know more about what causes me to write, what the writing process is for me, why my music is what it is, who are my influences... - well, this should cover all that.

My musical inspirations? -- I was rocked to sleep with my mother singing “You Belong to Me” and “I’ll be Loving You Always”.  All the great songs.  I remember hearing my father singing “Someone to Watch Over Me” and thinking that I was the luckiest girl in the world---”I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood, oh how I wish somebody could be one who’ll watch over me” in his  gorgeous Nat King Cole-like baritone and I knew that I was that little lamb and he would watch over me through the night.   My Daddy also played the trumpet --- he’d sit on the side of his bed and play and then he’d start singing, something like “I’ll Get By As Long As I Have You” , or “You Go To My Head”- - great old torch songs....  We played records--Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Chet Baker, Sinatra, Bennett, Como, Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughan playing in our home --- the great singers.  Someday maybe I’ll do a cd of old torch songs.  I’d like to.

Inspired by the hymns in church, my first public performance was at a neighboring church, a duet with my Dad. So many of those songs will always be with me, and will always inspire me.   But it was the popular music of my generation that inspired my musical leanings and was the soundtrack to my life.  It started with Dusty Springfield, the Beach Boys with their amazing harmonies,..... Pet Sounds!  The Four Tops, The Stylistics, The Beatles, of course (especially Revolver), and The this day!  Bruce Springsteen, unbridled passion. Bonnie Raitt, man oh man, talk about an inspiration!  It was Joni Mitchell, though, and Neil Young, Jimmy Webb, Steven Stills, Kristofferson, Laura Nyro, and John Prine that made me want to write.  I listened to the lyrics of Jackson Brown, melodies of very early Fogelberg  and the music and production of Todd Rundgren, Annie Lenox, Prince, Ricki Lee Jones, Jane Siberry and Sting.

Some of my current favorites are Brandie Carlisle, Shel (crazy-good sister act - if you don't know them, check them out), Brett Dennen, Rufus Wainright, Patty Griffin, Regie Hamm, Stephanie Dosen, Pink, Walt Wilkins, Swan Dive, Gorillaz, Maroon 5 and Watercolor, which is a really beautiful indie collaboration comprised of Liz Hodder and Joe Pisapia (who is one of my favorite geniuses).

 Has music helped me through a difficult or traumatic time in my life? Sure.  Absolutely.  I have  certain songs, whole cds that have carried me through a crisis.  Some can instantly take me back to particular episodes of my life.  I can put on something light and breezy like Maxi Priest and there’s no way you can stay sad.  On the other hand, if I feel the need for a good cry, Barber’s Adagio for Strings will absolutely do the trick.  Guaranteed.   And then, writing music is the greatest outlet there is when you’ve just had your heart broken.  Some of my best work has come out of a break-up or loss.  And, yes, it does help.  It soothes.  It lets you vent, get it all out.  It lets you figure it out, put things in perspective. And plus, it gives you something constructive to do in lieu of slashing his tires. And when you’re done, well, maybe you have something good and productive to show for it.  If not, still, you probably saved a bundle on therapy.
When I was a girl and my parents divorced--- my Dad had moved out, and it was Brian Wilson’s  ”God Only Knows” that I listened to over and over again. I still cover that song in shows today.  It still holds tremendous meaning for me.

I suffered a tragic personal loss recently and writing has been very instrumental in my healing.  The first thing I did in the early hours after my loved one’s passing was to write a song of tribute, one that will not ever be on any album, but that provided healing for family and friends,  a testimoy to the impact of the life of this incredible precious person, and an exhortation to everyone to “take every day and live it”.

CDs or songs that are particularly meaningful to me?    So many.  And maybe I’ve already covered this question sufficiently.......But, to name a few more, (in addition to anything from Joni’s  Blue , or Hejira).  Memories of a Color, by Stina  is one of my staples---it’s production is really spare, really beautiful;  every little piece of instrumentation is important, everything else is space.  It makes you lean in and listen. One of her songs, “Soon After Christmas”, I could listen to forever.  I wish I had written it, it’s so perfect, so emotionally open and innocent and such an honest look at love and loss.  Then there’s “What A Wonderful World” (especially the Louis Armstrong version).  Hymns, like  “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and “My Jesus, I Love Thee”.     Walt Wilkins’ “Poetry”, or  “Seven Hillsides”.   Nicole Noredman’s “Every Season”.    Meaningful songs?    The list continues to grow, even despite the dearth of meaningful songs on the commercial airwaves....Please don’t think I’m saying there is nothing good on commercial radio, because great stuff does somehow manage to get through from time to time. (and, for example,  if I just want to be happy and dance around for joy and the heck of it, I put on the Blackeyed Peas or Maroon 5 ---because I think dancing for joy and the heck of it is very meaningful in its way).  But I AM so thankful for the various sites on the internet that can lead us to the independent artists and music that we would NEVER hear on mainstream radio. 

 I’ve been asked to discuss the creative or songwriting process -- For me, it’s always a little different every time.  The only time I sit down to write on purpose is on the rare occasion when I co-write.  And then, I gather the songs I’ve already begun that I think that particular writer might be able to get into with me, and sometimes we finish one of them.  I go to my notebooks of song ideas, or my mini casstte recorder, where I’ve put down little pieces of something that came to me in the car while I was driving to the Home Depot.......or I can use the “memo” tool on my cell phone to lay a melody line down, since I’ve probably left my mini-cassette recorder on the coffee table.  See, I don’t employ a great deal of discipline, nor any organizational skills at all.  I am trying to write with others more often, because it’s a good exercise, it’s good networking, and it does make me work.  And, if we write one of my co-writer’s ideas, it gives me a chance to write on a subject I might never have chosen to write about.  So then it stretches me.  And I have about three people I really always enjoy writing with.

Still, I prefer to write alone mostly.  Maybe because, once I get an inspiration, I feel that I know exactly where it needs to be taken, and I have a hard time running it by someone else, especially when I’m sure about what it should say and how it should be said.  Thinking about the songs that I feel most strongly about, that I think are truly great songs, the majority of those were written by one person. 

Regarding the power of music; the life altering effect a song may have--- A song can make you laugh,  it can make you understand someone’s point of view when other means of communication have failed, it can make you dance with wild abandon, it can bring back a memory that was buried for years, it can soothe a hurting heart.  Music heals.  Music, well placed, can make a scene in a movie scare the pants off you, it can make you nervous, it can turn you on, it can bring out the sentimental softy in us all, it can make you believe that anything is possible. Music can teach us, inspire us, it can call us to worship, it can mend relationships, it can make you pull over to the side of the road and cry like a baby.  A song can save your life.  There are heaven-knows how many stories of people who were ready to end it all, but heard something in a song that told them they were not alone...something that gave them hope. Music is powerful stuff.  Music is used in therapy against depression, it is used to reach people with profound types of autism.   I loved how, in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, they used musical tones to communicate with the alien beings way out there in the cosmos.  Music IS the universal language.  Music is what the angels sing.  It’s an enormous and wonderful thing.