Last night I used an iTunes card I got for my birthday (thanks, Katie and Elizabeth!) to watch the first half of the documentary on the Eagles. It’s really good. I like them a lot, but even if you don’t, it’s fascinating to see how music brought them together and fame broke them apart. My favorite moment was Glenn Frey talking about his early days in Los Angeles, when he and roommate JD Souther lived above Jackson Browne. None of them had made it yet — Browne’s place wasn’t even an official apartment, just a cubbyhole in a basement in Echo Park. But he already knew the secret to success — not just at writing, but pretty much anything else.
We slept late in those days, except around 9 in the morning, I’d hear Jackson Browne’s teapot going off with the whistle in the distance, and then I’d hear him playing piano. I didn’t really know how to write songs. I knew I WANTED to write songs, but I didn’t know exactly … you just wait around for inspiration, you know, what was the deal?
I learned through Jackson’s ceiling and my floor exactly how to write songs. Because Jackson would get up and he’d play the first verse and first chorus, and he’d play it 20 times until he had it just the way he wanted, and then there’d be silence, and then I’d hear the teapot go off again. It’d be quiet for 10 or 20 minutes. Then I’d hear him start to play again, and there was a second verse, so then he’d work on the second verse — he’d play it 20 times — and then he’d go back to the top of the song and play the first verse, the first chorus and the second verse another 20 times, until he was really comfortable with it, and, you know, change a word here or there.
And I’m up there going, So that’s how you do it. Elbow grease. You know, time. Thought. Persistence.
After I wrote all that down, I remembered Bill Simmons wrote an opus on the documentary a few months back. It’s worth checking out, too.
Simmons is right, by the way: That’s a beautifully done scene — a little gem of storytelling. (It doesn’t hurt when Glenn Frey is your narrator.)
Anyway: Elbow grease. Time. Thought. Persistence. If you want to write, that’ll get you a long way there.