Mary Chapin Carpenter on Songwriting

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Don't miss new Big Think videos! Subscribe by clicking here: Chapin Carpenter discusses the songwriting process (or lack thereof).Transcript -- You know if I had a way to easily describe the writing process I swear I'd just, you know, I'd memorize it. Because it just seems to be different with every song. Every song comes about differently. People often ask is it -- do the words come first? Does the music come first? Whatever, you know. And it's just different with every song. And sometimes I just feel like it's simply a matter of just, you know, doing what you know how to do which, for me, is sitting at my desk. And I suppose I'm somewhat ritualistic. I like a yellow legal pad. I like to write in pencil with an eraser. And the only thing over the years that's changed since I've started writing is the device that I use to record my ideas on just keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller. So now it's like a little phone. But that's how I've always written is with a yellow legal pad and pencil. I know enough about myself that if I get stuck on, you know, in the middle of working on something that I, you know, push back from the desk and grab a dog or two and I go walking and I call that song walking because I like to just repeat out loud what I've been working on and I kind of riff on it and sort of sing as I go. Invariably when I, by the time I get back from that walk I've kind of figured out a solution to whatever was stumping me. So I call that song walking and I also like to song bike as well. So, you know, that's what I do. I just like to get out and riff it out loud. And sometimes you're inspired by something you've read -- absolutely. Sometimes you are inspired by just a feeling you have. Sometimes you're trying to excavate things that are way down deep inside of you. The thing I suppose that's the most obvious about any of those scenarios is that you are open to it. You are just open to inspiration wherever it comes from. There's a song on the new record called Mrs. Hemingway. And I wrote it after I had devoured a number of now out of print books about the very first wife of Ernest Hemingway. Her name was Hadley Richardson Hemingway. And just ever so briefly their story -- they were married and they had no money and they were, you know, deeply in love and they sailed to Paris in the early twenties, and they had some letters of introduction to some people who -- ex-patriots who were already established there. You know, for a couple of years they, you know, they just had this beautiful extraordinary romantic Bohemian marriage and life. And then he fell in love with one of her friends and their marriage ended. And, again I don't even remember why I was devouring all of this but I just was fascinated by her and their life and that period of time. But as it happens, you know, sometimes we don't realize what's kind of going on with ourselves when we're focusing on something else and obviously I think I knew what was going on but my marriage was in the process of ending at that time. And I've always thought or pretty much I just don't think I would have written that song if I hadn't been going through what I was going through as well. Maybe I would have written it. I don't know. But I just think that all of those things are connected and they're connected in terms of what we're drawn to creatively and what we feel a need to express. Maybe I would have written that song at another time but it might have come out completely differently. So there's that that's part of the creative process. What's inside of yourself that maybe you're not even aware of.

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