Songwriters on Songwriting

"Singer-songwriter, author, and music journalist" Paul Zollo just published Songwriters on Songwriting, a book of interviews with Bob Dylan, Dan Fogelberg, Madonna, and dozens more. The most was with Frank Zappa, excerpted below:

Paul Zollo: So is it your opinion that the state of songwriting is bad and getting worse?

Frank Zappa: No, the only thing that saves it is the fact that the American's memory span is so short that they actually believe that when they hear the latest regurgitated version of a style that was prevalent five years ago, they believe it's new.

PZ: Have you heard any songs recently that you thought were worthwhile?

FZ: I like "Living in a Box" by Living in a Box, and I like "Daddy's Home" by Walk the Moon.

PZ: So it is possible to use that very restrictive songform [sic] and still

create something good?

FZ: Sure, it is always possible. But when a guy sits down to write a song, he's not sitting down to make history, he's sitting down to make money.

PZ: Do you really believe that is always the case? Don't you think there are some songwriters who want to write some timeless songs?

FZ: I don't think the urge to be timeless necessarily permeates the pop-tune marketplace. The urge to be rich permeates the pop-tune marketplace.

PZ: But don't you feel that there's an inherent need among people to have serious, expressive music as a part of their lives?

FZ: The problem with that concept is: Would they know it if they heard it? Would they like it or would they prefer it to other stuff? What they hear on the radio has nothing to do with life: It's all freeze-dried and dead. It's like dead artifacts that are repeated over and over again. The repetition helps to sell records, but the repetition reduces the composition to the level of wallpaper.

PZ: Does it?

FZ: Sure. Especially in the radio sense, you don't hear it anymore. It's a rock & roll atmosphere that you play in your car, that you hear in an elevator, that you experience in a boutique. It has reduced wallpaper to a lifestyle...

PZ: So what would be your advice to the young songwriter when he sits down to write a song--should he concern himself with writing a good hook or should he simply try to write a great song?

FZ: It depends on what he wants to do. If he just wants to make money, he should copy everybody else's stuff, which is what everybody else is doing.

PZ: But you can only do that for so long.

FZ: That depends on how good a copier you are.

PZ: How about if you want a career in songwriting?

FZ: Basically, it's a career in being a fraud.

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