The Best Songwriter’s Lyric Secret… Ever.

Years ago, my good friend Jamie McWhirter (from my time of “I’m going to live in Boston experiment”), showed me an alcohol induced party game that has morphed into the greatest resource for songwriting lyric ideas.

We had an old Victorian 3-story house on the top of a hill with a commanding view of our picturesque New England hamlet, just north of Boston. It was a winter weekend and we had a few friends over to drink a little wine, but while we were chatting away beside the fireplace, we were getting another layer of fresh snow outside. The road conditions had turned treacherous and so we invited our friends to stay for an impromptu sleep-over.

It Was A Cold and Stormy New England Night

Always carry your “Things That Hang Independently Of Themselves” journal.This was when Jamie showed us how to create a journal which he labeled, “Things That Hang Independently of Themselves.” The idea is pretty simple (it had to be for our wobbly-wino group). Get a clean notebook and use it to write down ideas, quotes, sayings, etc. that seem to have a life of their own. It doesn’t have to be profound, just an interesting turn of phrase is enough. Jamie started us off by going over our recent conversations of the night and giving us some things that he remembered.

I think the best one came from my wife Lisa in a conversation about good restaurants and the associated high prices, “Unfortunately, we have the mixed blessing of gourmet taste.” Another friend, in talking about trying to find a place to hide when his wife has PMS said, “I’m in the amen corner… and I don’t say another word for two days.” I just used the line, “I’m in the amen corner” into a new song many years after this conversation because it is such a cool phrase (and yes I used it in the same context). Killing all the wine in the house and moving on to coffee and Kalua, we filled a good four pages that night.

Here’s another example, I read an interview with David Bowie and he said, “My enthusiasm in all things is contagious and infectous.” OK, that one actually seems profound. Hasn’t made a lyric yet, but I’ve used it as part of my email signature. I had a little boy in New Orleans try and sell me sweet potato pies and his closing line was, “Now whatcha gonna do?” It made the book, and the line reactivated the sweet potato pie story for another new song (although I didn’t use the actual line that I wrote down). I’ve even cut out cartoons and taped them into my journal. All I can say is, start building your own journal right away.

Jamie McWhirter Where Are You?

Now the sad part of this story is that after many years and a few moves in between I have lost my journal of “Things That Hang Independently of Themselves”. So if you have a phrase or cool thought that makes you smile (or makes you turn your head like a Cocker Spaniel), basically “Things That Hang Independently of Themselves”, please give me a shout and help me rebuild my book of thoughts and phrases. It’s all good.

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  1. Guitarjunky says:

    One of my absolute favorites of all time seems at first so inane and yet so cosmic. Keep in mind though, the first time I heard it was under similar circumstance as you outlined in Cold and Stormy Night. Anyway, here goes…now imagine a wine infused viewing of the movie, “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,” when Jeff Goldblum said so eloquently, “wherever you go, there you are!”

    It’s things like this that provide the cosmic grease that allows the stars in my universe align themselves just a bit easier.

  2. Woody says:

    Thanks GuitarJunky.

    You’ve got the idea. In fact, this quote was in my original journal as: “No matter where you go, there you are.”

    I loved “Buckaroo Banzai” and I used to have a video copy of it but never got it on DVD (my birthday is coming up, hint, hint). Several years later in one of the Star Trek movies, the same quote appeared on a brass plaque on the Enterprise.

  3. majorbacon says:

    I remember that notebook. It had snoopy on the cover.

    Guitarjunky, I believe the old classic line was, “No matter where you go, there you are” and I agree, it is a truth we just need to remind ourselves of from time to time.

    A personal favorite of mine came from a trance song: “Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.” (similarly only profound in the right state of mind).

  4. Woody says:

    I’ve gotten a couple of email additions to our list of phrases that “hang independently of themselves” that I will share.

    From David in Scottsdale, AZ
    “Quietly making noise.” – Jimmy Buffett

    From Ralph in Santa Monica, CA
    Don’t let the music die in you.

    From Greg in Phoenix, AZ
    Everyone should dance just a little bit every day.

    Come on you guys, give me a few more.

  5. David says:

    Here’s a few of my FAVORITES:

    Department of Redundancy Department

    Hurry Up & Wait

    That’s One in a Row

  6. Woody says:


    Here’s another:

    Therapy is expensive,
    Poppin’ bubble wrap is cheap.
    You choose.

  7. Keahi Pelayo says:

    Very interesting post. Given that I am not a musician, it is fun to know how you come to words.
    RE/MAX 808 Realty

  8. Woody says:

    Woo hoo!!!! Found the lost book and here are some of the best out-takes:

    1. Have you noticed that we always agree, just never at the same time? – (from my lovely wife Lisa to me)

    2. Don’t Panic! – (inscribed in large friendly letters on the cover of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” – Douglas Adams)

    3. The difference between a coward and a brave man is mostly a matter of timing – (Robert Heinlein, Job)

    4. In serving each other we become free – (inscription on King Arthur’s Round Table)

    5. You can’t steal second with your foot still on first.

    6. WINNERS forget they’re in a race… they just love to run.

    7. If you don’t do anything, how do you know when you’re done?

    8. When you least expect it, a normally intelligent person will have a manifestation of ignorance – (Englishman Chris Anthony to Woody Moran circa 1995)

    9. Anything you do is going to turn out to be the time of your life.

    10. That’s the great thing about crayons, they can take you to more places than a Starship – (Star Trek Next Generation)

    11. Kissing builds up your mouth – (Announcement at Woodstock Music Festival 1969)

    12. Every once in a while God lets the dumb get lucky… it keeps them in the game.

    13. Youth is a gift of nature, but AGE is a work of art.

    14. Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.

    15. DREAMS are answers to questions we haven’t yet figured out how to ask.

    16. Behind every successful man, is an astonished mother-in-law.

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