Society, Songwriting, and the Art of Creating from Essential Nature

When it comes to songwriting there’s no set formula for success. Writers come in all shapes and sizes, sexes and ages, and they each have a unique approach to courting the muse, which for some may even be denial of the muse altogether and the adoption of more formulaic approaches to creativity. I’ve often wondered why some people seem to pour out songs as fast as their free-time will allow, while others only manage write a new song every year or two? Perhaps the reason is that some people are simply more gifted than others, more blessed. On the other hand, might it possible that more prolific writers have improved the quality of their relationship to the muse--and thereby the quality of their songs--by better aligning themselves with their own essential nature?


Essential nature is a funny concept, at least it seems to be so in the modern world, as society doesn’t have much use for nature beyond its utility as a fuel source. It’s strange to consider how western culture, in many ways, views nature as an enemy, as something to be overcome or exploited. How did we arrive at the idea that the whole of Earth is “nature” with the exception of humanity, anyway? And why did we decide that it is our manifest destiny to strive for separateness from the natural world, to defeat nature and, perhaps someday, even death?

We don’t even publicly question these assumed goals for the most part, but maybe it’s time that we started? Is it really natural to want to defeat death, and is there anything in the natural world that sets this example for us? Our planet will not avoid death, nor will our Sun, nor even our galaxy or, indeed, the very universe we inhabit. To flourish and then fade is the nature of all things as we observe them, and I suggest that these cycles apply to our lives as well, despite our protestations to the contrary. This is not to say that we should run headlong into the great unknown, or shirk efforts to improve the quality of our lives, just that we may be better served by aligning our goals with what is, in fact, the rhythm of the natural world.

From edge to edge we take our pleasure
We follow blindly each insane command
We’re judged by some eternal measure
Oh I’ll never understand
Oh and peace is child to no-one
We’re held together by an endless strand
First to be woven then to be undone
Oh I’ll never understand
— Dougie Maclean, Holding Back

As discussed in my last blog, the universe and all we observe within this physical realm follows a pattern of self-similar organization, constructing itself in adherence to the so called “golden ratio”, and producing results that are divisible into "divine” proportions (although such divisions exist only within the eye of the beholder.) The arts have recognized this, as painters and architects have employed such concepts as the golden mean with regularity. They’ve long understood that such design, in conformance with natural order, soothes and pleases the senses of the observer, even if the observer doesn’t understand why. Perhaps if we constructed our lives in closer accord with natural order we’d encounter more peace and beauty on the path we travel as well?

Unfortunately, society and the leaders we’ve chosen have largely turned their backs on the natural world. Whereas nature produces no waste, society produces plenty, and while other species naturally find equilibrium with their ecosystems, humans tend to modify ecosystems to suit our needs, destroying natural beauty in the pursuit of short-term gains, and eliminating any local species unlucky enough to stand in our way. On it goes, perhaps it’s a fundamental disconnection with our heritage, our “nature,” or perhaps it’s simply that we live in a system where qualification for leadership is judged solely on one’s ability to manage and raise large amounts of money? Whatever the reasons, such matters are beyond the scope of this blog, but they are nonetheless helpful to be aware of as artists who, while living in this unnatural environment, seek to bring forth natural art, that is, art that soothes and invites connection by its very nature.


In pursuit of this goal I’ve found it helpful to consider that all of us were once just a patterns of kinetic energy, waiting to take shape. In those first nine months of gestation there was little our parents could do to help mold us--a developing child simply becomes what it knows how to become--it could not become anything else, could it? I’m no expert in matters of pregnancy, but it seems that our concerns regarding unborn children run more to the “don’t mess it up” end of the spectrum, and don’t typically rely on the mother to actively participate or direct the process. The prevailing wisdom is that a healthy child, barring any unforeseen abnormalities, is one who’s been given the most hospitable environment in which to grow. I would submit to you that if we took the same attitude towards humans outside of the womb, this world would be a very different place.

Once fully delivered into this mortal-coil, people are rarely free to develop in the most hospitable environment, that’s just not the way the world works--and certainly not western culture. The vast majority of us are fully grown by the time we gain control over our personal environment, and by this point we’ve had no shortage of systems, persons, and media sources whispering in our ear about how we should act and what our lives should look like. However, there's a flaw in conducting life in this way, which is that no one can ever know what someone else’s life should be like.

This is the state of society in the modern age, and many of us never figure out that what we’ve been urged to do may not be right for us at all. Some put the pieces together eventually, but often find themselves over-committed and under-funded, making any sort of major life-change a very difficult proposition to manage. On the one hand there’s our lives as they have been constructed, and on the other there’s our essential nature, and somehow we’re meant to bridge the chasm.

There’s no one path back to essential nature, there are as many paths as there are people, and no two paths are exactly alike. I can say that in my own life, it was important for me to sever ties with many of the trappings of modern society. Mainstream media and news sources slipped away, as did divisive politics or religious affiliations. For me this wasn't only a process of negation--of rejecting all affiliations--but also of resonating with all affiliations in some way; understanding that there are good people everywhere, and that labels are not to be trusted--life is not that simple.

In continuing and refining the process (a process that never ends), I noticed that this way of living paid dividends not only in the context of my own mental/physical health and stress level, but in the quality of my songwriting experience as well. With the stress of divisiveness reduced, I found I'd inadvertently created additional room for the muse to inhabit, and she began to spend more time with me. Truth be told, I’m not sure the muse is anything other than one’s own essential nature and, in making a space for my true self to reside, I came to notice that the songs I was writing also seemed to have an essential nature, just as everything else in creation: the songs somehow knew what form they were supposed to take, as we all do, even before we have a heartbeat.


Since adapting this approach I’m more careful about my songwriting, I don’t write on a schedule and I don’t set expectations on songs or decide in advance what they should be like. I write a song when it feels like it’s time to write a song, and if months pass between songs, so be it. My songwriting conforms to a rhythm of seeding and harvesting, just like any other natural process. While writing I remain meditative and always trust a song to communicate to me what is and what isn’t in keeping with its essential nature. This communication occurs via feelings the song evokes, how does that chord feel? How does this line feel? It’s not about cleverness, it’s about authenticity. Cleverness is fine, but authenticity is something more. The former, when executed well will cause people to say, “I see what you did there,” but the rewards of simple cleverness are short-lived. Authenticity opens the door to true connection with the listener, and the rewards of true connection go much deeper than those realized by a line that is clever for clever’s sake.

The music industry tells artists that they must be “original,” that they must stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, the music industry looks anything but original to many musicians. This is predictable, as the nature of industry is systematic and demands conformance, which is the antithesis of originality. In the end, the most original artists are unconcerned with originality--they pay it no mind--they know they’re original, just as everyone else is original, and that's enough for them.

The dichotomy in this is that one's most original self is their true self, their essential self. I don’t think fans want difference or distinction from the artists they enjoy, I think they want familiarity and authenticity, which takes bravery to show to others, and listeners recognize it intuitively. In this way, people aren't looking for different music, they're looking for musicians who are willing to be different; to distinguish themselves by being their true selves. When people witness artistic authenticity it changes them in some way, large or small, just as the process of creating from essential nature changes us as artists. People need to feel this connection in their lives, in fact, I suspect that society is starved for it.

When we listen to our hearts and begin to craft our selves and our environment to better suit our own nature, we give inspiration a space to inhabit. The muse travels lightly, but with tremendous kinetic energy, she moves through stillness and fills the silent spaces of our wiser mind. Society, in many cases, is toxic to natural sources of inspiration, polluting our days and nights with stress and worry, with thoughts of the future and regrets from the past. The world clouds our minds with a very real sense that some window is closing before we’ve learned how to get out the songs we know are inside of us, whether those songs be literal or metaphorical. After all, our lives are our greatest works of art, and society has a great deal of influence on what direction those lives take.

Americana Singer Songwriter Ed Dupas’ lived-in melodies unwind with reflective lyrics that speak to the current state of the human condition. Soothing where possible, agitating where necessary, and calling for change where appropriate. Ed Dupas creates and shares well worn wide awake music.

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