Everyday I Write the Book - today it's published
Today I am a published author. My book - my first book - On Song, has been published by Penguin. It is in stores and at your mercy. The book will make a great Christmas gift for many. Some reviewers might even like it (but hey, what would they know, right?). It will or it won't be your cup of tea. But it's done now. Truth is, it was done some time ago - but today it becomes real.
Everyday I Write the Book, sings Mr Costello, and in some ways I feel a bit like that; I've been blogging for five years. Some wag said that freelance writing is a good way to give yourself homework every night of your life. And, well, it's a bit like that - and often a lot like that.
But my brother told me the other week that now, no matter what happens, I can call myself a writer. A published author. His words - about my words. And there's truth there. He is right. I know what he is saying.
I wrote the book last year - and this year. I wrote it on top of a normal fulltime day-job. And on top of all of these blog-posts. I wrote it having become a father. In the last year I feel - very much - as though I have helped give birth to a son. And a book. The two are linked. When the very first copy of On Song arrived in our letterbox a few weeks back, Katy took the shot that you see to the right. It's of Oscar and the book. And this is now his copy of the book. He won't be reading it anytime soon - but I'll write an inscription in it and he may laugh and shrug off the magnitude of the situation when he comes to contemplate it. He might never grasp that I sat listening to Don't Dream It's Over on a nearly-maddening loop as I struggled to pen the very first words of the book. Oscar was about a week old at the time.
For many of the chapters of the book, Oscar was lying beside me in his bassinet. For others, Katy was doing all the work. I was locked in the room at the end of the house trying to write a book. I'd never done that before.
It was daunting. It was strange. I was so sure that at the end of it all I would have a book. I felt very unsure for a long time.
Was I missing out on golden moments of my child's life? I hoped not. Was I wise to continue blogging every night in and around creating a book? Not at all!
But then, in some ways, writing this blog - as I have done every week day for the past five years - was a good warm-up for writing the book. And at one ridiculous point I reviewed about a dozen shows for the Arts Festival in and around work and parenting and blogging and book-writing.
Hey, other people work a lot harder. They do far more important and interesting things. I know that. But we spend a lot of time together. So I wanted to tell you some things about the process of this book making it out on to the page and into the stores.
I suffered - for the first time in my life - writer's block. I realised it was actually a thing; a legitimate concern, a debilitating setback.
I write these blog-posts, and I care about them. And you, the readers. I really do. You should know that - you should know that time goes into this - and that the time is far more important to me than the money (and just as well). But if I get it wrong - and you tell me, always - there's another day to start again. And I do. And you do. And that's how we get to carry this on.
When I started writing On Song I knew exactly what I wanted to say...but do you think I knew how to say it? No way. I was stuck. And I came to battle through the block to get a book down - on paper, on the screen. And I came to see that block and the battle as important stages. But it was awful. There are times I laugh off writing as any sort of hard work. And then there are times when I'll want to suggest, if only for a short while, that writing is really, really hard.
So this book, what's it about then?
It's called On Song and it is subtitled Stories Behind New Zealand's Pop Classics.
I've chosen 30 songs and in most cases I've interviewed the writers and sometimes the producers and backing musicians or other band members. I've tried to get behind the song. And inside the song. The book presents a version of the song for the page.
There are some great photographs too - snapshots of artists on stage or in rehearsal, candid and posed photos, snippets of handwritten lyrics. We were lucky to have so many great photographs offered from the artists, their management, their labels, photographers from around the country.
The book is a potted cultural history: it deals with the music but it deals with the personalities and people that have brought the music to us. So it's a social history of New Zealand. That's how I see it. That's how I have come to understand it.
I feel privileged to have talked to some of the country's greatest writers and performers. Some were so sure the featured song was their best - aware of its place, understanding of the fact that it was a breakout and breakthrough hit. Some were sure it was not the best song they've written - but still understood why someone (me) or many people (you?) would like it.
It was a fascinating project.
I flew to Auckland for a couple of research trips and conducted some face-to-face interviews. I spoke to people backstage before and after gigs. On the phone. Via email. Over Facebook. I spoke to people when they were on holiday. Or when I was supposed to be on holiday.
Everyone was so giving of their time, of themselves. It was always rewarding to be sitting at midnight, or 3am or 6am hovered over the keyboard with music playing and a bunch of ideas to summarise. Sleep was the last consideration - I often missed it. Sometimes I did actually miss it. But if I had the material to work with, then there was a reason to be up. I ploughed on, as is my way...
Like any writer, I bring myself to this project - so these are my song-selections. And I've placed them in a context as I understand them. You're free to argue with some - or all - of the choices. This is not a book that aims to rank and order the songs. It is a book that hopes to start (or continue) a dialogue about our cultural worth; about the power of a song to highlight - for three or four minutes - a feeling so powerful for its combination of chords and words, its ability, in some cases, to evoke that coastline, to reference, as Tim Finn so perfectly put it, "the tyranny of distance", and to reflect the ages and stages of so many little (and big) Kiwi battlers.
Of course when a song is doing its job correctly it lasts a lot longer than three or four minutes. It comes back to visit you - perhaps even when it's not playing.
So On Song is in stores from today. Which means it's no longer mine. It's yours. If you want it. Or it's a gift from you to someone else.
The book sets sail from today - though we'll be launching it officially this Friday at Slow Boat Records, Cuba St, Wellington, from 6pm. (There's a Facebook page/invite set up for the launch.)
I'll write more about the book over the coming weeks - I have more stories to tell about the making of the book, my version of a behind-the-scenes DVD Special Features-type segment. Or two.
And yes, so many people have suggested that they look forward to the reviews. That they look forward to me being reviewed; they look forward to my response to being reviewed...
In a way I'm reviewed every day by you - and others - for writing content that appears online.
And yes I know this is different. This is - somehow - more permanent. A different type of publishing. A different type of writing.
I'm very proud to say that I've written a book. I could not have done it alone. And I did not do it alone.
The book doesn't feature a dedication. Because there is no one person that On Song exists for or because of. But there is an acknowledgments page to thank so many of the people who helped me along the way, or had helped me, earlier in life, along my way.
The book is for Oscar in so many ways. He arrived around the same time as On Song. They grew together. And he was always there for the perfect distraction when I ran out of words for the night. Staring in at him so peaceful.
The book is for Katy. Forever. And always. And in so many ways this book is because of her. She was a big reason this book happened.
I'm not sure if it's poor form to say this or not, having never done this before, but this book is for the people at Penguin that showed faith in the idea and in me.
The book is for all of the artists featured - for everyone who spoke to me. The interviewees who make this book were so kind, so nice, so easy to talk to.
This book is for my parents. I had the great pleasure of writing my first inscription in a copy of the book this weekend just been. I took a copy to my mum and dad and wrote something about how from the time that they took me to see DD Smash in Napier (in the 1980s) to the time when, just a couple of years ago, I took them to see Finn/Runga/Dobbyn in Martinborough, they've always understood my interest in music; my obsession. They fuelled it. And then stood back.
I think I first knew about New Zealand music because of my parents' love for the music of Split Enz. The whole family was enthralled. And I thought about that a lot when I was writing this book. When I was eight years old I was in love with the sounds of Late Last Night and My Mistake and so many of the other wonderful Finn and Judd compositions. The playing of all of those wonderful, extraordinary musicians. It had an impact. It was huge then. The weight of that helped get me through. I thought about it almost nightly as I pushed On Song into place.
My brother introduced me to Schnell-Fenster. That meant so much to me. It still does.
And this book is for all of you. This book is for all of the music from this country that I love and hold dear. And it's because of all the music in this country that I love and hold dear.
On Song: Stories Behind New Zealand's Pop Classics