Blog: John D. Lamb

The premise behind art is to say something in a way it hasn't been said (or sung) before. Singer and songwriter John D. Lamb, director of Springfed Arts, writes about running Metro Detroit's literary workshop venue and the merits of a kick in the pants.

A Kick in the Pants

Agreeing to write this blog and the ensuing gnashing of brain gristle to come up with something informative rather than showy is case in point for taking a writing class or attending a writing retreat.  At first, I didn't want to do it.  I have enough day-to-day tasks.  The Metromode editor was kind to ask me to talk about Springfed Arts.  How could I refuse a chance to tell more folks about what our nonprofit organization does?  Sure, it would be great to have someone else write it for me.  From past experience, though, I'm rarely satisfied with another reporter's take on what we do.  After all, I am the director of an organization that promotes and encourages writers.  So, if I back out of writing this, then I am wimping out on our mission: Springfed Arts is dedicated to promoting the craft of writing, be it prose or song, and the performance of works, be it spoken or sung.

I've put myself in this position before.  In 1995, the simple act of naming a retreat after my own largely unknown self forced me to deal with doubt and feelings of unworthiness.  This year I will be directing my 18th annual Lamb's Retreat for Songwriters.  Over the course of these annual November three-day conferences,  I've had years when my creative output was low.  And there I was, getting ready to welcome a hundred songwriters from throughout the land.  They were coming to me with the promise that I (with help from my illustrious staff) would inspire them to write songs.  This is what I wrote to the attendees of my 2005 song retreat, "Don't feel pressure; just try to let the words and the music flow.  It is my job to tell you this.  It's also what I am telling myself, for I must admit something to you now – this year I have not written but one whole song...I suspect there are some of you who haven't written much lately.  And maybe that's why you are here.  It should be comforting to you that I disclose my sorry productivity in the songwriting department.  I'd much rather brag about how prolific I am, but that would only prove intimidating to some, annoying to most."

Said editor had good ideas when I asked her about what I should blog.  I knew that I didn't want to write technically about the travails of running a nonprofit arts organization.  I didn't want to come off as a complainer about the lack of funding for the arts and the rigmarole of applying for grants (but I just did, didn't I?).  Mainly, I didn't want to be boring or write badly.
So, what did I do?  I sent her some letters I'd written years ago hoping she'd find them interesting enough to publish and call it a day.  But no, she called me on it.  She kindly asked that I write something especially new and current for this blog.  She was doing to me what I've been doing to other writers for years.

At my songwriter retreats in Harbor Springs, I give every attendee an individual song assignment on Friday after lunch.  By Sunday after brunch, they have to sing a song they've had two days to write.  I've handed out hundreds of song assignments.  They are scenario ideas sometimes half a page long.  I spend hours writing them in the days leading up to the retreat.  It has become this thing that I do.  Most folks complete the assignment.  Many come up with decent first drafts and quite a few have completed full-blown excellent songs. 

One guy, after I gave him his song assignment, said to me, "I'm not going to do it.  I  brought some songs I've been working on and I'll just keep working on those."  I told him it was no big deal, just think of the assignment as an exercise that might spark something new, get him out of his own head.  Well, the next day he looked to be strutting about the place and he came up to me and excitedly said, "I got something going on with that assignment and I think it's gonna be good."  That's the kind of little victory I get from doing this work.  You can't buy it.

So, here's my thanks to Metromode's editor for kicking me in the pants and making me write something new.