1. Tell us a little about Take It to the Bridge: Unlocking the Great Songs Inside You.
It’s a songwriting book for people who love music and being creative and aren’t necessarily looking to monetize (I hate that word) this passion. So much public discussion of songwriting revolves around hit-making, but my experience — and that of Steve Dawson, my co-author — is that many people enjoy making up songs for the sheer joy of making up songs. They’re not aiming first and foremost to be rock stars, but they might perform these songs at an open mic or for friends in a living room or on a recording, or they’ll simply feel good about having added music to the world.
That’s how I feel at any rate. Our hope is this book will encourage creative expression —everyone, after all, needs to express her or himself creatively, especially in times of stress — and jump-start people’s songwriting while offering inspiration that extends beyond music.
2. How did you and musician Steve Dawson (frontman of the folk/rock band Dolly Varden) end up collaborating on this book?
I’ve loved Steve’s songwriting and performing ever since I first saw his and his wife Diane Christiansen’s band Stump the Host around 1990 when I had a local music column, Home Front/Local Heroes, for the Chicago Tribune. They disbanded Stump, formed their current, wonderful band, Dolly Varden, more than 20 years ago, and I’ve continued to enjoy them as musicians and friends over the years.
Eventually I took Steve’s songwriting class at the Old Town School of Folk Music a few times, and it was fantastic. I’ve written songs on the side for years, but many went unfinished. Steve would offer a creative, fun assignment each week — write, say, a Monkees song or something that involves a certain approach to chords, words, rhythm or melodies — and we’d return the following week with a new song. Boom. You’d write a song a week for eight weeks, and I really liked how they turned out, and I also enjoyed the wide range and surprising quality of my classmates’ work.
One day Steve said to me, “People keep telling me I should make a book of my songwriting assignments. You’ve taken my class, and you’ve written a book. Would you like to work on it together?” Collaborating with such a generous, talented guy on such a labor-of-love subject was a no-brainer. So we got to work.