Musicians: Please write songs!

I remember the shock when I heard this talented young musician say he doesn’t have any interest in writing music. I didn’t even play an instrument yet, but I’d been writing songs since childhood, and it felt almost offensive that someone so gifted would have no interest in playing songs of his own. It felt like a betrayal. I was in mourning.

Twenty years into my musical career, the only thing that’s ever mattered to me as a musician was writing and playing my own songs. I’ll do covers. But when I really come alive is when I use music as the medium to express the depths of my soul.

If you aren’t writing your own stuff yet,
I hope I can convince you to try

I assume I’m writing to someone who can play but hasn’t yet broken into the songwriting stage. I figure anyone who’s ready to try has already made it this far. So let me share some of the hard skills you need to take your songs out of your heart and into the air.

Breaking through: Your first whole song

I’ll never forget the first whole song I wrote in my head (“Angie,” couldn’t yet play). I’ll also never forget the first whole song I wrote with my guitar: “Washed Away,” which I bizarrely wrote using an electric guitar with headphones plugged into the amp. I’m still proud of it. It’s my keepsake from when I broke into songwriting. I felt so wealthy, having this whole entire song in my possession that belonged to no one but me.

Your first whole song should probably be one that comes together quickly. That’s rude to say, I know, but here’s why: Any time you’re working on a song that takes a lot of time, you have to be working on other songs too. Eventually you’ll find a whole song ready to go. The odds are you’ll find one this way – by accident, when you aren’t even trying to write, long before you finish that frustrating masterpiece of yours.

This is not about finishing a song. You don’t have to finish anything! You just need something to show for your work. Something you created, and maye something that makes you feel wealthy to have.

Which comes first: The lyrics or the melody?

I do believe this is the most common songwriting question people ask me. The answer is both and more. As you get more into songwriting, a chord progression might hit you in the shower. You’ll rush to play it (and invariably change it, because it’s impossible not to), and before long you’ve got lyrics. Or you’ll be in the shower and a set of lyrics with a melody are right there. You’re singing it and feeling really good about it, so you hit record on your phone and then you’re off.

(Just know this: all songs are partially written in showers.)

When am I ready to share my song?

Ah, this one’s tricky. You’ve got to factor in your own bias, the supportiveness of the people who’ll hear it, and more. Record yourself and listen honestly. Don’t be too harsh or too generous. Be honest. Will sharing this song give you what you’re looking for?

The biggest “when” question comes down to the biggest “how” question.

How will you be sharing?
— Live on stage at an open mic?
— On a chair with a loved one?
— Strictly digital, with a video or audio clip you post online?

Each venue has different standards, but I recommend you aim for an in-person performance with someone who respects you. Someone who can be genuine and encouraging, who will keep teasing to a minimum.

Or consider this. One of the scariest performances of my life was when I went to a public park to sing and play. It was so thrilling! For a guy who doesn’t like rollercoasters, I loved the rush I got from putting myself out there like that. It worked for me, so if that’s what you need, go for it!

Promise me you’ll try it!

Actually, don’t promise me anything. Promise you.

Promise you that you will take all of your musical talent and at least try to write a song of your own, with or without lyrics.

When you feel what it’s like to play your own song, you’ll be so glad you did.

And don’t worry about your age. Songwriting feels great at first, and it keeps feeling great for as long as you do it. No one is too old or too young to write a great song.

The happiest person on earth is the writer of songs.

— J. Rogue

Musicians: Please write songs!

The Bridge (Music Video)

Here’s a song written quite a while ago; and this particular recording is fairly old as well. Most Like A Road songs have little to do with any particular people. This is an exception.

the bridge will take you somewhere different
but the place looks the same


The target of my frustration here has no idea I ever felt this way. I felt angry and disappointed about a recent life choice he had made, and how it impacted the world we both inhabited. I’ve since made my peace, but I happen to like the song, especially since the phrase about “The Bridge” is self-referential:

  • The absurdly formulaic ubiquity of the musical bridge, which often returns us to a familiar melody from earlier in the song.
  • Cycles of relationships, where we tend to relive experiences in function, flexible in form.
  • The lyrics themselves, which are nearly identical to the opening verse, but different enough to change the meaning entirely.

I wrote this entire song in one mental sitting (or standing, actually) – and raced to my guitar to record this exact piece fairly close to how I imagined it. Some songs are lucky like that.

Although I did try to record it at least 10 times in one day under a bridge in Ojai, and I wasn’t happy with any of them, so here’s the original.

RELATED MUSIC TRIVIA: The song Badge (by Cream) was co-written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison. While writing out the lyrics and music, George wrote “Bridge” at the top of the page on that section of the song. Because it was scrawled rather than written neatly, Clapton thought George had titled the song “Badge,” and they decided to keep it that way. 

The Bridge (Music Video)

Better Than That

“Young man, listen. Young woman, take heed.”

The great cave was dark and cold, but at the place of the seer’s teaching the air glowed with warmth and an uncommon light.

“The real weight of your vows is carried in your obedience to the law of love.”

The lovers felt a deep stirring of concurrence. It is easy to agree. The ancient oracle continued.

“Learn the languages of love. Speak them well. Stand by your promises.”

Two hearts made promises. Two hearts beat sincere in their affections. And as the centuries rolled on, a billion more hearts did the same. Many sought the prophet’s wisdom and never once lost their way. Some slipped on their illuminated states and found the path once more. All found truth, whether centered on the road or wandering distant woods.

“And if the flames go cold, stoke the fire and add more fuel. Let your love burn hot again.”

all that really matters
is the essence of love we call desire


Since the grapevine symbolizes abundance and life, the yellowed fruits and barren branches of the vine in this video’s setting show a love that faded through the passing years.

With care and craving, we tend love and vines unto abundance once again.

SOURCE: The Continuum Encyclopedia of Symbols (2000)



Better Than That

Stay Away From Me

my life is a train
i been movin’ up and down these cars again
can’t find my home
within these crowded cars

A friend of a friend once said “life is nothing but an unending series of disappointments.” If there’s any truth to that, it’s that life is also an unending series of new strengths, hopes, and opportunities.

This is a journey-of-life song, spoken from the heart of one who, along the road, struggles to decide whether to transform life’s disappointments into forward facing energy, or whether it can be done at all. The unresolved questions are a backdrop to our resolve to push forward at any cost, with eternal strength sufficient to fuel to fight.

These lyrics of introspective poetry are included below this embedded video:

i gotta learn to be
before i learn to see


Stay Away From Me

Heart Into Me

Here we have a tune from 2008, written with an intentional peculiarity. Maybe you’ll pick up on it in the embedded video below. (If not, a clue on the lyric page below the video will help you out. Fun riddle!

Herewith we look into life and love on the road: with a metaphor about eternal life in Eternal Love.

take it where you want it to be
let it move you on
breathe your fear away and be free
breathe your heart into me



Heart Into Me

My Favorite Songs, Ranked

Skip straight to the list, or read on…

If you know me well enough to know my secrets, you know songwriting is one of the top three activities I most love doing. I’ve got about 40 songs completed with another 50-60 in the pipeline of creativity. Most are from the prolific period of 2004-2011. One dates to 1991, and a few are much newer (2016-2017). Years for each are on the lyric sheets.

I didn’t learn how to play guitar until 2001. I’m forever grateful to my friends Cindy L. and Nathaniel D., both of whom invested their knowledge into my future. Much enjoyment comes from writing songs that can encourage or reframe the perspective of others.

When I record songs for the Like a Road blog, I prefer to keep it simple, with just an iPhone and no editing of the video or audio. I’m more of a live music player than a studio musician, so there you have it. I’m not all that pleased with any “home studio” demo.

Now, if you wish, you can check out my list of favorite recordings. I’ll add new ones to the list as time goes on, and do my best to keep the full track list updated as well. Enjoy!

My Favorite Songs, Ranked

Got Them Blues

They say you can walk 10,000 miles in the morning
If you got the right shoes
They say you can walk 10,000 miles in the evening
If you got them blues

I’m learning how to do multitrack recording, and this is my first (flawed) attempt, using a song I know very well, having played it probably 10,000 times! For this one I played and sang for the video track, then recorded an accompaniment guitar and a djembe on one additional track each.

If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

– Reid Hoffman


Lyrics and imagery for the first verse inspired by the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “Air was cool, like my machines were” references the collapse of the fishing industry throughout the Gulf coast. The oil spill blowout occurred in the Macondo Prospect, releasing 4.9 million barrels of crude into the open sea. At the time, there was significant concern that the spill would never be contained, exacerbated by the several failed efforts to cap the well.

The music and most of the lyrics for this one date back to 2005.


Fishing boat image Designed by Freepik

Got Them Blues

‘If I’m Coming Back’ Liner Notes

A love song from just outside the dominion of linear time. Continue reading below the lyrics for a few notes about the poetry.


As with many poems, the ultimate meaning is elusive and complex. We see shades of love and affirmation, as if the singer is seen as having been lost to the hearer.

Trade in my memories of heaven
Reminiscent of a near-death experience, in which the sufferer glimpsed eternity (a fairly well known tale). But the one who has witnessed the light in that way and then regained consciousness is seen to have lost something in the here and now. 

Remember your face
A nod to those with prosopagnosia, perhaps.

Be in this place
Stay here just one day
A couple more polite references to an altered consciousness.

They say everything’s bigger in Texas
It’s true. They really do say this. Ever been to the Big Texan?

Forgot my age
a) rhymes with sage. b) fits with the theme.

I was bigger too
Hard times have a way of growing, teaching, and cultivating a greater empathy within us.

What is love but a list of offenses
That you’ve chosen to never write down
A counterpoint to ‘love is a battlefield.’

Took all my money
Money is an analogy for love, here and in another song of mine. Love is the purest currency of all, but it’s meant to be given, not spent; wasted, not saved.

You wonder if I’m coming back
I’m right here, take my hand, be with me
This line works like a chorus; it’s the refrain that reframes. Sometimes it’s the ones who are ‘whole’ that need to be made well. The Man from Nazareth made a reference like this, turning perspective on its head. Sometimes it’s good to look at things differently.

“I’m not as gone as I look!”

‘If I’m Coming Back’ Liner Notes