Master mixologist Lindsay Merbaum has custom-concocted a ‘booktail’ to aid in your digestion of “Music, Lyrics, and Life.” Here she is, now:
“There’s no such thing as being alone while writing,” claims Mike Errico in his newly-released book, Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter. As a reader and a creative, I certainly found pleasant company in Errico’s writing itself, along with doses of humor and the occasional kick in the butt: “Each fear that stops you from writing is a writing prompt,” the author aptly nudges the reader. Cheers to that, as well as gems like these: “What I’ve concluded is that notes are nice and all, but if you don’t have something to say that improves on silence, then don’t say it.” By now you might’ve realized this is more than a book about songwriting, though it is enormously helpful and insightful on that subject: “A song is a conversation between you and history,” Errico tells us when discussing song structure and musical patterns over time. Music, Lyrics, and Life is also a meditation on the creative process that doles out revelations and advice in the way of the very best teachers. There is a whole passage addressing the hypothetical challenge of a hypothetical student who questions the assumption tires must be round. In return, Errico interviews Jennifer Basl, a mechanical engineer at Goodyear whose job is to design tires. The subsequent conversation is fascinating. There are also interviews with people like Eric Bazilian, songwriter and founding member of the Hooters; Grammy-nominee Raul Midón; professor, author, Guggenheim Fellow, and cosmologist Janna Levin; actor and comedian Phil LaMarr; Country singer and songwriter Shane McAnally, and literary giant George Saunders, who says some really spot-on things about Beyonce’s “Lemonade.” To hear one idol’s thoughts on the work of another overloaded my circuits in the best possible way.
I thought it fitting for this guide’s booktail to be composed (wink, wink) of classic, quality ingredients, each offering a different element. One may appear to contradict another, but together they achieve a certain balance: rye is slightly spicy and brings “wry humor” to mind; mezcal is smoky, a reminder of a brilliant and hilarious barbecue-hamburger analogy you’ll have to buy the book to enjoy; vermouth for its sweetness and a nod to the rye and vermouth combo in that old standard, the Manhattan; Aperol (or grapefruit juice) adds bittersweetness and acidity, a complement to the mezcal. Finally, coffee bitters pair well with rye and mezcal, a reference to the signature bitter, hot beverage of long hours in a studio. Sage is present for its aroma, and as a symbol of wisdom. Together, they create a perfectly harmonized cocktail of quality and substance, just like a really good song.
This cocktail appears at the center of a scene rife with evidence of (handwritten!) songwriting attempts, with crumpled notes and pages surrounding the glass, pens (sadly without rubber grip) and pencils strewn about. But inspiration and education are in the writing on the walls—literally. The shadowbox is lined with the sheet music for memorable hits discussed in this book, including “7 Rings,” “Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and “All You Need Is Love.”
MUSIC, LYRICS, AND LIFE
1 oz rye
1 oz mezcal
1 oz Aperol OR fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit juice
0.5 oz sweet vermouth
A few dashes coffee bitters
Sage leaf garnish
Combine the liquid ingredients in a shaker with a large, clear hunk of ice. Agitate vigorously and strain into a martini glass. Set a sage leaf in the palm of one hand, then slap it with the other and place gently on the surface of the drink. Serve and enjoy!
Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter is available everywhere books are sold.