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Why Am I Not Surprised He Has A Way With Words?

One of my favorite creators in any medium is Richard Thompson¹ and I’ve just heard a really great interview with him on New York’s public radio station, WNYC, with the always-entertaining Leonard Lopate. Lenny (as those who listen to him invariably refer to him) asked Thompson early in the interview about the nature of creativity.

When asked if he could describe the creative process, Thompson wryly noted that he’d … never heard anybody do that successfully. I just write stories. and when that prompted a question if he particularly approached songwriting by doing lyrics first, he said he will … do it both ways, start with music, start with lyrics, the hard thing is starting the process.

Then came the question that made me go back and transcribe a lengthy answer, and the reason I wanted to point out the interview to you in the first place. Noting Thompson’s prolific and lengthy career², Lenny asked if he ever gets writer’s block. The answer:

Today? Yesterday? The day before yesterday? Yes, I do. What I do to try to overcome it is to have something half-finished that I can be working on so there’s always 30 or 40 songs that are just one-verses and I can go in and think “I can just touch that up” … I just try to keep ticking over.

Want to create something? Keep moving, don’t pause, don’t wait for divine inspiration to strike. While it’s tempting to think that 1952 Vincent Black Lightning sprung from Thompson’s forehead fully formed, it sat around half-finished and embryonic same as everything else that is now complete and whole and wonderfully executed. And if you aren’t familiar with Richard Thompson’s work, for glob’s sake go listen to some (may I suggest you start with the Song-o-matic?), because he might be 63 years old and look like your grandfather, but he’s still got the nimblest fingers that ever saw a fretboard.

¹ This time I’m not talking about Richard Thompson the cartoonist, but Richard Thompson the musician, although it occurs to me they have some similarities. Both of them excel at bringing unusually clear personal vision and POV to their work, and fly under the radar in popular consciousness. But if you ask a cartoonist who their favorite cartoonist is or a guitarist who their favorite guitarist is, all of a sudden the name Richard Thompson becomes a lot more prominent.

² His newest disk, Electric, was released yesterday, and was recorded in its entirety in four days, giving it a raw immediacy and energy that artists half his age can scarcely manage (cf: his cover of Oops I Did It Again). It might be his best since Rumour and Sigh

³ Not to be confused with “super yachts” unless, of course, you can’t spell.

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