Paul Moffett

Down On The Corner
By Paul Moffett

They all laughed when I sat down to play...

When I was about twelve years old, I discovered the fundamental principle of a perpetual motion machine hook up an electrical generator to an electrical motor. Once started, the motor would spin the generator to produce the current necessary to run the motor. Voila'! Perpetual motion.

What did I know about drag, friction and resistance?

Inventors of perpetual motion machines are still around and convinced that they are right, see contrary arguments and evidence as proof that they are right. The reasoning goes like this:

1. All great thinkers and their discoveries have been ridiculed and laughed at by the "establishment" figures of the time, who later had to recant when the new, great discovery was found to be right.

2. I and my discovery are being laughed at by the establishment types, who fail to see the truth.

3. Therefore, I am a great thinker who has discovered a fabulous new invention which will save mankind, etc. and time will prove me right.

Unfortunately for the inventors, the machines have to work in the presence of skeptical observers and, thus far, none has done so.

Songwriters, artists, performers and other creative types often suffer from a variation on this argument. As it happens, literary, artistic and musical creations are not subject to the kind of real-world proofs as are perpetual motion machines, so it is easy for an artist to persevere in his/her belief that his/her work is "great" and simply beyond the establishment's ability to see it. So she or he continues to create works which are rejected by the establishment, thus providing further proof of the stupidity and blindness of the "ins" and the greatness of the artist.

In the songwriting field, this kind of reasoning is encouraged by the perpetuation of the myth of Hank Williams Sr., who supposedly walked into Fred Rose's office and wrote "The Mansion On the Hill" on command and went on to make zillions of dollars and enjoy great fame and, the myth goes, you can do exactly the same thing, with little or no effort or training. If only those nasty, narrow-minded publishers and producers would wake up and hear the truth.

Are the lyrics vague? No, just too deep for the ordinary person to understand. Do they wander all over and shift point of view? The story is just complicated and needs different points of view. If the melody is strangely familiar, well, after all, doesn't every songwriter "borrow" tunes?

Then there is the dreaded, "This song is not commercial." Auugh, what do those people who make a living pitching songs know about commercial? If the tune was just cut by (fill in star's name of your choice), it'd be a hit. Never mind that the star doesn't sing that kind of song.

So what is the way out of this dilemma? The perpetual motion machine will run or not regardless of who is present. Songs, on the other hand, require an audience and a market in which to "sell" them. Songwriters uniformly complain about the difficulties involved in getting an audience of "ordinary" people to listen to original music, let alone someone in the "industry."

Which is the test, of course. Songs on the radio sell because they appeal to "ordinary" people, not because the "industry" thinks they're wonderful. Songs performed in bars work when the "ordinary" people there like them. They are the market.

So the next time you've invented the perpetual motion song, pay attention to all those ordinary people who are not your friends or family. If they suddenly remember a chore that requires tending to or if the people in the bar would rather talk to each other than listen to you, it may be because they're too stupid, closed-minded and unthinking to appreciate your great work.

Or perhaps the song just isn't really that good and you would do better to work on your craft a little more. Think about it, darlin'.

Other tidbits.

For all you WFPL-FM fans who were wondering what happened to the Jazz and Information Station on Friday, December 22, the word is that the exciter on their transmitter froze in the record cold and had to be rebuilt. They returned to the air in the early evening. I suppose it's pretty hard getting excited in weather like that.

Debbie Tuggle wrote to say that she's working on some material with rappers the Lyrical Lords. "Light" rap, they call it. She's also working on graphics for an album of material by former spouse Mike Pendley.

Elusive rocker David La Duke is set to appear at Uncle P's late in January. After all the press he's gotten, it's time he played out some.