Why grapes are like songs.
I snapped this photo last weekend at Wellington Winery, where my friend Toby Germano, a Rock God, is the GM. Sadly, Toby wasn't there when I showed up unannounced, but the grapes were out in full force to greet me. Truly, everywhere I looked there were vines hung heavy with fruit and the fruit was green and plump and ripening fast for harvest. I looked at those grapes and got to thinking — but not about wine. Instead, I got to thinking about how wine grapes are like my songs.
Both are born of stress.
For fine wine, the last thing you want is a vine that's happily planted in well-watered, nutrient-rich soil and bathed in warm sunlight, because it won't produce much in the way of grapes. Instead, it will grow leaves and shoots like a bastard, building its reserves for when times turn tough, as they always do. Under duress, though, the vine figures, "Shit, I might die out here in this godforsaken field so I'd better grow some grapes filled with lots of seeds to ensure my progeny." Songs are the same way. The last thing you want in a songwriter is a happy, relaxed person without a care in the world. I mean, you're gonna get something like Ebony & Ivory. But a brain-damaged dude who's lost his job and might not be able to get another one, who's dizzy all the time, who's legs and feet feel forever misted in cold water? Now you're talking.
Both benefit from age.
Great wine comes from older vines, that's just a fact. Sure, young wines can produce good stuff, too, but if you want to ensure your odds of getting some truly fine drink, you want vines that have lived a little. You want them to have seen some hard years, to have been forced to shoot their roots deeper, to have come to the conclusion that adversity is a putz and wimp, because you can taste this strength of character in their fruit. Songs are similar. A kid whose finest moment in life so far has been his first beer might write "Wooly Bully", which is a smokin' tune, to be sure, but you've got to have some years on you to write "Going Down Slow". (Caveat: I fully admit that some GREAT songs have been written by "kids" – or people under 30 -- so maybe this stuff about age is more true for me than for others.)
Both have their time.
Pick your grapes too early and you miss out on their full potential. Do it too late and you risk ending up with grape syrup. My songs are very much the same. When I rush to record an idea, I almost always feel it comes up short. And when I wait too long and over-think an idea? Blue Nun anyone? When I was younger, I was always so eager to finish my songs that I jumped to the recording process as fast as I could. Now, I have more patience, I can give things time, which I do. My only worry is that I'm taking too much time and somehow I'm leaving my songs "on the vine" a bit too long.
In the end, however, looking at those grapes in Toby's vineyard made me feel a bit better about all the time my album is taking. Because, in truth, it hasn't taken me 3 years, it's taken me 47, so what's another month or two, right? Right.