Ask Eliot #1

Rachel Asks:
How do you write your songs? Lyrics or music first? Is it easier to write something funny or more emotional? What is the most odd thing/person/place that has inspired a song?

Great question Rachel! You know, in the past I’ve been reluctant to reveal my writing method to anyone. I have a very unconventional style, and I’m not too inclined to share it. But this little adventure in blogging is making me feel more open and honest. So, for you Rachel, and anyone else interested, I’m about to tell you one of my biggest secrets of all…

For many years now, all my songs have actually been written by the ghost of 9th American president, William Henry Harrison.

Here’s how it started: One day I was out walking around Decatur, and I happen to stumble upon a hole in space-time under a fallen tree behind an old mailbox. I had the bright idea to send my most reliable carrier pigeon, Desmond, through the portal with a message, asking for help writing songs. To my surprise, among the many responses I got, was one from, you guessed it, William Harrison himself.

Turns out he’d been trapped between worlds, still upset about having served the shortest time of any American President. He said he still had some things he wanted to accomplish. So I agree to sing the songs he’d been writing in limbo. The first song he gave me was “Narcoleptic Nymphomaniac.” Apparently he wrote that little ditty about a famous 5th century Chinese courtesan and poet named Su Xiaoxiao, who he met on the other side.

We had a great run, me and Willy. It seemed like the songs would just keep coming forever. Then one day, Desmond came flapping out of the wormhole with a final message from my prolific friend. He was moving on. He felt like he’d finally done the work he didn’t get to do in life and was ready for next world. At first I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do without “Old Tip” as my, ahem… ghost writer. But thankfully, in his note he also gave me some advice on writing, along with the very method he himself used. I’ve taken it on as my own, and it seems to work for me.

As President Harrison himself told me, “I write the words and music at the same time. One will usually be the spark. Could be a lyrical idea, or it could be a chord progression. But, if they don’t sort of come out together, the song doesn’t feel right.” We also both agree that emotional songs are much harder to write. Except for the very best ones that seem to write themselves. As for oddest… well, I once wrote a song about a real life kleptomaniac I dated. I got no help from Mr. Harrison on that one. Thanks a lot William!! Jeez.

Thanks for the question Rachel. Anyone else?



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8 Responses to Ask Eliot #1

  1. This is just ridiculous. There is no mention of his cowriter John Tyler. Harrison wrote the music but Taylor wrote the lyrics. Tippecanoe and Tyler too were the Lennon/McCartney or Rogers and Hammerstein of their day.

    • eliotjames says:

      Sorry Gordon. You’re right. But he specifically asked me not to mention Tyler. He felt like he did his best work after they split. Harrison was the Lennon of the group….er, um… that doesn’t sound right…

  2. can we hear more about the thing with Su Xiaoxio at a later date?? and am i the only one who thinks you look a little like willy??

  3. Luke McGinnis says:

    Eliot, I would like you to answer these questions, or at least your favorite one.

    1. Let us assume you met a rudimentary magician. Let us assume he can do five simple tricks – he can pull a rabbit from a hat, he can make a coin disappear, he can turn the ace of spades into the Joker card, and two others in a similar vein. These are his only tricks and he can’t learn any more; he can only do these five. HOWEVER, it turns out he’s doing these five tricks with real magic. It’s not an illusion; he can actually conjure the bunny out of the ether and he can move the coin through space. He’s legitimately magical, but extremely limited in scope and influence. Would this person be more impressive than Albert Einstein?

    2. Let us assume a fully grown completely healthy Clydesdale horse has his hooves shackled to the ground while his head is held in place with a thick rope. He is conscious and standing upright, but completely immobile. And let us assume that – for some reason – every political prisoner on earth (as cited be Amnesty International) will be released from captivity if you can kick this horse to death in less than twenty minutes. You are allowed to wear steel-toed boots. Would you attempt to do this?

    3. Let us assume there are two boxes on a table. In one box, there is a relatively normal turtle; in the other, Adolf Hitler’s skull. You have to select one of these items for your home. If you select the turtle, you can’t give it away and you have to keep it alive for two years; if either of these parameters are not met, you will be fined $999 by the state. If you select Hitler’s skull, you are required to display it in a semi-prominent location in your living room for the same amount of time, although you will be paid a stipend of $120 per month for doing so. Display of the skull must be apolitical. Which option do you select?

    4. You meet your soul mate. However, there is a catch: Every three years, someone will break both of your soul mate’s collarbones with a crescent wrench, and there is only one way you can stop this from happening: You must swallow a pill that will make every song you hear – for the rest of your life – sound as if it’s performed by the band Alice in Chains. When you hear Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio, it will sound (to your ears) like it is being played by Alice in Chains. If you see Radiohead live, every one of their tunes will sound like it is being covered by Alice in Chains. When you hear a commercial jingle on TV, it will sound like Alice in Chains; if you sing to yourself in the shower, your voice will sound like deceased Alice vocalist Layne Staley performing a capella (but it will only sound this way to you. Would you swallow the pill?

    5. Your best friend is taking a nap on the floor of your living room. Suddenly, you are faced with a bizarre existential problem: This friend is going to die unless you kick them (as hard as you can) in the rib cage. If you don’t kick them while they slumber, they will never wake up. However, you can never explain this to your friend; if you later inform them that you did this to save their life, they will also die from that. So you have to kick a sleeping friend in the ribs, and you can’t tell them why. Since you cannot tell your friend the truth, what excuse will you fabricate to explain this (seemingly inexplicable) attack?

    6. Defying all expectation, a group of Scottish marine biologists capture a live Loch Ness Monster. In an almost unbelievable coincidence a bear hunter in the Pacific Northwest shoots a Sasquatch in the thigh, thereby allowing zoologists to take the furry monster into captivity. These events happen on the same afternoon. That evening, the president announces he may have thyroid cancer and will undergo a biopsy later that week. You are the front-page editor of The New York Times: What do you play as the biggest story?

    • eliotjames says:


      Wow! You are truly one of kind. While your response and “questions,” are highly entertaining, I must point out that they also contain a heavy dose of physical violence, which makes me worry about you just a little bit. Nonetheless, difficult decisions all around. I’ll see If can turn one of these into a blog of my own, though the group makes for an interesting blog all its own. Thanks joining in the conversation! How’s Boston?

  4. Jen B. says:

    So did he write Black-Eyed Susan too? If so, where did he get the idea?

    Love these blogs. Kept them coming, if you can.

    • eliotjames says:

      Hi Jen,

      OK, I admit that I did write THAT one. 🙂

      I will keep writing especially if you keep asking me too.

      BTW – sorry I haven’t gotten back to you on your song yet. Very nice!! Just wanted to take some real time with it. Take care.

  5. Michelle Colebourn says:

    Ohhhhh… and there was me looking forward to your answers Eliot!
    So to stave off the wait… here are mine instead.

    1. Yes because Magic is very SEXY
    2. Absolutely no way, AI can sort out their own problems!
    3. Turtle. I adore Turtles like Eliot loves Unicorns!
    4. I would take any pill made to keep my husband from pain. Sadly I cannot take away the pain he has with a permanently broken ankle.. and I really do not like not being able to do anything to remove the pain. So.. PILL.
    5. Sorry, I had a fit! I think you saved my life by being there – thanks mate, I love you and I am sorry I hurt you! (A real friendship would outlast something like this anyway!)
    6. Nessie every time!

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