Under the Hat: Curiosity and Songwriting

Songs in the Desert

As I write, I’m sitting in the Arizona desert surrounded by giant cactus and enormous mountains. For a songwriter from New England, it’s a lot like being in a candy store. The landscape, the people, the food, the music — everywhere I look there are fascinating things to see, touch, taste, smell and hear. Songwriters depend on their senses for inspiration and this year I’ve had more than my fair share of sensory stimulation. From performing in big cities and small villages in Mexico, to touring coast to coast around the United States, I’ve been fortunate to witness an amazing range of people and places…

As a child, I imagined being a musician and traveling around the world performing for people. My fantasy was all about the stage, the lights and the crowds. It turns out that playing music on the road is just a small part of what being on tour is all about. Day to day, it’s a lot about connecting the dots so that we get to our plane, bus, train, hotel and show on time. That part requires a great deal of organization and isn’t particularly interesting or glamorous.

But the rewards are well worth the effort. Every day is an adventure where we wake up in a different town not knowing who we’ll meet or what we’ll see and learn before the sun goes down. Since songwriters are always on the lookout for interesting things to write about, being on the road provides a virtual guarantee that there will be piles of ideas to sift through for new songs. Many of my songs would not have been written if I wasn’t traveling. Some examples include “Chocolalala” which was the name of a store I came across in Antigua, Guatemala and “Gonna Take My Hat,” which was written while playing in New York, Paris and London.

Just this morning I wrote a song called “Tricycle,” as I was imagining riding across the Western Desert…but not on a horse! Here are some of the words:

I took my tricycle out and road it across the sand
Over the highest mountain, across the Rio Grande
Rolled all through the day, rolled into the night
Under a million stars beside a campfire light


Met a mountain lion and a couple of grizzly bears
Road on through the desert, the wind blew back my hair
My posse kept on growing a little at a time
And when we reached El Paso there were ninety-nine tricycles


I’ve traveled this great land from sea to shining sea
But tonight I witnessed something I couldn’t quite believe
Walked out of the saloon to a dust storm on the plain
Lightning cracked the sky and it began to rain tricycles

There’s no way in the world I would have written this song this morning if I were home in the snowy woods of western Massachusetts. But I might have written a very different song inspired by the sights and sounds of the forest.

Wherever we are, there are song ideas just lurking around the corner. The trick is to have your antennae up and let your curiosity lead the way. If something strikes you as interesting, chances are that other people will be interested too. I, for one, always look forward to hearing all the songs that my young friends write. Anything at all can become the subject of a new song–even something silly like riding tricycles across the desert.


Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer) is an Amherst College graduate who spent 20 years as a singer/songwriter/producer in the adult music world prior to earning a Masters in Elementary Education at Smith College and transitioning to making music for children.  His most recent release, CHOCOLALALA, a collection of original, bilingual (Spanish/English) songs for children, won a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and is on the Grammy ballot for Best Children’s Album of 2012. A leading figure in the kids music world, Mister G’s 2011 bilingual release, BUGS garnered numerous national awards and was dubbed “irresistible” by People magazine. www.mistergsongs.com

[Photo credit: (cc) ClemsonPablo]

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