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Surprising with a song
by David Wilcox

When I approach the guitar, I want it to surprise me. I want the sound, the music, the emotions – all of it – to be new and fresh. I want it to wake up my heart and remind me how thirsty I am for a juicy life.

What I don't want to do is write a song about myself – who I am or what I think. I know too much about that already. I want the music to move me to another place, for it to take me to a high vista and allow me to see the world through new eyes, through the perspective of someone who's already walked the path I'm on, someone with a wiser heart. That new and beautiful place – it's the same place I've been before – but somehow now it's totally different.

For example, one time in the tropics, I was snorkeling and there was this amazing coral reef – the color was delicious and vibrant, just exploding with life. I grew up in small-town Ohio, and we didn't have anything like that. I had this friend with this coffee table - you know, the old kind with glass tops and room to put stuff under the surface. There was this grey gravel stuff under his tabletop. "Coral," he told me. It didn't look anything like the explosion of color I was looking at under the water – it was like this bland textureless off-grey poop.

Songwriting is like that. A song can be like the shimmering colorful perspective of teeming life, or it can be just like that lifeless crap under a glass coffeetable top.

When I hear a song, I tend to hear the heart of the writer first, and what I get from it is strong, like an open view into that person's world. When I see from that perspective, it opens up a whole new planet. For some people, that's scary, and for others, that same experience is adventurous, almost like going to a different continent.

If you go to another country, you get to challenge your own cultural assumptions. If you listen to music like it's an exotic adventure, it can be so transforming – you're not looking at yourself, but rather seeing who you might become. I want songs to be running guides, or safari partners that keep pushing me past where I'm comfortable. I want music to stretch my imagination, and show me how good my heart can feel.


The depth of your dreams, the height of your wishes
The length of your vision to see, the hope of your heart
Is much bigger than this
For it's made out of what might be

Now picture your hope, your heart's desire -
As a castle that you must keep
In all of its splendor, it's drafty with lonely
This heart is too hard to heat

When I get lonely ah, that's only a sign
Some room is empty, and that room is there by design
If I feel hollow - that's just my proof that there's more
For me to follow - that's what the lonely is for

Is it a curse or a blessing this palace of promise
When the empty chill makes you weep
With only the thin fire of romance to warm you
These halls are too tall and deep

But, you can seal up the pain, build walls in the hallways
Close off a small room to live in
But those walls will remain, and keep you there always
And you'll never know why you were given... why you were given the lonely

From the deep of your dreams, the height of your wishes
The length of your vision to see, the hope of your heart
Is much bigger than this
For it's made out of what might be

© 1995 David Wilcox.

David Wilcox is an extraordinary songwriter and guitar player. Find out more about him at We thank him for his essay and permission to use the lyrics to “That’s What Lonely Is For.” You can listen to almost all of his songs on his Web site’s Musical Medicine page. “Surprising with a song” © 2010 David Wilcox.

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