Q- What’s up with lake Pontchartrain?  It seems to make frequent appearances in your songs...  does it just make a good rhyme/ fit in well lyrically?  Does it have greater significance for you, either personally or metaphorically?  (Did you ever live in New Orleans?)

A- Yes, it's in two of my songs but who's counting?

I'm one of those writers that gets attached to words. It might seem lazy on the surface but for me re-using words is part of building a bigger picture. When I reference something I've used in the past, I'm aware of it. It's bringing something familiar to the present and telling the listener, "You're still in the same place, these are the same people from that other song".

I first hear the word Pontchartrain in a song by a guy named Neal Coty back in the 90's. Later Lucinda used it on "Car Wheels." It's just so ripe. It sounds mysterious and it's spelled slightly differently than it sounds. I've never lived in New Orleans. It's just one of those words that sounds perfectly suited to songwriting. I also like words that end with the INE sound so you'll see lots of gasoline, kerosene, magazine words in my songs. I like the way these words sort of fade and close down as you say them but with a long vowel sound they sing nicely.

Most of these kinds of things are instinctive to songwriters. If you look at a body of work you'll see themes that come back over and over for certain people. The devil comes up for me a lot as well. He's a great character to have enter the film. He chews the scenery but without saying a word. He simply stands there and gets a lot done songwriting-wise, if you see what I mean.

Ever notice Paul Simon's love of words that begin with B? The Boy in Bubble - "The bomb in the baby carriage was wired to the radio..."

I'm also a songwriter who tends to mine a particular vein until I find what I want. For a long time I was writing about the passing of time. I don't think I ever quite found what I was looking for. I got close a few times. I had a line in a song I never used that said, "We're blind men standing on a speeding locomotive, swearing we can hear a train." I really liked that line but I never found a home for it and I never quite found what I was looking for with the passing of time theme. I might be getting a little closer on a song that will be on the next CD. A line from a song called "Birdhouse" goes:

           "boxes piled under the eves with napkins and postcards
            that's where you keep all the love that slowly unwinds
            all the love in the world slowly unwinds
            even all the love in the world runs out of time…"

I'm getting there… It's a fairly subtle thing I do with these songs I write. Some people would say it's a bit too subtle. I don't have a costume. I don't have an accent. I don't have a shtick. I tell stories and sing songs [sometimes with the same words] about the elements of life that are engaging to me and leave it there.

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Comment by John Graveling on January 28, 2013 at 10:13am
Nanci Griffith wrote about the Pontchartrain way back in the 80's. Not sure it has as many mentions in songs as Memphis and, in the past 30 years, Baton Rouge. Keep up the great writing and I'll look forward to that new record when it gets done :-)
Comment by JeffK on January 30, 2013 at 6:58pm

Thanks for the interesting post with the songwriter's perspective.  Another song with Lake Pontchartrain is "Adalida," recorded by George Strait.  You're right about how the name sticks in one's head.  When I lived in New Orleans, every time I drove over that large lake, that song would immediately pop into my head.  (On another topic, I love your song, "Broke Down."  Thank you for that too.)

Comment by Michael Helwig on February 2, 2013 at 11:25am

back in 1947, Hank Williams recorded On The Banks Of The Old Pontchartrain

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.