In the southern U.S., they call it noodling. Personally, even though I grew up in the south, I call it crazy. Catfish have sharp fins! They can draw blood! One of my favorite definitions of noodling I
found on urban dictionary, which described it as " A form of fishing in which a crazy person runs into a lake and searches for holes on the bottom with his foot. Then he inserts his finger into the hole and lets something bite it. Hopefully, it's a catfish. If so, he wrestles the catfish to the surface and drags it to shore. If its not a catfish, he may lose his finger to a snapping turtle or his life to a water moccasin" *
I am inclined to agree with the definition's assessment of the mental state of someone who does that: CRAZY!
However, as a singer-songwriter, I use the word "noodling" to mean something entirely different, and it may sometimes seem just as pointless to someone listening/watching. For me, "noodling" describes the creative process when I don't necessarily have lyrics, a melody or even a song concept firmly in mind, but I just start singing and/or playing my guitar in what would best be called "stream of consciousness", letting whatever come forth as it will. Sometimes I record this process (when I am smart enough to remember), but many times I just do it rather spontaneously, and there's no record of it. Often the 'songs' are nonsense, and nothing comes of them. Once in awhile an idea surfaces, and on that rare occasion, a full blown song springs forth so quickly I can barely keep up trying to write the lyrics down as fast as I am thinking/hearing them.
Those who "noodle" to catch catfish with their bare hands don't always succeed. They go shoving their hands down into dark, murky waters, believing there's something down there worth going to the effort. Sometimes they are rewarded, sometimes they aren't. "Noodling" for song-writing isn't
always successful, either, and you can often spend hours doing it, and end up with nothing to show..no song, no concrete ideas. It can be frustrating. But, for me, that creative process is worth the risk that I might not succeed. Sometimes what you gain from a session is a better feeling of what you DON'T want to do.
And sometimes you DO catch one of those elusive catfish, er, songs, or at least get a good start. When noodling for catfish, even when you DO catch a fish, it can be quite dangerous and exhausting. A catfish can weigh up to a 100 lbs or more, and they can be quite strong, especially when they're fighting for their lives. Sometimes they can drag the fisherman underwater, and in some rare instances, people have suffered some serious injury, even though they successfully caught the fish.
There are times when 'noodling' on song ideas, I have found myself drawn into a vortex of thoughts and feelings and ideas that were literally overwhelming. One of those times was when I was noodling on the idea that eventually became my song 'I Lied', which was based on my brother's
recent death. Writing the song was cathartic, but there were deep memories of my relationship with my brother, from back to childhood, that washed through me as I went through that process, and I was emotionally and physically exhausted when I finished.
Was it worth it? Yes. Not only did writing the song help me deal with my grief, but it continues to keep him in my thoughts, in a good way. Many others, as well, have told me that the song was meaningful to them too. So, while that 'catfish' may have drug me underwater a bit as I wrestled it in, it became one of the prize trophies to hang on my noodling 'wall'.
If you write songs.. or do anything creatively, what's your version of 'noodling'? How do you go about working on those ideas and trying to see what comes of it? I'd love to hear your stories.
-♫ M ♫-