When talking about his songwriting process, Nils Lofgren, guitarist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, espouses a view shared by successful long-form writers. To many of them, writer's block is merely a failure of courage: it happens when writers expect perfection whenever they put pen to paper. They're afraid to write badly. But any good writer will tell you that you cannot be afraid to write badly, because writing badly makes you better. Some writing is better than no writing, and with work you can turn bad writing into better writing. If you wait for perfection, you won't get much accomplished.
Lofgren follows this precept in his own process. He has two modes as a songwriter: amateur mode and professional mode. The amateur mode comes first; it's when he writes ten or so what he calls "stupid, corny love songs" to prepare for the real songwriting. Because he can't get much writing done on the marathon Springsteen tours, this amateur mode helps him clear the cobwebs and shake off the rust. After amateur mode, he enters professional mode to write in earnest for a new album, and by this time his skills are razor sharp and kink-free.
Though he's been a member of the E Street Band since 1984, Lofgren has been a solo artist for almost 40 years. He fronted Grin in the early 1970s and was a member of Neil Young's Crazy Horse. After talking to Lofgren, I've concluded that his longevity is the result of two factors. One, he's an artist, but he treats songwriting as a job, according it the proper discipline. And two, while he's an artist and a songwriter, he's got enviable work/life balance. If he's out in the studio recording and his wife Amy (a professional chef) calls him for dinner, it's time to eat. He recognizes that his family life is one of the reasons he's still so prolific.
Nils Lofgren's new album Old School, his first album of original material in five years, is out now. Read my interview with Lofgren about his songwriting process after the video for "Too Many Miles." But I warn you: if you're looking for questions about the E Street Band, you can stop reading. As a guitar legend and supremely talented songwriter, he deserves to be viewed through his own lens.