Michael Koppy appears at Book Passage in San Francisco’s Ferry Building on Dec. 14 to discuss his 2019 manifesto “Words and Music — Into the Future.” (Courtesy photo)

Michael Koppy appears at Book Passage in San Francisco’s Ferry Building on Dec. 14 to discuss his 2019 manifesto “Words and Music — Into the Future.” (Courtesy photo)

Michael Koppy sounds out on bad songwriting

‘Words and Music’ a vigorous critique of the sorry state of pop offerings

Former Bay Area resident Michael Koppy not only has carved a career from his Hoyt Axton-laconic albums (such as 2012’s “Ashmore’s Store”), he’s parlayed his compositional ideology into an incendiary new book “Words and Music — Into the Future: A Songwriting Treatise and Manifesto,” which questions the work of icons like Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Quincy Jones and even John Mellencamp and boldly asserts that most contemporary pop songs are dumb. He’ll read from it in The City this weekend in an event he calls “the chance for hardcore fans to engage me in fistfights, harangues and pissing contests.” He adds, “Sure, in my book I eviscerate badly written songs, but I also offer specific suggestions on how they can be improved.”

Bill Graham proved influential in your career. What advice did he give you?

Back when I was producing and directing concerts, musicals, film projects and TV in San Francisco, he severely chastised me one day on the phone, saying, “You do too many things. You can’t do that.” When I meekly replied, “But my shows are all successful,” he growled, “Yeah, I know. But you can’t do that. People in this business don’t like it when you do a lot of things. Most of ‘em can’t even do the one job they have!” And hell, he was right.

From 1976 to 2001 you didn’t perform live, until a friend prodded you onstage at a Hotel Utah open-mic night?

The Hotel Utah! I’m more of a backstage kind of person — a director, a producer. But if you write material, and actually play guitar, then you kind of have to go onstage, don’t you? Otherwise it’s just a hobby. And I’m too serious for a hobby.

That night at Hotel Utah sounds important. If you never mustered the courage to sing your songs to an audience, you might never have been able to discuss the craft so freely now. Ultimately, “Words and Music” feels like a warning, a wakeup call.

That’s interesting. I see why you might say that. But I think it’s more of an indictment — a severe, take no prisoners indictment. But I don’t just critique without solid, fully-sourced foundations and I locate positives, as well. So yeah, maybe it is a wakeup call. And if so? Good! Wake up!

What do you make of average “American Idol” contestants who typically don’t write their own material yet expect overnight stardom?

Well, I shouldn’t lecture budding performers. But if you ask someone, “What do you want to be” and he or she answers with, “I want to be famous,” watch out. You are talking to a doofus.

BOOK NOTES

Words and Music — Into the Future: A Songwriting Treatise and Manifesto

Written by: Michael Koppy

Published by: Good Track Records

Pages: 342

Price: $16

Note: Koppy appears at Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, S.F., at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14; visit bookpassage.com.

LiteraturePop Music

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Giants second baseman Donovan Solano scores on a double in the seventh inning against the Dodgers at Oracle Park on July 29. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Will the Giants make the playoffs? Kris Bryant may be the answer

By Chris Haft Special to The Examiner You’d be hard-pressed to find… Continue reading

Tiffany Carter, owner of Boug Cali West Coast Creole Shack in San Francisco’s La Cocina Marketplace, was dismayed by gentrification she found when she returned to her hometown to start a business. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF Black Wallstreet: Helping residents build wealth, reclaim spaces they’ve had to leave

Tiffany Carter moved back to her hometown of San Francisco five years… Continue reading

A prescribed fire at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks was conducted in June 2016 to reduce hazardous fuel loading, increase watershed health, and restore the natural fire cycle in the Redwood Canyon area ecosystem. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Paterson/National Park Service)
Experts, UC scientists discuss wildfires in the state’s riskiest regions

Wildfires are nothing new in California’s history, but the magnitude and frequencies… Continue reading

Fourth-grade students at Lucerne Valley Elementary School don masks and Western wear for a “Walk Through California” history day during in-person instruction. (Courtesy of Krystal Nelson)
Confusion over mask mandate for California schools sparks tension between districts and parents

By Diana Lambert EdSource Shifting rules around mask mandates at schools are… Continue reading

In his extensive filming of The City during the pandemic, Eric Goodfield said he has been “observing how the environment affects the behavior of people.” (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Filmmaker Eric Goodfield fixes lens on SF’s COVID days

140 days of shooting in The City made for ‘greatest adventure’

Most Read