And every curb is crowded with the chairs calling dibs
A tall dark figure comes stridin' through the snow
A mean ol' varmint, name of Roasty Joe
I wrote a joke cowboy ballad yesterday, which started me thinking about influence and whatnot, and why joke songs are so much easier to write. Last one first: it's because the pressure's off. A parody cowboy ballad doesn't have to be anything but a parody cowboy ballad. It doesn't have to anchor the album or be submitted to a prize jury. You're also, whether you acknowledge it or not, limiting your audience to people who will get the song's first few jokes—and audience specificity can be an immensely helpful tool.
Parody also means you have a blueprint: other people have already done this. "The Ballad of Roasty Joe" cribs from the Simpsons' "Canyonero" commercial (which itself cribbed from "Rawhide"), with a bit of early Johnny Cash, via "Walk Hard," and "The Ballad of Davy Crockett." (I'm sure Derek Thompson would have something to say about the familiarity of the genre predisposing listeners to like your contribution, but that's a whole other discussion.) (Also, holy WOW is that Crockett song problematic, in ways of which I was completely ignorant as a kid.) Because we already know what a cowboy ballad should sound like, you probably have a sense of it just from reading these lyrics, without even listening.
Gatherin' the lawn chairs, pilin' up the wood
Pourin' on the kerosene, burn 'em up good
Til there ain't a dibs called on the whole North Side
Just a big ol' bonfire a city block wide
But blueprints don't write lyrics (unless, I suppose, your blueprint is for a dance song about waving your hands in the air like you just don't care, in which case: you're done; proceed directly to the bank). There are a lot of answers to the question of what does write lyrics. For me, it always comes down to meaning. I don't like empty songs, and I usually can't finish a set of lyrics unless the song has a firm central meaning. So "The Ballad of Roasty Joe" would likely have remained no more than a joke between friends at a bonfire a few months ago, had Joe himself not made a separate joke yesterday about burning dibs chairs. That's as Aristotelian as you can get: suddenly the character had a purpose and an action, and that gave the song enough meaning that I could complete it.
Who can make a fire with a single spark
Blazing to the edge of Winnemac Park?
Who can play Jenga with a burning log?
He's a coal-kickin', smoke-breathin' bonfire dog
GarageBand also deserves so much credit for making it ridiculously easy to put together things like this. (Again, the fact that this is a parody for a small audience removes a lot of pressure; I was never going to spend ages correcting pitch or mastering in Pro Tools.) The fact that I can do in an hour on my laptop what used to take my college group a thousand dollars and a full day at a studio (with a reel-to-reel!) still feels nothing short of miraculous.
And if you go drivin' in the frozen snow
If you gotta leave a parking spot, just let it go
Don't leave your chairs out sittin' by the curb
There's a certain pyromaniac you're gonna perturb
Here's the final thing. It's pretty silly.