If you’ve read my book, Life Without Ed, you know that my vocal coach, Judy Rodman, once coerced me into drinking a Gatorade—and, at the time, I hated her for it. (See “Trapped” on page 164.) In the middle of a particularly bad relapse with my eating disorder, she and my dietitian told me that I had two choices: drink a Gatorade or go to the hospital. Ultimately, I chose to drink the Gatrorade. Looking back, I am truly grateful that Judy was willing to risk my hating her in order to help save my life. I never could have recovered without people like Judy.
After several years in recovery, Judy and I co-wrote a song, “Life Without Ed,” to go along with the book, which I was writing at the time. Over the years, many people have asked about the songwriting process, so I asked Judy to share her insights below. To listen to the song and download the lyrics, click here.
This is the first post in a Life Without Ed Birthday Blog Series celebrating both recovery and the Tenth Anniversary Edition of the book, which will be released soon. In February, stay tuned for the audio book! (Judy and I just had a vocal lesson over Skype to work on the narration. These days, she instructs many people over the Internet.)
Writing the Song “Life Without Ed”
by Judy Rodman
I have been writing songs for about four decades. Some became hits. But based on the tons of testimonials we’ve received from people who said it helped them in their recovery from eating disorders, I’d say my most successful song to date is one I co-wrote with Jenni Schaefer called “Life Without Ed.”
I was Jenni’s vocal coach when she first acknowledged her eating disorder. One day, she asked if I’d help her write a song she had started, and I was thrilled at what she showed me. Jenni brought in lyrics that were inspired by the deep recovery work she had been doing in therapy, which involved treating her disorder like another person named Ed (an acronym for ‘eating disorder’). She had come to believe she could really live without ‘him’!
All I needed to do was help craft a few of the lines structurally and create the melody and chords. Musically, I followed the sound-colors I saw in her lyrics to make this song emotionally uplifting and memorable, with the highest point being the bridge. I think our ‘higher power’ sprinkled some extra-strength stardust on it.
A powerful way to create songs is to write with a central and emotionally-compelling turning point, or ‘Eureka’ moment. You also need a very strong ‘payoff,’ a reason to listen to the song. This is certainly true of “Life Without Ed.” The whole song centers on the sudden realization that life without an eating disorder is actually possible. The first verse takes the listener through being in the throes of the disorder. The last line of the verse (until a greater power spoke the truth—it said …) leads us to the payoff, which is the first line of the chorus (Life without Ed is waiting here for you).
When writing, it’s very important to establish who is doing the talking and who is being spoken to. The word ‘you’ in the first chorus is the singer herself, who is being spoken to by her ‘greater power.’ Then the second verse speaks of the journey to healing. Because of its power, we chose to reinforce the last line and make it the same as the first verse, leading into a chorus again spoken by the ‘greater power.’
The bridge is the point where the singer turns her story to the heart of the listener. The lyric doesn’t preach or give advice (who listens to that?!). It offers experiential proof of “life without Ed”—the singer’s own testimony. The last line (Look at me, and see someone who can say…) leads into the chorus, where ‘you’ (…is waiting here for you) is now the listener. This last chorus, instead of coming from the ‘greater power,’ now comes from the singer, with the power of her experience.
“Life Without Ed,” the song, was written before the book was finished. It was also written before life without Ed was a complete reality for Jenni—and before her incredible career as author and speaker unfolded. We literally wrote into her future.
I unknowingly did this with another song I co-wrote called “One Way Ticket (Because I Can),” which became a #1 single for LeAnn Rimes. When writing it, I was actually stuck in my own dark night of the soul. I, of course, had no idea it would be a huge hit for an unknown (as of then) teenager, or how wonderfully and miraculously God would re-direct my own life path to such a happy and fulfilled place.
Songwriting can be a joyous journey of exploration, like spelunking and exploring the depths of some fascinating heart and soul caves, or playing in the sandbox. It can also be cathartic, with the power to illuminate life and change the world. If you are in a hard, puzzling or stuck place, try writing your way out. Think of it as structured dreaming—with a melody and a beat. It sure worked for precious Jenni and me!
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Judy Rodman is an award winning vocal coach, recording artist, stage and television performer, multi-genre hit songwriter, studio producer and vocal consultant. Connect on Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about singing and eating disorders on her blog.