Rob Monte Says Good-Bye (for now)

Aquarian Weekly 9/15/10 REALITY CHECK

DEEP TANK TO WEIRD BLOOD Jersey Shore Music Icon Rob Monte Says Good-Bye (For Now)

It’s a steamy, late-afternoon on the Friday before the titular summer’s end and Robert Montesdeoca, aka Rob Monte, The Columbian Freak Boy is about to head southeast to do what he has done for the past 20 years; sing, prance and entertain over every inch of a packed barroom. He will do it as he always has; in front of a popular New Jersey rock band. He will make a lot of money for some and some for himself. It is business as usual for the grizzled stage warrior. This time, however, is different. This time will be his last. The long, rock & roll road ends for the man most know as merely Monte this Labor Day Weekend 2010. He is calling it quits after some 20 years of running amok on the famed Jersey Rock Circuit; much of it a blur and all of it chock full of what he politely calls “reckless abandon” while “feeling very comfortable playing it by the seat of my ass.”

Rob Monte“I am one-hundred percent ready” he tells me when I ask if this is truly it. “But for awhile I felt guilty saying it aloud or to anyone, because I might disappoint them.”

That’s always been the nut for Rob Monte, who took every show, hell, every song to be a long walk to the gallows, as if tomorrow was a rumor and squeezing every last inch of a Saturday night meant a little bit more than everything.

There is weird blood running in the man’s veins, much of it tainted with alcohol and the gripping fear that someone in his presence might not be having the time of their lives. It’s a rough gig spending nearly an entirety of an adult life convincing audiences that infinite merriment is tangible while the clock has other ideas.

“It was a unique period,” he exhales, before packing his kitbag of lunacy for one last go-round, two-decades of memory working its way through the fog. “Beer funnels? You can’t do that in clubs anymore, bro! People think that was the dark ages — hundreds of people smoking in clubs? The drinking and driving? The complete chaos?”

His voice cackles over the phone line and it sends a chill down my spine. I have heard that laugh before, a broken gravel of a coughing guffaw, fused with a kind of mischief that knows soon there will be danger afoot. “Whatever the formula was, it worked,” he admits with confidence. “Even with everyone trying to reel me in, there I was deep in some Irish drinking contest off stage, while the band figured it out.”

And the “figuring out” is what made the incredible professionals Monte has played with over the years so fascinating. There are far too many to name here, but know they are brave subjects in an improbable conquering horde of weekend marauders just the same.

“The bands? Four sober guys following along, hanging with me, I want to thank all of them. Thank them or apologize!” Monte laughs, but then there is a serious shift to his tone. “Hey, there was trouble sometimes, but once the club read the register they’d forgive us.”

Monte’s story is hardly unique. It is but one of thousands played out across this great land, where somewhere tonight there are hard-bitten dreamers tossing about elusive glories in cover tunes and original numbers; piano troubadours and harp-mouthed folkies and jazz cats and sing-song beauties putting on one more show for one more dollar and one more round of applause. But here in New Jersey, when a man steps down from his well-earned throne as King of Long Beach Island, it is pretty big news. For the mythical, radical, hysterical place I once called Clubland in my book, Deep Tank Jersey, it is monumental.

As far as icons go, if there is such an animal trolling the sordid corridors once inhabited by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, Rob Monte sure as hell is. He has fronted several bands of varying degrees of reputation and earning power for the past two decades, the most lucrative and history making is DogVoices, the birth of which during its most lavishly successful summer is depicted in the aforementioned book by yours truly. Therefore, Monte’s swansong is also a somewhat selfish personal tribute for this space. It can be argued that without Deep Tank Jersey and the wild events of the summer of 1995, the access and honesty of the original five members of DogVoices, and all those clubs and roadies and fans and wonderfully colorful hangers-on, there may not be a Reality Check News & Information Desk.

There is weird blood running in the man’s veins, much of it tainted with alcohol and the gripping fear that someone in his presence might not be having the time of their lives. It’s a rough gig spending nearly an entirety of an adult life convincing audiences that infinite merriment is tangible while the clock has other ideas.

So blame the whole damn thing on Monte, who was foolish enough to allow the sordid tale of young men treading the floorboards from Atlantic City to Clifton to be recorded for posterity.

Lord knows it is hard for me to believe a word of it today, and I wrote the damn thing. Worse still, I lived it. Barely. Like most of the poor souls who stepped into a Jersey Rock Club looking for a good time but were assaulted with a strange combination of burlesque and mud wrestling soaked in gallons of beer and sweat. Rob Monte the ringmaster of it all, from midnight ocean dives to launches from the odd hotel roof, impromptu strip shows and Tequila-shot binges, bar dancing and a rabble of dawn seekers thrown into the spotlight for an inch of what Monte has come to call home.

It is a home he never takes for granted as he continued to review his incredible run at a pace that would have killed several if not all other men not named Keith Richards.

“I plan on playing my last gig at the Ringside Pub in January,” he says with pride. “The owner, Bob Harper is a friend and mentor. I started there, and I should end there.”

Along with the Ringside, a modest but hopping rock venue in the hamlet of Caldwell, there is the now-defunct Wally’s and Nickel’s Alley, Wild Mike’s, the Wreck Room, and the legendary Mother’s, all of them outlasted by the unsinkable Columbian Freak Boy.

Then there is the cash cow for any serious full-time cover band; the Jersey Shore, where for 18 consecutive years Monte has plied his trade at Nardi’s, the Sea Shell and of course, Bar A. “I have to play Bar A once more in December,” Monte says. “My craziest stunts may have happened there. I broke ribs jumping off that balcony. The owner, Tom Jannarone has always been there for me.”

The center of Monte’s universe for nearly 20 years has been Long Beach Island, known to many in the tri-state area as an interesting amalgam of quiet, sunny family getaways and completely maddening midnight parties, the latter of which became the central force in an impressive career of playing popular songs of the day with a splash of carnival folly.

“The Quarterdeck, Sea Shell, Nardi’s, Joe Pop’s, you could play over four days without ever leaving the island,” Monte chuckles, as if struggling to recall earlier triumphs.

Now, placing it all into perspective, he can securely move into a fulltime career mentoring younger bands with his newly formed Monte Booking Agency, where the man himself tutors his acts to steer clear of the Monte Method.

“No way Monte could survive now,” he says, speaking in the third person as if this Monte creature is a thing of fiction. “Most of the bands I book now don’t know about the Deep Tank Jersey years. I tell them to do the opposite!”

And what about any parting words, a final stage dive or perhaps a Daffy Duck self-immolation jag?

He laughs again and sighs; “I cannot plan anything. It goes against everything I’ve done as an entertainer. So there’ll be no final song. No canned speech.”

Whatever it will be, its toll will end one part of an implausible career, close an era, and provide another reason for those who were there to recall the past.

For me, I wish good luck to my friend, a long-gone protagonist in my first published work.

And good luck to the rest of the Weird Blood who dare scour the depths of what is left of the Deep Tank.

 

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Dan Bern at City Winery 2010

Aquarian Weekly 7/7/10

LIVING SONGBOOK ON PARADEAn Evening with Dan Bern City Winery, SOHO, NYC 6/19/10

There is the Dan Bern you must listen to; the storming riffs and tender shifts of progression that bed captivating melodies, all the better to ferry along the oddly profound witticism – a seemingly endless musical array of parody, satire and tribute. Then there is the one upon the stage, swaying and strumming as the quintessential portrait of a wandering troubadour – the room sufficiently primed by a raucous NYC crowd acting as the perfect chorus for his mini tragic comedies.

Dan BernWhen the prolific Bern is on his game there is really no one better in any genre. The composer of hundreds of ditties over two decades and sixteen records, jumping from folk to country to rock to whatever swims in and out of his yawning transom, was in fine voice at the City Winery on a sultry Saturday night in the big town. Donning a black vest and blue jeans, a gray cabby’s hat atop his head, the less defiant, dare I say, more mature singer-songwriter emerged anew, playing hauntingly arranged versions of his most gripping songs like “I Need You” and “One Real Thing”.

Later the performance expanded into a beautifully accompanied harmonizing romp, as Bern was ably joined by his usual touring companion, Paul Kuhn and opening act, Common Rotation, a talented Long Island trio which seemed to have been gathered especially for a distinct performance balance of sonic comportment.

Brand new selections, most memorably the riotously clever “Osama in Obama Land” and “Talkin’ Tea Party Blues”, and old favorites, “Black Tornado”, “Breath” and of course, “Jerusalem” raised an already high bar for Bern, who is fresh off two successful songwriting jags for rock comedies, “Walk Hard” and “Get Him To The Greek” and appears to have put a new sheen on his best work.

An excellent sample of the present show, which one can only hope unfurls into a longer tour, can be found on Bern’s latest release, “Dan Bern Live in Los Angeles”.

Having had the pleasure to see Dan Bern ply his trade over the past eight years in every possible venue from a goddamned boat to a half-painted hotel room to political rallies, college campuses and stuffy studios, the Bowery Ball Room to Carnegie Hall, and even his own artist getaway in the desert, he has never sounded better or his songs provided a more deserving exposition than in this most recent incarnation.

The living songbook is once again a must listen and see.

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Alice Cooper: Cabaret Villain

East Coast Rocker 9/23/09 Feature

THE INDESTRUCTABLE THREE-DIMENSIONAL CABARET VILLAIN
Alice Cooper – Over Sixty, Clean & Sober, and Still Kicking Ass

Alice CooperIf a nom de plume can be an enigma, then Alice Cooper is its riddle.

He is the flash-in-the-pan that is mere months from entering a sixth decade of volume-addled irony that is best described in his memorable tune, “Guilty”, as “waking up the neighbors with a roar like a teenaged heavy metal elephant gun.” He started out in the late-sixties scaring hippies and cracking up Frank Zappa, garnered admiration from Groucho Marx and Mae West, drank with John Lennon and Jim Morrison, and broke Rolling Stones touring records on the way to literally becoming an icon.

Alice Cooper is an American original; rock and roll’s Jesse James wrapped up in Charlie Brown angst and jammed inside Dracula’s unblinking gaze. The victim and the predator, the goofball and the kingfish, he has died a thousand times on stage by the rope, the guillotine and the odd Cyclopes, only to be resurrected in time for the Muppet Show. He became Salivador Dali’s artwork and Dylan’s “great unrecognized songwriter”. Without question he’s unleashed a generation of imitators acting out an endless homage from KISS to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga.

To us seventies kids fresh from the city streets rolled into the suburban dirge, The Coop was our resonant screech of infinite rebellion. He had us with “School’s Out”, cemented our devotion with “Elected” and scared the living shit out of us with “Years Ago/Steven” – to this day I cannot smell Lemon Pledge without getting a chill up my spine, vivid memories of a pre-teen innocently polishing his dust-caked dresser in grounded exile while their haunting strains wafted from my childhood Victrola.

Thanks to this magazine, I get a crack at my man, the skinny kid from the deserts of Arizona who, with a little make-up and a cheek-planted tongue, came to embody our most beloved nightmares.

james campion: Have you ever considered your lineage to Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp in American pop culture? When you think of Chaplin’s image today, portrayed in posters or statues, it’s always the Tramp. Also, in terms of the times; how Chaplin created this hobo character, which mocked the excesses of the Roaring Twenties, the way Alice certainly lampooned the excesses of the Me Decade, as both its villain and victim.

Alice Cooper: Oh, yeah, Alice was definitely a created as an American character, and I think he started out being a victim, because I was a victim. I was an alcoholic at the time, but never recognized it. When I invented Alice I guess it was subconsciously. Alice was always stooped over, always getting killed. The press was never real favorable. For a long time there was really nobody in Alice’s corner, so I kind of created him to be that whipping boy. Later, when I became a non-alcoholic, I created Alice to be Hannibal Lecter, and suddenly a different posture, different attitude. So there were two incarnations of Alice. But yeah, I don’t see why a hundred years from now someone shouldn’t be playing Alice, like somebody playing Captain Hook.

It’s interesting hearing you refer to Alice in the third person and that sort of lends itself to the idea that you can be possessed by whatever Alice you want for the short term to make certain social comments or present ironies.

“Alice was a necessary character because you couldn’t have a rock and roll drama without a villain.”

Alice was a necessary character because you couldn’t have a rock and roll drama without a villain. I mean, there needs to be heroes, villains and victims, and Alice needed to be a visual villain. There wasn’t one personified villain in rock and roll, so I said, “Well, I will gladly be that!” And the great thing about being the villain is usually the villain has a great sense of humor.

That brings me to your many imitators over the years. It seems to me that they’ve almost always failed to display the sense of humor, irony or satirical twist that Alice brought to light. Marilyn Manson, for instance, always came across to me as an overly serious rebellious figure, but without the necessary tongue-and-cheek quality that makes for more entertainment than manifesto.

Yeah, I kept waiting for the punch line. (laughs) Now, someone with a good sense of humor is Rob Zombie. Rob’s a tattoo parlor come to life. His stuff is so animated. He has as much reverence for Bela Lugosi as he does The Munsters; the scary and the absurd. He’s like my brother. We have exactly the same sense of humor. Frank Zappa was like that. Zappa had a real sense of absurdity, for the right reasons. He understood absurdity, what cannot be explained. You look at it and it’s purely absurd for the sake of being absurd.

A British rock journalist told me years ago that especially in the rock and roll world, if it has that “What the hell is this?” quality it’s likely to be something worth listening to or watching out for. I would say that somewhat describes the Alice Cooper mission statement.

Yeah, I think so. You know the guys in the Alice Cooper band were lucky to start out in high school as art students and journalists. We were verbal and had a certain artistic way of looking at things, so when we put it in a band it suddenly came together. Maybe because of this we got the joke sooner than anybody else. I mean we were very serious about playing in a rock band and making great music, but I always saw the absurdity of it and capitalized on it. I remember the first time I read Kurt Vonnegut and went, “What is that? There’s something very funny about this, but I don’t know what it is…but I like it.” Like the first time you see Monty Python and it upsets the entire boat and you’re laughing and just really inspired by it. When the Beatles first came along I was like everybody else, I looked at them and said, “What is that?” (laughs)

Yeah, like me trapped in my bedroom listening to “Welcome To My Nightmare” on a gloomy autumn day, dusting my dresser. To this day I cannot smell Lemon Pledge without getting that same chill up my spine.

Alice Cooper(sinister chuckle) How odd is that? (laughing harder) No, I understand that. There was a certain sexual side to my life when I was a kid; every time I went into a public bathroom and smelled those little urinal cakes……Oooh, remember when everything gave you a hard-on?

Ah, that brings me to the music. For me, the finest anthems of the rock genre are “My Generation” and “School’s Out”, both having two of the greatest lines; “Hope I die before I get old” and “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes.”

Right!

Now, I’ve not had the privilege to ask Pete Townshend about the former, but when you wrote that or sang it or listened to it back did you think, “What a fucking great line that is!”

Yeah, it really was one of those coloring out of the lines; …”We got no class, we got no principles, we got no innocence, we can’t even think of a word that rhymes!” Because I couldn’t! (laughs) I could not think of a word that rhymed with principles, and I went…”Okay then…”, and it perfectly illustrates the character’s dumbness. (laughs) Paul Rothschild, who produced the Doors and Paul Butterfield and Love, and who we’d tried so hard to get to produce us, told me years later that when “School’s Out” came on the radio he was driving in his Porsche and he pulled over and said, “That’s the greatest line I’ve ever heard.” (laughs)

Well, if nothing else, it captures the entire “Who cares?” bit.

It just fit in. It was the last piece of the puzzle on that song. It’s like the stuttering in “My Generation” I loved that. And that line, “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes” was kind of the capper on that one.

What do you think was your best stage show idea?

Well, everyone asks, “What’s your best stage song?” And I always answer “The Ballad of Dwight Frye”. Only because it puts Alice in a straight-jacket under a cold blue light singing about being in a mental institution and you can feel his claustrophobia and the struggle to get out. It’s a real theatrical experience in that he’s going, “I’ve got to get out of here…I gotta get out of here…I gotta get out of here!” And when he breaks out there’s this orgasm within the audience, because they’re feeling as claustrophobic as Alice. You can feel the veins in his neck popping and when he finally breaks out of that thing, they all break out too. They can breathe again. With all of the bigness of the show, with explosions and everything that’s going on, for those few seconds there’s just this one guy in a straight-jacket beneath a cold blue light struggling to get out. It brings it all down to a pinpoint on stage. And then when he gets out of it, of course, it explodes with the color and light and everything again. It’s a real release for the audience.

Hell, you can feel it on the record.

(laughs) I actually recorded it in a straight jacket. I told Bob Ezrin (legendary producer of many Alice Cooper classic albums, as well as Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd and Kiss) this song should be done in a straight-jacket, and he said, “Let’s record it that way then!”

Are you comfortable being lumped in, and I mean this in the best way, with that whole Metal crowd, the hard rock crowd, because I’d always considered you even way back with the Alice Cooper band through your solo career as more of a cabaret performer with electric guitars.

With all of the bigness of the show, with explosions and everything that’s going on, for those few seconds there’s just this one guy in a straightjacket beneath a cold blue light struggling to get out. ”

I look at it this way; we always wanted to be the Yardbirds, to be as good as the Stones, so in that sense we were truly a hard rock band. We were never a Metal band. We were a hard rock band, and we wanted to be as good a rock band as anybody out there. We wanted the swagger. We wanted the snotiness. Guns & Roses had it. Just to get up there and be a snotty rock and roll band, but to be a really good one. The Stones had it. It was built in. And I wanted that to be part of Alice Cooper. The theatrics overtook it, but in my heart we were just a snotty rock and roll band.

Could you ever foresee shedding Alice? Obviously it has to happen eventually, you clip off the hair, get out the golf clubs and say, “Thank you very much, I’m done.” You ever see that happening, and would you miss the old boy?

I guess I could see that. I’ve always said the only time that’s ever going to happen, honestly, is if I physically can’t go on stage and do it, or if nobody shows up. (laughs) Then I know it’s over. If nobody’s going to show up to see it, then there’s no more reason to do it. But so far that hasn’t happened. I think there will always be an audience for Alice. So it’ll take something physical to stop me, and right now I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life. (laughs) So I don’t see any end to what’s going on right now. It’s the hardest show we’ve maybe ever done physically and I’ve never been in better shape, so I feel great about it.

It could come full circle for you. I remember you telling a story once about one of your first gigs when you cleared the joint. (laughs)

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I don’t mind admitting we were a horrible band, but we worked harder than anybody to be a great band, and that’s the way I look at it now. I only work with the best musicians, because I want them to be as good as the songs are. Bob Ezrin had a lot to do with making us good songwriters and hopefully the next couple of albums I’ll be working with Bob again.

That’s great news.

Yeah, and you’re going to really love this new show. This new show is so crazy that every night I can’t wait to do it, because it’s so insane.

Unedited Transcript of Entire Interview

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Alice Cooper Interview

ECR 9/17/09 Cover Feature

Alice Cooper Interview
Unedited Transcript
Conducted from The Desk at the Clemens Estate to York, Penn. 9/17/09

Alice Cooper ThenAlice Cooper – Hey James.

jc: How’s it going Alice?

How ya doin’?

All right. I’ll dispense with the pretense and get right into it.

Okay, great.

I’m doing a little legacy piece here, so I have a few questions to ask along those lines.

Sure. I’ll see if I remember anything. (laughs)

Well, it’s mostly philosophical in nature, really. Have you ever considered Alice’s lineage going all the way back in American pop culture to Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp? When you see Chaplin as an icon today he’s always portrayed in posters or statues as the Tramp character. And also, thinking about that in terms of the times; how Chaplin created this hobo character, which mocked the excesses of the Roaring Twenties, the way Alice certainly lampooned the excesses of the Seventies, as both its villain and victim.

Right, yeah, Alice was a definitely a created American character, and I think he started out being a victim, because I was a victim, I was an alcoholic at the time. You know, when I invented Alice I guess it was subconsciously. I knew I was a victim of alcoholism, and just never recognized it, but here’s Alice whose always stooped over, whose always getting killed, is always sort of, you know, the press was not real favorable. For a long time there was really nobody in Alice’s corner at all, so I kind of created him to be that whipping boy. Later, when I became a non-alcoholic, I created Alice to be Hannibal Lecter – he was suddenly…different posture, different attitude. So there were two Alices, two incarnations of Alice. But yeah, I always look at Alice as someone a hundred years from now…I don’t see why there shouldn’t be somebody playing Alice, or somebody playing Captain Hook. I kind of look at him as an American character. (laughs)

It’s always interesting to hear you refer to Alice in the third person, as you’re doing now, and that sort of lends itself to the idea that you can be possessed by whatever Alice you want for the short term to make certain social comments or present ironies.

Oh, yeah, I think so. I think really he was a necessary character because you couldn’t have a rock and roll drama without a villain. I mean, there needs to be heroes, villains and victims, and Alice needed to be a visual villain. There wasn’t one personified villain in rock and roll, so I said, “Well, I will gladly be that!” And the great thing about being the villain is usually the villain has a great sense of humor.

That brings me to your many imitators over the years, in almost every musical genre, and it seems – to me – that they’ve failed to display a sense of humor, irony or a satirical twist that Alice brought to light. Marilyn Manson, for instance, seems an overly serious rebellious figure, but without the necessary tongue-and-cheek quality that makes it more entertainment than manifesto.

Yeah, I think I kept waiting for the punch line. (laughs)

Most of the modern rebels are missing that spark of Mark Twain.

With a lot of guys. Yeah. Now a guy who’s got a good sense of humor is Rob Zombie. Rob is like a tattoo parlor coming to life. His stuff is so animated. He has as much reverence for Bela Lugosi as he does The Munsters; the scary and the absurd. He’s like my brother. We have exactly the same sense of humor. Zappa was like that. Zappa had a real sense of absurdity, for the right reasons. He understood absurdity. It cannot be explained. You look at it and it’s purely absurd for the sake of being absurd. (laughs)

This British rock journalist told me years ago that especially in the rock and roll world, if it had that “What the hell is this?” quality, it’s likely to be something worth listening to or watching out for. I would say that’s somewhat the Alice Cooper mission statement.

For a long time there was really nobody in Alice’s corner at all, so I kind of created him to be that whipping boy. Later, when I became a non-alcoholic, I created Alice to be Hannibal Lecter – he was suddenly…different posture, different attitude. .”

Yeah, I think so. And you, know, we were lucky enough to be artists and journalists, that’s kind of how we started in high school, before there was the Beatles and the band. We were all art students and journalists. We were both verbal and had a certain way of looking at things as artists, so when we put a band together all of a sudden it all came together. Maybe because of this we got the joke sooner than anybody else. I mean we were very serious about playing in a rock band and making great music and being as good as anybody else, but I think I always saw the absurdity of it and capitalized on it. I liked the idea that it should be absurd. I remember the first time I read a Kurt Vonnegut novel and went, “What is that? There’s something very funny about this, but I don’t know what it is…but I like it. You know, the first time you see Monty Python and it upsets the entire boat and your laughing and just really inspired by it. When the Beatles first came along I was like everybody else, I looked at them and said, “What is that?” (laughs)

Sure. I guess that’s where us Seventies kids have so many moments where Alice Cooper shocked and inspired us. Funnily enough, I put in the lead to this piece a story of when I was kid, I was grounded in my bedroom listening to “Years Ago/ Steven” from Welcome To My Nightmare in my bedroom on a gloomy autumn day, and forced to actually dust my dresser and to this day I cannot smell Lemon Pledge without getting that chill up my spine…

(sinister chuckle) (laughs) Yeah, how creepy it made me feel, how it jacked my imagination. (laughing harder now) How odd is that? No, I understand that. There was a certain sexual side to my life…Every time when I was a kid, every time I went into a public bathroom and smelled those little urinal cakes…when everything gave you a hard-on? Remember?

Yeah, I think I can remember that far back. (laughs) That brings me to the music. For me, the finest anthems of the rock genre are “My Generation” and “School’s Out”, both having two of the greatest lines; “Hope I die before I get old” and “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes.”

Right!

Now, I’ve not had the privilege to ask Pete Townshend about the former, but if you could tell me when you wrote that or sang it or listened to it back did you think, “What a fucking great line that is!”

Yeah, it really was one of those coloring out of the lines…”We got no class, we got no principles, we got no innocence, we can’t even think of a word that rhymes!” Because I couldn’t! (laughs) I could not think of a word that rhymed with principles, and I went…”Okay then, I cannot think of a word that rhymes!” And it turns out to be perfect for that character to say that. It perfectly illustrated his dumbness. (laughs) What was his name, the guy who produced…Paul Rothschild…

The Doors.

Yeah, the Doors and Paul Butterfield and Love, we tried so hard to get him to produce us and he told me when School’s Out came on he was driving in his Porsche and he pulled over and he remembered saying, “That’s the greatest line I’ve ever heard.” (laughs) Well, if nothing else, it captures the entire “Who cares?” bit. It just fit in. It was the last piece of the puzzle on that song. It’s like the stuttering in “My Generation” was what I loved.

Right.

Alice Cooper TodayAnd that line, “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes” was kind of the capper on that one. What do you think was your best idea in your stage show? Well, everyone asks, “What’s your best stage song?” And I always answer “The Ballad oF Dwight Frye”. Only because it puts Alice in a straightjacket under a cold blue light and he’s singing about being in a mental institution and you can feel the claustrophobia, you can feel him trying to get out. You can feel it on the record. When he’s going, “I got to get out of here…I gotta get out of here…I gotta get out of here!” And when he breaks out there’s this almost orgasm with the audience, because they’re feeling as claustrophobic as Alice is letting them feel. You can feel the veins in his neck popping and when he finally breaks out of that thing, they all break out of it too. You can breathe again. For me, that song was the best use of theatrics and song.

Hell, you can feel it on the record.

I actually recorded it in a straightjacket. I told Bob Ezrin (legendary producer of many Alice Cooper classic albums, as well as Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd and Kiss) this song should be done in a straight jacket, and he said, “Let’s record it that way then. And so when I recorded it I put myself in a straight jacket and you can really tell…(straining as if to escape)…in the voice of…trying…to…get…that…thing off.

That brings to mind another strange memory I have of Alice, when I went to general admission show in a large club in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, in 1981 and I remember being jammed in the front, and you were doing that song, which was so mesmerizing for us, having grown up with that song, and imagined Alice so many times straining to escape, and here we were jammed in our own confined herd in the front row and loving every minute of it, but relating to also being trapped, and you were screaming for us, in a way. (laughs)

It was a real theatrical experience the audience had not gotten before. With all of the great bigness of the show, with explosions and this and that and everything’s going on, and then for that one second, that one guy in a straight jacket in a cold blue light, struggling to get out, it brought it all down to a pin-point on stage. And then when he gets out of it, of course, it explodes with the color and light and everything again. It’s a real release for the audience.

Two last quickies. Are you comfortable being lumped in, and I mean this in the best way, with that whole Metal crowd, the hard rock crowd, because I’d always considered you even way back with the Alice Cooper Band through your solo career, as more of a cabaret performer with electric guitars.

I think there’ll always be an audience for Alice. So it will take something physical to stop me, and right now I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life.”

I look at it this way; we always wanted to be the Yardbirds. We wanted to be as good as the Yardbirds ands as good as the Stones and as good as those bands, so we were really, truly a hard rock band. We were never a Metal band. We were a hard rock band, and we wanted to be as good a rock band as anybody out there. We wanted the swagger. We wanted the snottiness. We wanted to have that kind of…I guess swagger is the word. Guns & Roses had it. Just to get up there and be a snotty rock and roll band, but to be a really good one. The Stones had it. It was built in. And I wanted that to be part of Alice Cooper. The theatrics then overtook that, but in my heart we were just a snotty rock and roll band.

Could you ever foresee shedding Alice? Obviously it has to happen eventually, you clip off the hair, get out the golf clubs and say, “Thank you very much, I’m done.” You ever see that happening, and would you miss the old boy?

I guess I could see that. I’ve always said the only time that’s ever going to happen, honestly, is if I physically can’t go on stage and do it, or if nobody shows up. (laughs) Then I know it’s over. You know then there’s no more reason to do it, if nobody’s going to show up to see it. But so far that hasn’t happened. I think there’ll always be an audience for Alice. So it will take something physical to stop me, and right now I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life. (laughs) So I don’t see any end to what’s going on right now. It’s the hardest show we’ve maybe ever done physically and I’ve never been in better shape, so I feel great about it.

It could come full circle for you. I remember you once telling a story about one of your first gigs, when you cleared the joint. (laughs)

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. We went from absolutely horrible…We were a lot of times…I don’t mind admitting we were a horrible band, but we worked harder than anybody to be a great band, and now that’s the way I look at it. I only work with the best musicians now, because I want them to be as good as the songs are. Bob Ezrin had a lot to do with making us good songwriters and hopefully the next couple of albums I’ll be working with Bob again.

That’s great news.

Yeah.

I know you’ve got to get going. Thank for the short amount of time.

Well thank you. And you know what? The best questions I’ve had in the last ten years.

No, shit.

So thank you.

Hey, you know, sir, thank you for giving us kids back in the seventies a voice and opening our imagination.

Well, thank you. You’re going to really love this new show. This new show is so crazy. Every night I can’t wait to do it, because it’s so insane. (laughs)

You stay healthy, hit ’em straight and God bless The Coop.

Okay, man.

Peace.

Bye-bye.

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The Sins of Tori Amos

Aquarian Weekly 8/12/09 BUZZ

IMPECCABLE PECCADILLOES
Tori Amos Defies The Sins of Sexual, Religious & Corporate Segregation

Tori Amos“I can’t stop it,” an ebullient Tori Amos whispers over a phone line somewhere on the outskirts of the road. “The muse walks in and grabs me by the throat, and demands, ‘Pay attention!’ – it could be in the middle of a movie or a nice evening with the husband, where I might be getting somewhere.…” Snickering playfully, she hesitates, exhales ardently, and simply confides, “Creation is in control.”

Amos, who once told the Chicago Tribune that her life was overrun by these “beings”, which she dubbed her songs that come “in and out like fragments”, is never one to ignore their meaning, birthing, and eventual nurturing unto bold statements that liberate her from an entertainment industry usurped by focus-grouped robotics.

“Creation is always there,” she continues, as if desperate to get the word out. “It’s always there for any of us that just want to surrender to it. If you can admit that it’s just not you who’s doing the creating, then it’s there for us all the time.”

Embarking on her first world tour as an independent artist, (she signed a joint-venture with Universal Republic Records late last year) with family in tow, (aforementioned husband, Mark and daughter, Natashya) Amos, who turns 46 this August, has released her tenth studio record, Abnormally Attracted To Sin, a tour de force of disparate musical styles furiously expressing sinister notions of sexual emancipation and spiritual fisticuffs. The tour, the artist blissfully admits, is something between Lounge Lizard and Fire & Brimstone, swings through the NY/NJ area this week with an edge some may expect from the enigmatic pianist cum myth-buster, but this time with perhaps something decidedly deeper.

The show is a reflection of Amos’ new-found escape from the corporate music industry with healthy backslaps at all-things oppressive, as is the balls-out themes broached in her newest razor-sharp collection of songs and throughout our candid discussion.

James Campion: Abnormally Attracted To Sin is replete with strong mythic metaphors; this idea of defining evil or specifically iniquity, which I know has informed your past work – but could you talk about the subjective defining of Sin as a theme in these new songs?

Tori Amos: Well…,once I realized…,once I really thought about how clever the early fathers of the Christian church had been, …because as I’ve traveled the one thing that comes up all the time with women is the segregation of the sexual and spiritual. Women can step into these different energies, but rarely are they together, and in order to get off or get excited and feel sexy, a lot of them have to step into the cliché of porno, instead of being in control and allowing the moment to take over them. Women will say, “Well, I’m liberated, I can do whatever I want with my body”, but in order to get off a lot of them have to pervert what could be a spiritual man. What’s sexier than touching your twin flame? But it’s kind of been put in a holy space, so that women turn to what I would say is perversion and negativity in order to get off. And I think that this is all connected to sin and the definition that was programmed and passed down by the early church fathers. So you couldn’t win; if you step into the bad girl you’re never going to achieve transformation, just orgasm. And if you’re spiritual, you’re not going to get transformation either because you’re disconnected from the body.

I’m reminded of an interview you did a few years ago on the subject of the subjugation of women in the early church while I was researching a book on the historical Jesus. I was in Israel visiting the town of Magdala, which was the town of the New Testament’s Mary of Magdala, later translated as Mary Magdalene, often seen as a woman of ill repute and wrongly depicted in church parlance as a prostitute. In actuality, she was a mainstay in the early Christian movement, or the Jesus Movement, which I call it in the book, and conspicuous in its absence is not one church or plaque or remembrance in the birth town of this Mary Magdalene. This, I think, speaks to that subjugation of women, not only spiritually and sexually, but also literally and historically.

“Women haven’t had a template. It’s not as if we’ve been taught, in the West particularly, throughout the Christian world, how to be whole and complete women. You’re taught to pick different aspects of this.”

Yes, and later once the movement was taken over by what became the Catholic Church, then, as you well know, Jesus’s message was merely a jumping off point for their own message. And their message became shame; that the body wasn’t holy, it was dirty. The truth is I always felt Mary Magdalene was telling us about integration and that she was a prophet. And if you and I go back to the great goddess culture of these women, they were whole. A lot of these women from ancient Egypt….

The symbol of Isis?

Yeah, they were complete beings. They weren’t just only sexual or only spiritual. Women haven’t had a template. It’s not as if we’ve been taught, in the West particularly, throughout the Christian world, how to be whole and complete women. You’re taught to pick different aspects of this. And this is why so many respected women go out and have these affairs and start dancing on the street or on a poll, (laughs) because they haven’t been able to figure out how to liberate the passionate self. And this is why the title of the record is so important, because it really asks you to define; “What are you attracted to?” And once you start knowing what you’re attracted to, until you really can look at what it is, and just talking to women, some of them are appalled and shocked at what they’re attracted to. Some of them have been attracted to men that don’t respect them at all. My God! So then, don’t you see? You have to go into your programming and you really have to reconstruct your main core outward.

That reminds me of something a woman friend of mine said years ago. She was pretty good at chess, but her father was excellent, and she said the problem there is that men are wired to parry and attack, while women are wired to react and protect, to hold back, which is doom speak in the realm of chess. You are pre-programmed not only sexually and spiritually, but also intellectually, instead of choosing to live not on the prospect of fear, but self-empowerment.

That’s right. So in a way I think this record is attacking the way that sin was seeded and put in the psyche, generation after generation.

Which brings me to the lyric in Flavor: “Who’s God then is God/They all want jurisdiction/In the book of Earth/ Who’s God spread fear/ Spread love.” And there is also the stanza from the title track; “She may be dead to you/But her hips sway a natural kind of faith”. And I love the combination of physicality and spirituality here; “That could give your lost heart/A warm chapel/ You’ll sleep in her bell tower/And you will simply wake ” Which has this Buddhist feel to it. I wonder, have you ever heard of Matilda Josyln Gage?

No.

The reason why I ask is your answer speaks to your point. She was a latter nineteenth century suffragette who was ostracized by the women’s movement and in particular Susan B. Anthony for her vociferous stance against the church and Christianity at large. The movement subjugated her because the movement could never be ingratiated into American politics on the momentum of an atheist or pagan voice, even though her points justified the very movement she was kicked out of. And in an essay at the time that I believe ended up in one of her later books, she wrote: “Believing this country to be a political and not a religious organisation…the editor of the NATIONAL CITIZEN will use all her influence of voice and pen against ‘Sabbath Laws’, the uses of the ‘Bible in School,’ and pre-eminently against an amendment which shall introduce ‘God in the Constitution.’In a way she is saying that all of these concepts were set up as a retaining wall to keep women from their constitutional rights, and although it differs slightly to what you’ve been saying, I thought about Gage and this quote upon hearing much of Abnormally Attracted To Sin.

Tori AmosWell it’s funny that you bring this up, because I’ll be playing the Daughters Of The American Revolution in Washington soon at DAR Constitution Hall. (sighs) The thing is, yes, things have changed in many ways, but you probably know how corporations are rife with a Right Wing Christian kind of leaning. And that this is not just an isolated situation I’m talking about, but across the country there’s a movement that is really about subjugating women on every level. It’s everywhere. And yes, there are corporations that are thinking more like you and I, but the fact is that in the twenty-first century there are corporations that are driven by a belief system! So the separation of church and state is a concept that is not necessarily a reality in our country at all. And I’ve had to go up against it as well; nothing like this woman, mainly because of the Internet, where I could get to the people without… (pauses) Without the Internet I’m not sure I’d be on my tenth album right now quite frankly, because the Internet came as corporations were clogging where I stood. And I was very vocal about the emancipation of all people, not just women, from this tyrannical faith system that is not Jesus’ teaching. So, yeah, I’ve had to combat some pretty dark forces. And without the Internet I don’t think that I would have been able to do it, because I got directly to the people.

Working outside of the system that is set up against free thought or free expression?

That’s right. But if we didn’t have the Internet we couldn’t work outside the system. Not like we are.

Sure, and that speaks to the self-empowerment issue as well. One last question about the record, there is quite a bit of prose, almost dialogue, specifically “Welcome To England”, “Not Dying Today”, “Maybe California” – which has a gorgeous melody, by the way – this sort of almost Allen Ginsberg, Beat poetry thing. And I understand there is an accompanying DVD with the record that has videos for nearly ever song. So I’ll assume you saw a cinematic aspect to the songs that could be more direct or succinct visually than audibly?

Well, honestly, I think the audio lives on its own, as you’re talking about it. There are conversations happening. It’s a very intimate record in a lot of ways, because we’re looking in on these conversations this woman is having and what’s going on in her mind, and the deepest feelings of her heart. So I don’t think it needed visuals, necessarily, but when I saw Christian Lamb’s montages I thought of silent movies and I thought of stories being told, but I wanted the visuals to be abstract, not literal. And he doesn’t work literal, so when I saw them I thought, “This is the tenth album and I want to give something sort of, I don’t know, it’s a double-digit anniversary number, I want to give something that is a little gift,” and I was really moved by his montage work.

“When you start seeing things as a job, then you start responding with a job consciousness as opposed to ‘I’m a creator who has an opportunity to create and live my life.'”

So you were inspired in that direction, which makes sense, again I find many of the songs cinematic, especially “Mary Jane”, which has now become my favorite drug song of all time. (laughs) There’s a Kurt Weill style to the song, not sure if you agree with this, but it has that German, nihilistic sound, just as the playful lyric works against it nicely. I know you didn’t do a film for that, but it is theatrical.

Oh, I’m so happy! You just made my day!

Oh, I did. Okay, good. (laughs)

(laughs) It doesn’t have a film, because really to do that film justice, you know…

I understand. Say no more.

Yeah.

But you were thinking in terms of Kurt Weill? Because it screams it to me.

Oh, yeah.

So, how’s the tour going? Can you escape to continue to create and be yourself, when you have so many of these things – interviews and you have to be on planes and in and out of hotels and performing – can you escape and be Tori every once in awhile.

Uh, being Tori…, you see, it’s not segregated anymore. (chuckles), Tash said the other day “Mummy, you rock.” Just about something silly, you know? I got her something cute, and dad looks at her and says, “Well, that’s an actual true statement, you’re mom rocks.”

(Laughs)

And so the thing is we travel as a family, and this is our life. People have said to Tash, you know, when they’re meeting her and they don’t understand the creature, they will say, “So when do you get back to your real life.” She’ll look and say, “Do you think this is a joke, then?”

It’s funny, you call your songs “Your Girls”, and now you have a girl and it’s weird, the balance of that.

Yeah, I mean, Tash has asked me before; “Do you love me as much as your piano?” or “Do you love me as much as your song girls?” And I say, “Uh, Tasha, I love you more than anything in the whole world”, because the mom in me is going to step in at that moment, but the truth is you there are no comparisons. Tash is a physical being and this is ether, and they’re immortal; the songs, they’re not trapped inside human emotions and all that. So in my mind, the way I see it is that the mother, the composer, the performer… this is not a job to me. When I do interviews, I try and put my head space as in there’s an opportunity to have conversations with people. When you start seeing things as a job, then you start responding with a job consciousness as opposed to “I’m a creator who has an opportunity to create and live my life.”

Unedited Transcript of Entire Interview

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

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Tori Amos Interview

Aquarian Weekly 8/12/09 BUZZ

Tori Amos Interview
Unedited Transcript 
Conducted from The Desk at the Clemens Estate to Orlando, Fla. 7/28/09

Tori Amos: Hi, James!

jc: How’re you doing, Tori?

I’m doing very well.

I guess I should start off with personally thanking you for Little Earthquakes, because back in the winter of ’95 it really, really helped me finish the manuscript for my first published book. The thing ran incessantly in the background and provided much-needed motivation, so thanks.

Tori AmosOh, good. How’s the writing going?

Um, always tedious, but it just keeps comin’. You can’t keep those words back as Bukowski used to say.

Isn’t that exciting, though. You’ve tapped in, James. (laughs)

So have you.

Look, nobody talks about this. I hear a lot from artists, the idea of a writer’s block, and sometimes I think you can really get into a paranoid place about that. Creation, as you know, is always there. It’s always there for any of us that just want to surrender to it. If you can admit that it’s just not you who’s doing the creating, then it’s there for us all the time.

I’m always after the muse, you know.

Yes.

(sighs) And hopefully she’s always paying attention.

(laughs) It sounds like she is with you, if you’re able to just keep writing those words. I can’t stop it. I find that the creation is control, and when it demands that I show up – it could be in the middle of a movie or a nice evening with the husband, where I might be getting somewhere – and all of a sudden muse walks in, grabs me by the throat, (whispers) “Pay attention.”

That’s actually my first question: How is the tour going, and can you create, can you escape to continue to create and be yourself, when you have so many of these things – interviews and you have to be on planes and in and out of hotels and performing – can you escape and be Tori every once in awhile?

Uh, being Tori…, you see, it’s not segregated anymore. Tash said the other day (chuckles), “Mummy, you rock.” Just about something silly, you know? I got her something cute, and dad looks at her and says, “Well, that’s an actual true statement, you’re mom rocks.” (Laughs) And so the thing is we travel as a family, and this is our life. People have said to Tash, you know, when they’re meeting her and they don’t understand the creature, they will say, “So when do you get back to your real life.” She’ll look and say, “Do you think this is a joke, then?”

It’s funny, a friend recently reminded me when she heard I was going to be doing this interview, that you call your songs “Your Girls”, and now you have a girl and it’s weird, the balance of that.

Yeah, I mean, Tash has asked me before; “Do you love me as much as your piano?” or “Do you love me as much as your song girls?” And I say, “Uh, Tasha, I love you more than anything in the whole world”, because the mom in me is going to step in at that moment, but the truth is James, you can’t…there are no comparisons. Tash is a physical being and this is ether, and they’re immortal; the songs, they’re not trapped inside human emotions and all that. So in my mind, the way I see it is that the mother, the composer, the performer… this is not a job to me. When I do interviews, I try and put my head space as in there’s an opportunity to have conversations with people. When you start seeing things as a job, then you start responding with a job consciousness as opposed to “I’m a creator who has an opportunity to create and live my life.”

Getting to the “eternal ether” of which you speak, I’d like to move onto the new record, Abnormally Attracted To Sin. I found it replete with strong mythic metaphors; this idea of defining evil or specifically iniquity, which I know has informed your past work – but could you talk about the subjective defining of Sin as a theme in these new songs?

Well…… (Laughs)

(Laughs)

Once I realized, once I really thought about it; the church authority, the early fathers of the Christian church, I started to think about how clever they had been, because as I’ve traveled, the one thing that comes up all the time with women, is the segregation of the sexual and spiritual. Women can step into these different energies, but rarely are they together, and in order to get off or get excited and feel sexy, a lot of them have to step into a cliché picture of porno, instead of being in control and allowing the moment to take over them. If that makes any sense, don’t you see then the whole porno aspect, where women will say “Well, I’m liberated, I can do whatever I want with my body”, but in order to get off a lot of them have to pervert what could be a spiritual man. What’s sexier than touching your twin flame? But, don’t you see, it’s kind of been put in a holy space, so that women turn to what I would say is perversion and negativity in order to get off. And I think that this is all connected to sin, and the definition that was programmed and passed down by the early church fathers. So you couldn’t win, don’t you see? If you step into the bad girl you’re never going to achieve transformation, just orgasm. And if you’re spiritual, you’re not going to get transformation either, because you’re disconnected from the body.

“Women haven’t had a template. It’s not as if we’ve been taught, in the West particularly, throughout the Christian world, how to be whole and complete women. You’re taught to pick different aspects of this.”

That brings me to a couple of points, and I’m reminded of an interview you did a few years ago on the subject of the subjugation of women in the early church while I was researching a book on the historical Jesus. This was in the mid-nineties actually. I was in Israel visiting the town of Magdala, which was the town of the New Testament’s Mary of Magdala, later translated as Mary Magdalene, often seen as a woman of ill repute and wrongly depicted in church parlance as a prostitute. Actually, or historically, she was a mainstay in the early Christian movement, or the Jesus Movement, which I call it in the book, and conspicuous in its absence is not one church or plaque or remembrance in the birth town of this Mary Magdalene. This, I think, speaks to that subjugation of women, not only spiritually and sexually, but literally and historically.

Yes, and then, later, once the movement was taken over by what became the Catholic Church, then, as you well know, Jesus’ message was merely a jumping off point to their own messages. And their messages became shame, that the body wasn’t holy, it was dirty and all these things. The truth, that I thought, that I felt Mary Magdalene was telling us was about integration, that she was a prophet. And if you and I go back to the great goddess culture of these women, they were whole. A lot of these women from ancient Egypt…

Isis.

Yeah, they were complete beings. They weren’t just only sexual or only spiritual, and I think women haven’t had a template. It’s not as if we’ve been taught, in the West particularly, through the Christian world, we’re certainly not taught through Christianity how to be whole and complete women. You’re taught to pick different aspects of this. And this is why so many women who are respected go have these affairs and might start dancing on the street or on a poll, (laughs) because they haven’t been able to figure out how to liberate the passionate self. And the title of the record is so important, James, because it really asks you to define; “What are you attracted to?” And once you start knowing what you’re attracted to, until you really can look at what it is, and just talking to women, some of them are appalled and shocked at what they’re attracted to. Some of them have been attracted to men that don’t respect them at all. My God! So then don’t you see you have to go into your programming and you really have to reconstruct your main core outward.

That reminds me of something a woman friend of mine said years ago. She was pretty good at chess, but her father was excellent, and she said the problem there is that men are wired to parry and attack, while women are wired to react and protect, to hold back, which is doom speak in the realm of chess. You are preprogrammed not only sexually or spiritually, but also intellectually, instead of choosing to live not on the prospect of fear, but self-empowerment.

That’s right.

So in a way I think this record is attacking the way that sin was seeded and put in the psyche generation after generation. Which brings me to the lyric in Flavor; “Who’s God then is God/ They all want jurisdiction/In the book of Earth/Who’s God spread fear/Spread love.” And there is also the stanza from the title track, “She may be dead to you/But her hips sway a natural kind of faith/And I love the combination of physicality and spirituality there/That could give your lost heart/A warm chapel/You’ll sleep in her bell tower/And you will simply wake ” Which has a Buddhist feel to it. Have you ever heard of Matilda Josyln Gage.

No.

The reason why I ask is your answer speaks to your point. Apparently, she was a latter nineteenth century suffragette who was ostracized by the women’s movement and in particular Susan B. Anthony for her vociferous stance against the church and Christianity at large. The movement subjugated her because the movement could never be ingratiated into American politics on the momentum of an atheist or pagan voice, even though her points justified the very movement she was kicked out of. And in an essay at the time that I believe ended up in one of her later books, she wrote: “Believing this country to be a political and not a religious organisation…the editor of the NATIONAL CITIZEN will use all her influence of voice and pen against ‘Sabbath Laws’, the uses of the ‘Bible in School,’ and pre-eminently against an amendment which shall introduce ‘God in the Constitution.'” In a way she is saying that all of these concepts were set up as a retaining wall to keep women from their constitutional rights, and although it differs slightly to what you’ve been saying, I thought about Gage and this quote upon hearing much of Abnormally Attracted To Sin.

Tori AmosWell it’s funny that you bring this up, because number one, I’m playing the Daughters Of The American Revolution, in Washington – DAR Constitution Hall. (sighs) The thing is, James, yes, things have changed in many ways, but you probably know how corporations are rife with a Right Wing Christian kind of leaning. And that this is not just an isolated situation I’m talking about, but across the country there’s a movement that is really about subjugating women on every level. It’s everywhere. And yes, there are corporations that are thinking more like you and I, and there are those people as well, but the fact is that in the twenty-first century there are corporations that are driven by a belief system! So the separation of church and state is a concept that is not necessarily a reality in our country at all. And I’ve had to go up against it as well; nothing like this woman, mainly because of the Internet, where I could get to the people without…(pauses) Without the Internet I’m not sure I’d be on my tenth album right now quite frankly, because the Internet came as corporations were clogging where I stood. And I was very vocal about the emancipation of all people, not just women from this tyrannical faith system that is not Jesus’ teaching. So, yeah, I’ve had to combat some pretty dark forces. And without the Internet I don’t think that I would have been able to do it, because I went directly to the people.

Working outside of the system that is set up against free thought or free expression?

That’s right. But if we didn’t have the Internet we couldn’t work outside the system. Not like we are.

Sure, and that speaks to the self-empowerment issue as well. One last question about the record, there is quite a bit of prose, almost dialogue, specifically “Welcome To England”, “Not Dying Today”, “Maybe California” – which has a gorgeous melody, by the way – this sort of almost Allen Ginsberg, Beat poetry thing. And I understand there is an accompanying DVD with the record that has videos for nearly ever song. So I’ll assume you saw a cinematic aspect to the songs that could be more direct or succinct visually than audibly?

Well, honestly, I think the audio lives on its own, as you’re talking about it. There are conversations happening. It’s a very intimate record in a lot of ways, because we’re looking in on these conversations this woman is having and what’s going on in her mind, and the deepest feelings of her heart. So I don’t think it needed visuals, necessarily, but when I saw Christian Lamb’s montages I thought of silent movies and I thought of stories being told, but I wanted the visuals to be abstract not literal. And he doesn’t work that way, so when I saw them I thought, “This is the tenth album and I want to give something sort of, I don’t know, it’s a double-digit anniversary number, I want to give something that is a little gift,” and I was really moved by his montage work.

“When you start seeing things as a job, then you start responding with a job consciousness as opposed to ‘I’m a creator who has an opportunity to create and live my life.'”

So you were inspired in that direction, which makes sense, again I find many of the songs cinematic, especially Mary Jane, which has now become my favorite drug song of all time. (laughs) There’s a Kurt Weill style that the song musically has, not sure if you agree with this, but it has that German, nihilistic sound, just as the playful lyric works against it nicely. I know you didn’t do a film for that, but it recalls an old, visual kind of play.

Oh, I’m so happy! You just made my day!

Oh, I did. Okay, good. (laughs)

(laughs)

It doesn’t have a film, because really to do that film justice, you know, I… I understand. Say no more. Yeah. But you were thinking in terms of Kurt Weill? Because it screams it to me.

Oh, yeah.

Okay, (laughs) That’s wonderful. This has been a treat for me. I do have two quick final questions from fans that I promised to ask – they have to know, because they’re huge fans. The first one is have you been playing covers on this tour, and if so, which ones and why?

Yeah, we’re doing a lot of covers, meaning there’s one a night, just because it fits into what we’re doing. I have a Lizard Lounge section. So it might show up there. Sometimes if it’s raucous it might show up somewhere else. I enjoy doing them. It’s also fits very well in the live format, especially if I don’t repeat the covers that it kind of tailors that show special for them.

That makes sense. And this next question I was thinking of asking myself, if the conversation veered more into the music as opposed to the literary and spiritual aspects of your work, but I know that your proficiency on the piano helped you to stand out among the many women artists that came along in the early nineties. Not only that it’s your style of playing – a facing the audience, more intimate style, and the playing of different keyboards at once. Is that style something that you have always used as a performance vehicle or something you’ve done out of necessity to lend different tonalities to the performance?

Well, all of the above. Once I was playing lounges for so many years, after I had been doing that, and as the records started to get developed and the sounds became more and more, then I thought for me to be able to deliver what I want it to sound like I’d have to include more keyboards on stage, it became…during Choir Girl…I had the harpsichord in Boys For Pele, and after doing that I just realized this is the way to go. So it started with the harpsichord and piano and then it expanded to all kinds of keyboards. In order to have a little orchestra.

Sure, I remember that specifically seeing your show out in Long Island years ago and that was one of the treats of the show. Well, I see we’ve gone a little over our press limit, so I want to thank you for your time, continue to chase that muse and bring her in and best of luck on the rest of the tour.

Hey James, will you let somebody know what book I can read, what you’re working on.

Oh, thank you for asking. Do you have somewhere I can send my books?

I’ll give you Barry and he’ll give you Chelsea’s address or he’ll e-mail you. Is that okay?

And I’ll send down some required reading for Gage, because she’s someone I think you’ll really enjoy.

Oh, yeah, could you do that? You’re the best mind I’ve talked to …ever! (laughs)

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100 Favorite Albums – Author, James Campion’s list.

100 FAVORITE ALBUMS(no live, best of…, or soundtracks included)

During a symposium for music journalists sponsored by public radio, jc was asked to list his 50 favorite albums of the rock-n-roll era, complete with mini-reviews for the top ten. Taken from the original notes rendered in the winter of 1998, jc told jamescampion.com that he reserves the right to update it at anytime, to which he then perused and changed considerably adding 50 more titles in the winter of 2002 and yet another update in the spring of 2009. Nevertheless the list is fairly concrete, and, as usual, open for healthy debate.

Last Updated 6/17/09

1. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy – Elton John (1975) Captain Fantastic
The ultimate collection from all-time song-writing team, Bernie Taupin and Elton John performed as a trip down English memory lane with one of the most underrated rock bands of the era. Killer opening tune, (title track) and dramatic closer (“Curtains”). A champion of melodies and musicianship, it combines the pomp of 70s’ pop with poetic angst. A flawless effort from artists in their prime.
Highlights: “Bitter Fingers”, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, “Writing”.

2. Quadrophenia – The Who (1973)Quadrophenia
An evolved rock ensemble tackling the essence of its author, Pete Townshend to perfection. The best concept/opera ever set to tape with an anger and sensitivity rarely displayed by artists of this genre. Defines the frustration of youth and its warped dreams of coming to age while offering a tapestry of powerful release and somber beauty.
Highlights: “The Real Me”, “5:15”, “Love Reign O’er Me”.

3. Exile On Main St. – The Rolling Stones (1972)
Exile on Main St.The greatest rock-n-roll band in the world at the height of its powers, cranking out musical inspiration with nasty delight. Recorded in a castle basement with the grit of high flying junkie hipsters, it is everything the Stones did well in every stage of its existence: country, blues, gospel, boogie, and barroom rockabilly.
Highlights: “Tumbling Dice”, “Loving Cup”, “Let It Loose”.

4. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (1967) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The musical centerpiece for an affluent postwar generation, it heralded the age of Aquarius, issued in the era of the album as an art form, and reinvented the most famous pop band on the planet. Lyrically effusive, musically colorful, and eminently entertaining; the history of rock-n-roll is split by its presence. Highlights: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “Being For The Benefit Of Mister Kite”, “A Day In The Life”.

5. The Joshua Tree – U2 (1987)The Joshua Tree
Documenting the most fertile period of one of the 80s’ most important bands, it is a musical journey both spiritual and cathartic. One of the finest opening songs to any collection (“Where The Streets Have No Name”) sets the stage for this brilliant array of folk/rock songs displaying the apex of U2’s unique sound and fury. It’s overall lyrical vision of earth, fire and water set to infectious melodies and dark images cut deep.
Highlights: “With Or Without You”, “Bullet The Blue Sky”, “Running To Stand Still”.

6. Sign O The Times – Prince (1987)Sign O' The Times
A mad genius caught in the infinite groove and the wild abandon of his mystical world, this is the quintessential collection of muses by any artist attempting to use popular music as a single career statement. Eschewing collaboration for the myopic vision, this is Prince Rogers Nelson as funk Gershwin setting impossible standards of creativity.
Highlights: “Play In The Sunshine”, “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”, “Adore”.

7. I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got – Sinead O’Connor (1990)
I Do Not Want What I Haven't GotThe most honest account of a woman artist exorcising spiritual demons, rendered with raw passion and infinite grace. Before O’Connor’s public furor and marketing defiance loomed over the work, it is a sweet and horrific demonstration of what a songwriter can do when facing the mirror and describing the view.
Highlights: “I Am Stretched On Your Grave”, “Three Babies”, “Last Day Of Our Acquaintance”.

8. Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan (1974)Blood On The Tracks
The best example of what an important social icon is capable of when turning his caustic, probing guns inward for a biographical purging. Spinning ballads and literal tales of the infamous lonely minstrel; this is Dylan on the psyche couch spitting out personal questions about the age of loss.
Highlights: “Tangled Up In Blue”, “Simple Twist Of Fate”, “Shelter From The Storm”.

9. New American Language – Dan Bern (2002)
New American LanguageIt’s pop, it’s folk, it’s rock, it’s country, but mostly it’s melodiously infectious and begs the listener to actually listen. One of the best new albums of the new century’s opening decade from a man fast becoming a musical chronicler of our bizarre times, and besides being as funny as hell, a damn good songwriter.
Highlights: “Sweetness”, “God Said No”, “Albuquerque Lullaby”.

10. Living With Ghosts – Patty Griffith (1992)Living With Ghosts
Elegant melodies and provocative lyrics bloom from the pure grit of a distinctly pristine voice and come to life in these quaintly stripped down compositions. Originally recorded for a demo, it is a startling debut from a signature songwriter of her time poised to unleash the deepest fears and soul aspirations onto tape.
Highlights: “Moses”, “Poor Man’s House”, “Forgiveness”.

11. Good Old Boys – Randy Newman (1974)Good Old Boys
The master of mordant metaphor and biting satire doled out in two minute ditties of twisted wit and wisdom offers up a smorgasbord of haughty characters born from the bowels of crazed self-loathing. Only a songwriting genius such as Newman could conjure such manic diversity delivered in goose-bump inducing melodies and striking orchestration. From the opening lines of “Rednecks”, this one hits hard.
Highlights: “Birmingham”, “Louisiana 1927”, “A Wedding In Cherokee County”.

12. Tommy – The Who (1969)Tommy
Expanding the mind, cleansing the soul and satirizing the whole damn world. Pete Townshend’s initial foray into the Rock Opera yields a rough and tumble unit’s cerebral side. Ardent imagery and bizarre glimpses into a metaphysical era, while impaling the various modes of culture, this is a special place where philosophy meets tonality with a vengeance.
Highlights: “Overture”, Pinball Wizard”, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.

13. Plastic Ono Band – John Lennon (1970)Plastic Ono Band
One man bellowing from the inside out for the whole wide world to hear. It is a stripped-down raw-wound collection of painful songs beautifully presented under the guise of healing. A signature effort from one of the most influential voices of a generation at the crossroads of a life three-quarters complete.
Highlights: “Mother”, “Isolation”, “God”.

14. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys (1966)Pet Sounds
Precursor for the age of studio chaos and experimentation. Gorgeous tunes with omniscient orchestration written and presented in glorious splendor by the genre’s resident ingenious loon, Brian Wilson. Sweet harmonies and dreamy arrangements set in the backdrop of childlike fantasy.
Highlights: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “You Still Believe In Me”, “God Only Knows”.

15. Destroyer – Kiss (1976) Destroyer
A wonderfully noisy postcard from the ostentatiously loud and dynamic 70s’ pap/metal/fantasy troubadours. Hits the traditional highs of great albums with a rollicking opener, “Detroit Rock City” and closes with the ethereal sex rant, “Do You Love Me?”, not to mention an orchestral bombast, rousing choir and the genre’s first ballad. As good as hard rock gets.
Highlights: “God Of Thunder”, Shout It Out Loud”, “Beth”.

16. A Night at the Opera – Queen (1975)
Night At The OperaA fitting title for an eclectic collection of electric arias of rhythmic playfulness, this breakout siren from one of the virtuoso bands of the period unloads the full repertoire of tricks from down-and-dirty rock, bouncy ragtime, operatic swooning and one of the finest pop songs of the 70s’ in “You’re My Best Friend” and its most outlandishly tasty bombast, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Highlights:
“Death On Two Legs”, “’39, “Love Of My Life”.

17. Not a Pretty Girl – Ani DiFranco – (1995)
Not A Pretty GirlThe ultimate screaming, pompous, angry, curiously romantic serenade from an incredibly diverse poet, musician, and folk singer in the zone. The evolving momentum of her work leads to this seminal musical moment and launches several more levels of creative explosions worthy of the great composers of 20th century passions.
Highlights: “Worthy”, “Hour Follows Hour”, 32 Flavors”.

18. The Wall – Pink Floyd (1979) The Wall
The only known audio film, it is the signature 60s’ art band’s final stab at bassist and songwriter, Roger Waters’ career-long fascination with the artistic seduction of madness. Beautifully produced and presented in a tour de force of sound, fury and virtuosity, a well of infinite sadness resonates with every note.
Highlights: “Mother”, “Nobody Home”, Comfortably Numb”.

19. Hunky Dory – David Bowie (1972)Hunky Dory
No better slice of the musical chameleon at the height of his songwriting, singing, and poetic powers. It is the framework for an an entire movement of 70s’ folk/glam/storytelling albums with a central figure speaking through the schizophrenic prisms of boundless imagination. The glaring example of Bowie’s engaging duality is on display with the opening strains of the positively charged “Changes” to the final note of the disturbingly somber “The Bewlay Brothers”.
Highlights: “Oh! You Pretty Things”, “Life On Mars?”, Quicksand”.

20. King of America – Elvis Costello (1985)King Of America
Everything Costello has given to the pantheon of modern songwriting and performing is evident in this masterpiece of lyric and melody. Arguably the finest collection of songs presented in the post-Beatles/Dylan period of balladeers with a few properly placed chords wrapped around a heavy bushel of irony, Costello’s distinct voicings and unnerving timbre is chillingly powerful throughout.
Highlights: “Brilliant Mistake”, “Indoor Fireworks”, “Poisoned Rose”.

21. Around the World in a Day – Prince (1985)Around The World In A Day

22. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John (1973)

23. Let It Bleed – The Rolling Stones (1969)

24. Small Change – Tom Waits (1976)

Small Change25. The Sun Sessions – Elvis Presley (1976)

26. Fleeting Days – Dan Bern (2002)

27. Little Earthquakes – Tori Amos (1991)

Little Earthquakes

28. Revolver – The Beatles (1966)

29.The Doors – The Doors (1967)

August & Everything After – Counting Crows (1993)The Doors

31. Moondance – Van Morrison (1971)

32. Girlfriend – Matthew Sweet (1990)

33. Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morrisette (1995)

Dilate34. Dilate – Ani DiFranco (1994)

35. Look Sharp – Joe Jackson (1979)

36. Outlandos D’Amour – The Police (1979)

Look Sharp37. Some Girls – The Rolling Stones (1978)

38. Sail Away – Randy Newman (1971)

39. Armed Forces – Elvis Costello (1978)Sail Away

40. Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones (1971)

41. Document – REM (1987)

42. The White Album – The Beatles (1968)

Document43. Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings – Counting Crows (2008)

44. Rocket To Russia – Ramones (1977)

45. Uh-Huh – John Cougar Mellencamp (1984)

Rocket To Russia46. Universal Mother – Sinead O’Connor (1994)

47. Bringing It All Back Home – Bob Dylan (1965)

48. Excitable Boy – Warren Zevon (1978)

No Need To Argue49. Abbey Road – The Beatles (1969)

50. No Need to Argue – The Cranberries (1994)

51. Bookends – Simon & Garfunkel (1968)

Bookends

52. 1999 – Prince (1982)

53. Dookie – Green Day (1994)

54. Freewheelin’ – Bob Dylan (1963)

Dookie55. Welcome to My Nightmare – Alice Cooper (1975)

56. All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes – Pete Townshend (1982)

57. Jazz – Queen (1978)

58. Rites Of Passage – Indigo Girls (1992)

59. Nothing’s Shocking – Jane’s Addiction (1988)

60. Tidal – Fiona Apple (1996)

Exodus61. Out of Time – REM (1991)

62. The La’s – The La’s (1990)

63. Exodus – Bob Marely

Sentimental Hygiene

64. Rumors – Fleetwood Mac (1977)

65. Sentimental Hygiene – Warren Zevon (1987)

66. Hard Candy – Counting Crows (2002)Hard Candy

67. Ani DiFranco – Ani Difranco (1990)

68. Under Rug Swept – Alanis Morrisette (2002)

69. News of the World – Queen (1977)

News of the World70. Central Reservation – Beth Orton (1999)

71. By Numbers – The Who (1975)

72. Beggars Banquet – The Rolling Stones (1968)

Ghost In The Machine73. Rain Dogs – Tom Waits (1986)

74. Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player – Elton John (1973)

75. Ghost in the Machine – The Police (1981) Southern Accents

76. Southern Accents – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (1985)

77. This Desert Life – Counting Crows (2000)

78. My Aim is True – Elvis Costello (1977) Billion Dollar Babies

79. Trouble in Paradise – Randy Newman (1982)

80. Billion Dollar Babies – Alice Cooper (1973)

81. Welcome Interstate Managers – Fountains of Wayne (2003)

Rubber Soul82. Rubber Soul – The Beatles (1966)

83. Gold – Ryan Adams (2001)

84. Maybe Tomorrow – Jackson Five (1971)

Gold

85. The Velvet Underground & Nico – VU (1967)

86. Joshua, Judges, Ruth – Lyle Lovett (1992)

87. The Game – Queen (1980)

Dream of the Blue Turtles

88. L.A. Woman – The Doors (1970)

89. The Dream of the Blue Turtles – Sting (1985)

90. This Year’s Model – Elvis Costello (1977)This Year's Model

91. Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen (1982)

92. Fifty Eggs – Dan Bern (1998)

93. Recovering The Satellites – Counting Crows (1996)

Fifty Eggs

94. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992)

95. Hi, How Are You? – Daniel Johnston (1983)

96. Ten – Pearl Jam (1991)

Ten

97. Black & Blue – Rolling Stones (1976)

98. Parade – Prince (1986)

99. Business As Usual – Men At Work (1982)Blue

100. Blue – Joni Mitchell (1971)

50 Favorite Films

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Lucinda Williams Interview

Lucinda Williams Interview Unedited TranscriptConducted over the phone lines from New Orleans, Louisiana and The Desk at The Clemens Estate, NJ – 2/22/09

From the Bayou to Bakersfield, Austin to Boston, from the high plains ballad to the raunchiest riffs and the echoing twang of an all-night hootenanny, Lucinda Williams has covered every geographical/musical base available to her. In a remarkable 31-year career that has defied label, her songs have traversed every emotional barrier with the steadiest of musical compasses. Her voice, graveled, strained and dripping of warm honey, strips bare the pretenses of performance at every turn. She is an American original, a country rocker with the soul Lucinda Williamsof a poet rising from backstreet city grit. Her intimately crafted records from Car Wheels On A Gravel Road to Essence to her latest, Little Honey (released within a year of her last effort, West) never disappoint while also skillfully chopping through the roughest lyrical terrain, making fertile otherwise barren territory. Williams, like all great authors, painters, photographers, and composers, acts as our constant guide, the world-weary traveler seeking a home, and we are always privileged for having come along for the ride.

The ten-time Grammy winner and her band, Buick 6 are rolling into Montclair New Jersey this week, and on the way, I had a chance to chat with her about the making of Little Honey, its subsequent tour, and her magnificently original and always inspiring songwriting.

James Campion: Hi Lucinda, How are you?

Lucinda Williams: Hi!

Thanks for giving me a few minutes on your Sunday.

That’s okay.

How’s the tour going?

Great. We just did three nights in a row in Dallas, Austin and Houston and it’s going great. Houston was really good, the best attendance we’ve had there in years and years. So that was really encouraging. Are you in New Orleans now? I see that’s on your next stop. Yeah, we’re here today and we’re playing tomorrow night at the House of Blues. I hadn’t realized it’s the night before Mardi Gras day.

That’s right.

That should be pretty crazy. (laughs) The House of Blues is always pretty wild anyway and now it’s going to be Mardi Gras week and it’s going to be like…(laughs) But we’re looking forward to it.

I’d like to talk about the new record. We’re really enjoying it over here. It’s wonderful. Thank you. It’s odd for any artist to release new material in back-to-back years, and I was just getting into West, dissecting the songs and living with them, and then Bang! here comes Little Honey. Is it simply a case of an overspill of creativity or was there something particular that inspired you to write so much new material right away?

Yeah, a lot of the songs that are on Little Honey were ready when West came out, and we were actually going to put out a double CD thing for West, because we had enough material for two, but we weren’t able to do that, so we just kind of divided the songs up. So Little Honey is kind of like West Volume Two…(laughs) with the addition of a few new songs. But the majority of the songs I already had for West, so that’s why that happened.

The record has a very first-take, loose, almost in-studio figuring it out vibe, in the Bob Dylan vein of here are the chords, one-two-three…go! Yeah. Is that an accurate description of the recording process for Little Honey?

“I like to leave things open for discovery, whether it’s in the studio or on the stage.”

Yeah, well it just kind of happened that way. I think it’s just a combination of the time between West and Little Honey I formed a new band, and we’ve been out on the road playing together. So I was recording in the studio with the road band, and any time you go into the studio with your road band there’s going to be more of that feel, more spontaneity and everybody’s comfortable with each other and so you’re going to have more of that “Yee Ha! Let’s have a good time!” sort of thing. So there was a level of comfort on this record that I probably haven’t experienced as much as any other record, partly because of that, but also it’s the same studio I recorded West in with the same engineer, Eric Liljestrand. So a lot of stuff was familiar territory, and I think everybody was a little more relaxed in general, and we gave ourselves permission to take chances and be real spontaneous. We wanted to have that feel end up on the record, like the false start on Real Love. I mean, nobody sits and plans that out. It just happens when the band is playing and we left it on. A lot of that stuff happens in the studio, it’s just a matter of deciding if you want it on the record. (laughs)

Does that level of comfort and familiarity translate to the live performances? In other words, when you go into the studio and its more of a live feel, I might assume that when you take the songs out they have an open-ended feeling of being able to continue to evolve with each performance.

Yeah, sometimes. There are certain instances, like now, Doug Pettibone is gone from the band and we have a new guitar player who’s replaced him, Eric Schermerhorn, who has just joined the band, so of course he’s going to be putting his own stamp on things. I mean, you know, for the most part, once the songs have been recorded and we have rehearsals and we go out on the road, I don’t tell any of the band members really what to play for the most part. I just kind of allow the band members to do their thing. There’s a certain guideline; you have to follow the song, but there’s always going to be some little neat surprises. They’re usually kind of small ones, like some nights we’ll reach a certain thing on a song and all sort of look at each other and say, “Wow that was really cool!” (laughs) I like to leave things open for discovery, whether it’s in the studio or on the stage. We’re always learning new songs, like just the other day during sound check before the show in Austin we worked up a Guitar Slim song called The Things That I Used To Do, this classic old R & B song, and I sang it that night and then we did it again last night in Houston, and of course it was better because it was the second night I’d done it. So we’re pretty spontaneous as far as working up material and trying new things.

Getting back to the record, two of my favorite songwriters are on it, Elvis Costello in the duet for Jailhouse Tears and Matthew Sweet added background vocals on a few tracks. I want to talk about Matthew Sweet first. I consider Sweet one of the most underrated pop and rock and roll songwriters working today.

Oh, I agree. Totally. I was completely taken with him. I knew who he was, but I’d never worked with him or spent any time with him, but I’ve decided he was the Brian Wilson of today. He arranged all the vocal harmonies, particularly on Little Rock Star, which are pretty complex. We sent him the tapes of the songs that he sang on with Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles), and he wrote out all these harmonies and all these lush, beautiful vocal arrangements and showed up at the studio with all this stuff already written out and arranged. I was blown away. I’ve never had anyone go to such lengths and be so involved in a technical way before. I was really impressed with how he worked.

How did your duet with Elvis Costello on Jailhouse Tears come about?

Little HoneyWell, he was one of the people we were thinking of and we had a list of people and we weren’t sure we were going to get Elvis because of his schedule and everything, but it just so happened that he was in town working on something for his own record, so we were able to grab him. We had to hook up with him around eleven o’clock on a Saturday night. This was after Tom (Overby – Husband/Manager) and I had been at a Grammy party, ’cause it was the week of the Grammys last year. So we literally just…we had the track cut already… and we just ran in and hooked up with Elvis and Elvis and I did the vocals together. It was real…(chuckles) very spontaneous.

It’s a wonderful duet. It reminds me so much of say a classic country duet like Johnny Cash and June Carter on Jackson.

Yeah. That’s kind of what it’s supposed to be, yeah.

I was turned onto Elvis like most people who love him in the late Seventies, but my favorite record of his is King Of America from 1986, which has this carefree, country, Americana feel that I always thought was reflected in your best work. I’m not sure if you’re a fan of that record and that’s what brought you to Elvis for this duet, but it’s weird how that came together in the song.

No, I was…I am! That’s funny you said that, because Elvis asked me several years ago to do one of those Crossroads shows (CMT Network) together. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those, they’ve quit doing them, but they would have two different artists on, and they’d have them sing songs together and talk and they asked me to do it with Elvis. So I had to learn a couple of his songs, and the song I did as a duet with him on the show was Poisoned Rose.

Oh, gorgeous song. I would have loved to see that.

I know. I love that, and I hadn’t even…Of course I was armed with all of his albums when I was getting ready to do that thing (chuckles) and I was listening to all of them, and that was the album that there were some songs on there that I thought were a little bit different than some of his other ones. That was the one song that really stood out. I hadn’t heard him do it before. I thought it was really unusual.

That makes perfect sense. I could absolutely see you singing that song.

Yeah. Yeah.

Your dad being a poet must have influenced your view of the written word as a powerful tool of emoting, so I have to ask about your literary heroes or influences and if they weave their way into your lyrical ideas.

“All of my songs, I mean…I’m in there too. (laughs) You know?”

The main one would be Flannery O’Connor. I read all of her stuff when I was a teenager, fifteen, sixteen years old. I just really grabbed onto it. She was very influential in my writing. In fact, the last couple nights we performed a version my song, Atonement and I talked to the audience about Flannery O’Connor and that Southern gothic and particularly her book Wise Blood, which really influenced that song.

Eudora Welty was another one, just that whole genre, the local color; it dealt with the South and that sort of dark side of life.

Flannery O’Connor to me is what Diane Arbus is to photography. (laughs)

Right. (laughs)

You know what I mean?

Yes, beautifully said. Excellent analogy. You can’t turn away, despite its shocking nature. There’s beauty to the darkness.

Yeah. That’s true.

I was thinking about the literary aspect to your songwriting career lately, even your performing career; for instance you performed your albums in their entirety in New York and Los Angeles a few years back, right?

Yeah, starting with the Ramblin’ album going straight through.

That kind of pulls the veil away from those records being anything other than almost novels unto themselves, as if hearing those songs in that order matter more than simply throwing your latest and best work together to release, promote and tour. Or is that thinking it out too much? (laughs)

No, not at all. It was great. I realized the whole idea of revisiting the songs the way they were done on the records, for one reason a lot of times I don’t get to perform every single song…there are a lot of songs that get left out of most of the shows I do. So it was an excuse to go back and do a lot of those songs that I don’t get to perform very often. You know, I got to revisit my early songs and see if they still held up. (laughs)

There are a three particular songs on Little Honey that denote the idea of celebrity or stardom or artists struggling through or with the creative process, for instance Little Rock Star, a touching conversational ballad, Rarity, a beautiful track with a wonderful horn arrangement, and It’s a Long Way To The Top If You Want To Rock & Roll, the old AC/DC song.

Yeah, well, Rarity was actually written during the West period and was supposed to be on West and was carried over. Little Rock Star was one of the newer songs that I wrote while I was recording Little Honey; but I’d been working on the idea for it. A lot of times I’ll start a song and take a while to finished it – but there’s a connection, certainly those two; although they really deal with the different things. And then the AC/DC song was actually Tom’s idea (laughs). He suggested it towards the end of the album. We were looking for a good old rock and roll song. He thought it would be cool to do a cover. We had a lot of possibilities and that was one of ’em. So we worked it up and it was just kind of one of those after-the-fact coincidences for the most part that we saw that there was a thread running between Rarity, Rock Star and Long Way To The Top. None of it was thought out ahead of time…

Sure. But it’s a nice trilogy. It works.

It is. It is. It really does. Yeah.

I’m thinking specifically now of Rarity, who is the subject behind that one?

Lucinda WilliamsThere was this singer/songwriter by the name of Mia Doi Todd. A friend of mine introduced me to her music several years ago. She was out on a little independent label and I was really taken by her writing, particularly her lyrics. She’s just really, really brilliant. I like her voice too. It’s very kind of Suzanne Vegaish, sort of a non-singer kind of voice. And her songs are like poems. I’m not often that taken by contemporary songwriters. So a couple of years later I came across one of her records and noticed that she’d been apparently signed by a subsidiary of the Universal Music Group and I thought, “Oh, this is great. The world needs to hear this person.” You know how when you discover a person like that and you want to champion them? So I was really glad to see she was going to get more well known and everything and then the next thing I know she’d been dropped from that label and was back on another unknown independent label, so I thought well…there you go, another brilliant artist falls through the cracks, under appreciated, underrated and so on and so forth. And that’s what the song is about. I was thinking about her, but I was also thinking about myself when I was back trying to get a record deal and trying to get signed and going through the whole thing with the major labels and all that kind of stuff. So I kind of just put it all together. All of my songs, I mean…I’m in there too. (laughs) You know?

Sure.

Even when I’m talking about…if there is another subject that inspires a song like Little Rock Star I think the writer has to always been empathetic with the subject. I think that’s true of any art form. To get back to photography, I mean the photographer has to be empathetic with whoever he’s shooting or whatever…you know, you have to put part of yourself in it in order for there to be an honesty there. I think that’s why the audience connects so well with my songs.

I’m reminded of Randy Newman when I think of putting empathy into characters, no matter how dark, no matter how deranged or off the tracks his characters are, when he is singing, you can feel he gets them and you are suddenly inside them as well.

Yeah.

Speaking of Randy Newman, is there a songwriter you admire now or have always admired, because you mentioned not ordinarily being blown away by any contemporary songwriters. How about ones from the past that influenced you the most and maybe still do?

“I’ve never been just a folksinger.”

Well, before when I said contemporary songwriters, I meant new, younger songwriters. There aren’t that many that I find myself saying, “Wow, this is really great!” But certainly one of the main ones would have been Bob Dylan. I started with him at twelve years old and I was immediately taken with the way he used language. Traditional music and contemporary writing blended together made a lot of sense to me. With my dad being a poet and growing up around contemporary Southern writers, but I was also greatly influenced by the traditional folk songs and all of that. I had the John and Alan Lomax Folk Songs U.S.A. that every kid had back in the mid-sixties and I’d sit around and sing all those songs out of there like Banks of The Ohio and listen to Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and at the same time I was influenced by the contemporary Southern literature that I was soaking up, that was around me, and so when I first heard Highway 61 Revisited, that was the first Dylan I heard, I just went, “Wow, he’s taken these two worlds and blended them together!” It’s like Allen Ginsberg meets Woody Guthrie or something, you know? (laughs) And it totally made sense to me. When I was twelve years old I didn’t understand every single song on that record, ’cause it was pretty complex, but I certainly got it. I got something. And I said, “This is what I want to do.” It had a profound impact on me. You know…?

I do know.

Yeah.

It shows in your work in a great way. I have one personal final question, as a fan; my favorite song of yours is Steal Your Love. I absolutely love that song.

Oh, thanks, thanks.

I think it’s a superb piece of irony, the rhythm and the direct sparseness of its performance is contagious. Can you recall anything particular about the writing or recording of that song for me? If I say Steal Your Love, what do you think of first?

Uh, well, when I was doing that record, the record itself, and even when I was writing that song, it was very liberating for me to be able to write a song like that and just let it go and let it be, without feeling like I had to fill it up with so many words and everything. Essence was the first record that I did following Car Wheels, and I just wasn’t sure what I was going to do. At the same time, again, to make the Dylan connection, his Time Out Of Mind album had come out right about that same time, and I was thinking, “Wow this is such an interesting parallel with his career and his different albums – his earlier ones were more narrative and kind of complex and everything – and now he’s doing this more stark album that Daniel Lanois produced and I just loved it. So there was this kind of thread going on; I was sitting there trying to figure out what I was going to do next after Car Wheels, because everyone kind of identified me with the more narrative songs, the country/rock, country/folk thing. I also was working with Bo Ramsey at the time and he really influenced a lot of the songs on that record. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him, but he’s worked over the years mainly with singer/songwriter Gregg Brown. Bo has a couple of his own albums out too. His stuff is blues influenced, but it goes beyond that. It’s just this kind of swampy thing, you know? So when I was writing, and not just Steal Your Love, but Are You Down? I was thinking at first, “Am I going to be able to get away with this kind of writing?” where the music just takes over and I just kind of…And I would never had done that before. Working with Bo, his whole approach is simplicity. Aquarian CoverHe’s the master of simplicity. Graceful simplicity, the less notes the better, the less you play the better; and then hearing Time Out Of Mind and seeing that same approach…I remember reading reviews where Time Out Of Mind got dissed because, and I think it was the Nashville paper, ’cause that’s where I was living at the time, said something like, “This isn’t Bob Dylan at his best!” and “What kind of lyrics are these?” And I remember thinking, “Let him go, let him have fun, let him breathe. Let the songs be what they are. Every song doesn’t have to be That’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” and I applied that to what I was doing. I saw a parallel there and also Bo’s music influencing me; his whole take on things, the sparseness, as you said. So I just gave myself permission; it is what it is. At first I thought, “God, what are my fans gonna think?” And I did get some criticism after Essence came out, cause it was so different from Car Wheels. But I’ve always been into different styles of music, it wasn’t that one day I just decided, “Hey, I’m gonna do this other thing.” I’ve always listened to different kinds of stuff. Like now I listen to Santo Gold and Thievery Corporation. I’ve never been just a folksinger.

Oh, yes. Obviously; country, folk, rock and roll, blues, all that’s in there.

It’s all connected, I think.

Car Wheels is brilliant, but Essence is my favorite record of yours.

Thank you. I appreciate that. A lot of people say that now. When it first came out people were kind of, well, some people were kind of like “Uhhhh”, but then I think it took awhile and it kind of grew on people and now it’s a lot of people’s favorite record of mine.

It’s like Exile On Main St. Hardly anyone liked the thing, they couldn’t “figure” it out, but now everyone not only loves it, but it routinely makes the top two or three rock and roll records ever made. (laughs)

Right. Yeah. (laughs)

Well, thanks for the time. I truly appreciate the opportunity to chat.

Oh, you’re welcome.

The wife and I are looking forward to coming out and seeing you in Montclair, New Jersey next month.

Good. It’s been a long time since I’ve been over there.

Well, thanks again for all the great records and songs and keep up the fine work.

Thank you.

You be good and safe out there on the road.

Okay, bye.

 

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Adam Duritz Out Of The Abyss

Aquarian Weekly 3/26/08BUZZ

ADAM DURITZ OUT OF THE ABYSS
Counting Crows Front Man Battles Identity Crisis and Serious Mental Illness to Emerge with a Powerful New Two-Act Record

Counting CrowsSaturday Nights & Sunday Mornings will be the last Counting Crows record.

Not because they’re breaking up, but because who makes records in this ghostly digital world anymore?

Apparently the Counting Crows do, and their singer, primary songwriter, lyricist, and spiritual center, Adam Duritz demands, “If the music business is falling apart and no one is buying records anymore, and if this the last record anybody makes, we’re going out with a bang!”

Fifteen years ago, in the band’s debut single, “Mr. Jones”, Duritz pleaded from the edge of oblivion; “I want to be someone who believes.” And now, after nearly two decades of walking what he describes as a tightrope of fame and fortune while teetering on the edge of a serious mental disorder, the same voice laments in “Sundays”, “I don’t believe in anything at all”.

For the better part of the past two years Duritz was debilitated from a psychosis called Dissociative Disorder, causing him to retreat into isolation and gain an alarming amount of weight. He stopped reading, a purgatory for a Lit Major from Cal Berkley, and worst of all, stopped writing songs and performing, what he describes as his “touchstone” to the world.

It was a culmination of what Duritz says was “one long downhill slide” from which he has emerged after entering a program and receiving the correct medication. He is eating healthier, dropping the weight while writing and recording the gripping Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, which he describes as songs about “dissolution and disintegration and climbing out of the hole”.

“Every chorus of ‘Mr. Jones’ ends with ‘When everybody loves me I’ll never be lonely”, which you know is not true,” Duritz argues today. “Winning a popularity contest cannot fix your life. You’re supposed to see through that in the song. The guy has a dream, and it’s a great dream; you should have it – go ahead and want to be a rock and roll star – but that dream is not going to fix your life. I knew that even then. Before it happened to me.”

It has been a long, strange trip from evangelical to agnostic; most of it’s details bleeds from every track on what may be the final collective yawp from his band, the Counting Crows; the canvas for his journey from endless night to a new morning. One Duritz is not afraid to share in song or on the cover of another rock and roll weekly.

There appears to be a concerted effort to push the Saturday Nights part of the record in your face, electric guitars, edgier lyrics, and then unfurl the second half as a mellower, reflective collection of songs.

If you’re an artist, you owe the truth. Period. That’s all you really owe. People can make judgments whether they like it or not. For me, it’s exactly how I felt. Maybe my style’s over-raw.

There was no concept to it. The songs define it, and then you make it work; but once it’s there, there is no compromising. There were people who told me to take several songs off this record, “1492”, for instance. “It’s says ugly things about yourself like you can’t count on me. It’s embarrassing, so get it off! Pick a more positive song!” So, it says really ugly things about me? “On a Tuesday In Amsterdam Long Ago” is embarrassingly raw too. I admit it. It’s ugly to them, but to me, its kind of the point of it all, like it or not. Maybe they’re all embarrassing. Maybe “Tuesdays” is over-raw. Who knows? But it can’t be over-raw if it’s exactly how I felt. If it’s over-raw then that’s who I am, so either way is true. If you’re an artist, you owe the truth. Period. That’s all you really owe. People can make judgments whether they like it or not. For me, it’s exactly how I felt. Maybe my style’s over-raw.

Could there be a song that you’ve written that would never be released because it’s too close to the bone?

No, I don’t think so. Too close to the bone would be the reason for releasing it. That would be the point. You want to get as close to the bone as you can.

What about the second part of the record, Sunday Mornings?

As my life changed, we were finishing up what you would now call Saturday Nights. I started writing other songs, and I could see this other kind of record as a companion piece. So we started expanding on that while we were recording the second set of sessions and at the same time learning how to record and arrange what became Sunday Mornings. It was this one album that gave birth to something else it is now.

We had this great idea, it was cool, and it told a different kind of story than it would if it were a shuffle selection of easy listening songs. We were looking to do something different. Definitely by the time we were recording Sunday Mornings we were aiming at what we eventually ended up with.

You mentioned your life changed. You’ve been pretty candid about the period you’ve gone through in the last year and half to two years, your bout with mental illness and depression; and going through it in your work. Is there any fear among artists that without a constant harangue or that constant inner conflict, you can’t create, or is that complete bullshit?

I think it is. I couldn’t write when I was at the worst. I didn’t write for years. It’s not really depression, though. It’s a different thing entirely; it’s a Dissociative Disorder. The world literally seems like an hallucination. The world just doesn’t seem real. Imagine living for twenty years as if you were having an acid flashback. That’s what’s been going on in my head. And it will never stop. It’s not going to go away. The challenge is to learn to live with it, to not panic.

The depression or anxiety comes when the world seems like an hallucination. You tend to get a little fat and worried, because, you know, it sucks.

The truth is in the past year and a half I became complete debilitated to the point where I could not function at all, but it was a long decline. It’s part of the reason I’ve had trouble all of my life.

Adam DuritzBut as far as creativity goes; if you’re a writer, you write. I write when I feel things. Sometimes I can be very happy and it can remind me of things in the past that are gone. I wrote “On a Tuesday In Amsterdam Long Ago” a few days after “Accidentally In Love” (Shrek II soundtrack/nominated for 2004 Academy Award). They’re both about the same thing. “Tuesdays” is about this idea that while I’m completely in love right now, which is incredibly beautiful, what if it’s just a post card, what if I’m looking at this moment in my life like a snapshot of something that was and now isn’t a long time from now. It’s a very sad song, as opposed to “Accidentally In Love, which is a completely ebullient song about unabashedly falling in love. I don’t know which of the two I like better. It’s harder to write about something that’s happy, maybe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. It just means you need to be a good writer.

To write about those things is a lot harder, because it’s harder to be happy…for me. At a certain point you get tired of trading your life for song. I’ve done it for a long time now, under this impression that my life wasn’t anywhere near as important as being an artist. I’m not sure that’s a very good decision to be continuing to make.

The song “Washington Square” reminds me of the Henry James novel of the same name, mainly because it seems to describe this struggle with identify and self-doubt in a world of wealth and privilege.

Well, it’s definitely about a loss of self, and it’s about losing your mind. It begins with a complete loss of sense of who you are. I hadn’t read Washington Square; so I can’t really say it relates to that, but yes, the first part of this record is definitely about completely losing all sense of your self, and the second part is how do you put your life together when you don’t have a sense of self. How do you go get it if you completely let go of your life while trying to live it again? You don’t know how to do it, so you’ll mostly fail. But that’s okay. Life isn’t always about succeeding in everything. Half of success is in the doing.

I notice a theme of your work is to use cities as a metaphor for whatever you are getting at, whether it appears as the name of a song, “Omaha” or “Miami” or in the case of this record, where city names appear in almost every song and some titles.

I suppose so. I don’t use cities as metaphors so much as I tend to write detail. I think I read once of Hemmingway that you begin with one true thing and then you go from there. You don’t want to say; “I love you” as much as you want to say; “All at once you look across a crowded room and see the way the light attaches to a girl.” The details of what’s going on in the room, the books on your shelf, communicate something about the way you feel. If you just say, “I feel this way” it actually doesn’t communicate real feelings, because it’s just the words that stand for something rather than mean something. So I believe in writing details and cities are where things take place. “I wandered the highways from Dublin to Berkeley” from “Washington Square” has to do with the two cities I left behind and ending up in New York City and then having to leave there again.

You’re living in Manhattan now, and were there for most of the time you wrote and recorded some of these songs. So seeing how cities are part of your canvas, how did living in New York City influence these songs?

Imagine living for twenty years as if you were having an acid flashback. That’s what’s been going on in my head. And it will never stop. It’s not going to go away. The challenge is to learn to live with it, to not panic.

I suppose New York effects me because I write about my life, so any place you are will be a different tone than another place. They all have an effect on me. I don’t know where I can metaphorically interpret how New York fits in. I definitely wanted to record Saturday Nights here and Sunday Mornings in Berkley. But a lot of it had to do with not wanting to leave home to record. New York City has an affect on me, but it was also nice to go home and record Sunday Mornings too. There’s something about the tone of Berkley.

I began to dissect some of the new songs and noticed epilogues or at the least hints of reprised lyrics from earlier songs; more directly; “Now I’m the king of everything, and I’m the king of nothing” from “1492”, harkening back to “Rain King” from the first record. “Dreaming Of Michelangelo” from the second record. “This dizzy life” from “Hanging Tree” reminded me of This Desert Life, the title of your third record. “The girl on the wire” from “On a Tuesday In Amsterdam Long Ago” and “I walked out into the air” from “Washington Square” repainted the picture from “Round Here”, again, on the first album. Were you thinking in terms of looking back, encapsulating the last twenty years of your life and paying homage to the band’s legacy, or am I reaching here?

I don’t really write in a calculating way like that. I don’t think things through. But then there is “Michelangelo”, which was begun twenty years ago. I had this idea of Michelangelo lying on his back painting the Creation: God reaching out to Adam, and in my mind not being able to quite reach God. Obviously it’s the opposite, God has just touched Adam and he is alive. This is what’s happening, but in my mind it was always he reaching out and not quite touching God. But I couldn’t flesh this out. So the idea crops up in “Angels Of The Silences”, but as I changed, experienced more, and understood what the song was going to be about; it became about the constant struggle of the artist to reach for something divine, to create something out of nothing, which is the original divine act; there was a void and let there be light, making something out of nothing. Anything! Build a chair, make a song, make a jump shot, but always try and reach for something different. But to me I would never, ever be able to reach an understanding, a feeling of satisfaction in it. Finally, what the song is really about for me is that while you’re spending your whole life stretching out from something you can’t touch, you forget to touch everything else around you, and that I had become so divorced from the world through this disorder that the only thing I ever focused on was the music and it was the only touchstone I had on earth, and I had lost touch with everything else, and that is what that song was about, and now I knew how to write it.

I will say the use of “Come on, come on,” in “Cowboys comes from the nadir. He’s lost his mind entirely. He can’t feel anything, and he can only touch the world through acts of violence, and he’s trying to get something to come into him and come out of him, something to pull his life out of his numbness, and he’s screaming, “Come on, come on, come on, come on!” But, again, it’s a very different feeling than the celebratory “Come on, come on, come on, come on!” in “Accidentally In Love.

I wrote “Cowboys” all in one night and I certainly wasn’t thinking of “Accidentally In Love at that point of my life because I was completely out of my mind and I certainly was not in love.

Having gone through all you described, your disorder and identity crisis, writing and singing about it, putting it together in art, is there a sense that you’ve come through and the record reflects the failures and successes as you described them?

Well, I’m no doctor and there is no exact science for psychosis; but it’s scary. It’s a difficult thing. You have to be careful every day to ground yourself.

Take it day by day.

Yeah, but I’m thinking a lot further forward these days.

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Bruce Springsteen 2007 Tour In New Jersey

Aquarian Weekly 11/1/07

THE ROLLING MOSES REVIVAL SHOW BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BANDCONTINTENTAL AIRLINES ARENA 10/9/07 East Rutherford, New Jersey

Bruce SpringsteenNo one is more beloved for his survival in the rock and roll idiom than Bruce Springsteen. Not the Stones. Not Dylan. No one. While they are also grand survivors of age, generation, curious career choices, and an unforgiving waver in and out of our pop culture radar, it is somehow different with Springsteen. He stands alone in being worshipped as a kind of brother figure – a confidant, not a god, a buddy, not an icon.

All of this is exhibited clearly as Springsteen and his nine-piece E Street Band, (more like a battalion) roll across America like an old-time gospel review baring witness to the long road behind and ahead.

Back in the bosom of New Jersey, Springsteen, clad in black with worn road boots, looks like a warrior Moses descending from the mountain to whip the faithful into fury. He lifts his aged Telecaster as a staff to rouse the throng from first note to the last, counting down the commandments one by one.

As usual his band is air tight, despite rumors of limited rehearsals and mercurial stage audibles; it manages to bludgeon a well-conceived line-up of songs from nearly forty years of material. If there is a serviceable answer to the question: Why do we need four guitars and two keyboards assaulting our senses? It is passionately on display here.

Nearly half the show, the fourth on his 31-city world tour, unfurls the better parts of “Magic”, a new collection of slickly produced harangues against false idols and social disorder. But they do not dirge. They swing, they pummel, and they make their stand, specifically “Long Walk Home”, “Last To Die”, “Livin’ In The Future”, and “Radio Nowhere”. There is a bounce to the songwriter’s step that is clearly evident when Springsteen plays these songs, leading seamlessly into segues of earlier numbers, which reflect their place in The Boss canon; “No Surrender”, “The Promised Land”, “Reason To Believe”, “The Rising”, and “Badlands”.

The set appears to be more a singular statement than a mere concert. There is no room here for the isolated strains of “Jungleland”, the crooning plea of “Thunder Road”, or a rousing retelling of ‘Glory Days”. There is a method, a plot, a thorny storyline you must follow, like the chosen shuffling through a parting sea.

But then there is also the obligatory stomp and revelry of a Springsteen encore, which includes a spirited version of “Thundercrack”, a rougher-edged “Dancing In The Dark”, and, of course, “Born To Run”, which goes a long way to providing a sledgehammer thesis to the echoes of survival, musical or Biblical.

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