Conversation With Dan Bern On “Breathe”

Aquarian Weekly 9/13/06BUZZ

TENDING OXYGEN BAR WITH DAN BERN A Conversation On Reflection And Dissection In “Breathe”

Dan BernThe paradox of the desert landscape is ample enough proof of the ying/yang turmoil which fueled the songs on the new Dan Bern record, “Breathe”, an aptly titled homage to hope and regret, pain and promise, heart and bones.

Of course this is the place where these introspective compositions were born, where their composer strides comfortably to his daily tennis forays and mineral baths and bicycle sojourns to nowhere. Of course this is where the beat-up acoustic guitar leapt from the wall of Bern’s private artist bunker, strewn with soiled paint brushes, discarded beer cans and pistachio shells, the crackling of ancient Hank Williams crooning from the corner tape player placed carefully above the perpetually suspended game of Scrabble.

Of course.

Somewhere out in the badlands of New Mexico, beyond the endless horizon of sun-scorched rock and bending cacti, framed by mountain peaks painted with snow, in a town better suited as the back lot for a black and white John Ford epic, Bern fashioned his ode to middle-aged angst, soulful longing, and blunt observations on love, life, and the brokered faith of uncertain future. This, his sixth full-length studio recording, accompanied over the past decade by five ep’s, four books, and a continuous schedule of touring the world with or without a band, encapsulates the road-weary experience of a true American troubadour.

Joined by what Bern calls his “dream team” collection of musicians and helmed by legendary producer Chuck Plotkin, who not only steered Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen recordings home, but Bern’s masterpiece “New American Language” five years ago, the pleasing melodies of “Breathe” are cleverly couched in humble arrangements that ferry the poignantly ruthless lyrics as if easing the sting of medicine.

James Campion: I believe it was one of the last times you played in New York that you prefaced one of the songs that ended up on “Breathe” as a song that was born of your environment, of being home and immersed in the idea of being introspective, retrospective, and then looking forth from where you were in life, an exercise in reciting to yourself in song. So do you view “Breathe” as a collection of songs written in a place of comfort where you could exhale?

“Stop what you’re doing and breathe” is like the answers are there, the answers are inside, but you can’t keep going at this pace and expect to right the ship.

Dan Bern: Yeah, taking time away from the road, being here in the desert, looking at the sky, just trying to get healthy. It also came from a completely different approach to writing songs for me. I think in the past I’d always written what the writer wanted to write and then sang it accordingly. At some point I got it into my head that I was a singer, so I started writing for the singer. So a batch of songs like “Remember Me”, “Tongue-Tied” sort of came out that way, as if some singer walked in and you’re a songwriter and he wants something to sing. So you give him something he could actually sing.

Did you plot ahead how you wanted to record “Breathe”, or who would produce it or play on it? Or was it merely serendipity how it all came together?

I think it was as I was writing these songs and thinking about making a record. There became a kind of urgency with this stuff, particularly with the songs “Breathe” and “Past Belief”.

How so?

Well, it’s a message: “Stop what you’re doing and breathe.” It’s the return of the messiah; the return of the “Jerusalem” guy from the first record and this is what he has to say now…to the whole world. If I was to find myself in front of five billion people suddenly with three minutes to tell them something…

…that’s what you’d say: “Stop what you’re doing and breathe”?

Yeah, rather than some specific thing like “Fix this!” or “Do this!” or “Do this differently.”

“Stop what you’re doing and breathe” is like the answers are there, the answers are inside, but you can’t keep going at this pace and expect to right the ship.

It’s like in the past when I had something like “Bush Must Be Defeated”, it became an urgent thing, and something that I needed to get out right then and sort of get behind. This is the ’05 version of that, I suppose.

So the theme of the record might also be a way of responding back to the younger you, the messiah, and you’re now at this point, or the messiah is at this point, and you’re commenting from that perspective. This makes me wonder if all that time on the road stumping against Bush for close to a year in ’04, the blood and guts you displayed for something you truly believed in, and all the shows and the two ep’s you put out and everything you accomplished, and in some ways painfully failed to accomplish, lead to the voice of “Breathe”. Could you have written the songs on this record had you not gone through that experience?

Oh, probably not. Some of it was the result of being broken, and not so much broken…um…I really don’t feel like my spirit was broken, just that my body was broken. (laughs) It required me to sort of learn how to breathe and listen to my insides.

So it was certainly cathartic.

Dan BernOh yeah. It’s funny because everybody reacts to the new thing you do based on the thing you did before. When I did the overtly political stuff, people were surprised by it based on what I had just done prior to that. You know, “Why are you doing this, I don’t understand?” And now people will probably go, “Well, have you abandoned the political stuff?” To me this is in some ways also political, it’s just more personal too, which is really, I think, what I do. There’s the stuff that’s out there and then the personal stuff. To me it’s always intertwined. I don’t really make the distinction between the personal and the political. The political stuff is personal to me, and the personal stuff is political. So I don’t know if I’ll ever make a record again like this one, because I was in a very specific head space for these songs, but I think I needed to make this one.

It’s very interesting that the two songs that became the impetus for this new collection are polar opposites in many ways. There is a conflict there. “Breathe” is a hard look from the inside and “Past Belief”, with that great line, “I’m willing to go on faith, but I’m past belief” is the viewpoint of a man who is more cynical about the things outside of himself he cannot control.

I don’t know that “Breathe” is just about “listening to yourself” as it is about all the rhythms of the universe being in there. Through listening to yourself and being aware of your breathing and slowing it down will lead you back out. And “Past Belief” is basically all the stuff that’s out there – “water’s are rising and world’s on fire.” Things you can’t control. At the same time that leads you back into “right here-right now”, this kind of “What have I got to do to get a little shuteye?” (laughs) It is kind of like breathing; the in and the out. They kind of reflect off each other.

There’s a great deal of outside forces mentioned throughout the songs on “Breathe” like the rain and the wind and standing against it, not unlike dealing with much of what you cannot control sometimes…like politics, no matter how personal you make it.

Yeah, and it will break you if you try and fight some of the big forces. It’s like those trees that bend in the wind. They’re fine, but the ones that try and fight it are the ones that end up broken and lying in the ditch.

The irony of the whole thing is breathing is involuntary, yet it seems like a metaphor for being more in control of your immediate environment: “Just breathe already!”

It’s weird, because it’s a subtle thing. It’s not controlling your breathing so much as it is being aware of it and allowing it to work for you. I mean, by breathing through different parts of your body you can open up all those cells that sometimes get clenched without you ever being aware of it. I don’t want to sound too fruity with all of this, (laughs) but it is a pretty primal thing, and I think everybody at some point in their lives needs to get down to these basic things. Having said that, in the first song on the record, “Trudy”, let’s discuss this “escape route” you write about “from my life, from my time”.

Do you feel when you brush off the dust of the road and you’re back home and you’re forced to be introspective and more isolated you become this other person? The one that writes, “Just one push of this button over here/New clothes, new face/New name, vanish with no trace.”

“I think a few years ago it would have scared me to make a record like this. I would have squelched it, short-circuited it somehow. You know, ‘I’m Dan Bern, I’m supposed to write about pop culture, I’m supposed to mess around with images of Jesus and Elvis and Einstein. That’s what I do.’ But that’s as limiting as anything else.”

Oh yeah…yeah. There are times I definitely forget that I even go out on stage and play, and have this life beyond what most people know of me, especially in the past few years when I was having a lot of ambivalence about ever doing this anymore. Well…yeah…you and I have had these conversations where I told you “I’m done. I quit. I’m not doing this anymore”, so it became necessary that when I do have breaks to completely disassociate myself form that aspect of what I do.

Strangely, I think I’ve come through that. Check with me in six weeks, (laughs) but I don’t think I’ll quite have that difficult a time with that anymore. But, yeah, there is that thing where at times you need to do different things: paint, play tennis, ride a bike, and sort of get back to yourself the way you were when you were 12-years-old.

I think almost all of the songs on “Breathe” are about, in one way or another, defining one’s self or redefining one’s self. For instance, the line from “Feel Like A Man” – “I’m lost, crazy lonesome/a plane with no place to land/And I do what I have to/ to make me feel like a man.” To me it’s coming from a person who lets go of himself, and like the line says…does what he has to do.

Yeah, I think to get back to there…you have to let go. Getting that far away from that grip that we have on ourselves, feeling like we can maintain some control, and to really let yourself get blown around by the wind, you can never get back from that. You know, we’ve seen people raving in the streets and they don’t know who they are. That’s extreme, obviously, but we sometimes go through some version of that, and if we come out the other side, we’re better for it.

Is this the most introspective of all of your records?

I think a few years ago it would have scared me to make a record like this. I would have squelched it, short-circuited it somehow. You know, “I’m Dan Bern, I’m supposed to write about pop culture, I’m supposed to mess around with images of Jesus and Elvis and Einstein. That’s what I do.” But that’s as limiting as anything else. There was a time when that was freeing, but if that becomes your job description and doesn’t allow for anything else…? I mean the reason you’re an artist in the first place is so that you don’t have to conform to what you or anyone else decides your place in the world is.

Was this a fun record to make?

It was probably the easiest record to make that I ever made. It was just really congenial. I liked everybody. Everybody got along. It was done pretty quickly. I was living on the beach, swimming in the ocean every morning before we went into the studio. There’s probably something in the songs that didn’t want to be terribly messed over and over and over with. Most of these are first and second takes. Almost all of them were live vocals. I tried to redo them or improve them, but, almost without exception, the vocal I sang as the whole thing was going down is what seemed the most right for the thing.

Which is the complete polar opposite of the last record you recorded with Chuck Plotkin, “New American Language”, which is a brilliant record, my favorite of yours, but one that took a year or so to finish, and one you pained over, right?

Yeah. It was just a completely different process. That one we did in two different towns over a long period of time. Chuck wasn’t there for all of it. He’d come in two or three times for a few days, and I’d send him tapes and we’d talk, but it wasn’t a soup to nuts kind of process for him.

We just took it a tune at a time and shook out the arrangement. Then we’d record it. If there was something we did six or seven, eight, nine times, it was usually the first or second take that we ended up using.

You’ll be touring this record?

Yeah, but I don’t really know how to tour a record as such, because what happens is I write some songs, we go in and record them, and at some point you gotta say, “Okay, that’s done.” Then the next song you write is for the next record, but it continues. But I’ve never felt like I’m touring a record. It’s like, “I have a new record for this tour,” which is cool.

Do you see being on the road with the new material as the final snapshot of the recording experience? In other words, do you see a tour of this kind as a celebration of the complete experience or have you already entered a new headspace and left the work back in the studio?

Well, both, really. Because in some ways once its mixed and mastered, it’s done, and I’m working on other songs, but at the same time it’s part of the whole sphere surrounding the whole thing. So, yeah, it is kind of a celebration, and I probably will emphasize the songs on this record. And there is a way the record doesn’t quite feel complete until you’ve gone out and played it and given people a chance to hear it and talk about it, and go on the radio and play a few songs from it.

This way you can just let the songs speak for themselves.

Yeah, it’s like “You want to know about the record, then listen to it…and then you tell me.”

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Jane Siberry at Zankel Hall

Aquarian Weekly 3/22/06

GLIDING THROUGH THE ETHERJANE SIBERRYZANKEL HALL 3/11/06New York, New York

Jane SiberryEmerging out of the winged shadows like a Beat diva from the fog of Warholian lore, accompanied by the strains of pre-recorded strings and the faint echo of birds, singer/songwriter, Jane Siberry settled into 90 minutes of free-form poetry, a cappella yearnings, an engagingly dry wit, and an eclectic spectrum of song styling which seemed oddly comfortable in the Broadway surroundings. As a storyteller, Siberry has few peers, as a poet she floats random association headfirst into a post-modern cul de sac, but as a songstress, and most chillingly, as a vocalist, she is one of the finest I have ever seen.

Alone on piano and acoustic guitar for most of the performance, Siberry deftly, almost too comfortably, commanded the auditorium as if she were literally born in mid-lyric. Her expression as art, body and soul, is astounding to witness, as esoteric as a sixties drifter and as elegant as a pre-war siren. Confronted by the sweet caress of the melodies, woven with dissonant jazz chords and vicious key changes, it is not hard to fit her songs, or her supple voice, into any era, any genre. Even the drawing of her breath pulses in key.

The intimate surroundings of Zankel Hall, and its rapt audience, framed the perfect canvas for the willowy Siberry, who demurely announced during several encores that she is championing a new way to sell her music: an on-line “self-determined” pricing of her 10-plus CD catalogue, including live recordings. “I am restless to reduce the abyss between the audience and the artist,” she gleefully announced amid cheers.

The set, partially and beautifully, backed up by a quartet of violin, cello, French horn, and oboe, illustrated the point perfectly. Each song – strike that – each note was presented with the utmost care and attention to detail. The ensemble buoyed such goose-bump inducing numbers as “You Don’t Need”, “I Paddle My Canoe”, the wonderfully moving, “In My Dream”, and the brilliant, “Love is Everything”.

Siberry, the consummate composer with a unique reverence for the spoken word and a subtly to emote, adroitly eschews the pretension of the eccentric artist for the transparent minstrel: songs as parables, poems as mirrors.

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Patty Griffin at Town Hall

East Coast Rocker 5/19/04

AN EVENING WITH PATTY GRIFFIN TOWN HALL NYC 5/8/04

Patty GriffinA rich texture of melody and rhythms chugged and slinked from the versatile four-to-five piece band supporting the soulful country-blues silk of Patty Griffin’s songs during a nearly two-hour performance that raised the historic rafters of Town Hall. The cozy venue normally reserved for opera and classical ensembles soared with energy from the sold-out crowd throughout, turning an intimate evening with one of America’s finest songsmiths into a rousing revival.

Grinning shyly beneath a wild crimson mane, the delightfully engaging Griffin chatted with the audience, sharing the stories behind her most moving compositions, while deftly jumping from acoustic guitar, piano and lead-singer stances that recalled a youthful Janis Joplin.

Griffin mostly concentrated on the striking new material from her latest “Impossible Dream” collection, the highlights of which included the whimsical optimism, of “Kite Song” to the gospel-tinged, “Standing”, to the baleful siren, “Love Throw a Line” to the chilling “Mother of God”. She also offered up old favorites like the sweet melancholia of “Rain”, the Muscle Shoals reverberation of “Chief” and a playful rendition of “Be Careful”, during which a giggling Griffin forgot some of the lyrics on two different occasions and sought the eager assistance of the packed house.

“This is a rare momentary lapse,” she chuckled beneath a telling whisper. “And these are the moments that make a night like this pretty special.”

But finally, it was Griffin’s angelic pipes which were in finest form on this night, as she wailed and crooned and bellowed to the rafters in a magnificently pitched performance worthy of her recorded work. A musical storyteller of exquisite range and emotion, Griffin thrives on the energy of a concert setting, providing a naked glimpse into the soul of her craft and a window into her limitless potential to describe the view.

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Hangin’ With Dan Bern

Aquarian Weekly 5/5/04 REALITY CHECK

SPRINGTIME FOR BERNSTEINTwo Months, Two Novels, A Dozen Songs, and One Serious Bonfire

Moore and Bernstein First week of March Bernstein calls me from the road. “I’m in Oklahoma,” he says. “Buying porn and The Anarchist Weekly”. I was excited, but reticent. He called again, and again. Reports from the road: He’s writing a song, listening to talk radio, reading a story about work farms, eating a tuna fish sandwich and talking to me all at the same time. The phone died. He survived. I braced. It would not be sufficient enough time to prepare. Two months with Bernstein in NYC, both of us carrying our novels and healthy doses of grudge against the greater good.

He arrived in town a few days later. My friend Buzz and I saw him at a wine and soda joint down on Astor Place on a snowy Sunday night. He was dusty from the road. He pulled out his beat up old guitar and played some songs, real good songs; hearty, angry, funny songs. Then he broke a string, said goodnight, and walked off. I told Rita Houston from WFUV that Bernstein wrote a book. “Bernstein writes songs,” she said. I told her again. She shook her head and smiled. “Damn it!” I screamed at her. “Bernstein is a novelist! His songs are great, but this fucking thing was better. I hate his guts. I’m the writer!” She backed away, but I could tell I’d convinced her. Brandon Kessler from Messenger Records was there. He did not appear nervous. “I’m in the damn thing,” he said. “We’re all in the damn thing.”

It had been four long months of back and forth with Bernstein on his book, excerpts, rewrites, long nights of dialogue. I sent back notes. “This puppy moves. It has legs. I’m going to burn my manuscript and send the charred remains to my agent.” He wrote back on mine. “It’s good. It’s bizarre. I need more reality.” I wrote back, “Less dialogue!” He wrote back, “I don’t know what I’m doing!”

When I next visited Bernstein, he was whitewashing a room in an artsy hotel suite downtown. Throwing paint around the room while he repeated over and over, “I hate George Bush.” After awhile it began to sound like a child’s limerick. I asked him, “You hate the man or the method?” He said he feared the whole thing. Made him pick up his guitar and write about it. Made him come to New York to stay awhile and then off to San Francisco to see Barry Bonds shoot up and bang homers. He was going to sing about Jesus being a Jew and about how going to Mars beats living alone and how being president might be a kick.

“If you could pick anyone, whom would you want to be president?” Bernstein asked me at a coffee shop on Third Avenue.

“You run for president!” I shouted. The place froze with terror. They knew who he was. And they were pretty sure I wasn’t stable. I hadn’t tasted real coffee in awhile and I was sufficiently jacked on the caffeine.

Bernstein seemed pensive. He rolled a cigarette. I stared him down until he answered. Bernstein thought about my proposal and shook his head violently. “Not me,” he said. There was a collective sigh. “I’m here to write songs. I’m here to make noise. I’m here to put things right.”

He played me songs. Good songs, funny songs, serious fucking songs. He and my wife splattered paint all over the ceiling of the Saint Holy Armistice Suites in midtown Manhattan. I paced and talked about the new bohemian revolution, about how there isn’t one.

He wrote a song about it. “The President’s Song.” He penned a manifesto of change and common sense and humanist theories. I left him alone. He looked happy. I was worried about him, though. We needed to make a bonfire. Bernstein agreed, but kept on writing. He wasn’t ready. I didn’t think we would ever spark that bonfire.

My wife showed up the following week. I think it was late March, maybe early April. She brought Bernstein her portfolio of disturbing images. He loved it. “Let’s paint like we don’t care anymore,” he said to her at dinner. She smiled. My wife loves to create with no purpose. This is why I married her.

A woman from a publishing company came down to see Bernstein. He brought his drawings. I made copies of them. Many copies. We distributed them in Bryant Park. The woman wanted to see the text. He handed her handwritten pages stained with coffee and soy sauce. “I can’t submit this,” she said. I told her about Kerouac’s toilet paper roll and “On The Road” and the puke stains on Bukowski’s best work. She didn’t understand. I told her my novel was recently optioned for a Hollywood film. “It’s bizarre, needs more reality,” Bernstein said, continuing to pull dog-eared, stained pages from his duffel bag.

“Type this!” the woman yelled at us. So Bernstein bought an old Brother electric typewriter. “Why do you need a typewriter?” the kid behind the counter of the hockshop asked him. Bernstein grinned like the Cheshire cat and rolled another cigarette. “I’m gonna type,” he said.

He played the next night at the Housing Works Used Book Café in the East Village. It was one of those Indian summer nights. We had Indian food. He was fantastic. Right in the mood. Played the old songs, played the new ones, played “The President’s Song.” The crowd cheered. “This pissant little writer I call jc wants me to run for commander and chief,” he told them. I knew what he was doing. He was calling me out. He was putting this charade on me. “This man is a charlatan!” I cried. “He’ll kill us all!” Bernstein just smiled and played “Jerusalem” and everyone calmed down, even me.

I received a call about mid-April when Bernstein was in Canada complaining about the food. It was from a man going by the initials, C.M., claiming to have actually written Bernstein’s novel. “Jesus, man, these are serious charges,” I told him. “Bernstein’s not even here to defend himself. He’s busy riling up the Canucks with songs about revolution and baseball and porn.” It did not matter, C.M. told me. He wrote that book and he could prove it.

I had a planned interview with Ani Difranco the following night and told her about Bernstein’s dilemma. She was worried. She knew him. She worked with him. She had her doubts about the veracity of my reporting skills, despite refusing to talk to anyone but me. “You don’t work for Ms. Magazine,” she said. Yet she believed my story. She told me she’d recently run into Bernstein at an airport hub in British Columbia and they spoke as if nothing had happened, but she sensed something odd. I concurred. We agreed not to alarm him. Ani felt it could lead to more peculiar behavior with drawings and paint.

Bernstein returned unaffected by Canadian food or the DiFranco détente, but was resolute. Ani met with him again down in D.C. at a women’s rights rally. She played songs. Bernstein played songs. He said, “This is why I picked up a guitar in the first place.” She agreed. He told her she was in his book. She asked if her character died in a fiery explosion. He did not answer. Maybe she did.

“Hey jc, it’s Bernstein!” his message began days later. “The publisher rejected my manuscript! Fuck it! I’ve been rejected by better than them. We’re gonna beat this thing. We’re gonna put this sucker out and let the world decide who wrote this book!”

Only one week before his van pulled west, we scrambled around. There was the Parker Posey motorcycle incident. There was the NY Circus mishap. There was some unforeseen trouble on the FDR and missing designer soaps at the Trump Plaza. I read Bernstein my published nonsense. “Wow,” he said. “Where do you stand politically?” I told him, “On the fence.” He said, “There is nothing so courageous as conquering fear.” He played me songs. Good songs, funny songs, serious fucking songs. He and my wife splattered paint all over the ceiling of the Saint Holy Armistice Suites in midtown Manhattan. I paced and talked about the new bohemian revolution, about how there isn’t one. Bernstein rewrote the novel C. M. accused him of stealing. “I know all about C.M.,” he said. “He’s mad. I stole nothing. He wrote a children’s book about science. I wrote about me.”

He had one more gig. We were done. The wife and I gave him a hug. “We never did start that bonfire,” I told him. “Bullshit,” he said, rolling one more cigarette. “Go downstairs.”

I don’t know if I’ve seen a better bonfire than the one that burned on lower Broadway that night. Goddamn, if Bernstein didn’t come through. “More reality!” he shouted from the hotel window.

I hate his guts. I will miss him.

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Patty Griffin Digs Deep

Aquarian Weekly 4/28/04 BUZZ

COLLAGES, GHOSTS & THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM Patty Griffin Digs Deep and Takes to the Road

Patty GriffinAt first it’s the voice that grabs you. Floats up out of the speakers of your stereo and pierces something untold inside. It’s hard to describe in words. You have to hear it, like Tom Waits’ scowl, Sinead O’Connor’s wail, Billie Holiday’s sadness or Sinatra’s martini-soaked sonatas. Patty Griffin could be singing about taking out the garbage or the death of a loved one, swooning to old romantic movies or recounting the plight of a poor kid down the block who walks home from school everyday in worn-out shoes. The subject doesn’t matter. She sings about grief, and she sings about love and loneliness and the other stuff you’ve heard a thousand times, but somehow while she’s doing the singing, you’re feeling every bit of it.

It is a talent unmatched.

And the songs, well, they’re some of the most beautifully haunting melodies you’ll ever want to hear. The lyrics are unpretentious, but insightful, and always bittersweet. Whether she is writing for the Dixie Chicks, as she has from the beginning of their precipitous rise up the charts, or for her own four captivating studio records over the past eight years, Griffin is digging deep and holding nothing back.

Before embarking on the East Coast leg of her 2004 Spring Tour, which will stop off at Town Hall in NYC for two shows on 5/7 and 5/8, I had a chance to talk to the woman whose music helped get this tortured soul through a few nagging manuscripts these past years. I found her in giddy spirits and excited about her latest soulfully reflective record, “Impossible Dream” released last month.

jc: I have always wanted to ask you what inspires such insightful and emotional songs?

PG: It usually starts for me with the music. I really just feel like I need to sing or something, and then I start making noise and get a picture. That isn’t every single time, but that’s kind of how it works for me. I don’t really have a plan, or I’m not very organized about it. (laughs)

jc: Have the same things always inspired your work?

PG: I think, yeah, they probably do. I get a little deeper into them as I go along, but as some things change, there is definitely a common thread.

jc: Do you write predominantly autobiographical?

PG: No.

jc: (laughs) The reason I ask is that your songs have always struck me as intensely personal with a surprising clarity to the description of events within them. For me, that’s where the inspiration comes, drawing from personal experiences and creating characters to express them.

PG: Well, thank you. Yeah, they kind of show up and take me there.

jc: So the process is more spiritual or emotional than intellectual?

PG: Right. Exactly.

jc: That brings me to your first record, “Living With Ghosts”, a brilliant example of emotional expression. The recording technique itself was more spiritual than technical.

PG: Well, they gave me money to make a real record from my demos, and I went and did that and they hated it. (laughs) So I said, “You really loved those demos, what’s wrong with putting those out?” And they were brave enough to do that.

jc: I bet you get this all the time, but that record is a masterpiece.

PG: Well, thank you. I’m grateful that those songs were presented that way, because, number one, that was the most honest representation as far as my performance, and number two, I had to tour the record that way. So I logged a lot of hours on stage by myself, which was really good for me. It gave me a lot of confidence.

jc: Now to this unearthly voice of yours. When did you discover you were blessed with this amazingly pure gift to express your art?

PG: Well, my mom was a singer. She sang around the house all the time, really beautifully. My sisters and I would sing along too. So singing was pretty normal around my house. Nobody was professional or anything, but there was always singing going on. So sort of from the age of 12 on I decided that I really wanted to try and become a singer. I didn’t know if I could really do that or not, (laughs) but I spent some time singing with records and going out of my way to work on it. I think was about 17 or 18 when I sang in front of a bunch of people for the first time and they let me know that they thought it was exceptional.

“If I were a visual artist, I’d be making collages.”

jc: This is ostensibly a rock and roll, pop culture magazine, and when someone asks me what kind of music does Patty Griffin write and sing, I want to say folk with a country flavor, but country music today is so fragmented. You’ve written several songs for the Dixie Chicks, who have crossed over to pop and rock, and I don’t expect artists to place themselves in a specific genre, but whom would you say were your main influences?

PG: There have been quite a few along the way. I would say the original inspiration was John Lennon and the Beatles. I moved on from there to Aretha Franklin. I remember watching Ella Fitzgerald on the Mike Douglas Show and going, “Wow!” We were raised with so much stuff, AM radio, everything – all across the board. It’s funny. I just noticed in the last couple of weeks that there’s all this collage stuff on my record covers. And I specifically asked Traci Goudie, who did the artwork on the last record and this record to maybe not have it be as collagey this time, and it’s twice the amount of collage work! (laughs) But, you know, I have to admit it’s pretty appropriate, because that’s what my music is. If I were a visual artist, I’d be making collages. I’d be using a lot of different mediums and drawing from a lot of different places and influences.

jc: The new record, “Impossible Dream” has a distinct soulful sound. Was that your aim this time, to be more bluesy or soulful?

PG: I think that a lot of the songs were coming out of very dark places, some places I’d never really dug down to before. And I was having trouble figuring out how to get those across. So I drew from some music I’d been listening to before I worked on this record like Johnny Cash and the Staple Singers. I was also listening to the Velvet Underground. Definitely different styles, but all of those artists have this in common; they are talking about some really hard stuff lyrically, but their music is uplifting. And I wanted to find a way to have something you can almost dance to and still be real for me. It’s important for music to literally uplift. That’s what gospel music does, and Johnny Cash does that too. He’s sittin’ there telling you about a hanging, but he’s chugging along. And you can groove to it, you know? (laughs) It’s important to be able to communicate that stuff without having to drag ’em through the dirt.

Patty Griffinjc: Your song, “Truth No. 2” is mentioned prominently in a publicity memo I received with an advance of “Impossible Dream”. The song appears on the last Dixie Chicks record, “Home”. It says here “the song spoke most clearly for the band about what its like to be censored.” Does that refer to the whole ridiculous flack – banning their records and burning them or some other such unwarranted nonsense – resulting from their comments about the president while on tour a couple of years ago?

PG: It just sort of worked out that way. They recorded the song before any of that happened. The song is really about being honest to who I am. Putting some faith in that. I think the Chicks have to have that message available to them as well. They’re really high-end entertainers and they are in show business, and it was a really difficult situation to be put into. I was actually in England about three months before them and feeling the heat as well. The polls were 70% against the war. There were huge protests and we were standing up on stage with these people looking up at us skeptically. All of us live in Texas, so I can understand how that came out of their mouth when it did. I don’t think they were planning to get on a political bandwagon, but sometimes just by being yourself you end up in these crazy places. “Truth No. 2” is sort of like, “I’m gonna take the chance and show my true colors, because I don’t have a choice.”

jc: Regardless of the penalties that sometimes follow the telling of truths.

PG: Right. And there are definitely penalties involved. (laughs)

Unedited Transcript of Entire Interview

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Patty Griffin Interview

4/7/04

Patty Griffin Interview Unedited TranscriptConducted over the phone lines from her home in Austin, Texas and The Desk at Fort Vernon, NJ – 4/7/04

Patty GriffinAt first it’s the voice that grabs you. Floats up out of the speakers of your stereo and pierces something untold inside. It’s hard to describe in words. You have to hear it, like Tom Waits’ scowl, Sinead O’Connor’s wail, Billie Holiday’s sadness or Sinatra’s martini-soaked sonatas. Patty Griffin could be singing about taking out the garbage or the death of a loved one, swooning to old romantic movies or recounting the plight of a poor kid down the block who walks home from school everyday in worn-out shoes. The subject doesn’t matter. She sings about grief, and she sings about love and loneliness and the other stuff you’ve heard a thousand times, but somehow while she’s doing the singing, you’re feeling every bit of it.

It is a talent unmatched.

And the songs, well, they’re some of the most beautifully haunting melodies you’ll ever want to hear. The lyrics are unpretentious, but insightful, and always bittersweet. Whether she is writing for the Dixie Chicks, as she has from the beginning of their precipitous rise up the charts, or for her own four captivating studio records over the past eight years, Griffin is digging deep and holding nothing back.

Before embarking on the East Coast leg of her 2004 Spring Tour, which will stop off at Town Hall in NYC for two shows on 5/7 and 5/8, I had a chance to talk to the woman whose music helped get this tortured soul through a few nagging manuscripts these past years. I found her in giddy spirits and excited about her latest soulfully reflective record, “Impossible Dream” released last month.

jc: Your music has inspired me greatly while finishing the manuscript to my last published book, specifically, “Living With Ghosts”. So I was wondering what inspires you to write such insightful and emotional songs, and have the same things always inspired your work?

PG: I think, yeah, (laughs) they probably do. I get a little deeper into them as I go along, but there seems to be some things that are…some things change, but there is definitely a common thread.

jc: Do you write predominantly autobiographical?

PG: No.

jc: (laughs) The reason I ask is that your songs have always struck me as intensely personal with a surprising clarity to the description of events within them. For me, that’s where the inspiration comes.

PG: Well, thank you. Yeah, they kind of show up. (laughs) And they take me there lots of times.

jc: So then do you take personal experiences and perhaps create characters to express yourself so completely in song?

“It usually starts for me with the music. I really just feel like I need to sing or something, and then I start making noise and get a picture.”

PG: It usually starts for me with the music. I really just feel like I need to sing or something, and then I start making noise and get a picture. Something like that will happen usually. That isn’t every single time, but that’s kind of how it works for me. I don’t really have a plan, or I’m not very organized about it. (laughs)

jc: Then you would say the process is more spiritual or emotional than intellectual? You feel the message more than aim to articulate it.

PG: Right. Exactly.

jc: Well then that brings me back to your first record, “Living With Ghosts”, a brilliant example of emotional expression, which one could also say that the recording technique was more spiritual than technical. You released your original demos made for the record company as your first record, right?

PG:: Well, they gave me money to make a real record from those demos, and I went and did that and they hated it. (laughs) So I said, “You really loved those demos, what’s wrong with putting those out?” And they were brave enough to do that.

jc: I think it was brave for a first time recording artist introducing herself to the world with such a raw and emotional record, just you and the guitar in a room with no accompaniment or frills at all.

PG: I didn’t really have much choice at the time. I was really pretty down about having my record that I made with all the fanfare rejected, so I was not in a very good mindset to make another one. But that’s how I played those songs then. That was the way I performed them live. I never really played with a band before, so it made a lot of sense to me that that would be the way they would be done best.

Anyway, going in to play with a band, I was really shy at the time. It was a big, big, big emotional drain (laughs) to go in and record with a lot of strange people. I knew that was not going to work, (laughs) so I didn’t have much choice but to put those songs out the way they were. I think that the really impressive people were the people at the record label. A & M, back in the day, and this was before the really big take-over, they were about artist development. So they really put the money where their mouth was, and they put a record out that wasn’t going to sell a billion copies right away. So they really did it. I thought that was brave of them, really.

Living With Ghostsjc: I bet you get this all the time, but that record is a masterpiece. I have it listed on my web site as one of my top 10 favorite all time records.

PG: Well, thank you.

jc: You’re very welcome. The funny thing about “Ghosts” is it fits in with many of the records on that list like John Lennon’s “Plastic Ono Band” and Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks”, in that it is a personally emotional statement. However, those records are by established monster artists that didn’t need to put on airs. But, again, you accomplished this right out of the gate. I mean, the first song on your first record, “Moses”, an amazing reflection of loneliness, is right on the mark. The performance is haunting. I wonder could any of those songs have been presented any better? In hindsight, could you have seen yourself being splashed upon the public any more honestly than just you and your acoustic belting it out?

PG: Well, I feel really grateful that they were presented that way, because, number one, that was the most honest representation as far as my performance, ’cause they really did capture pretty honest performances, and number two, I had to tour the record that way. So I spent a lot of time on stage and logged a lot of hours by myself, which was really good for me. It gave me a lot of confidence on stage, which I did not have before and it was really important that it turned out that way.

jc: Now to this unearthly voice of yours, reflected in every utterance on that first record and the three other studio efforts since. It’s an incredible instrument to have available to emote these lyrics of yours. When did you discover you were blessed with this amazingly pure gift to express your art?

“If I were a visual artist I’d be making collages. I’d be using a lot of different mediums. My music, I think…I’m drawing from a lot of different places and influences. “

PG: Well, my mom was a singer. She sang around the house all the time, really beautifully. So singing was pretty normal around my house. Nobody was professional or anything, but my sisters sang around the house and I sang around the house. There was always singing going on, so sort of from the age of 12 on I decided that I really wanted to try and become a singer. I didn’t know if I could really do that or not, but I spent some time singing with records and going out of my way to work on it. So I think I was about 17 or 18 when I sang in front of a bunch of people for the first time and they let me know that they thought it was exceptional. It gave me a sense that I could do this. (laughs)

jc: This is ostensibly a rock and roll, pop culture magazine, and when someone asks me what kind of music does Patty Griffin write and sing, I want to say folk with a country flavor, but country music today is so fragmented into pop and traditional and so on. I know you’ve written several songs for the Dixie Chicks, who have crossed over to pop and rock. I don’t expect artists to place themselves in a specific genre, but whom would you say were your main influences? Who inspired you to be the singer/songwriter you are today.

PG: There have been quite a few along the way. I would say the original inspiration is John Lennon and the Beatles, and I moved on from there to Aretha Franklin. There are so many talented people out there. We’re really lucky to be living in a time and place that we have access to so much music. It’s almost too much. I sometimes go to the record store and I can’t buy anything, because there’s too much. (laughs) I can’t take all this in! You feel like your life’s not long enough. You start getting anxious at the record store. (laughs) There’s just so much stuff. I remember watching the Mike Douglas Show and watching Ella Fitzgerald on there and going, “Wow!”, you know? I mean we’ve been raised with so much stuff, AM radio, everything – all across the board. I wish I could be more specific and say something brilliant and articulate and nail down one thing.

jc: (laughs) You don’t have to.

PG: You probably don’t have the artwork for the record yet, but once again it’s a collage. The last record was collage work too. Actually I think the artwork on “Living With Ghosts” was collage work. (laughs) And I just noticed in the last couple of weeks ago that there’s all this collage stuff that was originally used to represent what I do by the artist who received the record to do the artwork. And I specifically asked Traci Goudie, who did the artwork on the last record and this record to maybe not have it be as collagey this time, and it’s twice the amount of collage work! (laughs) But, you know, I have to admit it’s pretty appropriate, because I have to say that’s what my music is. If I were a visual artist I’d be making collages. I’d be using a lot of different mediums. My music, I think…I’m drawing from a lot of different places and influences.

jc: That’s profound. (laughs)

PG: Well, I think that’s what the music is, you know?

jc: That’s a suitable metaphor. You mention Am radio. I grew up in the 70s’ when pop radio gave you all different styles jammed up against one another, seemingly incongruent styles and genres, but it was an interesting stew. (laughs) And that was a great palate for enjoying different things. I recently remarked to a friend who writes songs that back then songwriters literally wrote ballads, where they tell stories and the emotions resonate through them.

PG: It’s true. But I wouldn’t say that’s gone away forever. It’s definitely not the popular place to be working from right now, though. (laughs)

Patty Griffinjc: Listening to the new record, “Impossible Dream” I’m reminded of two of the women artists you mentioned earlier, Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald. It has that soulful kind of sound. That’s how I hear it. Was that your aim this time, to be more bluesy or soulful?

PG: I think that a lot of the songs were coming out of very dark places, some places I’d never really dug down to before. And I was having trouble figuring out how to get those across. So I drew from some music I’d been listening to before I worked on this record like Johnny Cash and the Staple Singers. For the last couple of years the Staple Singers are a regular part of my listening. I was also listening to the Velvet Underground. Definitely different styles, but all of those artists have this in common; they are talking about some really hard stuff lyrically, but their music is uplifting, I think. Beautiful. And I wanted to find a way to have something you can almost dance to and still be real for me, because I go to see people who you can dance to their music and more. Bruce Springsteen’s a great example. There is music out there that has substance and you can dance to. (laughs) There is! And that’s important to have literal music, music that literally uplifts. That’s what gospel music does, and Johnny Cash does that too. He’s sittin’ there telling you about a hanging, but he’s chugging along. And you can groove to it, you know? (laughs) That’s really important to be able to communicate that stuff without having to drag ’em through the dirt.

jc: (laughs) I think you walk that wire well on your records. I call your music “bittersweet”. The melodies are so romantic and endearing and yet sometimes the lyrics are harsh and the points are straight to the bone. I believe that’s what all art, whether it’s a painting or a film or a book, should have two sides. Your songs can be at once heartwarming and chilling.

PG: Mmmmm.

jc: For example, let’s talk about your song, “Truth No. 2” that is mentioned prominently in a publicity memo I received with an advance of “Impossible Dream”. The song appears on the last Dixie Chicks record, “Home”. It says here “the song spoke most clearly for the band about what its like to be censored.” Does that refer to the whole ridiculous flack – banning their records and burning them or some other such unwarranted nonsense – resulting from their comments about the president while on tour a couple of years ago?

PG: “Truth No. 2” is about that? I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the question.

“The polls were 70% against the war. There were huge protests and we were standing up on stage with these people looking up at us skeptically. All of us live in Texas, so I can understand how that came out of their mouth when it did. “

jc: The blurb intimates that the song, like many of your songs, frankly, has more than one meaning, and for the Dixie Chicks, who recorded it, it became more or less prophetic.

PG: Well, they sort of used it as a tool for discussing that. It just sort of worked out that way. They recorded the song, obviously, before any of that happened. To me, the song is really about being honest about who I am, when I wrote it. Putting some faith in that, knowing what that is and presenting that. I think the Chicks have to have that message available to them as well. They’re really high-end entertainers and they are in show business, and it was a really difficult situation to be put into.

I was actually in England about three months before them and feeling that heat as well. (laughs) The polls were 70% against the war. There were huge protests and we were standing up on stage with these people looking up at us skeptically. All of us live in Texas, so I can understand how that came out of their mouth when it did. I don’t think they were planning to get on a political bandwagon, but sometimes just by being yourself you end up in these crazy places. “Truth No. 2” is sort of like, “I’m gonna take the chance and show my true colors, because I don’t have a choice.”

jc: Regardless of the penalties that sometimes follow the telling of truths.

PG: Right. And there are definitely penalties involved. (laughs)

jc: Well, if you could see just a third of the hate mail I get for just expressing an opinion it would frighten you.

PG: (laughs)

jc: What can you tell me about this tour you will be embarking on this spring that rolls through here shortly, the band and the interpretations of these new songs?

PG: I’m sorry, I was rubbing my eye. I’m having an allergy attack (laughs) Could you repeat that question?

jc: (laughs) That’s quite all right. Are you going to live?

PG: Okay. (laughs) I feel better now.

jc: Good. (laughs) I was hoping to just get some color on the upcoming spring tour and the new band.

PG: There is a full band that I’ll be playing with. Some of the things I’m just going to be doing with my guitar player, Doug Lancio, but we are leaving Austin on the 29th of April and we’ll be out for three weeks on the East coast and then three weeks on the West coast.

I have a really great soulful slinky rhythm section lead by Doug who is also my bandleader. Michael Ramos will also be coming. He played horns on the record. We’ve only had one gig so far for “South by Southwest” which went really, really great.

jc: Excellent. Looking forward to seeing you at Town Hall in May.

PG: Awesome, that’s great. I’d love to see you there.

jc: You have a wonderful summer and thanks for all the great songs.

PG: Thanks, you have a great summer too.

 

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Ani DiFranco at Beacon Theater 11/22/03

Aquarian Weekly 12/10/03

CHANGLING IN REPOSE Ani DiFranco Beacon Theater 11/22/03

New York, New York

Ani in ReposeInconspicuously decked out in soothing earth tones, sans overt stage make-up or multi-colored locks, and eschewing her trademark platform shoes for modest flats, the 33-year-old, Ani Difranco cut a mature and mellowed figure as she deftly patrolled the vast stage of the Beacon Theater in a stirring solo performance. But that kind of labeling is too obvious, and wholly capricious in the wake of DiFranco’s ever-present apoplectic gyrations and inspired vocal dynamics that have made her one of modern folk music’s most passionate creatures for over a decade.

However, there was definitely something different on this night. Missing were the chuckling anecdotes from the road or the obligatory brash political statements that have peppered her most memorable performances these past years. In its stead was a performer of impeccable, almost arresting control, polished and musically demure, reflecting the path of her recent musical forays into jazz voicing and extended poetic musings.

Included was a new poem Difranco pulled from her pants pocket and read with a humble throat-clearing smirk. Each ensuing line revealed a tortured, haunting manifestation of a woman coming to age in a furious world of rampant hypocrisy.

DiFranco’s voice, a symphony of range and emotion, was as finely tuned as I have ever heard it (over a dozen performances with and without a band) including the historic Carnegie Hall solo shows of 2001 and 2002. This lead to mesmerizing versions of her most compelling songs, “Swan Dive”, “Your Next Bold Move”, “Reckoning”, “Little Plastic Castles”, the infectious, “Evolve”, and the probingly reflective, “Serpentine”. All were unfurled before the wildly receptive audience as a confession, a revelation or sorts, serious, humorous, dangerous and silly, and not one with a shred of fanfare.

The more recent numbers were interspersed with the occasional fan-favorite like the rhythmically playful, “Shameless”, which came with a humble preamble from DiFranco as if apologizing for it having been written by an echo of the woman presently dipping into her grab bag of memories. But the evening’s treat was the premier of newer material that better observed the finer points of the artist’s demeanor; introspective and plaintive, yet unerringly defiant.

Receiving an advanced copy of “Educated Guess”, DiFranco’s latest completely solo effort, (due out this January) brought into focus the show’s more darkened portals. Fueled by siren odes such as “Origami” and “Bubble” packed with gripping melancholia like “I know men are delicate origami creatures, who need women to unfold them when they cry, but I’m tired of being your savior, and I’m tired of telling you why” and “I hated to pop the bubble of me and you, but it only held enough oxygen for a trip or two” further illustrates DiFranco’s in-your-face pathos.

Juxtaposed with the opening line from the wincing, “Rain Check”, “As dolls go I am broken” or a stanza from the charmingly dissonant, “Swim”, “I let you surround me, I let you drown me out with your din, and then I learned how to swim” is the fiery hope of DiFranco’s most personally and politically challenging poems, “The True Story of What Was” and “Grand Canyon”. In the former she whispers, “Oh to dream just for a moment of the picture outside the frame” and in the latter she swells, “I love my country, by which I mean I am indebted joyfully to all the people throughout its history who have fought the government to make right.”

The meditative evening concluded with the rarity of hearing the mature folk gal’s distinctive rendition of “Both Hands”, ironically the first song on her first record. Pulled out for the final encore, it served as the perfect epilogue to an enviable baring of her most delicate intimacies.

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Dan Bern at Bottom Line

East Coast Rocker 10/29/03

AN EVENING WITH DAN BERN THE BOTTOM LINE NYC 10/18/03

Dan BernIn the late night hours on an empty stage on the campus of William Paterson College where he had just finished a haphazardly grueling, but unerringly honest performance, Dan Bern described his current one month/22 city solo tour in baseball terms. The admitted frenzied fan of the game likened the uneven gig to that of a pitcher with a formidable arsenal of pitches, but no real consistent snap on the curve or zip on the fastball. “There were nights when I used to feel like Sandy Koufax,” Bern said, slumped on his amp about to load out and head for NYC with the waning confidence of a man at the crossroads of a burgeoning career. “And some nights I feel like Pedro just trying to get out of the 8th.”

After his searing, balls-to-the-wall performance on the legendary stage at the Bottom Line on West 4th street the following night, his odd journey from the embattled Red Sox hurler to the best lefty the game has ever seen had come full circle.

Bern serenaded and spat, chugged and crooned, sliced and diced his way through a nearly two hour set of his best material, charming and probing, questioning and joking with the sold out crowd like a man on the hill with a nasty slider and a wicked splitter.

“On a solo tour there is nothing to lean on, no band to meld into when things are not going your way,” Bern noted, describing his constant fight to “stay in the song” as the key to the honesty of any worthwhile performance.

Dressed in baggy shorts and a ragged sweat shirt, hair cropped close to his scalp, Bern buried himself deep inside such sterling numbers as the haunting, “I Need You” and the rousing, “Alaska Highway”, seducing the crowd with his fan-favorite “Estelle” and culling huge laughs with his ode to paradoxical romance, “Johnny Cash and Anais Nin”.

But the highlights of the evening came when the prolific songsmith unveiled two new satirical numbers, “The President’s Song”, a winding lyrical masterpiece worthy of H.L Mencken on blotter acid and the infectious, “Bush Must Be Defeated”, both of which were blatant jabs at the current administration with political solutions both varied and bizarre, if not wildly entertaining.

Standing in the naked spotlight with guitar slung over his shoulder in defiance of age or apathy or even bad pitches is where Dan Bern was meant to roam. His songs, like his performances, and his late night rants about songs and performances are what make music and art worth fighting for in the first place.

And for a couple of hours in the most famous theater for rock music in Greenwich Village, Dan Bern pitched himself a perfect game.

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The Second Dan Bern Interview

10/17/03

Dan Bern InterviewUnedited Transcript Conducted on stage after the show at the Shea Auditorium For The Arts on the William Paterson College Campus – 10/17/03

Dan Bernjames campion: You mentioned to me yesterday that you were going through some doubts about your career and your feelings about continuing to tour and your songwriting. Do you want to start with that?

dan bern: Yeah, well you saw me out there tonight, I don’t know. I mean, on some nights I can come out and play “Hannibal” or “Black Tornado” and just storm…storm the stage, and I can still do it. Then, like tonight there is this pause, and all of a sudden it becomes “here we are” and it’s real and suddenly I’m not storming anymore and it gets scary. A lot of times its just really great and spontaneous, but right now on this solo thing it’s just plain scary. More than any time in a long time. And maybe I’ve felt that way for awhile, but on the last tour, when you and I spoke, I was with the band and I could lean on…

jc: …and now there’s no net.

db: Yeah, but I don’t need a net. I don’t want a net.

jc: I don’t know, tonight’s performance felt exciting to me. Watching you up there tonight felt like Russian roulette.

db: That’s a good analogy right there.

jc: Sitting in the audience, I felt as though anything could go tonight. You were totally in the moment. There didn’t seem to be any pretensions or fabrication to your performance. It was sloppy and introspective and more real than anything I’ve seen in some time.

db: I don’t know why I’m fighting it so much. In the past, if anyone would say to me it’s too loose, it’s disjointed, I’d tell them it’s real, it’s what it is, it’s where I’m at. But I’m not as confident now.

jc: Really? It would seem a show wherein you take the time to talk to the audience and joke about your guitar being out of tune and talk baseball and chat about songs would be scarier than just going up there and banging out the tunes, bowing, and heading home. I think tonight you broke the fourth wall. You didn’t appear to need to put on the airs of the performer. It didn’t look at all like a guy grabbing for straws. You seemed very comfortable to me.

db: I don’t know, man. I don’t know.

jc: You reminded me tonight of something that might have gone down in the Village before the whole glossy folk movement took place in the mid-to-late 60s, like that Christopher Guest movie.

db: (laughs) “A Mighty Wind”.

“I want to talk about how to begin again. And I know a song like that, something meaningful to me outside all of this, is why I do this, why I’m out on the road doing this solo thing in the first place.”

jc: (laughs) That was so hilarious; the utter pretension of the Baby Boomer pop culture manipulation exposed.

db: The Eugene Levy character in that, tell me that’s not Joseph Lieberman. (does Levy impression of monotone mumbling) Is that not Lieberman?

jc: (laughs) I thought the movie perfectly took on the self-absorbed nature of that phony Madison Avenue sheen of folk music in the late 60s. I’m currently reading a book about the American Bohemian movement of New York in the teens, and these people were the real deal, man. The Beats and Dylan and that whole movement that seemed so real to me, when I was learning about it, was simply an offshoot of that. You might say they were even a ripping off the realism of pure radicals like Max Eastman and Emma Goldman. I thought you brought some of that realism back to the performance tonight. So if it was born of insecurity, fine. But you must feel a responsibility to bring your work back to that sense of realism, of something less fashionable, to have something to say with your songs.

db: But I feel like I’m running into walls. I feel like I’ve reached a plateau and I don’t know how to push it further. And I think I’m feeling really discouraged. Kind of like, “What’s the point?” I mean as much as I’m using this tour to sing “The President’s Song” and present my vision for all that, I want to talk about how to begin again. And I know a song like that, something meaningful to me, outside all of this, is why I do this, why I’m out on the road doing this solo thing in the first place. I’m inspired by the sensibilities of expressing, and that always seemed connected to going out and playing the guitar and singing the songs. But…(sighs)

jc: I’m reminded of one of your songs that speaks to that, your first impressions of playing the guitar, performing alone with just you and the instrument, something about you once feeling like a Mexican gunslinger and now it’s all homogenized?

db: (recites) “I used to feel like a Mexican Bandit when I picked up my guitar, and now it’s nuclear winter and I gotta pay for a new car.” That’s “Fly Away”. Yeah, when it feels like down and dirty, dangerous and useful and, you know, subversive in the best way, spreading ideas in the best way. (Man interrupts and hands Dan a cup of beer.) Is this tea?

jc: My God, you’re drinking beer on a dry campus. You’re a rebel. That’s what I’m talking about, damn it. Real subversion, true revolutionary shit. Hey, you should do that damn song again, “True Revolutionaries”. That is a great fucking folk song. Rip that one out and play it with new lyrics.

Dan Berndb: I did want to rewrite it. I knew I had to, but I never got around to it. That’s why I’m not playing it, because it’s got the old lyrics, it’s useless.

jc: I don’t know, I think Timothy McVeigh and Pee Wee Herman are still relevant.

db: (smiles) Right.

jc: I know we’ve talked about your brief stint at the L.A. Times before, but did that give you the bug to write in another medium, as opposed to verse?

db: Well, I’ve always had the bug. Really, in the last year I’ve been working on this novel more than any songs. And when this tour came up I realized, shit I don’t have anything new to go on tour with!

jc: We’ve also broached the novel before. Do you want to talk about it now?

db: Sure, yeah.

jc: So what is the theme?

db: Well, I’m a scientist in the book. I go out on the road and I do lectures with illustrations and I have this scientific team that travels together; one guy’s an atom smasher, another is a chemical washer and one guy makes noxious smells. It’s much like my life on the road, but with complete carte blanche, no necessity to it, a complete freedom. I think it’s kept me alive.

jc: The book?

db: Yeah.

jc: So it’s like your Holy Grail?

db: Yes, I would say so.

jc: So, as the narrator, and I assume it’s in the first person, as the science lecturer, are you independently wealthy?

“Of course, I’m as big a believer in song as anyone. I’ve gone to great lengths to live my life by it. I believe in song in its primal shape. It’s as primal and as necessary to human beings as dancing, almost as breathing.”

db: That’s how I make my money. It’s just like this touring, but its science. It’s done within the scientific community.

jc: Is that a metaphor for something?

db: It’s not really a metaphor; it’s in place of the music, really. Instead of a concert, I’m out giving lectures.

jc: So, let me be psychoanalytical. Are you saying, in essence, going out and playing music is a science?

db: I’m not saying that. (laughs) It’s just a story.

jc: (laughs) I’m trying to get in deeper. There’s always something behind the story, the subtext, symbolism. Why do you feel the need to write about science? Are you fascinated by science? Do you feel people are easily duped by science? That it’s sort of a show? Do you have a respect for the subject?

db: Yeah.

jc: Do you see yourself in another life being a scientist, so you are using the prose to playact, to unfurl a part of you that lies dormant, what?

db: Maybe. (smiles)

jc: (laughs) Well, how deep have you delved into this book? Does it have plot, arcs, or characters that come in and out? Does it have intrigue?

db: Yeah, it has characters that come in and out and has characters that stay around, but beyond that…

jc: You don’t want to tell me.

db: (smiles) You’ll read it. You read it and tell me.

jc: I thought you were going to bring me some stuff tonight.

db: I can’t. I can’t. Not yet. If there is one thing I’ve learned from various projects, it is you cannot rush these things, as much as you want to. Let it breathe. It will give you the timetable. I’ve made records that I’ve done that with and I’ve made records hurried, and I always feel better about the former.

jc: You know the old stories about Dylan just running into the studio with no charts or rehearsals for the musicians and plugging in and shouting “One, two, three..” and crashing into recordings. Critics argue that had he rehearsed the damn things, all those albums, especially the early ones, could have been even greater. But that’s the way he did it, so how can you argue with the results there?

Dan Berndb: True.

jc: “New American Language” is my favorite record of yours. How long did that take to make?

db: It took the longest time. Over a year.

jc: Why?

db: It needed it; because I started with not knowing what to do with it and worked my way through it. Wrote songs as I went, redid things, left it, came back, left it, came back. It’s my favorite too, because of that. I was in control of the process enough to make the process be the thinker, let it tell me when it was finished.

jc: When you get through this novel of yours, when you finally get on top of it, do you think this will infuse more into your writing music? I mean, don’t you feel that you’ve somehow cheated your muse by chasing after the prose at the expense of the songwriting, because I always think that there is only so much time you can be inspired to write in a certain genre, that the window of opportunity closes eventually on your chosen artistic endeavors.

db: Well, if anything it’s the other way around. Sometimes when I’m on tour I get new ideas for the book. You know, lately on tour the last year and a half, that’s what the muse has been for. I mean, when I need to write a song, I write it. Like ‘The President’s Song.” I must write this song. I know what the song is and it must come out. And I can do it. It was the same thing for the other ones. If I’m not writing a song a day, I’m okay with it.

jc: How many songs have you written? Ballpark.

db: Fifteen Hundred.

jc: What’s your favorite song?

db: That I’ve written?

jc: Yeah, it’s like me and the wife have the “Favorite Movie of All-Time Question”. You can’t think about it. I know all songwriters refer to their songs as children and you can’t have a favorite. But if I asked you what your favorite movie of all time was right now, you can’t think about it, just answer.

db: “Strangers In Paradise”.

jc: There you go.

“I believe in what I’m saying and doing in the “President’s Song.” It’s a real expression of emotions, and I’m not going through the paces with that. And if nothing ever changes in this world, I know I did my little part. I tried. So, in the end, if I’m going to write songs or write whatever, then that becomes the central focus, and all the love songs can go hang.”

db: My favorite song? I’m always going to weigh toward the most recent. My favorite song is “The President’s Song”. Whatever I’m doing, and whenever I’m playing and riffing, that’s my favorite.

jc: So, when you performed that song tonight, you’re still formulating it with each show?

db: No, it’s written, but there’s a lot of finding…there’s leeway in it. There’s no one-way of doing it yet. It hasn’t locked in. I haven’t even done it twenty times yet. That’s why I like it. It’s not locked in yet.

jc: You really nailed a song tonight called “Drifting Along”. Is that one new?

db: Yeah.

jc: It’s a gorgeous song, really. And it reminded me of your mood yesterday on the phone with you saying that you weren’t sure where you were at, what it’s all for. And that’s a very unique talent to be able to put those emotions that took a longer conversation yesterday to impart into a three-minute song with a nice melody and express it on stage to hundreds of people. It’s unique to all songwriters, but in your style of writing, it speaks to me. I’ll play your stuff to many different people and get all kinds of reactions, but for me, you’re still getting through your emotions in a song like that.

db: Thanks, man, but it’s that intangible thing about music. There’s so much about the “style” people like. (groans) I mean, you’ve already lost ’em with style. Then you get into the whole dated thing with pop music or folk music; like Mozart is forever, but anything related to pop music is like looking at a yearbook picture and you’ve got flairs on and a pookah-shell necklace.

jc: Is that why when you tried to play “Estelle” from your first record tonight, you stopped at the beginning?

db: Nah, I just forgot it. (laughs) If I don’t keep it up, I lose it. I’ll get it back, but it wasn’t happening tonight.

jc: But don’t you think there is some validity to the point that a good song is a good song, the melody, the lyric is timeless, and that’s it. It doesn’t matter what style or genre. A good song is a good song. I can’t get that damn song of yours from the “World Cup” record, “Alright Kind of A Girl” out of my head. I sing it everyday when my mind wanders. I find myself singing it, but not like a cola jingle, the melody makes me feel great, brightens my mood. It’s a simple song, but it’s a beautiful melody. Don’t you think there’s some lasting point to that?

db: Of course, I’m as big a believer in song as anyone. I’ve gone to great lengths to live my life by it. I believe in song in its primal shape. It’s as primal and as necessary to human beings as dancing, almost as breathing. It is breathing, and it’s in and of itself almost devoid of what the song is about. Song is based on necessity; but I don’t know, I almost feel as if it’s a crutch for me now. I’ve been leaning on song for so long now, putting every emotion, every writing thing into song, I wonder, can I…can I…can I do it without song? Can I get the benefit of expressing emotions without immediately losing it in the style of the music?

jc: So you take the song out of the equation…

db: …and remove the challenge of not having chords, a refrain or a chorus.

jc: But that’s what great about the folk style, so to speak. You don’t have a rigid pop music structure there. You can have a talking blues, of which you have many, and get your point across without having to have much else. So I guess you have to look at What is next? What am I going to do as the artist here, as the writer here; Am I going to go balls-to-the-wall and express all emotions with any genre because it’s now or never and what the hell am I saving it for?

db: You know I had all of six weeks off to sit around and think about things, deliver a batch of new songs, so I can barely comment about what I want to do. I fucking wish I knew. I wish I had that strong sense of purpose. And I think its not so much necessary, but downright dangerous touring without that. I just feel like I’m stumbling around. And that’s not the case with the new songs. They’re easy to do, because, in there, I know what I’m doing with them. I believe in what I’m saying and doing in the “President’s Song.” It’s a real expression of emotions, and I’m not going through the paces with that. And if nothing ever changes in this world, I know I did my little part. I tried. So, in the end, if I’m going to write songs or write whatever, then that becomes the central focus, and all the love songs can go hang. But those seem important too. I don’t know. It all seemed to get old so fast, and it always seemed for me to be important to connect somehow and not go through the motions.

jc: So what you’re saying is that you can branch out to many emotional outlets, but in the end, you are a songwriter. That is what they’ll put on your gravestone, in your obituary, right? So do you want to be known primarily for that, because you paint, you draw, you have cartoons on your web site, you’re working on this book, but we’re talking right now, people might be reading this right now, because you’re a songwriter.

db: I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. I think we could be talking because we’re writers. I mean, right now I feel I’ll ultimately be more known for the books. Think about it. Even your favorite record – your favorite record – six months later you’re not listening to it anymore. Ten years later you don’t even have it. Fifteen years later you can’t even find the damn thing anywhere. But a book like Catcher in the Rye is fucking timeless. Of course there’s books that don’t last, but if you want to do something and really want it to last, write a fucking book. I guess that’s my hope to write something lasting. Sure my ego needs to write a great song and be part of that folk chain and pass it down to the next generation, but it’s getting harder and harder to envision that. But maybe it’s a phase. Even if it’s a phase, it may be a three-year phase, but I’m at this crossroads right now and I’m thinking about how best to express myself not only for myself, because it might mean something to those people who spend the time and the money and come out to see me play and listen to the songs. For them, I have to stay in the song. I have to be in the song. I have to be somewhere that matters to me, otherwise I’ll cheat the whole system, the audience and myself, and no one is the wiser.

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Ani DiFranco In Bloom

Aquarian Weekly 5/12/03 REALITY CHECK

ANI DIFRANCO IN BLOOM
A Candid Discussion on Political Change, Gay Marriage, Jesus, and Personal Exorcism With Buffalo’s Finest

Ani DiFrancohow can one talk on the role of politics in art when art is activism and anyway both are just a lifelong light shining through a swinging prism

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Since our last published discussion two springs ago, my favorite folk gal has been through some dark times and personal reflection, while also managing to shoulder more social causes than any normal musical performer. Ani Difranco puts her passion where her music and soul reside, and does so under the microscope of the liberated and angry (she hates that) young woman artist thing. Her projects and efforts to restore and preserve her hometown in Buffalo, her overt national political endeavors and women’s rights engagements are inexhaustible, and to this grouchy cynic, enviable. Somehow she always finds her way into a studio and onto stages to perform her ass off.

On the heels of her latest record, the probingly intense, “Educated Guess” and a new one-woman tour hitting Carnegie Hall on 5/15, Ms. Difranco decided to open up in her only east coast interview this spring.

This is what transpires when two diminutive, big-mouthed Virgo troublemakers get together.

james campion: The last time we did this you had a very positive view of grass roots politics and how it can still engender change. So, after two more years of the present administration, another war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and everything else that’s happened since the spring of 2002, I wonder what your mood is today toward the American political scene.

Ani DiFranco: I’m still very optimistic for the potential of grass roots change. I still see and feel it out there. It’s what allows me to get up in the morning, the immense possibility that exists all around us right now. I was hanging out with my friend Dennis Kucinich the other night, and he’s so energetic and so brilliant and so positive. At one point he runs across the room and slams his hands against the wall and says, “Some people see a wall here, but in between each one of these molecules there’s a whole other reality! It’s something we can’t see or what we can see if we collectively envision it. If we draw it out. There’s another reality existing around us right now.” So we admitted that we don’t need to change the world. The world is changing around us. We just need to direct that change. And our power to direct it is immense once we use it.

jc: I was going to ask you about Kucinich and exactly how he represents the political side of your worldview. You backed his run during the democratic primary. Of course, Kerry is going to represent the party now, but certainly others like Kucinich and Howard Dean have given voice to the anti-war movement and other liberal agendas. Having said that I know you supported the last Ralph Nader campaign in 2000. I gave up on Ralph in ’96, myself. So I must ask where you stand on Kerry, and will you throw your considerable influence to Nader in the upcoming election?

“We don’t need to change the world. The world is changing around us. We just need to direct that change. And our power to direct it is immense once we use it.”

AD: (chuckling sarcastically) Ahhhh, no. My support four years ago for Nader was very qualified. I showed up for one of his rallies in New York with a press release in my little paw that said I support voting for him in the done-deal states, but in the swing states I felt very strongly about the priority being voting against Bush.

jc: No kidding.

AD: Yeah, that was my scene at the time. Somewhere along the way during those primaries somebody asked me, “Who do you think is the best candidate?” And I said, “Well…Nader. He’s got his head screwed tightest onto his shoulders. He has the best ideas.” So he sort of used that as an endorsement.

jc: So he never officially solicited your endorsement.

AD: Ralph called me up, personally, and said, “You know every time I say your name up on stage at a rally I get the biggest response.” He said, ” You gotta come out, Ani! You gotta come out!” And I told him, “Ralph, this is a very complicated situation.” But I was very impressed with the fact that he still wanted me to participate in the rally in New York with my qualified support. I even stood there at the press conference and said that I believe voting with my conscience means the lesser of two evils, because my conscience includes people less fortunate and more affected by these minute distinctions of corporate whores like Gore or Bush. Then, of course, along with a number of other people I was disappointed at the way Nader played that out, and the way he seems to be repeating that scenario now. Meanwhile, Dennis is still in the race.

jc: I’m glad you mentioned it, otherwise…

AD: Yeah, you’d never know. Of course, mums the word in the media. But he’s still in the race. And Dennis is doing exactly what I would hope Nader would eventually do, which is to stay in there through the primaries to push the debate as long as he can. The point being to show that the progressive population of America is here, that we count, that we matter. That we’re powerful, and that the Democratic Party must distinguish itself once again, if they want to survive, not to mention other more meaningful reasons. So Dennis plans to stay in the primaries, and then he’ll lend his support to Kerry in the general election.

My plan, personally, is to continue working with my friend, Dennis in whatever capacity we can invent, because he is a comrade, because he is a like-minded, wonderful, inspiring person to me. We’re bouncing around a few ideas that in the fall we’d do a swing-state tour. Doing voter registration. Creating shows that are part political rally, part musical party with a real eye toward the upcoming election, trying to get young people motivated and involved. Although it does seem that America is pretty darned inspired to get involved at this point, I would say, which is a relief.

Ani DiFrancojc: As you play across the country, what kind of passion do young people have for voting? That’s always been the concern since ’72; 18, 19, 20 year-old kids get motivated to go to rallies and contribute over the Internet, but as we witnessed with the doomed Dean campaign, will they actually come out and cast a vote?

AD: I really wouldn’t know. I stand on stage and I play guitar and I sing and talk to people, but I don’t know if they go out and vote. From what I hear, from the statistics that seem to be thrown about in this country people are not voting, especially young people, and it’s very understandable, the mass disillusionment with what is obviously a farce.

jc: The “fixed game” thing again.

AD: Yes, but ironically, it is the reinvestment in the belief in government that is going to get us out of this mess. It’s funny, even my friend Utah Phillips, who’s a card carrying anarchist – how’s that for an oxymoron – says he’s fixin’ to go register and vote this time. His philosophy is his body is his ballot and he votes with it every day, and I have a lot of respect for the way he approaches it. But for the rest of us, voting is a very important contribution and the first step to involvement and participation. While Utah talks about voting as assigning responsibility for governance to others, I think of it as securing institutional support for the good work of people, for the work that we are doing, that we continue to do, that we must do. Without people on the inside, without support of these institutions that exist whether or not we participate in staffing them or not, we can’t do the work. Our hands are tied. If we’re shipped off to a desert to die, or if we’re locked up for cannabis possession for untold amount of years, or etc, etc., we cannot live and grow as a people. So, it was heartening to hear Utah say he may step out of his anarchist shoes for a second and go and pull a level because it’s that fucking desperate.

I can only hope that young people can rise above the mind control of the media, which says consume, consume, consume and deny and forget your power as a citizen, and that we will rediscover it on our own through the encouragement and inspiration of each other.

jc: Speaking of the system, and the absurdities within, the last time we spoke we talked about what you called the “defacto economic segregation” which exists in this country, and of which you touch upon in your song, “Subdivision”. I equate that to the “cultural segregation” in this gay marriage issue. I wrote in a recent column that if you take out the frightened-by-the-unknown aspect of it, if you remove the vague moralities of it, and if you expunge God from it, the argument makes about as much legal sense as forcing citizens to sit in the back of the bus or women being denied the right to vote.

“I can only hope that young people can rise above the mind control of the media, which says consume, consume, consume and deny and forget your power as a citizen, and that we will rediscover it on our own through the encouragement and inspiration of each other.”

AD: I think you’ve got your finger right on the epicenter of the problem when you said take the moral part out of it. That’s the huge part of this debate. People are confusing God and religious customs and sanctions with laws. We are completely muddling this issue. I think that the word marriage should be dropped from that quest altogether, and we should all have civil unions in terms of the state involvement, because that’s what it is, legal benefits for partners. Gay or straight, you should have hospital rights or will rights. That’s all about civil union. We should make that across the board for all couples, and that’s as far as the law should go, providing legal rights for couples.

Now in terms of marriages and whether its Adam and Eve or Adam and Steve, or whether this is going to be culturally acceptable, that is fought out in the churches, in the communities, but it has nothing to do with the government’s role. Whether we want to accept it as a society it should be left out of the government’s responsibility to provide equal rights for people.

Actually my friend, Dennis helped my thoughts grow a bit on women’s right to choose for instance. Dennis is a Catholic boy from Ohio, grew up pro life and thinking abortion is wrong, and then he switched his position as a politician because he began talking to women, and listening to women, and realizing that unless an individual woman can control her own body she is not free. To not own your own body means you are a slave. He began to see it as a civil right that applies only to women, and conceive of it that way, and the government’s involvement in that matter should only be on that level in terms of preserving women’s freedom through guaranteeing this civil right. Whether or not it’s morally acceptable or reprehensible, that’s for the churches, for the people, for individuals to work out for themselves. It’s not for the government. The government should not legislate morality on that level.

jc: Of course this has always been my beef with the FCC.

AD: Yeah, and it’s just about clarifying government’s role in providing these civil rights. We have freedom of speech. The government’s job is to preserve that. What we say, whether its right or wrong, or good or bad, that’s for people to work out amongst themselves, and for society to put pressure on people that say bad things, but their right to say it must be guaranteed by the government, and the government’s job ends there.

jc: Did you have a chance to see “The Passion Of The Christ”?

AD: No. Not interested in the least.

jc: The reason I bring it up is I was quite hard on it because I spent some 12 years researching and writing a book on the search for the historical Jesus, and we’ve discussed the separation of the revolutionary historical figure versus the Christ figure before…

AD: Right.

jc: Now, using your analogy of Kucinich’s journey in reassessing the Pro-Choice issue, mine was the opposite. I’m always going on and on about defending the artists’ right to free expression, but yet I not only took offense to Gibson’s view of Jesus of Nazareth as a sacrificial vessel of a patriarchal God, but the method with which he magnified the same old Catholic dogma. I called Gibson a propagandist, yet I have always known intellectually that all art in one way or the other is the expression of a viewpoint in propagandist terms. Your songs. My writing. But my emotions seemed to swing me into a personal attack on the artist.

AD: Sure, but I can understand that. I didn’t see the film, but from what I understand of the Bible and the story of Jesus and what we have carried down culturally through the ages, it’s a multifaceted and life-affirming story, and there’s a little moment in there when he gets taken down. He’s taken down by the power structure. It’s a warning to those of us who want to make change. It’s a lesson there too. But to make a whole film on that moment…

jc: …or a 2,000 year-old religion for that matter.

Ani DiFrancoAD: Fuckin’ yeah! To boil it down to the moment of defeat and gory violence, I mean, even the crucifix as a symbol for him is just fundamentally morbid, bizarre, and wrong-headed. To show the man in his moment of defeat, when he was so full of life, when he gave people life, when he inspired people to freedom. To use that to represent his meaning I think is bizarre, and to construct a movie all around this sort of violent, unfortunate death? I would think that anyone with a real passion for that man and his teachings would make a movie about his life, not his death. I have no interest in gratuitous violence in movies to begin with, let alone of a religious nature. (laughs)

jc: This is why you’re one of my favorite people.

AD: (laughs)

jc: No, really, because I’ve spent all of my adult life trying to defuse this harmful myth, which to me shows a complete lack of respect regarding the assassination of someone who endeavored to demonstrate the divine spark of humanity, and then to prop it up as some sort of victory? I can’t accept it, and never could, even as a ten year-old Catholic-schooled boy.

AD: If we keep staring at that cross, at that moment of defeat, what are we supposed to feel? We’re supposed to feel hopeless, we’re supposed to feel powerless, we’re supposed to feel pity or remorse? What is that to keep carrying through the ages?

jc: Well, the most important thing you’re supposed to feel is guilt.

AD: Guilt! Oh, God! I forgot the guilt! (laughs)

jc: (laughs) That’s the key.

AD: I should have mentioned that one first.

jc: I’d like to talk about the new record, so this is the butt kissing part of the interview.

AD: Ah! (laughs) Woo! Hoo!

jc: I view “Educated Guess” as your “Blood On The Tracks”. I don’t know how much you respect that record, but I’m of the opinion that Dylan’s best work was, and still is the ultimate musical statement on the despair of loneliness and the loss of love. Coming from a writer’s perspective, the lyrics on “Educated Guess” achieves that level. That record, for me, could not have come any closer to the bone. So I’m wondering where you have to go, what you have to endure to achieve it?

I’ve not been alone for many years and I was emotionally unhealthy with a lack of solitude and time for reflection, so this record represents a journey back to myself, the self that began writing songs and playing them solo and making little records on her own.”

AD: Well, you know, I have not said this yet while talking about the record, but I’ll say it to you. It was an absolute exorcism for me. And because of that it’s my favorite record that I’ve made. I guess me being more of a Springsteen fan than a Dylan fan, I think of it as my “Nebraska”. You know, the record I made in my bedroom, cause I had to…alone. And the aloneness of it was like medicine for me. I’ve not been alone for many years and I was emotionally unhealthy with a lack of solitude and time for reflection, so this record represents a journey back to myself, the self that began writing songs and playing them solo and making little records on her own. Except, hence the title, I am slightly older, and hopefully, slightly wiser now.

jc: Well, if there’s better line than, “As dolls go, I am broken” I don’t know if I’ve seen it.

AD: (laughs)

jc: You read a particularly striking poem when you played at the Beacon here in New York back in November. You pulled it from your pants pocket. I haven’t heard it anywhere since. Is it going to end up on a record?

AD: Yeah, yeah. Next record.

jc: Oh, great.

AD: (recites) “33 years-old and not once do you come home to find a man in your bedroom that is a man you don’t know.” That one?

jc: Yes.

AD: I actually have a plan for my next record. I’m going in the opposite direction of “Educated Guess”, now that I’ve found myself again in this pile of my life. I called up my friend Joe Henry, a beautiful songwriter, and a snappy dresser and a creative, energetic man. I invited him to share the stage with me month’s back, and we really resonated. Every night we’d sit around after the shows and talk, and we discovered we have a lot of the same sensibilities and energy when it comes to making records. So I began to envision my next record. I called him up with two songs! I had two songs and I called him up and asked, “You wanna co-produce my next record?” and he said yes. Then I just began furiously writing. I wrote like eight songs in just a few weeks. So not only is it going to be a completely new environment for me to have a co-producer, to be working with new musicians, it’s also new for me to approach a record with my eye on the prize from the beginning. I’m writing for the project, with the idea of the destination in mind, as opposed to just writing songs and sort of looking at the collection later in the game and beginning to conceive of what the record is. I’m actually conceiving of it from the onset, which is a new process for me. It’s been really fascinating for me.

jc: Sounds like it. Can we expect to hear those songs at the upcoming Carnegie Hall show?

AD: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, I’m playing mostly those songs now.

jc: How’s Buffalo?

AD: Well, I hear…well, I don’t know. I ain’t been there in awhile. I’ve been on the lovely west coast. I imagine my garden will be awake when I get home. Can’t wait.

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