‘Rebel’ Rod’s Interview with Mary Gauthier at the 40th Kerrville Folk Festival
By ‘Rebel’ Rod Ames
It was a warm and windy Memorial Day and I had to work at my job at La Hacienda Treatment Center in Hunt, Texas, until 4:30 PM. That would not be a problem on any other day, but on this particular Memorial Day one of my favorite singer/songwriters had agreed to meet me backstage at the 40th Kerrville Folk Festival at 5:00 PM for an interview.
I got on a call with someone needing help with their addiction, and of course, that was my priority at the time. Don’t misunderstand, I was getting anxious, but the person on the other end of the line who was in crisis had no idea of the panic I was in. My interview with Ms. Gauthier was secondary to what that person was going through.
After my interview with Mary Gauthier was completed, it was revealed that as busy as she was preparing for the show and then doing the show, all of it would have been secondary to what I was doing at 4:20 PM. Ms. Gauthier, as it turns out had been in recovery since 1990. So, she knew the dark place the person I was talking to on the phone was coming from. I do too.
In 1992, I finally put a life of addiction and alcoholism behind me as well. So, it would seem if Ms. Gauthier and I have nothing else in common, we will always have at least one thing and that is the “language of the heart.”
As it turned out, we had much more than addiction in common. She is kind and gracious, a beautiful person, and I love her music –
‘Rebel’ Rod – Mary, thank you for the interview.
Mary Gauthier – My pleasure! Isn’t Facebook a nice thing?
RR – It is! People complain about it sometimes, but I love it because it makes the world a little bit smaller.
MG – I like it because it makes it possible to connect with people who are, uh, trying to help you.
RR – Good point.
MG – If you’ve got a problem with that, then I’m not sure how you’re going to be a musician if you’ve got a problem with people trying to help you.
RR – We would’ve never hooked up if it hadn’t been for Facebook.
Side note –to arrange for this interview I had simply sent Mary a message on her Facebook page asking for an interview – she replied within minutes, sending “sure, we have a sound check at 5pm. We can do it then.”
MG – Exactly!
RR – Again, thank you so much for doing this with me. I went through and found – I love quotes, and I love to search for different people’s quotes. You have a few that I found out on the internet.
MG – I’m pretty quotable.
RR – One of your quotes that really got me was what you said about philosophy. “The most important thing I got from philosophy was that there are no answers. There is freedom in the fact that you don’t have to know it all…”
MG – Exactly. The point of philosophy is not answers, it’s questions. Right, right. That’s the joy of being a philosophy major – is realizing that the greatest thinkers of all time, uh, their major contribution was better questions. So, you know, when I write songs, I try not to wrap it up all neat and pretty, because it ain’t over until it’s over. I try to tell stories, and I don’t, you know, a lot of the time I don’t know the end of the story. So it ends in a way that’s not succinct. The end is another beginning often. It’s a circular thing you know. It’s hard to talk about in terms of song writing. The analogy gets kind of murky, but essentially I tend to write songs that are bitter-sweet. It’s been my experience that life is bitter-sweet. People a lot of times think that means depressing. But, I don’t think so. There are two words in there – bitter and sweet, and I think the tension in there is what makes life interesting.
RR – And they balance each other out.
MG – Yeah! Sometimes, and sometimes they don’t! Sometimes it tilts in one direction or the other.
RR – That’s life.
MG – That’s my life anyway!
RR – Mine too.
MG – Yeah.
RR – We talked about your song, “I Drink,” a little while ago. I could tell the first time I heard it, that came from someone’s soul. Whether it was hers, I don’t know, but I knew it was a great song because it came from someone’s soul, and entered mine.
MG – Hmm.
RR – And it made an impact on my life. It brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it. So could you elaborate on that song a little?
MG – Well the irony of that song starts with, I could’ve never written it drinking. It’s fundamentally a sober song. It’s me reflecting on what it would have been like had I not been blessed with recovery. Miserable, aging, alone in a room, alienated, isolated, despairing, and blaming everybody else for my situation. To me that’s alcoholism and that’s my destiny, and somehow the Gods have allowed me a reprieve from that one day at a time. So that song is very much a sober song. It’s a misunderstood song in a lot of ways. And it’s hard for me on some nights when I’m playing clubs, I tend to want to play it funny. Because I can go for laughs, and there’s minimal words and people find it funny, because of the phrasing sometimes, and so it’s a struggle for me to not go for the laugh.
RR – Maybe it’s the place they’re at too. The environment they’re in, maybe.
MG – Yeah, and not everybody has struggled with alcohol, and not everybody understands it. Although, I would say it would be hard to find somebody that hasn’t dealt with it with someone in their family in some fashion. I like to talk about being in recovery from addiction. I’m not proud of it, I’m not ashamed of it, I just think other people and especially artists, uhm, you know, I found for me when I first started getting sober, It helped me so much to find out there were other artists in recovery. People like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Chris Smither, and people who came before me, Stevie Ray Vaughan, who talked about it and said, “hey man, it’s cool to be sober,” because I needed to be cool really bad and thought it was so un-cool to be sober. But these people who I had up on a pedestal were all sober and doing the best work of their career, after they got sober! So in some ways it’s life saving to me to have them talk about it, so that’s why I talk about it.
RR – Getting back to “I don’t know it all” – That was a huge freedom for me to say those three simple words “I don’t know.”
MG – That’s liberation isn’t it?
RR – “Mercy Now” – I wanted to talk a little about that because that was my first real exposure to you and I think it was a beautifully put together record, love it, but your latest record, “The Foundling,” talk about that one a little bit.
MG – Well, part of my job as an artist is to dig down and find things I don’t understand and try to make sense out of them with my work.
I didn’t really understand what it meant for me to be an adoptee. I knew it had a profound impact on my life, but didn’t really understand what it meant, or how it impacted me. So that’s my attempt to try to make some sense out of it, and I don’t fully understand it still. I know, I know for a fact, that to be given away by your mother at birth is a trauma. And I know for a fact that probably the cause of addiction is trauma. It’s a genetic predisposition compounded with trauma. But I didn’t really, I mean I’m almost fifty, I got another year and I’m fifty, and I didn’t understand what all that meant for me in a tangible way, in the real world. How did this-where did it drive my decision? Where did it create more problems for me as an adult? So I tried to make sense of it, and tell the story through songs. So that’s a record I made for me.
RR – I’m glad you did. I like it. I like it a lot.
MG – Thank you. It’s very personal and it was a record I had to make. In a lot of ways I’m ready to move on from it, because it’s heavy, it’s difficult.
RR – and you can’t stay there too long.
MG – and I don’t want to stay there. I did it and now we can move on. We shined the light in that dark room. There it is. I got to go in another dark room and shine some light in the next one, because that’s my job as an artist. I don’t want to repeat myself, and I don’t want to stay in one place to long. My nature is to move on.
RR – Good. Well, Mary thank you so much.
MG – It was my pleasure, hope you enjoy the show tonight.
And move on she did. I went to my seat and watched this amazing artist perform for about an hour. Her performance was spellbinding, a true artist in every sense of the word. It appeared the entire audience was holding on to every note, every word. However, that will be in an upcoming review to be published here in a day or two.
I will tell you this. If Mary Gauthier is coming within 200 miles of where you live, you must find a way to go see her. You will only feel cheated later on for not going.
Until next time, keep listening to the music!