Q-Do you like sharing and discussing lyrics with interviewers/ fans? Do you enjoy the conversations that occur when you field in-depth questions about your lyrics/ intentions/ emotions/situations behind a song? Is there a part of you that just wants to let some of it remain private or a mystery, even to you?
A- Yes, I enjoy rolling around in these conversations. I think I learn from investigating and talking through ideas about writing. When I was a kid there was nothing I liked more [aside from the records themselves] than an in depth, thoughtful interview with a songwriter whose work I loved. It’s actually even broader than that. I’m endlessly fascinated by hearing someone talk about the work they are in love with. I don’t really even care what the work is. I used to love hearing Carl Sagan talk about the universe because he was so excited about the whole conversation. I love interviews with authors, musicians, actors, directors, painters-anyone who is in the grip of a full on love affair with their work. When you hear an interview with Martin Scorcese you can hear in his voice the absolute passion he has for his craft. And not just his craft but the craft itself.
There are times when I balk at going into the details behind a song depending on who is asking and the environment. Someone once said to me, “someday you must tell me the story behind Haunted Man..” This is thin ice. Not in the sense that the person was crossing a line. What we do as songwriters and performers is public. People have a natural instinct to explore the edges and crooks of songs or any piece of work they are moved by. It’s natural to want to know what feeds the fire that created something but to share something so intimate for me would require a little more formality. I might be willing to go into my thoughts about a song in that way in an interview setting but I’m not likely to talk about it in the parking lot over a can of Budweiser if you see what I mean. I suppose the lines are self imposed and shifting. When I was asked about the story behind Haunted Man I remember thinking, “The story? I just told you the story in the song…is that not enough? Didn’t I already open a vein?” Thinking about it later though I realized that the curiosity is the same as mine is for the songs I love and the deepest compliment. It’s my job to decide what I’m willing to share. It’s not a listeners job to quell their curiosity. If I could ask Bob Dylan some questions you can bet your ass I would. It’s up to him to light a cigarette and turn on his heels. There are parts of the process that remain a mystery regardless.
One of the most beautiful parts of this work is discovering that you have connected things in a way you didn’t even intend. Anyone who writes creatively knows that there a place you get to from time to time that feels as though it is not you writing. It feels like the work is coming though you than from you when you are in this place. It’s a mystery how this happens and what this is but it feels as though your tools as a writer are connecting to your subconscious and working on their own. It’s more like you have an antennae raised and you are receiving the work rather than creating it. For me this is the place where some of the best writing comes from. Haunted Man, Down To The Bone even Angels and Acrobats came from this place. Little Scar came from this place. When I was writing That’s Where My Baby Lives I was writing from a narrative point of view. I wasn’t aware of the subtext that was forming as I wrote. I was describing simply with very ordinary language the things that occupied the characters’ physical world. I wrote the third and fourth lines instinctively as a response to the first two lines but look what happens. It’s small. It’s not a huge revelation but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a small song with a little rip tide of subtext that comes rolling out underneath the lyric as it goes by.
I’m a little self conscious going through my own lyric but since we’re talking about something that you can only know about your own work here it is. See how the lyric shifts into the subtext and becomes something more than the language that’s being used? It goes from an idea that’s very simple and ordinary and visual to something that’s much bigger and more complicated using the same exact words. How this happens is a mystery to me. It’s very simple. The real trick is not in making it happen. The real trick is recognizing when it does happen, throwing a blanket over it, gathering it up and bringing it home to mend it’s wings so it can fly when it’s ready. My notebooks are full of little broken birds. Some of them will fly someday and some will just sit there on paper forever.
Bare light bulbs and coffee stains
Paper cups on tv trays
cracked yellow paint and muddy prints
that’s where my baby lives
A broken clock and a rusted chain
aint no picture in the picture frame
and all the love a little broken heart can give
that’s where my baby lives