You’re living in Manhattan now, and were there for most of the time you wrote and recorded some of these songs. So seeing how cities are part of your canvas, how did living in New York City influence these songs?
I suppose New York affects me because I write about my life, so any place you are will be a different tone than another place. They all have an effect on me. I don’t know where I can metaphorically interpret how New York fits in. I definitely wanted to record Saturday Nights here and Sunday Mornings in Berkeley. But a lot of it had to do with not wanting to leave home to record. New York City has an effect on me, but it was also nice to go home and record Sunday Mornings too. There’s something about the tone of Berkeley.
I began to dissect some of the new songs and noticed epilogues or at the least hints of reprised lyrics from earlier songs; more directly; ‘Now I’m the king of everything, and I’m the king of nothing’ from ‘1492,’ harkening back to ‘Rain King’ from the first record. ‘Dreaming Of Michelangelo’ from the second record. ‘This dizzy life’ from ‘Hanging Tree’ reminded me of ‘This Desert Life,’ the title of your third record. ‘The girl on the wire’ from ‘On A Tuesday In Amsterdam Long Ago’ and ‘I walked out into the air’ from ‘Washington Square’ repainted the picture from ‘Round Here,’ again, on the first album. Were you thinking in terms of looking back, encapsulating the last 20 years of your life and paying homage to the band’s legacy, or am I reaching here?
I don’t really write in a calculating way like that. I don’t think things through. But then there is ‘Michelangelo,’ which was begun 20 years ago. I had this idea of Michelangelo lying on his back painting the Creation: God reaching out to Adam, and in my mind not being able to quite reach God. Obviously it’s the opposite, God has just touched Adam and he is alive. This is what’s happening, but in my mind it was always he reaching out and not quite touching God. But I couldn’t flesh this out. So the idea crops up in ‘Angels Of The Silences,’ but as I changed, experienced more and understood what the song was going to be about, it became about the constant struggle of the artist to reach for something divine, to create something out of nothing, which is the original divine act; there was a void and let there be light, making something out of nothing. Anything! Build a chair, make a song, make a jump shot, but always try and reach for something different. But to me I would never, ever be able to reach an understanding, a feeling of satisfaction in it. Finally, what the song is really about for me is that while you’re spending your whole life stretching out from something you can’t touch, you forget to touch everything else around you, and that I had become so divorced from the world through this disorder that the only thing I ever focused on was the music and it was the only touchstone I had on earth, and I had lost touch with everything else, and that is what that song was about, and now I knew how to write it.
I will say the use of ‘Come on, come on,’ in ‘Cowboys’ comes from the nadir. He’s lost his mind entirely. He can’t feel anything, and he can only touch the world through acts of violence, and he’s trying to get something to come into him and come out of him, something to pull his life out of his numbness, and he’s screaming, ‘Come on, come on, come on, come on!’ But, again, it’s a very different feeling than the celebratory ‘Come on, come on, come on, come on!’ in ‘Accidentally In Love.’
I wrote ‘Cowboys’ all in one night and I certainly wasn’t thinking of ‘Accidentally In Love’ at that point of my life because I was completely out of my mind, and I certainly was not in love.
Having gone through all you described, your disorder and identity crisis, writing and singing about it, putting it together in art, is there a sense that you’ve come through and the record reflects the failures and successes as you described them?
Well, I’m no doctor and there is no exact science for psychosis; but it’s scary. It’s a difficult thing. You have to be careful every day to ground yourself.
Take it day by day.
Yeah, but I’m thinking a lot further forward these days.
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Photo Credit: Danny Clinch