Saturday, March 19, 2016

Paul Williams Talks To Bruce Springsteen

Paul Williams, Bruce Springsteen 1975

This excerpt is from The Map or Rediscovering Rock and Roll
published 1988, by Paul Williams:

I taped an interview with Bruce Springsteen in 1974, at a time when CBS wanted to drop him from the label because he wasn't selling enough records, and we talked about a performer's ability to decide his own destiny.

Paul: "I sometimes wonder if the way that the record business is now can actually stop things from happening, just in the sense of stopping them from happening on the radio, or..."
Bruce: "Yes. I mean, it's like- First of all, only to a certain degree. I don't really want to get into the specifics, because I know some things that have been done to me, you know (laughs) and I don't want to sound like, I don't want to whine. But they could stop it to a degree. They can't stop you going out there and playing every night. they can't stop you from being good. They can keep it off the radio. They can make sure it gets low airplay, or no airplay, or what er, which, it hurts, yeah. But they can't well gosh, like, Ive been playing, we've been going for two years, and the second records the biggest, its sold what, 70,000? That's nothing. That's zero. And I don't know, I don't think they can--
   "It depends on who they're dealing with, who they're messing with. It depends on the person, its like anything. Some people can be stopped, and other people can't be stopped, you know? It depends, if you're dealing with people who can stop, or not. Like me, you know, I can't stop, they can't make me stop, ever. Its like once you stop, that's it. You might as well....I don't know what I'd do.
   "But its like that. If you're dealing with people who can say, 'well, hell, Im going to go back to , you know, hanging wallpaper (laughs), that was easier than this.' them you can stop. Those people who are going, 'Oh man, Im gonna go back to college, forget this stuff,' those people can be stopped. People say, 'Hey, what should I do? Gee, I don't know if I want to play or if I want to get married to my girl, Im having a real hard time deciding...' Well, if you have to decide, the answer is right there: don't do it! If you have a choice, then the answer's no.
   "Its only the ones who, some people really don't have a choice, and those are the people who--The record company, I don't like to use the term 'the record company', cause they always get painted as the bad guys--its like the pressures of the business, or whatever, are powerless in the face of what is real. (Laughs) You just can't stop somebody with things like that. I don't think."
Paul: "Something that bothers me, but that you seem to have been able to get around pretty steadily, it the tendency for there to be nowhere to play except big arenas. "
Bruce: "Well, its simple. What you gotta do--Like, I did the Chicago tour, right? I did that tour because I had never played big places, and I said, 'Well, I aint gonna say nothing, because I don't know what they're like.' So we went and played them. About fourteen nights in a row. Went crazy. I went insane during that tour, the worst state of mind Ive ever been in, I think. And just because of the playing conditions for our band. The best part of the tour was the guys in Chicago, great guys, it was nice. But I couldn't play those big places, it had nothing to do with anything that meant anything to me, at all.
   "Those big arenas. So I told Mike, 'Im never going to play those places again.' And that was it. So he knows that usually we don't play any place over three thousand, that's the highest I like to go. I don't like to go any bigger than that. And thats even too big."
Paul: "The challenge comes when you get more popular, which is inevitable."
Bruce: "Right, you know, but--It's like, theres no way! Im always disappointed in acts that play those places. I don't know how The Band can go out and play like that. I don't know how Joni Mitchell can do it. I don't know how you can play there. You can't. You can't effectively do it, I don't think. "
Paul: "I guess its because somebody--like the Who, you'd expect them to do different, but I guess what they'd have to do, really would be to have somebody come in and book a concert hall in New York City--"
Bruce: "For a week."
Paul: "For at least a week. They're doing four shows in Madison Square Garden and it sold out in an hour. So it would have to be at least a week of two shows a night, or maybe more. "
Bruce: "Yeah, you gotta do that, and you also gotta realize that if you get that big, some people who want to see ya, aint gonna see ya. See, I don't know, Im not in that position. All I know is, those big coliseums aint where its supposed to be, you know, it just aint where its supposed to be. Its just too big."
Paul: "It's always a drag, especially if you're not sitting in the front row."
Bruce: "Like I said, its something else going on all over the room. You go to the back row, you can't see the stage, talk about see whats on it. All you see is a blot of light. You better bring your binocs, you know. "
Paul: "I guess people go just for the event..."
Bruce: "See, it turns into-- what happens is you go to those places and it turns into something else that it aint. It becomes an event, rather than, I don't know, whatever else it is. Its just hard to play. But that's where everybody's playing, any more."
Paul: "It's the biggest part of the entertainment business, I mean bigger than movies, bigger than television, much bigger than records. Arenas....that's the biggest, in total dollar gross...."
Bruce: "I don't know how they do it, I don't know how you can even expect to do it in a place like that. Especially like, especially our band, it would be impossible to reach out there the way that we try to do. "
Paul: "Oh yeah, I think so. What happens is you end up playing an imitation of yourself, that the best that--"
Bruce: "It's like, forget it, you know. That's what happens. So you start being somebody you read about. "

And of course it came to pass that in 1985 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played show after show in baseball stadiums, in front of 50, 60, or 80 thousand people at a clip, and still lots of people who wanted to see them, didn't get to see them. And thats' just how the wheel turns, one week your a punk, the next week your a cultural icon, next week maybe you're an old geezer talking about glory days. It doesn't matter. Fred Goodman said in Billboard of a Giants Stadium Springsteen show, "It was tough to shake the feeling that one was watching MTV with a live adjunct rather than a concert But criticism on this level pales next to the stamina and energy offered by Springsteen and company. In performance, he is clearly setting the standard for everyone else to meet, and he is probably the only person who can best it."
So the man had the freedom not to be imprisoned by last years vows. And on the other hand, who could begrudge any punk today for holding the attitude Bruce himself expressed so earnestly in 1974?

(Paul's son Alexander, 14 years old, read this aloud to us this week as we drove up to see Springsteen and meet with Jon Laundau, and while listening to The River all the way there -ed. encinitas 2016)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Out Of That Whale Like Jonah

Balboa Island, Newport, CA. Mother Ruth and me

Tonight a woman approached me and with teary eyes she said "I LOVE your song about your mother". I didn't really know her and I wasn't sure which song she meant, she saw my confusion and said "the song you put up on Facebook. It made me cry, it was just so, touching. " 

These are the moments we hope for as artists. They are gifts. This song she referred to, is one that never made it onto an album, in fact, by the time I wrote this song and the entire song cycle my time as a Virginal Vessel of Monetary Possibility had already passed.  And that time had come and gone a very long time ago.

And so the question of relevance arises. Am I, or is my message as a songwriter relevant. Its not a question actually, because any artist worth their salt passed over this conundrum in their crappy van drivin'-bad part of town livin'-ramen eatin'-mid 20s. Its actually more of a spiritual riddle.

What do I have to say? 
Can I hear the ear of the listener listening?
If you listen their is always something to say. 

One of my favorite philosophies espoused by Paul Williams, rock journalist extraordinaire, was that an artist requires time to get to know by the listener. He would sometimes spend hours listening to the same album or piece of music- trying to get inside the feeling place of it. He was fascinated by an artists individual vision, something only they had. And even when you do learn their language they may switch it up on you, like Dylan, and you are then required to learn a whole new language. 

As a songwriter, I notice, I need a lot of room. To make mistakes. To find the sweet stuff. Whatever this place is...the pure place where you get your juice for a new's a place that isn't touched really by the cares of the world. It doesn't give a shit about Facebook, Kim Kardashian, what's trending on Twitter, or the World Bank. I'm not saying we don't ever write about that stuff, it's just not the real juice. 

The juice is the pure place that makes you wanna write and share a feeling. It's that spiritual quest. Man. Did you watch the Keith Richards documentary? You see him in this place where there is only music and the people that make it and those in the zone with it. That's it. 

A screen grab from super 8; me and my mother Ruth, Hermosa Beach

We all have shit that happened to us as kids. Some of us can ignore it, maybe well into our adult life, and go forward not noticing how its making us limp. I thought I could be like that. I hit the age of 19 full-drive, moved to LA, went to acting school, put together a punk rock band (The Stoopids), and had this weird-wish-vision of myself on stage at the Hong Kong in LA, singing a snarly song with my band, then, the band would drop back, pulsing, and I start talking, ruminating about overcoming the troubles of our lives. I thought; what the fuck? Are you wishing yourself a punk rock messiah. Jonathan Livingston Seagull+SexPistols. But our first gig didn't even happen. 

Instead, I had a crushing depression. It was just my brain, the way it was wired. But also living the past 10 years ignoring that my most important person in the universe, my mother, had suddenly died.  With no funeral or tomb to visit, and no mention of what happened to her,  she simply disappeared from the Planet, and from the photo album, and the lexicon of our family. 

My sister had a photo of herself, torn in half with a mother-arm over her shoulder, nothing else but a serrated edge, a free fall where the mother would be. Later, in archaeological expeditions of the house and unknown drawers, and relatives photo albums a meager few photos were uncovered. 

It's amazing how much we can be affected by the people places and things of our youth. Would I have finished acting school? Would I have recorded an album and played shows with The Stoopids?
I moved back in with my dad and second mother and struggled to rise above the murky waters of depression. Darn. I'd never be like John Lennon 24 and famous.  

Right before the veil of suffering ended I had a visionary dream. I followed John Lennon into a painting. A man followed behind us and he was full of foreboding, I knew it was Lennon's killer.  At last I ended up at a rodeo and met that dark eyed man who represented the killer. We jumped off the rodeo fence and grabbed some grub from the pancake breakfast. While sawing our sausages in half we looked deeply into one another eyes. His were dark dark evil pools. But as I looked further something remarkable happened. We saw each other. We smiled. We fell in love. And the killer was transformed to lover. It was a remarkable healing. I awoke grateful,  knowing it was time for me to move forward. 

We all have to meet our Waterloo. Sometimes its early, sometimes its late. Regaining my footing took me about five years and then I burst Out of that Whale like Jonah. My first album came out of that pressure cooker. And every song cycle since has had its own war to wage.

(Even this brand new one, The Adventurist...) 

It's not about whether we are relevant to some Music Official-fancy person, or to the unblinking mind-set of the Reality TV Eye, it's whether we are seen by "the seer's", the truth-seekers, the music-lovers, those who are actually authentic and bearing a message. 

So the real question is: 
Are You Telling The Truth?

I'll do my best. 

My mother, grandma Ross, grandma Berryhill

FAMILY TREE (the song that made her cry)