Saturday, January 20, 2007
Miss Jones on Exposition Boulevard
I have a phone appointment with Rickie Lee Jones. Most people still think of her as that nice girl on the cover of what is still today the best Tom Waits album, 1978' Blue Valentine. But she should remembered for a bunch of great albums she wrote and recorded, albums that defined the songwriting of the last 20 and more years. Gone are the wild years of living in the fast lane of the 70s Los Angeles.
Is a few days before Xmas time. Some people told me she is not an easy girl. When she don’t like a question, she can say goodbye, interview over.
I know she is been through quite a lot in her life, so I’m quite nervous. Plus, I find an old interview with her on the Net,: “Rickie Lee Jones doesn't like the telephone. And she's not a big fan of interviews either. She finds the process ‘very unrealistic, superficial’ and trying. ‘Doing interviews about ME-ME-ME,’ she says, ‘is not what I consider part of my job’. So you can imagine how she feels about phone interviews.”
Fuck, I think. I’m done. Keep reading that article, I found something else, tho: “Jones is, however, cool with e-mail. She likes its unobtrusive, literary quality. ‘I can get my thoughts across’. she says, ‘with relative ease’. And since she's also fond of communication and experimentation, she agrees to have a conversation with me via e-mail -- with one caveat: no clichéd questions”.
Well, the phone interview is postponed cause she is blocked in Chicago do to the bad weather. Great, I think. What about asking her for an e-mail interview? Few days after new year’s eve I got a response: Yeah, Rickie Lee would love to do an e-mail interview. Great. I hope mine are not clichéd questions...
Her new album, Sermon on Exposition Boulevard, is a great one, one of her best ever(check here: www.rickieleejones.com). Is a sort of rock opera dedicated to Jesus Christ. About this album, she said some very interesting things, like "if you have faith and don't control it, it will unfold and reveal itself to you but its especially true in art".
She also said that "music is a true living connection to the spirit".
Talking about Christ she said that "the story of Jesus is lived over and over again in each generation but no one ever recognizes the Christ that walks among us".
PV: Many people today, even certain Christians, tend to say that Christ was a good story, but it belong to another era, to the past, like some kind of fable for little babies - what do you think and what kind of experience are you doing to be able to perceive Christ in that way?
RLJ: I think, coming to this from a secular place, that like the Buddha, Siddhartha, Ghandi, the rabbi Jesus has some very meaningful ideas. ideas of profound non violence, of selflessness, and love. I like them alot. The spirit emanates through all kinds of people every day... I think it's there in many unexpected places.
PV: You also said that "people these days when it is about Jesus, they don't want to be associated with the TV evangelists"; aren't you afraid some people - maybe some of your older fans - will think of you as as one of those people, like if you are trying to preach to them? Was any hard at this moment of your life and career to approach such a particoular kind of story?
RLJ: i dont think that will happen. i understand it as an initial reaction, but once people listen to the music or read these discussions about this work, it will be clear that this is a piece of art, not a 'tract,' not something made with the intention of convincing people to become Christians. It is in fact the opposite. It celebrates the life of this man while condemning the poor behavior of the pious, and suggesting women as the vessel of Christ as well as the poor homeless and destitute among us. We tend to be repelled against anything we don't know, we make presumptions. WE make them about Christians, they make them about us. Christ - and I - suggest that this is not the best way to use the opportunity of life.
And this kind of misapprehension about whether or not I am Christian is not a big concern (to me). these are great ideas, and I am not afraid that others have misused them and so I might be mistaken for a misuser. them. Tell me, if The Clash did this record on the words of Christ, would you be concerned that any of the group was Christian? Would it matter? I think it would not matter to reasonable, intelligent people. There are people who have been harmed by the notions of exclusion and some of the ridiculous fantasy of the legend of Christ, and in the hands of unenlightened people these ideas are weapons, and I mention in the record that these are the people I am singing about, for. they deserve a chance to come to any name, any spiritual path without it being defiled before they can even hear what it has to say. What it, Christ has to say, and not a preacher or a pope or rule book from human hands. seeking truth and seeking to be of use in the world, one must listen carefully for the truth and not make presumptions. We are here to make music, to grow as artists, whatever the subject of the record is.
PV: Have you seen Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion"? If so, how did you like it
RLJ: no i did not. i don't like Mel Gibson. i am not interested in Christian propaganda. i did like "The Last Temptation of Christ", but that movie is by a great, great filmmaker.
PV: . Musically speaking, you are rocking harder than ever on this album (I'm thinking about a great song as 'Nobody Knows my Name'); you have always been know as a jazz folk influenced singer. Were we all wrong?
RLJ: yes you were all wrong!
I am a singer, a composer, a lyricist, and a performer. Each of my records has been different from the other, though my career clearly is an evolution. I learn as I go. I am interested in different ideas and I pursue them. I am afraid that for some time i have been associated with a kind of idea that is not me. Not me in totality, not me at all. While I don't have the interest to write a rock song over and over again, I do write rock songs, like 'tried to be a man' and have fun with that. my persona or image has not been controlled and so the media just starts imagining what it wants. Undirected, misinformed people write things on the internet and those ideas get picked up. I remember when a read some recent bio of me , it said ' once touted as the new Joni Mitchell.''
well this is just ridiculous. I was never touted as the new Joni Mitchell. I was on the cover of ROLLING STONE four months into my career, and Joni was not, and this was not because I reminded anyone of Joni Mitchell. I was then, and remain, a very unique character. This is a sexist idea, that because we look alike we are alike. I think of people like Mick Jagger and Steve Tyler, or Dylan and Tom Petty. Now, they obviously sound alike, or look alike, and yet no one mentions the very obvious influence when they write about these men. Yet after 28 years of making records, and influencing many obvious women voices, I began to read Joni in the bio of ME!! I saw that history was being rewritten, and realized I better get busy if I was going to correct the idea of my work and who I am, professionally. So yes, I imagine you may have been incorrect if you thought i was a folky jazz singer. My piano songs, my jazz singing, my guitar playing and style of writing are all very different from each other, and comparing me to anyone or them to me my preclude the understanding that I am not a one trick pony, I am not like Dylan or Joni, I don't have one style that I do. I am a queer bird, my work is diverse.
PV: If I heard right, most of these songs were improvised in the studio; was it your first experience in that sense? And if so, how was it to work that way? Will you do it again in the future?
RLJ: I had improvised on the Horde tour back in 1996, and it was thrilling for me, for my little band. We would step on stage and just make it up. One of the best moments of my life was when a teenage boy came up to me on the fairgrounds after our show in New Mexico, and said to me, unknowing who i was, "what is the name of your band? man, you guys were the best band here. " I always knew that if people could listen to my work without prejudging it, i would be heard much clearer, much more honerstly. For some reason, people can't hear the music anonymously. Nobody knows my name.
I will improvise on stage, this is a great and thrilling thing for us to do. It's a jazz tradition that has never found it's way to pop music. Yes, the Dead did it, but that was still just vamping. I am hoping we create new chords, new melodies. Thats so fun for me. to do this live, in front of people. but it is an evolution of each player, as I said before.
PV: "Tried To Be A Man" is one of my favorite song at the moment, a wonderful, quite shocking, powerful performance. It is a song that lyrically I found very powerful but still I need some explanation about it - the first part of the song, you say "I tried to be a man" - on the second verse you say "she tried to be a man"; there is a lot of imaginary in the song, who is the main character here, who are you addressing with this song?
RLJ: well, thank you. Yes, she is talking about the character i spoke of in that verse. is she Christ? I am addressing you in this song. And the meaning slips, it moves. I thought it might be about Christ, than I wondered if it was about the devil, and then i thought it might be about Scientology. all those things, the corner of Hollywood where i live, all this stuff is going on nightly. It's a battle out there. It is as much a warning as a complaint, a proclamation as anything. Men and women try to be a man, it just is that we can't fit into the mold. Christ too. The Scientologists, I have a problem with this science fiction as religion. They believe some mighty strange stuff, and they are into demeaning discipline and control. Around here (in Los Angeles) they make people wear severe costumes and walk around the streets in demonstrations of penance, but to L. Ron Hubbard? It's very creepy. So that song is like religion in Hollywood, in 2007.
PV: On 'Elvis Cadillac' there is Janis Joplin: on 'I Was There' is Frank Sinatra; and of course Elvis Presley is on Elvis Cadillac; I like these kind of characters to comes out of the songs, can you tell me why you thought about those particoular people? What they mean to you?
RLJ: Sinatra is my touchstone, i think of him if I am worried. He knew his way around a song, and around the block. He was the master, to me. Elvis, well, he is like Jesus to this century, and Janis, well, she had been kind of forgotten. When i was young, she mattered a great deal to me, and I thought, every generation has its Janis... Here is my daughter's generation, who will their heros be? What do they have to hold on to? I am cheering for them, and for the old Gods of my time in this song. I think it is a song of redemption, of my personal coming to grips with this time in my life, with the story of my life, and my generation. Some relief that Bush is nearly over. It feels very good here.
PV: 'I Was There' is surely my favourite song here and one of your best performances ever; how hard was it to write and record this particoular song? It is a real tour de force.
RLJ: this was done at the end of a long day. We had just come back into the studio, maybe it was the first or second day. And we had done two songs already, Tried to be a Man, and Seventh Day. And I said, hey, i think I have an idea, one more, ok? It was 12 hours into the day when I said this. Lee, you sit there and film. I just knew it was going to be good. I was ready for it. And it came, all out. I had some lyrics here and there, but I could not keep track of them and sing at the same time, so I had to rely on making them up, putting out a line and then knowing I would find my way to the next one. And all these amazing images came,
I mean, the rocks, the scorpion dust, I feel like I am walking over time with Christ, and it is really something. Over all humanity, also through my own life. And His.
I agree about the tour de force…, it is really something. I was a part of it. And there is a film of it on the DVD that we put out with the record, the enhanced CD. I recorded, and i had never sung it before. It came out that way, and Lee filmed it, and it is on the record.
And that was the nature of the whole recording. I was very grateful that we were able to maintain that quality. To just throw out the net and catch what came in, and have faith that it would be what it was suppose to be. Really thrilling. And i have a kind of faith now, in my life, in life in general. And I hope very much that I can continue to work that way. I know that the quality to this is translated, people hear this record and they understand things inexplicably. I really do feel a part of it, not the initiator or creator. I am a part of it, and it's really fine.
PV: 'Circle In The Sand' is a terrific great almost pop song. It reminds - for the attitude - of certain garage rock from the 60s, songs like 'Louie Louie'. What do you think
RLJ: yeah, i was thinking of early Rolling Stones, early radio , exactly. The version on the record is different than the one in the movie. And the one we do live is different than the record.
PV: 'Road to Emmaus' is a instrumental track, how come that particoular track came out?
RLJ: i was not part of this, this is one of the original tracks made by Peter (Atanasoff, who collaborated on SERMON) with Lee, for the spoken word stuff. We made alot of these, I just stood there in front of the mike, and made noises, and colored it with effects, my voice, sounds, percussion... to draw a picture of a road back in the year 2. To take you there... There are many more recordings from the sessions we will make available on the internet. stuff like 'road'
PV: I know this album came out from a multimedia project; how are you going to present these songs in concert?
RLJ: just sing them. hopefully we can have something on stage but we haven't mad e it up yet, we have some ideas.
PV: On your website, there is a very cool song which is addressed to George W. Bush and it is available for download only. What about that particoular song?
RLJ: i wrote that when Bush was first elected and nobody would speak out against him. I felt he had defiled our country, our planet. And i wrote that song, 'ugly man'. It's on THE EVENING OF MY BEST DAY. Which, as you can tell by the title, was a kind of ending of days, of the way i had been, the way i had written.
PV: On the album 'The evening of my best day', way before other artists, you were already writing angry songs against this government. Can you tell me a little bit about your feeling about being an American today? What do you think of The Vote for Change tour or albums like Neil Young's 'Living With War' (if you listened to it). Do you think rock musicians should go out and make public statements about politics?
RLJ: I think Neil was too little too late. When he came out with his record it was safe to do so, no big news ensemble would attack by then. I am glad he did something, but...Where was he when Bush was elected? why did he wait so long? It was obvious that they (Bush, etc) were controlling the 9/11 event to keep fear alive, It was dangerous to speak out, and that is when he - and others - should have. I think when fascists take over your country you must do everything you can to stop them. I am not that interested in making politics my life or art. I just could not NOT speak out, myself.
PV: On your website again i found out this and I'd like to ask how it happened to meet Jimi Hendrix, when it was and where, you must have been very very young. (RICKIE: " I have always thought that Jimi was not like us. He even moved in a way that was all his own, and he seemed to fill up the space as only he knew how. I only met him once and now I can say that we have been just blessed from God in order to have had Jimi on this earth. He sang in an amusing way, not at all perfect, but his voice contained something deep. To me, "Electric Ladyland" is the most important record ever made)
RLJ: that is another story....another time... I love "Electric Ladyland" too. Hendrix was maybe from another time, another place, he stood in the air differently than the rest of us. He was a holy man, I believe.
PV: If you should name just one of your songs from your songbook to somebody who dont know, so to introduce yourself to him in the way you think is the best one, which song you'd like to play for him?
RLJ: Alter Boy or maybe Living it up or...Where i like it best or the moon is made of gold.
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