A Conversation with Rick Springfield
Mike Ragogna: Rick, anything that starts with a son looking at his mom dressed for church leading into a wise guy conversation with God... You had me hooked from the beginning.
Rick Springfield: [laughs] Oh good, I'm glad.
MR: We don't want to give away any spoilers, but we have to go into some of the content of Magnificent Vibration. I love that you set up the parents and then you set up the parallel with your life, but where do you see "you"--Rick Springfield--fitting into this cast of characters?
RS: Well I think there's a bit of me in every character. My family was very different from this guy's family, but there are elements of my family in there and there are elements of me in even his jerk of a wife. I think to make a character be real you have to use what's real for you. Obviously, it's a work of fiction, but I found that characters tended to come from stuff that either I felt or that I didn't like or that I particularly disliked. I guess that's how you form a character.
MR: Were you making any conjectures or conclusions about yourself through some of these characters?
RS: Yeah, definitely. Obviously at some point the character and the story take over but the initial idea started from me. I love dogs, and I've always loved the fact that were there gods we'd all get a hug and a pet from God, like dogs do from us. I always thought how great it would be to actually have a friggin' conversation. That's where the story started out, it was originally called Conversations With God, where this guy has conversations with God, but it took on its own life and went the way it went.
MR: With your latest, it seems like you still "Speak To The Sky."
RS: [laughs] I've always been a very, very spiritual searcher, and I was certainly raised church-wise the way this guy was raised, obviously. I think that's why a lot of Stephen King's heroes are writers, because he starts from a point of truth and takes off from there.
MR: Your memoirs--the book Late, Late At Night--have the same tone in certain spots as this book. The Rick Springfield character, as much as you've played Doctor Noah Drake or Zac from Battlestar Galactica--talk about the shortest-lived, most-loved character on TV...
RS: [laughs] Yeah, he was only in there for a few seconds.
MR: But "Rick Springfield" is front and center regardless of who you're playing, that being a good thing, a solid identifiable character. My feeling is your roles--be they acting, writing, music--are totally believable because Rick Springfield is in every single thing you do.
RS: I think that comes from discovering songwriting, when I finally realized I didn't just have to make stuff up about girls I'd never met, that I could actually use moments of my life. It actually came when my dad first got sick. I was about 20, and at that time I was just starting to really get into writing songs. I wrote a song about my family and how his getting really sick affected us and it really stood out to me because it was kind of a change of writing for me, when I started to write about what was really going on in my head rather than just, "Okay, The Beatles wrote a song about 'I Want To Hold Your Hand,' how can I write a song like that?" It became internal for me from that point on, and that's when I think my songwriting certainly took off.
MR: And your songs like "Believe In Me," and "Mother Can You Carry Me," it seems like you couldn't write them without inserting yourself personally.
RS: Yeah, I definitely, definitely agree. My favorite writers were always real personal writers. I loved Jackson Browne's early stuff and John Lennon's stuff where you thought he was singing about you when he sang "Help," but he was really singing about himself.
MR: Bringing it back to Magnificent Vibration, by the end of the book, were you changed? Was it cathartic for you? Do you understand the personal situations you were writing about better now?
RS: I definitely did, I think. The book really wrote itself, I'd write a passage and didn't know how it was going to fit in but I was excited to find out. It was a journey for me to write it as well and I'm writing the sequel now and it's even more interesting to me, all the stuff that's coming out. I realized I had inserted a lot of myself into the book even though it's fiction, my views of how we've been bad stewards of the world and that eventually there's going to be a payback whether we want it or not. In the end, I hope the world wins because we haven't done the right thing and we continue not to do the right thing and we continue, in fact, to work our hardest to do the wrong thing with each other and with the world. I think that's the basic view of the whole thing. I was raised believing that God punished you when you were bad and if something good happened you turned around and thanked him. I never understood that concept of God. After reading a book called When Bad Things Happen To Good People, I formed what I thought was a reasonable view of a spiritual being and that's who showed up in the book.
MR: Could that really have been Cotton speaking to himself?
RS: Yeah, and I think that happens a lot. I think spiritually we have a lot of conversations with our higher selves.
MR: You mentioned before the concept of "steward to the world" and it seems there are people who say we should conserve the planet and those who say it was given to us so we should work with it. It seems like there's a question of whose idea of stewardship is the right one.
RS: It is a choice, and that's what the book says. We have to choose and not have our lives guided, or else what would be the point?
MR: You've been an actor, you've been a writer, a musician, performer, guitarist, songwriter. It seems like when an opportunity is thrown at you, you go for it.
RS: Yeah, I love a challenge. That's what really keeps me alive, I think. Doing the Sound City thing with the Foo Fighters is something that came to me. I know a couple of people bowed out of that for different reasons, but it was a very scary thing stepping into somebody else's studio with a bunch of bands that know each other and have a thing going on and saying, "Okay, let's write a song." It's a very personal thing, writing a song. But I accepted the challenge and was very happy with the end result, the song that we wrote. I think any time a challenge comes up, any time I've not risen to it I've beaten myself up for years afterwards. It's much easier just to rise to the challenge, even if it hurts.
MR: You and Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo will be on the road soon. And there's the Stripped Down theme.
RS: It's a whole tour that we're doing over the summer. Stripped Down is just me by myself, a sort of storytelling kind of thing that came out of the autobiography where I realized I had a lot of stories and most of those stories ended up as songs, so it seemed like a natural fit. It's kind of a humorous thing, like the approach I have to most things. But it's really fun, it's very laid back and different from the band show which is loud and high energy, this is very much a sit down relaxed talk thing.
MR: And the Pat Benatar/Neil Giraldo part?
RS: That's the full band and I'm looking forward to that because Neil played the guitar on the original recording of "Jesse's Girl," so this tour is kind of a long time coming.
MR: Yeah, you also know how to rock, though you were originally marketed sort of like David Cassidy. And your insisting, "No, this is Rick Springfield," won you a Grammy.
RS: Yeah, well I started out as a guitar player, that was really my roots. I've been in bands since I was fifteen but I think a lot of people got the idea that I was an actor, had some success on General Hospital and then said, "You know what? I think I'll try singing now." My career was taken with a grain of salt, but I hung in there and knew that if I kept writing and performing and doing stuff the truth would come out one way or the other. It's really all you can do when public opinion says one thing and you say something different, all you can do is just hung in there and see if what you think is true or not. That's all I did basically.
MR: Lately, it seems like your acting is coming back too. You've been on Californication and you've also revisited General Hospital.
RS: Yeah, I went back for the fiftieth anniversary. They were definitely a big part of my initial career. I went back for a couple of days recently. I went back for a year a while ago, back in the late nineties, I think it was, early 2000s, and then I went back for the fiftieth anniversary. I'd do it more, but it's just a real lot of work. People don't realize how hard soap opera actors work. It's really intense. A lot of it ends up being about line memorization for me, which is not acting, so I don't get a lot of pleasure out of that. There are some actors on there that totally kill it, they're great at it, but I'm not one of them. I have to really slog over the words to get through my way a lot of the time.
MR: Would you have an easier time if you were Eli Love again?
RS: [laughs] That was fun. They couldn't really change anything about him because soap operas move so fast they don't have time for makeup changes or clothing changes, but it was fun doing a different character on there.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
RS: Obviously develop your talent as much as you can, hang with other people with like minds, hopefully they're better so you can learn, and don't stop performing or playing or writing or whatever it is you do, and don't put a time limit on it, focus on the end goal and go for that. Never give up, basically, is all you can do. There's always tough times, but you have to find the strength inside you when the shit hits the fan to stay in there.
MR: Did you ever run into Bruce Springsteen and did he ever have a comment about your song "Bruce" to you?
RS: [laughs] I never have, actually, but I actually did a pilot with Clarence Clemons a long time ago and we knew Roy Bittan for a while, we lived in the same town, but those were the only two guys I really had any contact with.
MR: You're on Californication, you've got the book, you're still making music, you'll be on tour... How do you juggle everything and where is this all heading? That's a lot of stuff!
RS: I just love doing what I'm doing and I'm lucky that I can do it. Now that my kids are out of the house I've got a lot of time.
MR: And you're still having fun with it all.
RS: Yeah, very much so. Occasionally, I get overwhelmed by it and just blow everything off and take a day to be at home, but most of the time I've got a lot of energy for it. I actually draw energy from it, the more I work the more energy I seem to have. Sometimes if I take a couple of weeks to do something I get lethargic and could just sit there for the rest of my life. It's really important for me to keep moving and keep trying to do better. I'm just trying to do what I do better.
MR: And continue to be a good steward of the world.
RS: Well, as much as I can, sure.
MR: If they ever make a movie out of Magnificent Vibration, it seems like George Carlin would've been the best Cotton.
RS: [laughs] Yeah, that's right! He would've gotten it.
MR: I really appreciate your time, all the best.
RS: I appreciate your time, too, man.
MR: Is Comic Book Heroes Part II coming soon?
RS: [laughs] The best review I ever got in Rolling Stone was for that record. For the people who get into it, it seems to stick with them, but not a lot of people got into it. I appreciate it.
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with War's Lonnie Jordan and Cheech & Chong's Tommy Chong
Mike Ragogna: What brought you guys together for this recording?
Tommy Chong: Um, money. We're trying to raise money for the KCET broadcasting.
Lonnie Jordan: I almost said "PMS," I meant PBS.
TC: That's something your wife told me to watch out for.
LJ: PBS Has been helping us out quite a bit down every road. We've been doing a thing with PBS where we're helping them and they're helping us, so we're working together for the community and for all those that the station reaches.
MR: This fine new War album is the first new one in what, twenty years? What is that about?
LJ: Well, we stopped recording only because we got kind of bored of it. There was nothing new to talk about. We'd said everything already back in the day. We just took a break from recording and decided to keep playing live for our audience until they gave us something again to write about. It's the fans that write our songs. We just pick up the pens and the checks.
TC: That's it. Everybody has their creative period. Recording is like planting the garden, and then touring and appearances are like harvesting, so you guys have been harvesting lately.
MR: So War's been harvesting, what seeds have Cheech & Chong been planting lately?
TC: Right now, we're getting ready to do another movie, which will have War involved in it somehow, acting and doing the music. Cheech & Chong is on a Last Gasp Tour, and then we'll follow it up by The Final Straw.
MR: [laughs] And then the absolutely final tour.
TC: No, no, then we go into Cher, the seventeenth annual farewell tour.
MR: So you guys are pals, where did this friendship begin?
TC: Well we were out of wine at our dressing room, so I went over to Lonnie, and of course Lonnie's got nothing but wine in his dressing room.
TC: And that's how we get along.
MR: Did anybody "Spill The Wine?"
TC: Let's write a song about that! Oh wait, you already have.
MR: Lonnie, let's go over the new album. You have some guests on it, Joe Walsh, Tower Of Power, The USC Marching Band...what?
LJ: Yes! USC Marching Band!
TC: Lonnie was drunk, he met them in a bar and he made some promises. Of course, when he woke up he couldn't remember them.
LJ: [laughs] Which is convenient.
TC: Cheech & Chong's on that album too, right?
MR: Their greatest guest appearance since being on Joni Mitchell's "Twisted" from Court & Spark. [laughs]
LJ: Cheech & Chong being on the album for me is exciting to me because they have so many fans. And the first time "Lowrider" played anywhere outside the radio it was in a movie, their movie, Up In Smoke. From then on everybody in the whole world who started doing movies started catching on to the bandwagon saying, "Oh, that's War? That's their stuff?" Because of Up In Smoke, everybody learned who we were. No one really ever connected our music to us.
MR: Also you've got "The World Is A Ghetto," "Summer," "The Cisco Kid," "Why Can't We Be Friends," "Spill The Wine..." After all these years, what do you think of that legacy of hits?
LJ: You'll have to ask all my exes. Exes on the back of my checks. I'm surprised with myself that I was even able to do all that. To this very day I don't understand how I did it, and I guess that's because I never really thought about it. Thinking can sometimes be a disease, so I just never thought. I just felt my way all the way through to this very day.
TC: Hey Lonnie, tell them about the cover song you're going to do, the follow-up for "Why Can't We Be Friends?" He's going to do a new version called "Why I Wear Depends."
LJ: Oh no you didn't! [laughs]
MR: Wait, let's go there. I imagine your fan base is pretty expanded demographically, but does it tend to be a bit older overall?
LJ: No, no. The older fans still are fans, but they've multiplied and now they have little mini-me's running around with telephones in their hands, and they seem to learn about us much faster than their grandparents or dads and moms that were our older fans and still are our fans. Even with Cheech & Chong I see the young ones sitting up there, a lot of them, and a lot of them do have their phones in there, Googling the things they may not be able to get at the concert.
TC: The thing is, we get all kinds of people. We get the young ones that have to be with the old ones to make sure they get to the concert and home. And then the really young ones get to come in with their parents, because there's an age restriction. We're family entertainment, War and Cheech & Chong.
MR: You guys had a lot of hits in the period, but you have generations of people that are now raised on War and Cheech & Chong. It seems to me like you should have more fans than ever in the history of mankind.
TC: What happens in that everything moves in cycles. We start off with say rhythm & blues, and then it changes into rap and then it changes into heavy metal, but it always comes back to the original, to the roots. Cheech & Chong and War are original, so we will always be viable. We're not only part of the culture, we are the culture. You can go to college, you can go to Europe, you can experience all the other cultures, but you will eventually come back to home. That's what we are. We're home.
LJ: We're also a movement.
MR: Given the cultural impact of songs like "Why Can't We be Friends?" and "Lowrider," like Bob Marley and others, to many, you became cultural heroes.
TC: And Bob Marley always had a message with his songs. And that was the thing about War, too, we always had the message, you know? "Why Can't We Be Friends?" is universal, it'll last forever. "Lowrider," it'll go forever. We can look a hundred years from now and there'll still be someone in that lowrider culture and someone singing "Why Can't We Be Friends?" Just like Marley. Marley is the master. When Jesus left he said, "He will lead." His words will live forever, and that's the same as us. We'll get old, we'll die, but our work will always be here.
MR: That's so cool. With all these great people around, what was it like recording this thing? Was it zoo-like at all?
LJ: Well, actually the place that we recorded at was pretty much like old school. It had Hendrix and all the old guys up on the wall like an old flashback for us. It just kept our environment of recording the same as it was back in the day. It wasn't a zoo, it was just a great flashback. I enjoyed every step of the way and when Cheech & Chong came in and recorded with us I really had flashbacks. I thought it was a hot flash, but it was a flashback.
MR: Tommy, what advice do you have for new artists?
TC: Just enjoy the moment, whatever the moment is. Sleeping in your car? Enjoy it. Accepting the Academy Award for your music? Enjoy it. Enjoy the moment, because that's all we have. Life is just a series of moments strung together, make the best of them. Take care, guys, I've got to go.
MR: Thanks Tommy! Lonnie, what's your advice for new artists?
LJ: I would say not only enjoying the moment, but as far as being an artist, they should definitely become multi-talented in the field of art. Listen to a lot of music, go see a bunch of different types of art, anything that's an art form, spread your mind out to it all, because it's all different forms of art. When I say different types of music I mean rap, classical, jazz, reggae... Young kids have Google, go back and find out about ska, calypso and how it became reggae and all that, all of the African music, country, classical music as well, jazz, where it all came from. Understand it. That's a challenge right there. That should be their school. That's a challenge right there. That should be their school. Then they'll understand art.
MR: Is that how you came into it?
LJ: Well the thing is when I first came in we didn't have Google, all we had was dictionaries. I didn't learn nothing from that, I learned from traveling and meeting other people because I've always been open to meeting and talking to other people of different nationalities and other planets. I've been open to everything, all genres of music. You just play one note, as far as I'm concerned and one note emphasizes all countries. That's all you need, one note.
MR: You must have had an idol or two, who were your idols?
LJ: A lot of people besides myself. I love Ray Charles, I love Patsy Kline, I love Claude Debussy, anybody from the year 1700 or whatever year it was that he was making music. Anyone that can create a song called "Clair de Lune" back in those times must've been doing some of the heaviest weed in the world. "Clair De Lune," man? Oh my god. But other than that, you have your friends in the jazz world, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson. On the rock side, I used to love The Everly Brothers, I loved Elvis Presley, I loved Richard Berry and Chuck Berry, all the Berries, the list goes on. I don't have one person or one artist, I love all of them. Even Ray Price, I thought Willie Nelson was a great writer although I knew that he wrote a lot of music for a lot of the R&B artists back in the early sixties, I loved his music. The list goes on. I could write a book on all the people. It would take a while, but I love them all. James Brown.
MR: Most people don't realize Willie Nelson is the poster child for genre bending and nobody says, "Hey, you're not wearing your big hat today. You're not country!" He mixes it with R&B, he mixes it with soul, all sorts of stuff.
LJ: Yeah, he's another rebel in music. He's another doctor of music, which is what I feel I am. I'm a doctor of music. I heal people through music, besides myself. Jimi Hendrix of course is another one. What I loved about Jimi Hendrix is that he came from the same school as me, the blues. That's where we came from. The form of art coming out of the blues where people would play the blues, you'd play a lot of holes in the walls. A lot of holes in the walls meant you had to play in the hood back in the early days, watching people get stabbed and they sing about it, somebody beating their woman up, or a woman beating a man up and then they sing the blues about it. Suriving in the streets, that was the blues back then, which is the same form of art as rap is today. That's an evolution right there. A lot of people don't know that we used to jam with Jimi Hendrix a lot, especially as Eric Burdon & War because Eric and Jimi were great friends through Cas Chandler, the bass player of The Animals, who actually introduced Jimi Hendrix to the music industry. We were the last band that Jimi played with at Ronnie Scott's in England before he died.
MR: Oh wow.
LJ: A lot of people don't know that. And the weird part is we did the song "Mother Earth" and ironically after Jimi played with us and went back to his flat he went back to Mother Earth.
MR: Wow. Evolutionary is the name of this record but how evolutionary is it to you?
LJ: It's still the same movement as it was back in the early days of our recordings. The thing is what's more important to me is the fact that the young kids and our older fans finally connect our music to the band "War" without saying, "Oh, yeah, I know who War is! Huh! What is it good for?" We did not write that song. That was Edwin Starr. When we were on the charts back in the day you would see "Eric Burdon & War/Spill The Wine" and then you would see maybe one more bullet above us "Edwin Starr/War." That was confusing, you would hear the DJs after Edwin Starr's song say, "Edwin Starr and War!" and then you would hear "Spill The Wine" and they'd say, "Here's Eric Burdon & War!" So it was confusing back then but that's okay.
MR: What are some of the major differences between War then and now?
LJ: Well one of the major differences is Eric. I have to take my hat off to him for what he's taught me over a period of time and back in the day. When a lot of people that came to our concerts were discovering Eric Burdon's new band War, it was the first experience for me to feel this feeling in the clubs of people taking acid. But I watched Eric, the way he dealt with the crowd, the way he had control of the crowd and all that time that we were with Eric, I learned so much of that from him and the way that I controlled the crowd today. I just thought that was one of the greatest experiences I experienced with him, watching him control the crowd, have fun with them, just be loose but yet tell a story at the same time. Then the people dancing because they were expressing themselves through our message and through our control, they were expressing themselves. We were troubadours traveling and going to a building and turning that into a church and the people listening to our message and expressing ourselves through body movement or standing there and glaring or whatever they were doing. Those were the days, man, they were beautiful and every venue was the same way. So I learned a lot from that, although today is different. There are of course new drugs and there are more people who just want to groove and dance, there's a little more activity today than there was back then as far as the fans out in the audience watching us, although I have even more energy than Eric and the band had back then but still the people today out in the audience seem to be a little bit more active and want to release more tension. I can imagine it's because back then we had Vietnam that was pretty much driving people crazy, and the government driving people crazy is no different today. Like I said, we said everything the past as far as messages in our music, but now today that's why our live shows have been contagious, because when people hear the message and get to dance and release themselves from all this craziness in the world today
we're just soothing people or healing people through our music because I am a doctor of music.
MR: Beautiful. Where is all this heading?
LJ: Well, like Tommy said we're in the process of getting ready to do a movie with him acting and doing the music, and we're going to be doing a lot of TV shows, we'll be doing a video for the single "That LA Sunshine," we'll be doing a lot more concerts, we're going to bring back new radio formats. We're going to do it whether you like it or not, and that new radio format is a flashback with a new attitude for everyone, but with a message. And it doesn't have to be a sad message, it'll be a happy message, like Pharrell, "Cause I'm happy..." He's starting all this, so we're just finishing it. We were the innovators of it back in the day.
MR: You've already established that with "Why Can't We Be Friends?" I'm sure you've got other question songs in you that are just as relevant.
LJ: That's right! We just say "The World Is A Ghetto" because we're just trying to make people understand that the people that think they're living in the ghetto, no, not here in the United States. Go across the water, you'll see some people living in the ghetto. The world is a ghetto! You go to Beverley Hills and there are people in Rolls Royces. They get flat tires, why can't they have roaches in their backyard or in their houses? There's roaches in their houses. In a small house you can see more of the roaches but they're there. That's just a little scenario of what's existing around you.
MR: And when it gets right down to it, everybody's a lowrider.
LJ: There you go! Or everybody wants to be a lowrider. And not only that! I don't know what you think about this, but it's like Bob Marley said, "We're one." We are one, because if we weren't, then why does our government go crazy trying to create a more successful DNA testing? Why would you need it if we weren't one? That's why we have all of these mistaken identities. Obviously, we all do look alike. Everything is really based on color, then. We have the same frame, so the only way people can identify each other is by color, but even the ones of the same color are mistaking each other. You know what I'm saying? DNA tests mean we are one whether we like it or not.
MR: And you knew that all along.
LJ: There you go, the world is a ghetto.
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Walter Egan
Mike Ragogna: "Magnet And Steel," after all these years, is one of those songs that really stuck with me...with a lot of people. Cool pop classic. How the heck did you create this thing? Was it voodoo? A pact with the devil?
Walter Egan: I'll tell you, if I could figure that part out I would not just have the one hit.
MR: And it's such a classic, it's not just having a hit, it's one that stuck.
WE: I'm a lucky guy, that's all I can say. I was really lucky to be able to fall in there with Lindsey [Buckingham] and Stevie [Nicks] just from happenstance and catch them as they were ascending with Fleetwood Mac yet wanting to keep their identities outside of the band. That's kind of how that happened, I had been doing some demos out there in the now world-famous Sound City, and when I did this hoot night at The Troubadour in February of '76 with a band that I had from Claremont, California. We played seven songs, six of which were mine. I always thought everybody else sang better than me, so I only sang one. At the end of that I was offered a deal instead of the band. It was a very strange moment for me, because that's why I went to California, to get a deal, but I always thought it would be within a different context. Then it was like, "Oh, you want me to sing these, too?" I was taken by surprise by that, I must say. So when we were looking for producers the engineer who had done the demos for us suggested Buckingham Nicks. I was like, "I have no idea who that is! Is that like Don Nix? Is this southern rock?" and he said, "No, listen to this record." So I checked it out, and aside form the orchestral production that Keith Olsen had done on Buckingham Nicks I thought it was an amazing record. I instantly fell in love with Stevie and her voice and all of that. We just happened to be doing stuff at that studio, the magic of Sound City once again. Then I got to meet them as they were in the beginning of Rumors. When I met Lindsey, it was as if we had grown up together on separate coasts, we had the same touch stones of The Beach Boys and The Kingston Trio and strange things like that, and my middle name being Lindsay. His band that he had with Stevie was Fritz and my band was called Sageworth on the East coast and I had a female singer named Annie McLoone who showed up on a lot of my records later on and toured with me. Stevie and Annie's birthday fall within a week of one another. All these strange coincidences, it's like when things are meant to be it seems like there are cosmic occurrences to bring them together. I was just really lucky to be able to work with those guys. Stevie, of course, has become such an icon now, even the younger generation know her because of American Horror Story.
MR: It's weird to think of how kids now grew up with their parents playing Stevie Nicks or Fleetwood Mac in the house the way our folks played Sinatra.
WE: The young people are picking up on some of the stuff I did a while back. It's kind of neat.
MR: Come to think of it, "Magnet And Steel" might as well be "Strangers In The Night" since it's such a classic!
WE: [laughs] Except everybody knows Frank Sinatra did that. "Magnet And Steel" has endured, but people still don't really know who did it in many cases, which is kind of a funny thing for me. I think I'm the ultimate cult artist because of that.
MR: Well, you also have "Hot Summer Nights" and "Fool Moon Fire" and other hits.
WE: I appreciate that you know that. "Fool Moon Fire" was actually my last charted single. When I did that record for Backstreet Records, Tom Petty's label distributed by MCA. It came out in '83 and it's about figuratively turning into a werewolf and going nuts at night. For the video I suggested, "Why don't I turn into a werewolf and we do this whole thing?" I don't know if you've ever seen that video of "Fool Moon Fire" but I bring my girlfriend to the movie and at the movie we're watching The Werewolf with Lon Chaney Jr. and all of a sudden I turn into a werewolf. I run amok, I run outside and grab a guitar from a guy busking out on the street. It's a funny video because eight months later, Michael Jackson came out with thriller. I think somebody must've seen my video. Otherwise, it's just one of those ideas that's in the ether that people are grabbing. But one thing, "Fool Moon Fire" did crack the top forty and it did have the word "lycanthropy" in it, which is the official term for werewolfism. So I feel at least I educated a few people.
MR: That's probably the first time that's ever been in a song.
WE: I think the first and only, certainly the only to crack the top forty. When I grew up in New York there was a guy named John Zacherle who did the horror movie show and then he was a DJ on WPLJ when my first couple of albums came out, so I got to meet him. I had wanted to be Zacherle for Halloween when I was thirteen or something and my mother called the station and said something like "Where I can get a wig like Zacherle?" and actually Zacherle was on the phone and was like, "Madam, that is my own hair." So meeting him was a nice little thing.
MR: Do you also remember "Chiller"?
WE: Oh yeah, [creepy voice] "Chiiiiiillerrrrrrr."
MR: [laughs] Let's get into Myth America. How did you approach this album differently from others? It seems like it takes a hint or two from the seventies.
WE: Well some of that is unconscious at this point, I think I lived through that decade quite vitally, the seventies was my breakout decade. This record is a product of getting a sixteen track recorder that I could use at home and then I invited my drummer who lives down the block from me to come over and we recorded it, just the two of us. We did the basic tracks with him playing the drums and then I overdubbed just about everything else on there. I work cheap. Last summer I did a house concert up in Berkeley and also in LA and the promoter, Mike Somavilla, who I knew when I was living in DC said, "I get record deals for people, do you have anything that hasn't been released?" and I said, "Well, as a matter of fact, I do, I've got about forty new songs that I haven't unveiled on the world yet." He said, "Let me hear them!" He really like them and he played them for this guy Dean Sciarra. You know Dean, obviously, he's the one who set us up here. Dean liked it, and that's kind of the genesis of the album. The title, Myth America, I'd had that title for a number of years now. I love to play with words, my last album was called Raw Elegant which is an anagram of Walter Egan. Before that, I had one called Apocalypso Now and before that, Walternative. So I've always played with words as much as possible. I always thought that Myth America was a funny title and yet somehow seemingly profound at the same time.
MR: Let's get down to that. There seems to be a little thread running throughout the situations on this album, it's almost like "myth"-busting in some respects.
WE: That's how I rationalized it myself. Originally, Dean wanted to call it Cool Crazy, which is the second track on the record. I thought that would be a cool title, I thought that would be a cool title, I was willing to go along with it. He basically chose seventeen out of the forty songs I gave him and we went back and forth about the seventeen and eventually cut it to fourteen and then eventually cut it to thirteen. So the choices were not so much, "Well is this the most mythic song we can think of here?" it's just the ones that he liked the most and the ones that I lobbied for and thought should be on there, too. It was that kind of a collaboration as fas as the setting of it and all of that, but you know, as a songwriter you reflect what's going on in the world and what's your feeling about it. I grew up as a catholic, so "Faith Crashing Down" is very much a diatribe against what's going on the catholic church these days, and "Dying For Love." I would've made the first couple of songs a little less profound or meaningful or pointed. I wanted to open it with the last song on the record, "Yeah," which I think is not too heavy to start with, it's kind of catchy to bring you in there. Dean thought that because of the way people find music now online and tend to go with the first couple of songs that are on the list, he thought that "Faith Crashing Down" was a very strong song. "Stop Being You" was a song that I wrote after watching Mitt Romney try to be everything to everybody as a politician. As a songwriter you get these sparks of inspiration and with any luck it translates into a more universal theme.
MR: Well that hooked right in to Myth America, huh? If ever there was a myth being perpetrated, it was in the body and form of Mitt Romney.
WE: Yeah, he just had no shame at all about pandering. Of course, most politicians don't. I went to Georgetown University, I graduated with a Fine Arts major in 1970. I did metal sculpture there. But while I was there the freshman year in my dorm one of the junior hall monitors was Bill Clinton. Pretty strange. I never really hung out with him, I was kind of on the lunatic fringe of the people that went to Georgetown whereas he was what people who go to Georgetown call a Hoya. Hoya Saxa is the phrase, the motto of the school and a lot of people have a lot of confusion over what that means, we were taught that it's latin and greek, saxa being "rock," hoya being the exclamation "What!" So it really says, "What rocks," and it could be a question, "What rocks?" or it could be, "Hey, what rocks!" Apparently the story among people who go to the school is that John Carroll, founder of the university in 1789 was sailing up the Potomac and there was this rocky bluff and apparently his exclamation was "What rocks!" So the team is called The Hoyas, and nobody knows what that means. It's like The Pokeys at Virigina Tech. It's one of those words.
MR: So you went to catholic school.
WE: I went to Loyola Jesuit High School, where I was in a band called The Malibooz which migrated en masse to Georgetown University. The guy who was the leader of The Malibooz, a guy named John Zambetti, went into pre-med and relinquished his guitar duties to me and then we changed the name of the band from The Malibooz to Sageworth & Drums to be a western folky rock kind of thing. We were totally into The Birds at that point and Buffalo Springfield. When Annie McLoone joined the band, it became like a Jefferson Airplane/Buffalo Springfield kind of band. But we started doing original material fairly early on. I got a guitar when I was fifteen and didn't want to take lessons. For some reason, I thought I could teach myself how to do it. Of course this was after going to buy the guitar and thinking, "Well, I should probably get a four string guitar because you really only have four fingers to use on the neck" and another guy said, "No, no, you can make it," so I wound up getting a six string. So the summer of my fifteenth birthday I basically taught myself to play from a Kingston Trio songbook. We evolved through that period while Georgetown and DC in general seemed like it was trying somewhat consciously to be an east coast San Francisco, because San Francisco was kind of the capital of cool music at that point, as well as LA, but, "oh, plastic LA," and San Francisco was organic and cool and hippie and everything. There were bands that sort of mimicked The Grateful Dead, but the other elbows we were rubbing in those days was a guy called Bill Danoff, who went off to have a band called Fat City and then another band called the Starland Vocal Band. He's responsible for "Afternoon Delight" and "Take Me Home Country Road" and a slew of other great songs.
MR: "Boulder To Birmingham" too, I think.
WE: Yeah! He and Emmylou Harris wrote that one together. Emmylou was playing that same circuit. She didn't go to Georgetown but she was playing in the same circuit down there and was a good friend of ours. In fact, I don't know how much you're into the Graham Parsons stuff...
MR: When I was at Universal, I compiled like three collections by them. Loved those first three albums.
WE: The first three albums are where The Flying Burrito Brothers begin and end for me. But when The Byrds came out with Sweetheart Of The Rodeo it just blew our minds because the most radical thing any hippie or anyone from our time had heard. Buffalo Springfield had a bit of country rock in it, but there was no real blend of hippies doing serious country music until Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. It was just out of left field. You look at the record and you think, "Who is Gram Parsons?" I was on the radio at Georgetown, so I always liked to turn people on to new music and new things and keep ahead of the curve. So everybody that had any contact with the music scene in LA and came to town, I would talk to them and say, "Who's this Gram Parsons guy? What's with him?" I found out as much as I could about him and then of course when The Flying Burrito Brothers came along I knew very much who he was and really In The Palace Of Sin was one of those life changing records for me. that one and Sweetheart Of The Rodeo as far as leading me in that country rock direction. When the Burritos with Rick Roberts were doing Cellar Door, that's when depending on who you talk to either Rick or Chris Hillman came in and saw Emmylou play and approached her about singing with his friend. She had no idea who Gram Parsons was. In fact, at that time she wasn't doing country at all, she was doing kind of Judy Collins and Burt Bacharach songs. She had the long velvet dress and an amazing presence, but she didn't know who Gram was. So I said, "I can show you who Graham is!" I took her home and played those records for her and I was like, "Okay." Then when Graham came to town, I think it was the next day, he met Emmylou, I was there, it was the first time I met him, and they needed a place to sing together the next day and I offered my kitchen. So the first time they ever sang together was in my kitchen and I was the only audience they had at that point. They sang "That's All It Took" and "Sweet Dreams." I was trying to learn more about country and country rock so I said, "Oh Gram, what should I do? How can I get into it?" he said, "Listen to Merle Haggard, George Jones, Harlan Howard and Charley Pride.
MR: That's a nice crowd! And now you're in Nashville, you've almost come full circle.
WE: Yeah, that was part of my conscious reason for coming here. In fact I wound up doing the last Burritos album, which came out two years ago on the SPV label, it was called Sound As Ever. I think I was the last person in the world to join The Burritos, they sort of became the Menudo of country rock. Everybody's been there, every year there's a different lineup, and it just seemed to drift so far away from that cosmic cowboy thing. I think Gram's great gift was first his vulnerability in his singing, he had very soulful singing, but it wasn't classically great, certainly even in country, and the lyrics which had this semi-psychadelic input to it, "These lines mean a lot more than they're saying!" "Thousand Dollar Wedding" is one of my favorite songs of all time. When I first met him he was wearing his nudie jacket and the charisma was just beaming off of him. In a lot of ways Gram was the last idol I had in the music business. I got to know him a little bit as a sober person and he was a sweetheart of a guy, very much a sweetheart when he was sober. He was very charismatic, he really was. In fact, the Nudie thing has carried on by a guy named Manuel here in Nashville. Manuel just had his 81st birthday party the other night and I went to that. He's a character, boy.
MR: He's going to need somebody to pass the Nudie torch to, so maybe you have an opportunity here.
WE: [laughs] I'm not even good at mending my own pants. But Manuel is inspirational because he has a lot of vitality for such an age.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
WE: Well, "artist" is a broad term, I suppose. In anything creative, you've got to have a pretty tough skin first of all, to be able to continue to hold that flame of your intense desire to create and shield it from all the people who don't appreciate you. I think perseverance is a big part of it. Really loving what you do has a lot to do with it, too. Then it's just getting the most pleasure. In every step of the way as a songwriter, when I'm writing a song it's a great feeling, to feel like you're grabbing something and going with it, and then when that song is finished usually it's another great moment and then of course you record it and it sounds pretty good and somebody else says, "Oh, that's pretty good," that's a great moment, too. There's all these levels of getting your satisfaction out of what you're doing. This is kind of obvious, I suppose, but you've got to love what you're doing. You have to really feel it. I've lived what I consider to be as much of a creative life as possible. When I was in high school I was captain of the baseball team and also the editor of the literary magazine and that continued on until college to a certain degree except I let my baseball career go. But my parents were both in advertising, I grew up in sort of the Mad Men world. My mother was the copy director, my stepfather was the art director and they would often drink lots of martinis, but they encouraged my creativity and supported it. As an only child I suppose I got a lot more than others do as far as parental support. So through the years I try everything I can. In college I did metal sculpture and painting and print making and continued to write songs. I've never stopped writing songs, I started when I was sixteen and never stopped. My ex-wife is always like, "how come you don't need therapy?" I think my therapy is my creativity. I think you're able to process and deal with at least some of what goes on in your life by objectifying it and making it into either a song or a book or a story. I've started writing screenplays over the last ten years or so.
MR: Any placements?
WE: I've got a guy running with one on the west coast now. He feels like it could turn into a miniseries on Syfy.
MR: Wait a minute! Are you a science fiction fan?
WE: I am and I'm not. I was a classic Sci-fi fan, Silverberg and Heinlein and Asimov and those people, but I didn't continue that so much, I moved away from that. But I guess four years ago I was contacted by an author named Jeffrey Thomas, who has a series of books called Punktown, which are kind of sci-fi horror. If you don't know about them, you should check them out, he's really an excellent writer, he's got a new book coming out, too. But he contacted me about using lyrics from my song "Tunnel Of Love" in one of his stories, and I said, "Yeah, of course." Then he came back and said, "Would you like to be a character in the story?" and I said, "Yeah, go for it!" So he wrote this story where the singing duo covering my song "Tunnel Of Love" are interdimensional superstars, one of them looks kind of like a lanky cowboy and the other is a dwarfish kind of marionette creature that floats and has a really bad temper. Anyway, I go to the video shoot for this cover of their song and I get into a big argument with the marionette and he says, "Well f**k you, Egan! We'll just get Bruce Springsteen's 'Tunnel Of Love'!" It's hilarious, because I always thought it was funny that Springsteen wrote a "Tunnel Of Love" after me. From there I went on to read all of his other stuff and I really liked it, I liked a lot of his characters and his imagination. It's a future that's not too far away, it concerns this Earth-like planet named Oasis, with a big city there called Paxton, which is bastardized into Punktown and all these crazy things happen there. You should check it out, it's really cool. Anyway, from reading all those it occurred to me that this one called "Health Agent" would be a great screenplay. And I had written three screenplays based around my own adventures in life, one in high school, one in college and one imagining myself as the rock idol turned idle rocker trying to reinvigorate his career by faking his own death and having a bunch of stuff in the can to release. That was sort of the loose plot-line of that one. So it's different of me to do an adaptation, because most scripts have to be a hundred pages long these days. Mine turned out to be so true to the book that it came out to be a hundred and sixty pages, so I thought I'd have to split it. But I showed it to a friend of mine who's an agent out in California and he said, "this is really cool as it, let's see if we can do a Syfy miniseries." I think it has a lot of potential because it does have the franchise thing going for it if people start getting into Punktown, he's got a whole bunch of stories and novels written.
MR: Good luck with that, Walter.
WE: Thanks. But like I said, I try everything I can think of. My other recent thing is a painting exhibit I just had up in Georgetown of the martyrs of rock 'n' roll. I wrote a song called "RNRIP" and it's kind of a tongue in cheek sendup of the demise of the great dead rock 'n' rollers. Then I started doing pieces around it, I started doing little pieces of sculpture, paintings and prints, and then another Gram Parsons connection, this artist named Bill Adair discovered his birth date was the exact same as Gram Parsons', so I became the Gram Parsons expert in his world and he came to Nashville and we talked. He's been doing these gilded doors, which of course refers to the "Sin City" line "On the 31st floor the gold-plated door." We did a joint show between his doors and my paintings. He as a framer took it upon himself to make custom frames for each of these paintings. They're really quite exquisite. We're trying to get it put in the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame.
MR: Cool. Life is good.
WE: It certainly is when you're doing what you want to do. That goes back to the advice for young artists. Do what you love to do and people will pick up on that. And of course work at it. You have to believe in yourself and work at it.
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
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