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October 8, 2018 @ 3:58 pm

Episode 13. Chrissie Hynde Part II

00:0000:00

Episode 13:
Chrissie Hynde
Part II. 

From the archives, recorded in 2009.

 

Image result for chrissie hynde

 

Now the reason we're here
As man and woman
Is to love each other
Take care of each other


When love walks in the room
Everybody stand up
Oh it's good, good, good
Like Brigitte Bardot

From  “Message of Love”  

 

“I just didn’t want to be a waitress,” she said in answer to why she chose this path. It’s a path she followed from the concrete climes of Akron to England, where she started The Pretenders. Asked if her music would have been vastly different had she never left America, she said, “Yeah, because I would have killed myself.”

 

Some songwriters are  happy to talk about the greatness of their great songs, and how they wrote them. Others openly ackowledge the greatness, but ascribe its birth to a source beyond them. Many don’t doubt the spiritual aspects of songwriting, and for that reason are careful not to examine it too closely, so as not to scare it away.

But with very rare exceptions, none have denied they are songwriters. Chrissie’s that rare exception. Many times during our talk, which took place in 2009, she suggested she’s not even a real songwriter.  

And I understood why. This is Chrissie Hynde, after all, who has always defied easy definitions.

 

Related image 

Not only is she no diva, she’s an anti-diva. Because, like Mose Allison (whose name comes up in regard to her assertion that much of British rock was stolen from him), she’s simply one of the coolest people around. Like him, she’s written many masterpieces over the years. Yet will be the last to sing their own praises. Let people make up their own mind.

 

Image result for chrissie hynde  

In fact, she’s so extremely reticent to affect any pretension, any sort of “and then I wrote” songwriterly pride, that she repeatedly dismissed praise through our conversation to exclaim, “This sounds so lame…”

And when our conversation was interrupted the second time by someone at her door, she came back and said, “You’re gonna think I have a life. I don’t.”

 

And when pressed to divulge the secrets of her process, she said this: “It depends on how much pot I’ve been smoking, how many bottles of wine I’ve drunk. It’s usually just in a puddle on the floor in the morning, and is a waste of time. But once in a while, it works.”

 

Image result for chrissie hynde

 

Jesus Christ came down here as a living man
If he can live a life of virtue then I hope I can
Do unto others as you would have a turn
Come back here and repeat until you learn, learn, learn…”

From “Boots of Chinese Plastic”
She is, of course, the writer of not one but several songs that have become rock standards, beloved and undisputed rock hits. Yet this steadfast refusal to  take herself too seriously as a songwriter spoke to a fear that any light shone too directly into that realm from which songs emerge might destroy it. She did, however, have nothing but pure praise for her fellow Pretenders, past and present, especially James Honeyman-Scott, who died for a heroin overdose in 1982.

 

The only real test of a song is that of time. Her songs have passed that test. Though she emerged in an era of booming drum machines and synth pads, she steered the Pretenders always with a purist’s respect for the traditions of rock & roll. She wasn’t here to rewrite the rules. She was here to write great songs, songs a great singer can sink her teeth into, songs that have lasted far beyond the era in which they were written. Whether she wants to admit it, she’s not only a great songwriter, she’s a hit songwriter. But every now and then, due to polite persistence, she gave in, and talked about how she’s done it. She even indulged my desire to name many of her songs for her immediate response, demurring at first before saying, “Okay, whatever. Go ahead and do your thing.”

 

So I did. And she gave a wonderfully expansive answer to “Brass in Pocket” that was beyond expectations, proving so poignantly how deep these songs do go, in her psyche and her history. Though I know she’d never admit it, it became evident these songs felt like her children, and so taking credit for them songs was like a parent taking credit for the success of a child. It’s the kid who is great, not the mom.

 

 

 

Image result for chrissie hynde

 

She was born in Akron, Ohio in September of 1951. Her dad worked for the Yellow Pages. She wrote her first song at the age of 14 after learning two guitar chords, recognizing even then that limitations create possibility. “You only need one chord to write a song,” she explains. “Look at all those James Brown songs.”

 

She hated high school and all it entailed, partly because her eyes were already set firmly on a musical future: “I never went to a dance, I never went out on a date, I never went steady,” she remembered. “It became pretty awful for me. Except, of course, I could go see bands, and that was the kick. I used to go to Cleveland just to see any band. So I was in love a lot of the time, but mostly with guys in bands that I had never met. For me, knowing that Brian Jones was out there, and later Iggy Pop, made it kind of hard for me to get too interested in the guys that were around me. I had… bigger things in mind.”

       

She went to Kent State to study art, and was there during the tragic shooting of students by the Ohio National Guard. Jeffrey Miller, who was shot and killed that day, was one of her friends. She wanted out of Ohio, out of America. Discovering the Brit music mag NME, she saved enough money to move to London. She landed a writing gig with NME but it didn’t last long – her next job was in Malcolm MacLaren’s SEX shop. It’s there she met Syd Vicious, and tried – according to legend – to persuade him into marriage, so she could become a British citizen. He passed.

 

She joined a series of bands – first as singer in The Frenchies, then guitarist in Masters of the Backside, and the Johnny Moped band. Mick Jones invited her to join a nascent pre-Joe Strummer incarnation of what would be the Clash, and they went on a British tour together, but Chrissie wasn’t happy. She wanted her own band. But it would take time.

 

Her visa ran out and she had to go back to Ohio, but returned as soon as possible. In 1978 she succeeded at last in realizing her dream, and formed The Pretenders in Hereford with three Brits: James Honeyman-Scott on lead guitar and keyboards, Pete Farndon on bass and Martin Chambers on drums. Everyone in the band sang. Their first single was the Nick Lowe-produced “Stop Your Sobbing,” a Kinks song. In 1980 came the eponymous debut album, a critical and commercial success both in the US and the UK – which led to a great succession of amazing songs penned by Chrissie: “Brass In Pocket,” “Kid,” “Back On The Chain Gang,” “Middle of the Road,” “Message of Love” and so many more.

 

Image result for the pretenders

 

 

But tragedy hit the band fast and early – first Honeyman-Scott’s death, then Farndon’s subsequent bathtub drowning, after having being fired from the band for being too messed up on drugs. Here was one of the greatest new bands on the scene, launching the ’80s with the promise of great rock to come, and suddenly half of the group was gone.

     

But she never was derailed for long. She also never had any desire to establish a solo career – and chose instead to reinvent the Pretenders many times over the years – even replacing Chambers, but later bringing him back as on the recent tour. “I know that the Pretenders have looked like a tribute band for the last 20 years,” she said at their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, “and we're paying tribute to James Honeyman Scott and Pete Farndon, without whom we wouldn't be here. And on the other hand, without us, they might have been here, but that's the way it works in rock & roll.”

Image result for chrissie hynde       

A circumstance beyond our control
The phone, the TV and the news of the world
Got in the house like a pigeon from hell
Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies

Put us back on the train
Back on the chain gang

From “Back On The Chain Gang”
By Chrissie Hynde

 

The ostensible purpose of this interview was to discuss The Pretenders Live In London, a DVD of a passionately joyful live show with the current line-up: Martin Chambers on drums, James Walbourne on guitar,  Nick Wilkinson on bass and Eric Heywood on pedal steel. Her punk ethic still comes across when talking about it – as opposed to her peers that involve themselves in all angles of marketing and commercial calculations, she had no inclination to even view the DVD, and tried to beg out of it. But when she finally did view it, she was surprised by how great it was. And she was happy.

 

“You have to keep digging deeper over the years,” she said in regard to parenthood’s tendency to soften the edges of a rocker. Yet she remains  one of rock’s most fiercely gifted songwriters, and, as evidenced by the great songs she wrote for Break Up The Concrete, she’s still very much at the top of her game. Of course she won’t cop to it. And adds that she still feels like a sham – a pretender, if you will – who someday might be found out. “Compared to Dylan and Neil Young,” she says, “I’m still in the minor leagues.”

 

Yet few songwriters have talked about the sad suburbanization of  America with more poignancy than this ex-patriate, who often returned to Ohio – even opening a Vegan restaurant there – and yet found her homecomings laced always with increasing sorrow at the sight of her hometown’s decimation. It’s a subject that has recurred many times in her work, most notably in “My City Was Gone” but also in more recent songs like “Break Up The Concrete,” a great example of outrage being projected, not unlike Neil Young’s “Ohio” about the Kent State massacre, with the assist of a great rock groove.

 

And when you hear “Boots of Chinese Plastic” from Concrete, with its distinctive blend of Buddhism, bravado and a taut Buddy Holly beat, you hear a songwriter engaged, as inspired as when The Pretenders first emerged.  

 

Illusion fills my head like an empty can
I spent a million lifetimes lovin the same man
Every drug that runs though the vein
Always makes its way back to the heart again
And by the way you look fantastic
In your boots of Chinese plastic

From “Boots of Chinese Plastic”
By Chrissie Hynde

 

 

Related image

 Louise_and_Paul_Logo_2.jpg

 

 

 

Related image

 

 

 

 

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October 1, 2018 @ 1:40 pm

Episode 12. Chrissie Hynde

00:0000:00

Episode 12:
Chrissie Hynde

 

Image result for chrissie hynde

 

From the archives, recorded in 2009.

 

Now the reason we're here
As man and woman
Is to love each other
Take care of each other


When love walks in the room
Everybody stand up
Oh it's good, good, good
Like Brigitte Bardot

From  “Message of Love”  

 

“I just didn’t want to be a waitress,” she said in answer to why she chose this path. It’s a path she followed from the concrete climes of Akron to England, where she started The Pretenders. Asked if her music would have been vastly different had she never left America, she said, “Yeah, because I would have killed myself.”

 

Some songwriters are  happy to talk about the greatness of their great songs, and how they wrote them. Others openly ackowledge the greatness, but ascribe its birth to a source beyond them. Many don’t doubt the spiritual aspects of songwriting, and for that reason are careful not to examine it too closely, so as not to scare it away.

But with very rare exceptions, none have denied they are songwriters. Chrissie’s that rare exception. Many times during our talk, which took place in 2009, she suggested she’s not even a real songwriter.  

 

And I understood why. This is Chrissie Hynde, after all, who has always defied easy definitions.

Image result for chrissie hynde 

Not only is she no diva, she’s an anti-diva. Because, like Mose Allison (whose name comes up in regard to her assertion that much of British rock was stolen from him), she’s simply one of the coolest people around. Like him, she’s written many masterpieces over the years. Yet will be the last to sing their own praises. Let people make up their own mind.

 

Image result for chrissie hynde  

In fact, she’s so extremely reticent to affect any pretension, any sort of “and then I wrote” songwriterly pride, that she repeatedly dismissed praise through our conversation to exclaim, “This sounds so lame…”

 

And when our conversation was interrupted the second time by someone at her door, she came back and said, “You’re gonna think I have a life. I don’t.”

 

And when pressed to divulge the secrets of her process, she said this: “It depends on how much pot I’ve been smoking, how many bottles of wine I’ve drunk. It’s usually just in a puddle on the floor in the morning, and is a waste of time. But once in a while, it works.”

 

Image result for chrissie hynde

 

Jesus Christ came down here as a living man
If he can live a life of virtue then I hope I can
Do unto others as you would have a turn
Come back here and repeat until you learn, learn, learn…”

From “Boots of Chinese Plastic”

She is, of course, the writer of not one but several songs that have become rock standards, beloved and undisputed rock hits. Yet this steadfast refusal to  take herself too seriously as a songwriter spoke to a fear that any light shone too directly into that realm from which songs emerge might destroy it. She did, however, have nothing but pure praise for her fellow Pretenders, past and present, especially James Honeyman-Scott, who died for a heroin overdose in 1982.

 

The only real test of a song is that of time. Her songs have passed that test. Though she emerged in an era of booming drum machines and synth pads, she steered the Pretenders always with a purist’s respect for the traditions of rock & roll. She wasn’t here to rewrite the rules. She was here to write great songs, songs a great singer can sink her teeth into, songs that have lasted far beyond the era in which they were written. Whether she wants to admit it, she’s not only a great songwriter, she’s a hit songwriter. But every now and then, due to polite persistence, she gave in, and talked about how she’s done it. She even indulged my desire to name many of her songs for her immediate response, demurring at first before saying, “Okay, whatever. Go ahead and do your thing.”

 

So I did. And she gave a wonderfully expansive answer to “Brass in Pocket” that was beyond expectations, proving so poignantly how deep these songs do go, in her psyche and her history. Though I know she’d never admit it, it became evident these songs felt like her children, and so taking credit for them songs was like a parent taking credit for the success of a child. It’s the kid who is great, not the mom.

 

She was born in Akron, Ohio in September of 1951. Her dad worked for the Yellow Pages. She wrote her first song at the age of 14 after learning two guitar chords, recognizing even then that limitations create possibility. “You only need one chord to write a song,” she explains. “Look at all those James Brown songs.”

 

Image result for chrissie hynde

 

She hated high school and all it entailed, partly because her eyes were already set firmly on a musical future: “I never went to a dance, I never went out on a date, I never went steady,” she remembered. “It became pretty awful for me. Except, of course, I could go see bands, and that was the kick. I used to go to Cleveland just to see any band. So I was in love a lot of the time, but mostly with guys in bands that I had never met. For me, knowing that Brian Jones was out there, and later Iggy Pop, made it kind of hard for me to get too interested in the guys that were around me. I had… bigger things in mind.”

       

She went to Kent State to study art, and was there during the tragic shooting of students by the Ohio National Guard. Jeffrey Miller, who was shot and killed that day, was one of her friends. She wanted out of Ohio, out of America. Discovering the Brit music mag NME, she saved enough money to move to London. She landed a writing gig with NME but it didn’t last long – her next job was in Malcolm MacLaren’s SEX shop. It’s there she met Syd Vicious, and tried – according to legend – to persuade him into marriage, so she could become a British citizen. He passed.

 

She joined a series of bands – first as singer in The Frenchies, then guitarist in Masters of the Backside, and the Johnny Moped band. Mick Jones invited her to join a nascent pre-Joe Strummer incarnation of what would be the Clash, and they went on a British tour together, but Chrissie wasn’t happy. She wanted her own band. But it would take time.

 

Her visa ran out and she had to go back to Ohio, but returned as soon as possible. In 1978 she succeeded at last in realizing her dream, and formed The Pretenders in Hereford with three Brits: James Honeyman-Scott on lead guitar and keyboards, Pete Farndon on bass and Martin Chambers on drums. Everyone in the band sang. Their first single was the Nick Lowe-produced “Stop Your Sobbing,” a Kinks song. In 1980 came the eponymous debut album, a critical and commercial success both in the US and the UK – which led to a great succession of amazing songs penned by Chrissie: “Brass In Pocket,” “Kid,” “Back On The Chain Gang,” “Middle of the Road,” “Message of Love” and so many more.

 

Image result for the pretenders

 

 

But tragedy hit the band fast and early – first Honeyman-Scott’s death, then Farndon’s subsequent bathtub drowning, after having being fired from the band for being too messed up on drugs. Here was one of the greatest new bands on the scene, launching the ’80s with the promise of great rock to come, and suddenly half of the group was gone.

     

But she never was derailed for long. She also never had any desire to establish a solo career – and chose instead to reinvent the Pretenders many times over the years – even replacing Chambers, but later bringing him back as on the recent tour. “I know that the Pretenders have looked like a tribute band for the last 20 years,” she said at their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, “and we're paying tribute to James Honeyman Scott and Pete Farndon, without whom we wouldn't be here. And on the other hand, without us, they might have been here, but that's the way it works in rock & roll.”

       

A circumstance beyond our control
The phone, the TV and the news of the world
Got in the house like a pigeon from hell
Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies

Put us back on the train
Back on the chain gang

From “Back On The Chain Gang”
By Chrissie Hynde

 

The ostensible purpose of this interview was to discuss The Pretenders Live In London, a DVD of a passionately joyful live show with the current line-up: Martin Chambers on drums, James Walbourne on guitar,  Nick Wilkinson on bass and Eric Heywood on pedal steel. Her punk ethic still comes across when talking about it – as opposed to her peers that involve themselves in all angles of marketing and commercial calculations, she had no inclination to even view the DVD, and tried to beg out of it. But when she finally did view it, she was surprised by how great it was. And she was happy.

 

“You have to keep digging deeper over the years,” she said in regard to parenthood’s tendency to soften the edges of a rocker. Yet she remains  one of rock’s most fiercely gifted songwriters, and, as evidenced by the great songs she wrote for Break Up The Concrete, she’s still very much at the top of her game. Of course she won’t cop to it. And adds that she still feels like a sham – a pretender, if you will – who someday might be found out. “Compared to Dylan and Neil Young,” she says, “I’m still in the minor leagues.”

 

Yet few songwriters have talked about the sad suburbanization of  America with more poignancy than this ex-patriate, who often returned to Ohio – even opening a Vegan restaurant there – and yet found her homecomings laced always with increasing sorrow at the sight of her hometown’s decimation. It’s a subject that has recurred many times in her work, most notably in “My City Was Gone” but also in more recent songs like “Break Up The Concrete,” a great example of outrage being projected, not unlike Neil Young’s “Ohio” about the Kent State massacre, with the assist of a great rock groove.

 

And when you hear “Boots of Chinese Plastic” from Concrete, with its distinctive blend of Buddhism, bravado and a taut Buddy Holly beat, you hear a songwriter engaged, as inspired as when The Pretenders first emerged.  

 

Illusion fills my head like an empty can
I spent a million lifetimes lovin the same man
Every drug that runs though the vein
Always makes its way back to the heart again
And by the way you look fantastic
In your boots of Chinese plastic

From “Boots of Chinese Plastic”
By Chrissie Hynde

 

 

Related image

 Louise_and_Paul_Logo_2.jpg

 

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September 24, 2018 @ 3:55 pm

Episode 11 - John Parish Part Two

00:0000:00

Episode 11

 

1_1_11_parish.jpg

JOHN PARISH

Part Two

This is the second part of our two-part interview with producer-songwriter John Parish, conducted by Louise this past June in England.

Picture

An accomplished composer, solo artist, producer, collaborator, and multi-instrumentalist, John is best known for his work with PJ Harvey, as well as with Eels, Giant Sand, his own bands, and more. In the past twenty years he’s contributed to more than fifty albums, and written scores for movies, TV and theater.

He plays a multitude of instruments, but mostly guitar, and as a guitarist he started  his career in the new wave band Thieves Like Us. In 1982, he formed the band Automatic Diamini, which is when he met  PJ Harvey, who joined the band for a short time.

 

 13johnparish_2.jpg

 

He went on to produce many albums with her, including the award-winning Let England Shake (2011), followed five years later by The Hope Six Demolition Project, which was the first album she did that went to number one album in the UK. He co-wrote all of the songs with her and produced Dance Hall at Louse Point  (1996) and A Woman A Man Walked By (2009), and with Eels he co-wrote and produced Souljacker (2001).

 

13johnparish_aa.jpg

He’s released four albums as a solo artist: How Animals Move (2002), Once Upon A Little Time (2005) a compilation of his film music, Screenplay, (2013), and most recently, Bird Dog Dante (2018), his first full-length album of songs since 2005. It features cameos by Marta Collica, Aldous Hardin and PJ Harvey.

  

13johnparish_1.jpg

 

He started writing for film, theater and contemporary dance in the late ‘90s when his first score for Rosie won the Jury Special Appreciation Award at the 1999 Bonn International Film & TV Music Biennale. His score for Little Black Spiders (2012) was nominated for an Ensor.

 

IMG_8271-3.jpeg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John at home in Bristol, June 10, 2018. Photo by LOUISE GOFFIN. 

 

He also wrote the music for Ursula Meier’s L’Enfant D’En Haut.which won the special Silver Bear at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival.  His other productions include Sparklehorse, Tracy Chapman, 16 Horsepower, This Is The Kit.

  

Backyard_in_Bristol_lower1.jpeg
Lovely summer day, the backyard, June 10, 2018. Photo by LOUISE GOFFIN.

Louise conducted this interview with John on June 10, 2018 in at his home in Bristol. She was on her way to Chris Difford’s Songwriting Retreat, and took a slight detour to see old friend and collaborator, who picked her up at the Bristol train station. They did the interview in his garden,  after lunch with his family. This is the second part of this two-part conversation. 

 

Bath_Station_.jpegBath station on the way to Bristol, June 10, 2018. Photo by LOUISE GOFFIN.

1_11_11_1_logo_in_color.jpg

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September 3, 2018 @ 2:23 pm

Episode 10: John Parish, Part One

00:0000:00

Episode 10

JOHN PARISH

Part One

Picture

 

An accomplished composer, solo artist, producer, collaborator, and multi-instrumentalist, John Parish is best known for his work with PJ Harvey, as well as with Eels, Giant Sand, his own bands, and more. In the past twenty years he’s contributed to more than fifty albums, and written scores for movies, TV and theater.

He plays a multitude of instruments, but mostly guitar, and as a guitarist he started  his career in the new wave band Thieves Like Us. In 1982, he formed the band Automatic Diamini, which is when he met  PJ Harvey, who joined the band for a short time.

 

IMG_8271-3.jpeg
John at home in Bristol, June 10, 2018. Photo by LOUISE GOFFIN. 

 

 

He went on to produce many albums with her, including the award-winning Let England Shake (2011), followed five years later by The Hope Six Demolition Project, which was the first album she did that went to number one album in the UK. He co-wrote all of the songs with her and produced Dance Hall at Louse Point  (1996) and A Woman A Man Walked By (2009), and with Eels he co-wrote and produced Souljacker (2001).

 

13johnparish_2.jpg
John Parish & PJ Harvey

 

 

13johnparish_aa.jpg

He’s released four albums as a solo artist: How Animals Move (2002), Once Upon A Little Time (2005) a compilation of his film music, Screenplay, (2013), and most recently, Bird Dog Dante (2018), his first full-length album of songs since 2005. It features cameos by Marta Collica, Aldous Hardin and PJ Harvey.

 

13johnparish_1.jpg

He started writing for film, theater and contemporary dance in the late ‘90s when his first score for Rosie won the Jury Special Appreciation Award at the 1999 Bonn International Film & TV Music Biennale. His score for Little Black Spiders (2012) was nominated for an Ensor.

He also wrote the music for Ursula Meier’s L’Enfant D’En Haut.which won the special Silver Bear at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival.

His other productions include Sparklehorse, Tracy Chapman, 16 Horsepower, This Is The Kit.

 

 

Backyard_in_Bristol_lower1.jpeg
Lovely summer day, the backyard, June 10, 2018. Photo by LOUISE GOFFIN.

 

Louise conducted this interview with John on June 10, 2018 in at his home in Bristol. She was on her way to Chris Difford’s Songwriting Retreat, and took a slight detour to see old friend and collaborator, who picked her up at the Bristol train station. They did the interview in his garden,  after lunch with his family. This is the first part of that conversation. 

 

 

Bath_Station_.jpegBath station on the way to Bristol, June 10, 2018. Photo by LOUISE GOFFIN.

1_11_11_1_logo_in_color.jpg

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August 28, 2018 @ 3:46 am

Episode 9: Chris Difford

00:0000:00


EPISODE 9

Chris Difford

1111_squeeze_chris_2.jpg

 


He’s most famous for being half of the great Difford-Tilbrook songwriting duo of Squeeze, a collaboration born more than four decades ago in Blackheath, England, and which has generated a thick songbook of infectiously sophisticated pop rock storytelling, from "Pulling Mussels from a Shell," through "Black Coffee In Bed," "Cool for Cats," "Annie Get Your Gun" and so  many more. 

 

 

It’s a collaboration that was initially sparked by Difford and his delight in telling stories. With five stole pence from his mother, he posted a card  in the tobacconist’s window seeking a guitarist. A band about to get a record deal and go on tour, it said, had a guitarist slot needing to be filled. Although this was entirely a fabrication, it worked. Only one musician  answered, but that was enough. It was Glenn Tilbrook.

 

”It was a complete bluff,” Difford said in a 1999 interview,  “I was just lonely, looking for a friend.”

Tilbrook said it was Difford’s stated influences which caught his attention. “Chris put down Kinks Glenn Miller and Lou Reed,” said Tilbrook. “I thought that was interesting.” Also interesting was Difford’s spy-novel instructions for their first meeting: “Meet me at the Three Tuns in Blackheath village at six o'clock. I'll be carrying a copy of the Evening Standard under my arm.” When Tilbrook arrived he met a long-haired young man in a  lurex coat of many colors, with the Evening Standard under his arm. “Why he didn’t just tell me about the coat,” Tilbrook said, “I’ll never know.”

 

 

 

Chris_throwback_to_Blackheath_early_days_.jpeg

But that mystery was quickly supplanted with delight when he first encountered the vivid, mythic tales Difford told in song, and with a distinctive linguistic flair and grace.  Though Glenn had been writing both words and music to his own songs up to then, soon as he realized the expanse of Difford’s abilities, he left the lyrics to him.

“I felt tremendous admiration for his lyrics,” said Tilbrook, “which outstripped anything that I was capable of. The first things he showed me were like Jacques Brel songs - tales of sailors and whores, the like of which I'd never heard before. He had, and has, a turn of phrase that leaps out of the page. Within two or three times of meeting up, we felt we would like to try and write together.”

 

1111_squeeze_y.jpgD

Difford & Tilbrook.

Their very first song was called “'Hotel Woman.”  It wasn't particularly great,” said Tilbrook, “but it defined our roles straight away. I took over the musical side and Chris took over the lyrical side exclusively.”

 

They also started performing their music. Unlike Bernie Taupin with Elton, who wrote words but never performed them, Chris was a part of the band. Since his voice is naturally low, he and Tilbrook never sang harmony, they sang in unison an octave apart.

1111squeeze.jpg

 

They wrote a lot of songs before they started Squeeze, for about three years, during all incarnations of the band, and also after Squeeze, for their Difford-Tilbrook project and for other artists such as Elvis Costello, Helen Shapiro and Billy Bremner.  He also wrote songs for his own solo albums, started in 2003 with I Didn't Get Where I Am.

 

In 2017, he published his autobiography, Some Fantastic Place: My Life In and Out of Squeeze.

 

Twice the recipient of the UK’s most prestigious songwriting award, the Ivor Novello Award, Difford also has famously shared his wisdom and love of songwriting in an annual songwriting retreat at Pennard House in Somerset. Songwriters from all around the world attend, including our own Louise Goffin, who recorded this interview there at the retreat, and shares the following about her friend Chris.

 

 

IMG_8185lower.jpeg
Chris & Louise

 

LOUISE GOFFIN: When I was 24 years old I was invited to come to London for ten days by Dave Robinson of Stiff Records to meet with producers about making an album for Stiff. It was mid-December and it was a rare winter in that it snowed on the streets of London that year.

There was something magical about the anonymity of spending the holidays in West London where I didn’t know a soul. I felt like it was the beginning of my adulthood, finding my own sandbox in the world. I kept extending my stay. Eventually ten days became ten years a Londoner! My first email address was “anexile.”

It was definitely a great song adventure. I’d take the tube to Chiswick to Dave Robinson’s office. He was running Island Records that year for Chris Blackwell and Stiff Records was also run from the same office.

After a few months of restlessness, bursting at the seams to collaborate, I heard from Dave Robinson’s wonderful assistant, Annie Holloway, who said, “You and Chris Difford ought to write some songs together.”

I thought, “You mean that could happen?" I must be doing the right thing staying in the UK because things were looking up. "I can write with Chris Difford?” 

 

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I think it was February that I took a bus down south to Blackheath where Chris invited me, and there was rain whipping at the bus windows the whole journey. Conversing with locals on the bus they would ask, “Where are you from?” And when I said California, with shock they’d ask, “What on earth are you doing here in this dreadful weather?”

Chris gave me lyrics about a Blue Guitar, one about the Algonquin Hotel, and another was words he’d written to music I had, for which I only had the title “Can’t Trust A Memory.” I’d have to dig deep into boxes of cassettes and pages to find them. That'd be a worthy scavenger hunt. 

 

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Shooting the video for "Paris, France" in England.

As it happened, a mere twenty-four years went by before Chris and I reconnected (over the internet) and another eight years for me to get to one of his songwriting retreats. Both figuratively and actually, we met again in person for much sunnier days. I was making an album, one I consider my best so far, and he had been hosting and facilitating Chris Difford’s Songwriting Retreats for twenty-five years in a row.

 

I remember saying to him, “Chris you seem so much sunnier than when we first met.” He said his journey of recovery may have had something to do with it. I feel honored to have been part of the abundance Chris has created with his songwriting retreats and the community that surrounds it. And simply joyous and grateful that I had the opportunity to sing a duet with him.

 

This last June, I went back for my second songwriting retreat and wrote so many good songs I went straight to adding them to my live set, skipping the recording part. But it is more than songs that I take home from his retreats. The newfound friends and shared experiences are enriching for years beyond the mere four days all the songwriters are gathered together.  I felt lucky that Chris managed to set aside a little time in the hustle and bustle of the retreat to talk to me about his songwriting process, how he’s managed to sustain a four-decade-plus professional relationship with Glen Tilbrook, and his love of cross-pollinating creative skillsets.

 

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August 13, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Episode 8: Lou Adler, Part Two.

00:0000:00

LOU ADLER
Part II.

 

The Great Song Adventure is proud to present Part Two of our interview with the legendary producer-songwriter-manager-visionary Lou Adler.

 

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Lou Adler at Home, 2018. Photo by PAUL ZOLLO


Welcome to Part II of our Great Song Adventure conversation with Lou Adler.

Lou was a special guest for many reasons, not only for his historic career of such wide ranging accomplishment, from writing "What A Wonderful World" with Sam Cooke, who he also managed, to producing classic albums such as Tapestry to discovering and producing the movies and records of Cheech & Chong.

But special also for personal reasons;  he and Louise have known each other since she was a kid and her mom was making Tapestry and other albums at A&M Studios in Hollywood. Louise & her sister were even enlisted as kids to sing along with many luminaries on Cheech & Chong's record "Basketball Jones" (when Carole King joined the session to play electric piano). Most recently they were together at the historic concert her mom gave in London's  Hyde Park, and Louise opened. She sang a duet on "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "Where You Lead" in her mom's set, and played a guitar solo on "Smackwater Jack", as related herein.
 

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An outtake from Tapestry, Carole King with daughters Louise & Sherry, 1971, photo by JIM McCRARY.


Talking to Lou was also especially poignant because he worked with the late great P.F. Sloan, the genius songwriter of "Eve of Destruction" and so many songs. Phil - as he was known - was a very close friend of Paul's and Louise and got to play an intimate show with him just months before his passing, so discussing his history with Lou, who so impacted it, was especially moving.
 

That discussion begins this episode. 

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Louise & Lou, 2018, with poster of Carole at his home. Photo by PAUL ZOLLO 

 

Although he’s one of the most successful and legendary producers of all time, Lou  attributes little of this glory to himself, but to the great fortune of working with genius songwriters.

“I was so lucky,” he said. “I worked with Carole King, John Phillips and Sam Cooke! I mean, how lucky can somebody be?”

In his spacious home on the ocean, big waves crashing outside under endless blue skies, he still marvels at the wonder of getting to be the guy who worked with these three remarkable songwriters.

“And they’re all such different kinds of writers,” he said. “Carole, who was from that Brill Building-Tin Pan Alley songwriter, John Phillips, who was writing vocal arrangements cause he wrote for a group, and Sam Cooke, who was just a pure poet.”

In truth, it was more than luck. Lou Adler had an uncanny knack for recognizing the full potential of an artist before the rest of the world caught on. Artists who not only were ideal for that moment in time, but who were making timeless work which would have a lasting cultural impact.

 

It started with Sam Cooke, who he managed, produced and even co-wrote songs, including “What A Wonderful World.” Then came The Mamas and The Papas fully-formed already with their classic song that he produced, “California Dreamin’”. When Carole King began recording her own songs after years of writing them, with Gerry Goffin, for others, Lou saw the potential - long before most of the industry did - of what became the advent of the “singer-songwriter” movement: great songwriters like Carole or her friends James Taylor and Joni Mitchell performing their own songs, and delivering them with a soulful intimacy sent directly from their hearts and minds to their listener. Lou and Carole did three albums of her songs, but it was the third - combining brand new classics like “It’s Too Late” and “So Far Away” with Goffin-King gems such as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” and “Natural Woman.”

 

Tapestry became one of the most beloved and successful albums of all-time, even outselling Sgt. Pepper at its peak. It won four Grammy Awards in 1972, including Record of the Year and Album of the Year.

 

But at its heart, as with all his other musical projects, was the key ingredient: great songwriting. That is the constant through all his work, and which led him to work extensively with the late great P.F. Sloan and his songwriting partner, Steve Barri. Lou produced the song “Eve of Destruction,” written alone by Sloan one night with four other songs, and which Lou transformed into a number one hit for Barry McGuire.

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P.F. Sloan, 2005. Photo by PAUL ZOLLO

 

 

It’s also the reason why he signed The Mamas and The Papas, as he discusses. They came in with those voices, sound and harmony. But most importantly, they came with the song “California Dreamin’.” A classic from day one.

 

Lou was also the guy behind other cultural phenomena, such as two Latino comics named Cheech & Chong he heard at hootenanny night at the Troubadour. He produced all their albums and movies. And when he saw a oddly provocative musical at a local theater called The Rocky Horror Picture Show he had the vision to know the whole world had to see it, and turned it into a movie. It’s become a cult-classic.

 

 

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Lou & Carole, 2014. Photo by ELISSA KLINE.

 

 

Born in Chicago in 1933, he became a lifelong Californian when he was still a kid, after his dad drove to Los Angeles, loved it, and drove home to fetch his family. Lou grew up in Boyle Heights, where he entertained the idea of a career as a newspaperman. When he and his friend Herb Alpert started managing music acts, they took on Jan and Dean, and while not managing, wrote songs for them and other acts.

 

Their song  “Only Sixteen,” was a hit for Cooke in 1959. And with Sam they wrote “What A Wonderful World,” a hit for Sam and then recorded years later by the trio of Simon, Garfunkel and Taylor (James Taylor). They also wrote “River Rock,” recorded by Bob “Froggy” Landers and the Cough Drops and other songs.

 

 

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Making Tapestry: Lou, Carole and Hank  Cicalo. A&M Studios, 1971. Photo by JIM McCRARY.

 

 

When he and Alpert went separate ways, Lou started Dunhill Records, where he ran the label and produced the records. P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri were his in-house songwriting team, and he created the first albums of The Mamas and The Papas, who had six major hits just between 1966 and 1967, “California Dreamin’,” “Monday, Monday,” “I Saw Her Again,” “Words of Love,” “Dedicated to the One I Love” and “Creeque Alley.”

 

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Lou, 2018. Photo by PAUL ZOLLO

 

 

His next label was Ode, where he launched another cultural milestone linked to that 1968 “Summer of Love”: Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” Also in 1968, he changed the landscape of rock & roll festivals - with subsequent rock festival films, by starting the Monterey Pop Festival and producing one of the first epic rock movies, Monterey Pop (1968). The ongoing cultural impact of this festival still reverberates, as it launched successive iconic artists, including Janis Joplin, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix. Lou produced the Live at Monterey album which showcased the miracle guitar playing of Hendrix, as well as several other live Hendrix albums.

 

 

Then came Cheech and Chong, Rocky Horror, and a club called The Roxy on the Sunset Strip that became a L.A. institution.

                                                                                                                      1_1_11_1_GSA.jpg

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August 6, 2018 @ 4:23 pm

Episode 7: Lou Adler, Part One.

00:0000:00

LOU ADLER
Part I.

The Great Song Adventure is proud to present Part One of our interview with the legendary producer-songwriter-manager-visionary Lou Adler.

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Making Tapestry: Lou, Carole and Hank  Cicalo. A&M Studios, 1971. Photo by JIM McCRARY.

 

Although he’s one of the most successful and legendary producers of all time, Lou Adler attributes little of this glory to himself, but to the great fortune of working with genius songwriters.

“I was so lucky,” he said. “I worked with Carole King, John Phillips and Sam Cooke! I mean, how lucky can somebody be?”

In his spacious home on the ocean, big waves crashing outside under endless blue skies, he still marvels at the wonder of getting to be the guy who worked with these three remarkable songwriters.



“And they’re all such different kinds of writers,” he said. “Carole, who was from that Brill Building-Tin Pan Alley songwriter, John Phillips, who was writing vocal arrangements cause he wrote for a group, and Sam Cooke, who was just a pure poet.”

 

 5_Lou.jpg
Lou Adler at Home, 2018. Photo by PAUL ZOLLO

 

In truth, it was more than luck. Lou Adler had an uncanny knack for recognizing the full potential of an artist before the rest of the world caught on. Artists who not only were ideal for that moment in time, but who were making timeless work which would have a lasting cultural impact.

 

33Lou_Toni__Carole_McCrary.jpg
Lou, Carole & Toni Stern, 1971. Photo by JIM McCRARY.

 

It started with Sam Cooke, who he managed, produced and even co-wrote songs, including “What A Wonderful World.” Then came The Mamas and The Papas fully-formed already with their classic song that he produced, “California Dreamin’”. When Carole King began recording her own songs after years of writing them, with Gerry Goffin, for others, Lou saw the potential - long before most of the industry did - of what became the advent of the “singer-songwriter” movement: great songwriters like Carole or her friends James Taylor and Joni Mitchell performing their own songs, and delivering them with a soulful intimacy sent directly from their hearts and minds to their listener. Lou and Carole did three albums of her songs, but it was the third - combining brand new classics like “It’s Too Late” and “So Far Away” with Goffin-King gems such as “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and “Natural Woman.”

Tapestry became one of the most beloved and successful albums of all-time, even outselling Sgt. Pepper at its peak. It won four Grammy Awards in 1972, including Record of the Year and Album of the Year.

 

In this podcast, Lou details the great care and love poured into every aspect of making this album, such as the sequencing, for which he left town to focus, spending an entire month in Mexico to perfect.

 

But at its heart, as with all his other musical projects, was the key ingredient: great songwriting. That is the constant through all his work, and which led him to work extensively with the late great P.F. Sloan and his songwriting partner, Steve Barri. Lou produced the song “Eve of Destruction,” written alone by Sloan one night with four other songs, and which Lou transformed into a number one hit for Barry McGuire.

It’s also the reason why he signed The Mamas and The Papas, as he discusses. They came in with those voices, sound and harmony. But most importantly, they came with the song “California Dreamin’.” A classic from day one.

 

Lou was also the guy behind other cultural phenomena, such as two Latino comics named Cheech & Chong he heard at hootenanny night at the Troubadour. He produced all their albums and movies. And when he saw a oddly provocative musical at a local theater called The Rocky Horror Picture Show he had the vision to know the whole world had to see it, and turned it into a movie. It’s become a cult-classic.

 

Born in Chicago in 1933, he became a lifelong Californian when he was still a kid, after his dad drove to Los Angeles, loved it, and drove home to fetch his family. Lou grew up in Boyle Heights, where he entertained the idea of a career as a newspaperman. When he and his friend Herb Alpert started managing music acts, they took on Jan and Dean, and while not managing, wrote songs for them and other acts. Their song  “Only Sixteen,” was a hit for Cooke in 1959. And with Sam they wrote “What A Wonderful World,” a hit for Sam and then recorded years later by the trio of Simon, Garfunkel and Taylor (James Taylor). They also wrote “River Rock,” recorded by Bob “Froggy” Landers and the Cough Drops and other songs.

 

When he and Alpert went separate ways, Lou started Dunhill Records, where he ran the label and produced the records. P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri were his in-house songwriting team, and he created the first albums of The Mamas and The Papas, who had six major hits just between 1966 and 1967, “California Dreamin’,” “Monday, Monday,” “I Saw Her Again,” “Words of Love,” “Dedicated to the One I Love” and “Creeque Alley.”

 

His next label was Ode, where he launched another cultural milestone linked to that 1968 “Summer of Love”: Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” Also in 1968, he changed the landscape of rock & roll festivals - with subsequent rock festival films, by starting the Monterey Pop Festival and producing one of the first epic rock movies, Monterey Pop (1968). The ongoing cultural impact of this festival still reverberates, as it launched successive iconic artists, including Janis Joplin, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix. Lou produced the Live at Monterey album which showcased the miracle guitar playing of Hendrix, as well as several other live Hendrix albums.

 

Then came Cheech and Chong, Rocky Horror, and a club called The Roxy on the Sunset Strip that became a L.A. institution.

33Lou_CK_MusicaresVIVIHD.jpg
Lou & Carole, 2014. Photo by ELISSA KLINE.

 

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Louise & Lou, 2018, with poster of Carole at his home. Photo by PAUL ZOLLO
 

 

Louise and Lou have known each other for decades- since she was a kid hanging out at A&M during the recording of Tapestry  -and most recently in 2016, when they were together at Carole King's historic concert in London's Hyde Park where Carole performed all of Tapestry for the first time ever, and Louise played a set opening for the show. It’s with a discussion of that concert that our conversation began.                                                                                                                           1_1_11_1_GSA.jpg

 

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July 10, 2018 @ 1:19 am

Episode 6: Leonard Cohen, A 1992 Archival Interview

00:0000:00

Episode 6: 
LEONARD COHEN. 
A 1992 Archival Interview

The Great Song Adventure is honored to bring you this archival interview with Leonard Cohen, conducted by Paul Zollo in 1992 at Leonard’s Los Angeles home. Of all the interviews Zollo has conducted over these past three decades, with the exception of his Bob Dylan interview, none has been quoted so thoroughly over the years as this one. What follows is Zollo’s account of that interview, and reflections on the life and work of Leonard Cohen, who, after completing his final album, You Want It Darker, died on November 7, 2016. He was 82.

 

“If I knew where the good songs came from, I would go there more often.” 

 

 

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Leonard Cohen on Pico, 1994. 
Photo by Paul Zollo.

 

I remember it like it was yesterday, back when I was ten years old and learning how to play guitar. In front of me were the lyrics and chords for Leonard's song “Suzanne.”

I remember thinking, “How does someone write something this beautiful?” It seemed like a miracle to me then. And it still does.

So when receiving the great privilege of sitting down with him myself to talk about songwriting, that is where I began. With the admission that for most of my life, I have been pondering the mystery of “Suzanne,” which resounded then, and still does, as a miracle. How exactly does one write a song like that?

He smiled that warm, beatific Leonard smile when I said this, and did not demur.

“It is a miracle,” he answered. “If I knew where the good songs came from, I would go there more often.”

And in that one answer came the crystallization of this man’s greatness. With just a few words, all of Leonard is there: his humility, humor, reverence, mystery, truth and dedication. Dedication to the mystery itself, to the realm into which all songwriters reach to find their songs.

Unlike most humans who rarely finish entire sentences, he spoke in what felt more like parables than   paragraphs, with an eloquence both ancient and modern, serious and comic, conversational and poetic. His ideas were informed by religious wisdom, from Judaism, as well as other religions, and the ancient elegance of Biblical verse.  Never was this more evident than when asked about the current quality of popular song, and the widespread conviction of many that meaningful songs are no longer written. His answer is not only stunning for the beauty of its Whitmanesque language, but also for a perspective that is greater than the usual, and more generous in its understanding of how songs figure into people’s lives: .  

“There are always meaningful songs for somebody,” he said. “People are doing their courting, people are finding their wives, people are making babies, people are washing their dishes, people are getting through the day, with songs that we may find insignificant. But their significance is affirmed by others. There’s always someone affirming the significance of a song by taking a woman into his arms or by getting through the night. That’s what dignifies the song. Songs don’t dignify human activity. Human activity dignifies the song.”

 

In 1994, I interviewed Anjani, the singer-musician who loved and lived with Leonard for years and did a whole album of his words with her music. We met at a café in mid-L.A. and the great man himself, Leonard, accompanied her. Of course, being him he knew right away I would be unable to conduct a meaningful interview with him sitting there. So he immediately assured us that he would sit elsewhere while we spoke.

We did the interview, and afterwards I made an admission to Anjani. Which was that it was hard to fathom actually living a regular life with Leonard Cohen. I did know he was a man, after all. But to songwriters, I said, he is a god.

She laughed heartily when I said that, and answered, “Oh trust me, he’s a man! He is definitely a man!”

Now with his mortal life complete, it seems she must have been right. But there are very few men who have ever done what he did. Even when the industry as he knew it essentially collapsed, never did he waver from the thing that mattered most: the work. If it took him seven years to perfect a song, even to the extent of writing forty or more verses, he would take seven years. There was no rush. Nothing mattered more. When he would be up at Mt. Baldy, serving time as a Buddhist monk, he would be working on songs in his head. During his last year, when he was in severe pain and immobilized, he worked on songs. The work never stopped.

 

My ordinary state of mind is very much like the waiting room at the DMV… So to penetrate this chattering and this meaningless debate that is occupying most of my attention, I have to come up with something that really speaks to my deepest interest. Otherwise I just nod off in one way or another. So to find that song, that urgent song, takes a lot of versions and a lot of work and a lot of sweat.”

- Leonard Cohen

 

 

Songwriting was for him was, as other miracle songs such as “Hallelujah” affirm, more than a job. It was a calling. His highest calling. And he built a beautiful and indestructible tower of song, brick by brick, day by day, year by year. Like all of his songs, it has been built to last.

“It begins with an appetite,” he said, describing the way he started a song, “to discover my self-respect. To redeem the day. So the day does not go down in debt.”

 

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Leonard Cohen & Paul Zollo at the Top of the Tower of Song, 1992.
Photo by Henry Diltz.

 “Freedom and restriction are just luxurious terms to one who is locked in a dungeon in the tower of song.” -- Leonard Cohen

That day we met remains etched in shining memory forever. Even the  recognition that Leonard lived in the same world in which we all lived, and even in the same city, was a revelation. His songs always suggested he existed in a whole other realm, separate from mundane human existence.

He answered the door like an old friend, and with great warmth, gratitude and abundant humor, he made me feel instantly at ease. His passion for songs - and for the process of writing them - was palpable and infectious. Not only did he delight in explaining how endless were his revisions, he proudly led me upstairs to where his journals were kept, and read me many of the great verses he discarded.

This was 1992, almost ten years since his own recording of “Hallelujah” was released, yet still before it became the beloved standard it’s become, recorded by almost 300 different artists and in many languages. John Cale’s version came out in 1991, but it was not until the season of Jeff Buckley’s rendition in 2007, and subsequent recordings by kd lang, Rufus Wainwright and others,  that the song became world famous. This transformed and enervated Leonard’s career in a profound way, leading to several triumphant and glorious world tours.

Yet back in 1992, at the time of this talk, that shift had yet to commence. Few people yet knew or loved “Hallelujah,” and Leonard’s albums, though always brilliant, made little impact, especially in America. Even music videos he’d make, which were shown in other countries, rarely were seen at all in this country.

We met just after he’d finished a masterpiece, his album The Future, which reflected the turmoil of America and the world in modern times. It’s an album of remarkably epic and expansive ferocity, including astounding songs such as “The Future” and “Democracy.” In this interview, he discusses the origins of both, and shares verses that he discarded from them. Also, being Leonard, even his answer about why those verses were discarded is pure poetry, and beautiful.

More than anything, it’s his unflagging devotional diligence, and genuine love of work, which made the biggest impact on so many. His resolute determination never to settle, to never allow a lesser line to live if a better one can be found, was a great and ongoing education for so many. Songwriting, as he explained, did not come easy. It was work, and he felt artists were wrong to ever consider anything wrong with work.

“But why shouldn’t my work be hard?” he asked. “One is distracted by this notion that there is such a thing as inspiration, that it comes fast and easy. Some people are graced by that style. I’m not. So I have to work hard as any stiff, to come up with the payload.”

In what remains one of the my favorite part of the interview, both  delightfully funny and poetic, is his answer to my question of what his work entails.

“Anything,” he said, “ that I can bring to it: Thought, meditation, drinking, disillusion, insomnia, vacations. Because once the song enters the mill, it’s worked on by everything that I can summon. And I need everything. I try everything. I try to ignore it, try to repress it, try to get high, try to get intoxicated, try to get sober, all the versions of myself that I can summon are summoned to participate in this project, this work force. I try everything. I’ll do anything. By any means possible.”

So, I asked, do any of these things work better than others?

“No,” he said with a smile. “Nothing works. Nothing works.”

Yet, even with this admission, he created remarkable songs over the decades, songs which shone in a much richer,  more epic way than those written by most of his peers, with the exception of a few. Bob Dylan, though the recipient of much more worldwide reverence for his work than Leonard, greatly admired Leonard’s songs. Leonard also greatly admired Dylan, though it seems likely Leonard would have still been Leonard no matter what, unlike most contemporary songwriters. As the poet Allen Ginsberg, a friend to both, said, “Dylan blew everybody’s mind when he emerged. Everyone except Leonard Cohen, that is.”


During Leonard’s lifetime, Dylan was his stalwart champion, reminding a world that seemed not to care at times that what Leonard was doing was unlike anything else. Following the release of Leonard’s Various Positions in 1984, which contained “Hallelujah” yet was ignored by the mass of record buyers, Dylan alerted the world to what they were missing. “These are more than songs,” Dylan said.” These are prayers.”  Those words, reflecting the holy if broken hallelujah which echoes through Leonard’s entire songbook, brought multitudes to Leonard’s music.

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Leonard,1994. Photo by Paul Zollo.

 

Following Leonard’s death, Dylan extolled Leonard’s greatness. As someone who understands better than most humans what a song is, as opposed to a poem, he pushed back against the prevalent pattern of memorializing Leonard as a poet, and not a songwriter. Leonard did write books of poems, as well as two novels. But his life was dedicated, with vast devotional intensity, to being a songwriter.  

Yet because of Leonard’s  prodigiously ingenious way with words, like Dylan, he’s often celebrated not as songwriters, but as poets. As if being a poet in modern times is a higher calling in some way.  Yet as we know, in these times, it’s the songwriters who have had the greatest impact on our culture, much more so than poets. Dylan identifies Leonard’s genius as a songwriter, combining both words and music.

“When people talk about Leonard,” Dylan said, “they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius. Even the counterpoint lines—they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs. As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music. His gift or genius is in his connection to the music of the spheres.”

Leonard also felt great and oft-expressed admiration for Dylan. In this interview he compared Dylan’s lyrics to the “unhewn stone” on which ancient Jews erected their altar, as opposed to slick, smooth stone.

“Dylan has a lot of lines that have the feel of unhewn stone,” Leonard said. “It’s inspired but not polished. That is not to say he doesn’t have lyrics of great polish. That kind of genius can manifest all the forms and all the styles.”

During the last year of his life, near death, in pain so great, said his son Adam, that he had to turn to forces much stronger than medicine, Leonard finished his final album, You Want It Darker.  Too weak to do a series of promotional interviews to launch the album, Leonard did one press event at the beautiful Canadian consulate mansion in Los Angeles.

Only invited guests were present, including friends and collaborators and Leonard’s son, Adam, who produced the album. Also invited was a cadre of  mostly foreign journalists and a few lucky Americans (including me), all of whom had expressed great love and reverence for Leonard in their work over the years. It was October 13, 2016, the same day the announcement was made that Dylan had been awarded with the Nobel Prize for Literature. It was the first time a songwriter had ever earned this distinction. Many there suggested Leonard should have been the first to get it.

 

Be Thy Holy Name

Vilified and crucified

In the human frame

A million candles burning

For the help that never came

You want it darker

We kill the flame

Hineni Hineni

I’m ready, my Lord.”


From “You Want It Darker”
By Leonard Cohen

From the title song of his final album, it ends with the ancient Hebrew prayer. Hineni means “I’m here,” and is followed in English, with “I’m ready, my Lord.”

Knowing of his grave illness, and a foreboding recent statement he made suggesting he was ready to be done with this life, the press asked about this song,  which seemed to be expressing an acceptance of imminent death. His answer was startling, both in its eloquence as well as its unflinching embrace of the inevitable, and its effect on him:

“I don’t really know the genesis, the origin, enabling that declaration of readiness,” he said, “no matter what the outcome. That is a part of everyone’s soul. We all are motivated by deep impulses and deep appetites to serve, even though we may not be able to locate that which are willing to serve. So this is just a part of my nature. And I think it would also be my nature to offer one’s self when the emergency becomes articulate. It’s only when the emergency becomes articulate that we can locate that willingness to serve.”

A kind of stunned silence followed, as the crowd absorbed the fullness of what he said. Sensing this, he added, “That’s getting too heavy. I’m sorry. Strike that.”

Much laughter. Even weakened, his voice softer than ever, the man knew how to work a crowd.

When asked his opinion about the news that Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize, Leonard, with hardly a second’s hesitation, said,  “To me, giving that award to Dylan is like pinning a medal on Mt. Everest for being the highest mountain.” Though many laughed at this precise and generous metaphor, most of the foreign press was completely baffled by it, as it simply did not translate. Afterwards they crowded around, asking for an explanation. I did my best to explain, but not sure I succeeded.

At the conclusion of our last night with him, he left us all with hope that we would see and hear from him again. “Thanks for coming, friends,” he said warmly. “I really appreciate it. I really appreciated your standing up when I came into the room.  Hoping to do this again. I intend to stick around till 120.”

He also admitted to a fondness for hummingbirds. “I have always loved those magical little creatures,” he said, and recited a recently composed song about them, only words so far, no music.

Listen to the hummingbird

Whose wings you cannot see

Listen to the hummingbird

Don’t listen to me

Listen to the butterfly

Whose days but number three

Listen to the butterfly

Don’t listen to me

 

Listen to the mind of God

Which doesn’t need to be      

Listen to the mind of God

Don’t listen to me

 

After the applause faded, he added, “I would say the hummingbird deserves royalties on that one.” When he was asked if it would be on the next album, he said, softly, “God willing.”

 

That a songwriter and singer would end a long and remarkable career with the statement, “Don’t listen to me,” says everything about the soul of Leonard Cohen. At the end he pointed us all away from this light shining on him to the light inside all things, the source of all songs. The place where the great songs came from.

 

It’s where he is now.

Hallelujah.

 

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June 18, 2018 @ 11:30 am

Episode 5: Tom Petty, A 1999 Archival Interview.

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The Great Song Adventure is proud to present Episode Five, a conversation with Tom Petty. This is the first episode using an existing interview from our archives. Conducted by Paul Zollo in 1999, it's a talk with Tom that focuses primarily on the creation of his tenth studio album, Echo, which he made with his band The Heartbreakers, and was produced by Rick Rubin. 

Though Paul interviewed Tom many times before and after this one, including over a year of interviews for the book Conversations with Tom Petty [Omnibus], we decided to start with this one. Because although it centers mostly on one album, it really gives one a genuine experience of Tom. As you can hear, he's very calm and grounded, and justifiably joyful and proud about writing the songs, and making the album, that is Echo. 

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Joy is at the very center. Yes, Echo was a sad album in many ways, as it came in the wake of his divorce from Jane, his first wife and mom of his kids, as well as the sad, gradual demise of his beloved bassist, Howie Klein, who was so far gone he didn't show for the album cover photo. They did it without him.

Yet at its heart is genuine joy. Because, as Tom's ever-expanding devoted nation of fans know well, there was nothing he loved more than making music. As he says in the interview, he was so loving the process of bringing in new songs and recording them with the band that after hours in the studio he'd go home and write a new song. Because he wanted to do it again the next day. He was having fun. And the joy of that fun is injected directly into the tracks of this album, and the others, and preserved forever. In high fidelity! 

It's true the man was remarkably productive. Not only did he write and record a considerably immense amount of music, it's all great music. He was not a guy who made albums because he was contractually obligated. Although he was. He did it because he loved it, and invested everything he had into every song, and every track.

Many stories he relates herein shine a lot of light into the essential Tom. Such as the one about how the great "Swingin'" got born. Tom fell into its chords and started playing them although the band was playing something else entirely. But he persisted. No words, just music. Gradually, they joined him, and he "ad-libbed" the entire song. 

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Tom with Mudcrutch at the Troubadour.
Photo by Paul Zollo.
Or how after writing the brilliantly dark and funny "Rhino Skin," a song about the need for one to form a rough exterior as protection from the brutal vagaries of existence - he had to stand up for the song. Everyone - Rick Rubin, the guys in the band- urged him to change the lyrics. And he tried! But ultimately he knew what he had was best. And that, despite those who felt it wrong, the lyric and sentiment remain, that "you need elephant balls if you don't want to crawl through this world on your hands." 

It's also a conversation which shows how deeply Tom was intricately involved in each and every aspect of making Echo, from the songwriting, arrangements and recording though sequencing, album art, and more. 

He also kindly delves into the origins of many of these songs. One of the main reasons he and Zollo bonded over the years was shared reverence for the craft of songwriting. Tom's genius with music itself - with those simple but ingenious chord patterns of each song - gave many the wrong impression that what he did was easy. Because he worked and worked on songs to get them so perfect that they were seamless, and seemed to have fallen out of him with no actual work. And except for a few exceptions, such as "Swingin'," this rarely happened. In truth, his use of chords was always quite brilliant, but deceptively so. Yet, as Tom said, if you think this is easy - try doing it. And he was always happy and proud to have the opportunity to discuss the music itself with a fellow musician. After all, the guy was an absolute genius at the creation of music. Yet rarely was he asked to expound on how he did it.

As his friend Bob Dylan once remarked in an interview, he was often amazed by the odd range of random subjects about which he would be asked. The interviewer said, "Well, what should they ask you about?" Dylan laughed and said, "How about music?"  

This is the first of many archival interviews to come. Future ones include in-depth creative conversations with Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan, Dave Brubeck, Rickie Lee Jones, Paul Simon and many more.

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Tom Petty on Vine Street. 
Photo by Paul Zollo.

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June 11, 2018 @ 2:12 pm

Episode 4: Hop Li on Pico. A Conversation between Louise & Paul

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"Songwriting," said Leonard Cohen, "is much like the life of a Catholic nun. You're married to a mystery." That mystery -- where songs come from, and how to reach them -- is one all songwriters learn to embrace. Though it's an unanswerable question, for many it is a galvanizing force.

As Leonard said, "If I knew where the good songs came from, I'd go there more often."

The Great Song Adventure is an exploration and celebration of that ongoing mystery, the source of songs. It began when Louise Goffin invited Paul Zollo to speak at one of her master-classes in songwriting. That conversation was so fun and electric, and went off in so many directions, they considered turning it into a podcast. 

Their original vision was a show that could preserve these kinds of conversations, and could extend to include intimate, expansive musical conversations with legendary songwriters they both know well and revere, such as the brilliantly eloquent Van Dyke Parks, who was their very first guest.  

And so the Great Adventure commenced, as Louise and Paul traveled all over interviewing songwriters and building content for their show. They did new interviews with legendary songwriters - and also great current songwriters - as also created new shows around interviews from the Zollo archives. The first archival ones to come are talks with Tom Petty and Leonard Cohen. 

Part of the original vision was to conduct these talks at Chinese restaurants, so as to have the fun of talking while eating good Chinese food (a great long-standing musician tradition), but also to distinguish the show with a charmingly distinctive old-time radio ambiance. To provide not only a good conversation, but a location which would be present in the fun sonics throughout.

This was a miscalculation. One built mostly on Paul's enthusiasm for the idea (which might have been inspired more by the food than the sonics). However, instead of being charmingly distinctive, as hoped, it proved to be - well - noisy! Distracting. And so, although yummy, the idea was jettisoned for sonically-pure spaces.

However, Louise & Paul did conduct a trial conversation - just between the two of them- at Hop Li on Pico in West L.A. And though admittedly too thick with audio ambiance, this historic episode has been preserved, and we are happy to present it to you now.

Hop Li Seafod Restaurant: 10974 Pico Boulevard.
West Los Angeles, California 90064
310-441-3708.  (Tell them Louise & Paul sent you.)
 
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