This kind of dialogue requires a heavy commitment. What do you get out of it?
I enjoy it, but more than that, I need it. It's the fundamental thing that moves me out on the stage, that keeps me writing throughout my entire career. I've felt the absence of that dialogue in the past in my life, and it was a terrible emptiness. When I latched onto it, I latched onto it like a life raft. You're in that room together, that dark room together. The lights go down, and you are free to imagine the person, the place, that you want to be. I suppose you take some of that with you when you go. It stays with you.
I remember the birth of my children. It was so overwhelming, one of the few moments where I've experienced total love without fear. I was afraid of losing it afterward, except you never lose it. The memory of that moment and the possibilities inherent in that moment are everlasting. So on a good night, when the band's playing real well, there's a moment when you've been a part of a collective event of imagination, and when you leave, you take some of it with you. And you put it in action however befits your needs.
That collective act of the imagination comes up on "Magic." What kind of country we want to live in is a recurring theme.
The song "Magic" is about living in a time when anything that is true can be made to seem like a lie, and anything that is a lie can be made to seem true. There are people that have taken that as their credo. The classic quote was from one of the Bushies in The New York Times: "We make our own reality. You guys report it, we make it." I may loathe that statement – the unbelievable stupidity and arrogance of it – more than I loathe "Bring it on" and "Mission accomplished."
That song, it's all about illusion: "Trust none of what you hear/And less of what you'll see/This is what will be" – we make it. Until you get to the last verse: "There's a fire down below/It's coming up here.… There's bodies hanging in the trees/This is what will be." That's the heart of my record right there.
There's a line at the end of that song about carrying "only what you fear." You're addressing the politics of fear, aren't you?
Yeah. You can't kill your way to security, and you can't lead through scaring people. Maybe you can get people to vote for you sometimes, but it's not a tactic that's going to provide the kind of moral authority and leadership that it's going to take to communicate in the world. It's the coward's way out.
So you're saying you can win elections that way, but you can't govern that way.
That's right. That's the only card that they've played, pretty much from Day One. If the 2004 election had been held six months later, they would have lost. People were still under the spell of 9/11 and the magic [laughs] and the Swift Boating. One of the most satisfying moments of the election was Ted Koppel ripping the Swift Boaters a new asshole on Nightline about a week or so before the election, when they went to the village in Vietnam where the incident occurred and talked to the Vietnamese witnesses. It was right there, but it wasn't enough, and it was too late.
The bottom line is if you're a member of the press and you believe that part of your responsibility is to give people the information they need to protect their freedoms, there's an editorial responsibility. But that ball's been dropped terribly. When somebody's saying you're going to lead with Anna Nicole Smith, you've got to be wondering if you're in the right job. It's become a business, and on what's supposed to be the most credible channels, there's an endless parade of nonsense on a daily basis.
Right. Because during the election to get the truth behind the Swift Boat ads, you had to skip the mainstream media and go straight to The Daily Show.
Jon Stewart is such an important and lonely force on television. He's in the business of assisting people to interpret the modern media world. There's so much sheer noise. Every night he comes on and pulls the veil down, and you get a shot at what things really look like. That's why people have gravitated to him and have faith in him.
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