The creative roll you're on now is relatively recent, given the scope of your career. There was a period eight to ten years ago where you were still making records and putting them away.
Yeah, I made one for "Streets of Philadelphia" that I didn't put out, which I'd like to. It was interesting, it had a lot of little loops and things. A good record, written pretty well. It wasn't a complete record in the end, which is why I would sit down and feel great for four or five songs and in the end get up with some sense of dissatisfaction.
What were those songs about?
Mostly personal relationships. I'd come off Tunnel of Love, and it would have been my fourth record about those things, and I thought that was one too many. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I had to break the narrative that I was in, break the context and move to L.A. for three or four years, get away from all things connected to myself.
We went to Los Angeles, and the change of scenery was good. I love that city, actually. I love the mountains and the desert, and up there I can have my cars and my motorcycles. I tried to live in New York for a while, but I couldn't deal with a place where you had to catch a car. It's too late for me for that.
So I moved out West, where I had a little house in the Hollywood Hills from the middle of the Eighties, and I felt real comfortable there. My sister lives there, my younger sister, my parents lived up north in San Francisco, and it was a fascinating time to be there, because it's what the East Coast looks like now. If you go to my hometown, in Freehold, there's tremendous Hispanic influence, and that was California fifteen years ago. So when I wrote The Ghost of Tom Joad and wrote a lot about what was going on, it felt like "This is what the country's going to look like in another ten or fifteen years." All those immigration issues that people are trying to ride right now to wherever they think they're going were all in the news and in your face in the early Nineties in California.
I wrote things that I wouldn't have if I stayed back East. Two or three albums of Western songs. Ghost of Tom Joad, Devils & Dust and another record of Western songs that I've been working on. So it was really a great geographical change, a place to find new stories.
But I also took ten years and I learned how to live, which I didn't know how to do. Thirty-five years old, and I didn't have a clue about it. I learned how to live, and I found the joy in those things.
What did you learn?
I guess life outside of work. This is a very satisfying work life, but it's a part of your overall life. How do you have relationships? How do you commit to things that are forever? How do you break all your old habits, or some of them?
If you can share some secrets, you can save me a lot of money in therapy.
I spent a lot of money there myself, and I learned a lot. I had to work on it the way that I had to work on playing the guitar when I first started – many, many hours and a lot of intense devotion. I realized that some people may come to that naturally, but I was somebody that was going to have to learn it, because all my instincts were wrong. All my instincts drove me away from things.
Sometimes you're running in a different direction because you don't know how to do things differently than what you've seen growing up.
Yeah, that's it. So you realize you've got to make your own map, and in so doing, you honor your parents by taking the good things they gave you and carrying them forth, and taking burdens and weights and putting them down so your children don't have to run with them.
But that break was really extreme for me, and Patti was, and has been, patient beyond patient. I couldn't get up in the morning, I couldn't go to bed at night. The basic things that set the clock. The kids were young – it was "It's six-thirty now." That took about four or five years to figure out.
Was that from having to unlearn the rhythm on the road?
It goes back to my childhood. I had a weird upbringing where I was up for all hours at night when I was, like, six years old. We had a very eccentric household. My clock got thrown off when I was really young. Five and six, I was up until 3 A.M. I'm sure it's no coincidence I ended up a musician, so I could be up to 3 A.M., just like I was.
When your own kids come along, I said, "Good, you've got to change that." So many basic things. So I spent a lot of that time learning how to live. I suppose Patti would say I've reached a tolerable level of competency.
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