Did you ever think about not releasing Human Touch?
Yeah, except that every time I listened to it, I liked it. Also, I wanted to put out a lot of music, because I didn't want to be dependent on my old songs when I went out to tour. I wanted to have a good body of work to draw from when I hit the stage.
And then I realized that the two albums together kind of tell one story. There's Tunnel of Love, then there's what happened in between, which is Human Touch, then there's Lucky Town. And basically I said: "Well, hey – Guns n' Roses! They put out two albums, maybe I'll try it!"
There's a perception out there – and a couple of the reviews of the albums mentioned it – that you've sealed yourself off from reality, living in a big house in L.A. and so forth. Yet based on what you're saying, I assume you'd say the truth is quite the opposite.
Those are the clichés, and people have come to buy the clichés in rock music. You know, like it's somehow much more acceptable to be addicted to heroin than to, say, hang out with jet-setters. But you know, it's the old story. People don't know what you're doing unless they're walking in your shoes a bit.
Some of your fans seem to think along the same lines, that by moving to L.A. and buying a $14 million house, you've let them down or betrayed them.
I kept my promises. I didn't get burned out. I didn't waste myself. I didn't die. I didn't throw away my musical values. Hey, I've dug in my heels on all those things. And my music has been, for the most part, a positive, liberating, living, uplifting thing. And along the way I've made a lot of money, and I bought a big house. And I love it. Love it. It's great. It's beautiful, really beautiful. And in some ways, it's my first real home. I have pictures of my family there. And there's a place where I make music, and a place for babies, and it's like a dream.
I still love New Jersey. We go back all the time. I've been looking at a farm there that I might buy. I'd like my kids to have that, too. But I came out here, and I just felt like the guy who was born in the U.S.A. had left the bandanna behind, you know?
I've struggled with a lot of things over the past two, three years, and it's been real rewarding. I've been very, very happy, truly the happiest I've ever been in my whole life. And it's not that one-dimensional idea of "happy." It's accepting a lot of death and sorrow and mortality. It's putting the script down and letting the chips fall where they may.
What's been the toughest thing about being a father?
Engagement. Engagement. Engagement. You're afraid to love something so much, you're afraid to be that in love. Because a world of fear leaps upon you, particularly in the world that we live in. But then you realize: "Oh, I see, to love something so much, as much as I love Patti and my kids, you've got to be able to accept and live with that world of fear, that world of doubt, of the future. And you've got to give it all today and not hold back." And that was my specialty; my specialty was keeping my distance so that if I lost something, it wouldn't hurt that much. And you can do that, but you're never going to have anything.
It's funny, because the night my little boy was born, it was amazing. I've played onstage for hundreds of thousands of people, and I've felt my own spirit really rise some nights. But when he came out, I had this feeling of a kind of love that I hadn't experienced before. And the minute I felt it, it was terrifying. It was like "Wow, I see. This love is here to be had and to be felt and experienced? To everybody, on a daily basis?" And I knew why you run, because it's very frightening. But it's also a window into another world. And it's the world that I want to live in right now.
Has having kids changed the way you look at your own parents?
It was amazing, actually, how much it did change. I'm closer to my folks now, and I think they feel closer to me. My pa, particularly. There must have been something about my own impending fatherhood that made him feel moved to address our relationship. I was kind of surprised; it came out of the blue.
He was never a big verbalizer, and I kind of talked to him through my songs. Not the best way to do that, you know. But I knew he heard them. And then, before Evan was born, we ended up talking about a lot of things I wasn't sure that we'd ever actually address. It was probably one of the nicest gifts of my life. And it made my own impending fatherhood very rich and more resonant. It's funny, because children are very powerful, they affect everything. And the baby wasn't even born yet, but he was affecting the way people felt and the way they spoke to each other, the way they treated each other.
You said the song "Pony Boy" was one that your mother used to sing to you.
My grandmother sang it to me when I was young. I made up a lot of the words for the verses; I'm sure there are real words, but I'm not sure they're the ones I used. It was the song that I used to sing to my little boy when he was still inside of Patti. And when he came out, he knew it. It's funny. And it used to work like magic. He'd be crying, and I'd sing it, and he'd stop on a dime. Amazing.
You and Patti had a big wedding, didn't you?
It wasn't that big, about eighty or ninety people. It was at the house, and it was a great day. You get to say out loud all the things that bring you to that place. I'm now a believer in all the rituals and things. I think they're really valuable. And I know that getting married deepened our relationship. For a long time, I didn't put a lot of faith in those things, but I've come to feel that they are important. Like, I miss going to church. I'd like to, but I don't know where to go. I don't buy into all the dogmatic aspects, but I like the idea of people coming together for some sort of spiritual enrichment or enlightenment or even just to say hi once a week.
The fact that the country is spiritually bankrupt is something you've mentioned in connection with the riots in Los Angeles.
We're kind of reaping what's been sown, in a very sad fashion. I mean, the legacy we're leaving our kids right now is a legacy of dread. That's a big part of what growing up in America is about right now: dread, fear, mistrust, blind hatred. We're being worn down to the point where who you are, what you think, what you believe, where you stand, what you feel in your soul means nothing on a given day. Instead, it's "What do you look like? Where are you from?" That's frightening.
I remember in the early Eighties, I went back to the neighborhood where I put together my first band. It was always a mixed neighborhood, and I was with a friend of mine, and we got out of the car and were just walking around for about twenty minutes. And when I got back to the car, there were a bunch of older black men and younger guys, and they got all around the car and said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Well, I lived here for about four or five years," and I just basically said what we were doing there. And they said: "No, what are you doing in our neighborhood? When we go to your neighborhood, we get stopped for just walking down the streets. People want to know what we're doing in your neighborhood. So what are you doing in our neighborhood?" And it was pretty tense.
The riots broke out right after our second interview session. It was pretty frightening being in L.A. then.
It really felt like the wall was coming down. On Thursday [the day after the riots began], we were down in Hollywood rehearsing, and people were scared. People were really scared. And then you were just, like, sad or angry.
At the end of the Sixties, there was a famous commission that Lyndon Johnson put together, and they said it would take a massive, sustained effort by the government and by the people to make life better in the inner cities. And all the things they started back then were dismantled in the last decade. And a lot of brutal signals were sent, which created a real climate for intolerance. And people picked up on it and ran with the ball. The rise of the right and of the radical right-wing groups is not accidental. David Duke – it's embarrassing.
So we've been going backward. And we didn't just come up short in our efforts to do anything about this, we came up bankrupt.
We're selling our future away, and I don't think anybody really believes that whoever is elected in the coming election is going to seriously address the issues in some meaningful fashion.
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