What are the new songs like?
There’s one that Michael and I wrote that’s about one part being my lover and one part go away. He gave me some words, and I put some music to it. And I’ve got a couple I’m working on that are similar to “Nick of Time” in the sense that they are about women at my age. I’m looking at people like John Prine and K.T. Oslin for inspiration. It’s like a whole new world has opened up. I think of myself as a songwriter now. Then I’ve got a reggae song that’s pretty sexual. And there’s a political one called “Hell to Pay” that’s like something Henley or Randy Newman might write. You’ve really got to be careful with message songs because if they are too earnest they look really schmaltzy.
You’re one of the most politically active musicians around. What do you think of the political mood of the country these days?
I always thought we were in the majority. I thought it was us against them, and it turns out “us” is the people who voted for Reagan. I mean, I never thought the Democrats would lose. I just didn’t. And it’s horrible to me to think that Jackson Browne isn’t Number One. It’s really a shock. But obviously CHR radio isn’t going to play “Lives in the Balance” or “For America.” And I think that if they had come out the same time as Running on Empty, they would have played it.
Do you think things are changing?
I think the environmental issue is going to be the one that unifies the two generations. You know, the homeless and the crack problem and the defense budget and all that stuff is pretty hard to figure in terms of Democrat-Republican. And whether or not people are going to believe the Bush administration had any knowledge of drug smuggling in exchange for arms, I don’t know. But I think the environment is the one thing that can cross generational and party lines.
Do you think people are willing to make the sacrifices needed to really clean up the environment?
I think if we scare them enough. And I’m all for using popular culture to educate people. I think the secret is going to be a great soundtrack mixed with a great movie that includes such fine writing and heartfelt involvement in the story that it can reach kids.
How much of your own activism is a result of your Quaker upbringing?
I was going to save the world from the time I was 11. That was the way I was raised. My parents were pacifists during the Second World War, and Walt Raitt, my dad’s brother, was the peace secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, which is the social-activist arm of the Religious Society of Friends — the Quakers. My father also did a really great antiwar movie called Which Way the Wind, around 1963.
So it was just understood that you were to be of service to other people, and that people who just worked for their own aggrandizement were shallow. So from the time I was a kid, I wanted to do something for the good of other people. I mean, injustice really pisses me off. War and injustice are the things that caused me the most anger and crying in my life. And so I have to feel like I’m making a difference. I mean, music’s great, but what’s important is doing something meaningful with your life.