Because Jackson Browne and his music seem to occupy a special place among Rolling Stone readers, a brief introductory note should suffice. Why Browne is special is probably a personal thing, but I’ve always suspected that those of us who admire his admittedly autobiographical art usually find in it more about our own lives — not Jackson’s — than we’d care to convey. In the Sixties, Bob Dylan had an uncanny ability to define a decade and its denizens. Throughout the Seventies and into the Eighties — for me, at least — Jackson Browne has taken over this job and done it better than anyone else.
With the release of Hold Out, his sixth album in eight years, Browne has just begun the most extensive tour of his career. Right before he hit the road, Jackson managed a few free hours to tape this interview. We talked twice — each time at the ungodly hour of nine in the morning — before he had to rush off to rehearsals, photo sessions and so forth. Since we’d done stories together in the past (for The Pretender and Running on Empty), both of us knew what to expect. I knew he’d do his damnedest to avoid explaining what his new songs meant, and he knew I’d attempt to drag it out of him. The give-and-take was pretty funny at times.
When I arrived fifteen minutes early for our last taping and knocked on the door of Browne’s modest Hollywood home, the house was silent. I leaned on the doorbell for what seemed like forever. Finally, Ethan, Jackson’s six-year-old son, opened the gate and let me in. “Who are you?” he asked. I told him who I was and that I had an important appointment with his father. “He’s still asleep,” Ethan said. “But you can come in and help me find the can opener. I’ve got to feed the cat.” We fed the cat. Ethan asked: “Do you want to see me stand on my head?” Sure, why not, I thought, praying that Jackson would wake up. I could feel my interview going down the drain.
“Ethan,” I asked, getting the tape recorder ready in the living room, “do you think you could go and see if your daddy’s up yet?”
“I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” he answered after a long pause.
It took some convincing, but eventually Ethan gave it a try. When he came back, he said: “I told him but I don’t think he heard me. He just sort of mumbled and rolled over and went to sleep again.”
For the next few minutes, the living room seemed awfully empty. Then I heard a radio playing somewhere in the basement. Exploring, I found a friend of Browne’s who was awake. After I explained my predicament, she fetched Jackson immediately. Sleep’s difficult to come by when you work as hard as he does, I guess. We got a good laugh out of it.
As you’ll see, the interview starts off with a real surprise.
A mutual friend of ours tells me that you’ve been spending a lot of time in Santa Barbara lately; she says you’ve bought a place up there.
Actually, I’ve had this land for about three or four years. But it’s just acreage right now. I’m about to build a barn and stables.
She says there are quite a few single parents in the area and that a whole group of you get together almost every weekend.
I guess there are a lot of single parents there.
She gave me the idea that you were even thinking about moving to Santa Barbara permanently.
I was. But I’m not a single parent anymore.
No. Lynne and I are going to get married.
Sweeney. Lynne Sweeney.
When is this going to happen?
I think it’s going to happen in October or early November. But let’s back up a little. The answer I gave you before wasn’t really appropriate. The reason I was going to move to Santa Barbara was never because I was a single parent. That’s not where they send the single parents, you know.
You’re getting married at the end of the current three-month tour?
Well, it’s really a world tour, and we’re going to be married before we leave the country. We just don’t have the time to do it now. We were driving along the other day, and I said, “Gee, maybe we ought to go down to city hall right now, Lynne.” But even that would have taken three hours we didn’t have.
Maybe you should have gotten married instead of talking to me.
We could have gotten married this morning, Paul, but NOOOOO!
You had to talk to Rolling Stone.
Yeah, we had to talk to Rolling Stone.
Tell me about meeting Lynne.
Lynne and I have been together, off and on, since about 1977. I met her in Australia during the ’77 tour. She came to the show. Everybody had a fantastic time that night. After the show, there was this party that the band threw. Halfway through the party, the promoter was having such a good time that he offered to flip me for the bill — and he lost. It was a great night all around.
Lynne came to the party, and I started seeing her from then on. She was from Sydney, but I met her in Brisbane. When we played Sydney, she came to visit there. And then over to Perth and back to Sydney. I think we played Sydney three different times.
You met her in Brisbane?
She was living there with a bunch of friends and working in a preschool at the time. Before that, she’d been a model. I think she started modeling when she was quite young.
How old is she now?
Twenty-one. But she was modeling when she was about thirteen or fourteen. And she pretty much chucked it. She wasn’t very interested in it when I met her. It wasn’t until after she came with me to the United States and was here for a while that she got back into it. It was a job, something to do to make money and take her places. It’s taken her to Europe and Japan and back to Australia and to New York and Germany. For huge periods of time — what seemed to be huge periods of time, anyway — she’s been away. She’s here going to school now.
No, no. She’s getting an education.
What school is she attending?
Antioch. She’s studying human development and child psychology, among other things. We’ve got a family, you know. I’d like to study those subjects myself, but I think I might be able to learn a lot about them because Lynne’s studying them. And because we’re doing it. We’re developing humans here. Here in our laboratory… [laughs]
It sounds like you want to have another child.
Yeah. I think so. Yeah.
That’s nice to hear. On The Pretender tour, I got the distinct impression that any woman would finish a very poor third to Ethan and your work. You were a real antiromantic then. That doesn’t seem to be the case now. And I think the new record reflects this.
That is good news, isn’t it?
Hold Out is dedicated to Lynne, right?
Yeah. It says, “This is for Lynne.” She’s the girl in the songs. She’s in at least three of them on the new album, and I forget how many on Running on Empty.
She’s the Hold Out. Or one of the holdouts. The first holdout.
She’s the Hold Out, yeah. But “I’m a hold out too.”
That’s certainly a key line from the last cut on the LP. But let’s go through the record song by song. “Disco Apocalypse” must date back to 1975 or so. I can remember hearing you play it in a hotel room on The Pretender tour.
That was in 1976. “Disco Apocalypse” was just a phrase I started saying, an exclamation. It was like saying “Ooh Fellini” or something. What happens is that you get this little phrase or thought and you have an idea of what it could mean. But it doesn’t mean that yet. Not until you’ve created a song around it.
You were really enraptured by disco for a few months then. Downright evangelical about it, in fact.
You’re probably right. I remember listening to this song by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, “Wake Up, Everybody.” God, it was embarrassingly hopeful! But for some reason, it just stuck with me. And stuff like [the Trammps’] “Disco Inferno” — that’s some of the best music ever made, I figure. It’s records, you know. When a lot of people think of disco, they probably think of the same foot pattern and the same hi-hat pattern going on through the whole tune. That and a lot of innocuous words. But good music is good music.
And disco was a force, you know. It went on for quite a while, and everybody had their disco song. Various friends of mine were real worried about “Disco Apocalypse” before it was finished and I had all the words. It’s actually a little dated now. If I could have finished it two years ago and put it out as a single…
You’d have been accused of jumping on the bandwagon.
As it is, you might still get a few scattered boos.
I don’t know what people are going to think of it. I know they’re sort of allergic to the word disco. During the MUSE concerts, I introduced the song and told them the title before we started playing, and it was met with quite a bit of puzzlement. Then the next night, I didn’t say anything about it and just played it. People liked it.
When you started it in 1976, were you intending to write a disco number?
No. I think I might have wanted to write a song about disco in that idiom, but “Disco Apocalypse” isn’t really a disco song. There are too many words and too many chords and too much of everything for it to be considered disco.
I think that it’s an affectionate nod to disco. It’s meant to be friendly. I certainly wouldn’t take sides on anything as stupid as either approving or condemning an entire idiom of music.
Did the song change much lyrically since 1976?
No, just more of it each time. When it started, it was like a joke, you know. It was like a thing.
The title sounds like a Mad magazine parody of a Jackson Browne anthem.
Right. It was a parody. That’s better than calling it a joke. It was meant to be a sort of self-mocking parody. The title still makes people smile. But right away, I became interested in the possibilities of what the song would actually say. I got ‘serious about it in spite of myself. Or maybe because of myself.
Before we started taping, you told me that you knew that the first song on the album was going to be “Disco Apocalypse” and the second song “Hold Out.”
You’re taking my answer out of context. That was when I only had two songs.
Well, there goes the deep meaning of what I thought was going to be my next question. I’ll ask another. What’s the thematic relationship between the two compositions?
That’s just where they go. I could tell you but I really don’t want to — because you’ll print it!
Of course I’ll print it. Isn’t that the whole idea of doing an interview?
It’s very difficult for me to do this because I’d love to tell you what I think. But I believe that it’s wrong for me to explain my songs. It’s unnecessary and it’s also dogmatic in that it limits another person’s interpretation. And I really don’t think that the songs need to be explained. I believe that, given enough time and listening, they’ll mean what they’re supposed to mean.
You have a way of making me say what I think they mean and then just nodding your head yes or no.
That sounds good.
But it looks asinine in print. It looks as if this writer came on and interpreted the LP in an intellectual way, and the artist simply sat there listening to him. It’s like the reverse of a Q and A.
Did you ever hear that joke…?
I’d love to tell you what I think of the record. However, I’m going to hold out because I want to hear your opinions.
There was this book that was a takeoff on The Prophet, and there was this one very funny passage in which a merchant asks the prophet to speak to him about fate. So the prophet says: “It is that which binds nations together, it is that which beasts of burden carry upon their backs, it is that which crosses the seas…” and he goes on and on. And the guy says, “That’s fate?” And the prophet says, “Oh. I thought you said freight.”
Your point. Touché.
Well, I was really happy about “Disco Apocalypse” because it was almost the last thing on the album that got finished and it worked out like a prologue. It sort of sets the scene. I think it’s a view of present times. The last two lines — “With the dreams of flesh and love dancing in my mind/Dancing through the fire on the edge of time” — were written right before we finished the album.
Why do those lines mean so much to you?
They don’t actually mean any more than others. But I was happy to get them because I liked the idea of saying “love” and “flesh” and making them two different things. Ideally, they may be the same thing — there’s no need to separate your love for a person’s spirit and your love for her flesh, right? — but I liked calling them two different things here because they sort of refer back to an earlier line, “Tonight’s the night I’m gonna make you mine.” I mean, the idea of making somebody mine—that’s kind of a weird thing to do, isn’t it? After all, the idea of possessing somebody is usually a mistake.
You repeat part of that line in the LP’s last song, “Hold on Hold Out.”
“Tonight’s the night” but not “I’m gonna make you mine.” The idea of “dreams of flesh and love” — it’s the confusion between the two that interests me. Because I think it is real confusing. And “Dancing through the fire on the edge of time”—it’s just meant to be a prologue. When those two lines were added to the song, I felt good about it. Now it takes you right into “Hold Out,” right into the story.
What amazes me is how “Disco Apocalypse,” most of which is four years old, fits in so well thematically with the rest of the record.
Well, “Hold Out” is from the same period of time. I started writing that song at the same time I started writing “Disco Apocalypse.” That was when I was finishing The Pretender.
See, I always thought that Running on Empty was going to be a momentary diversion while I bought myself more time for the next studio album. Running on Empty was an idea and it was a digression. It wasn’t written as an album the way The Pretender and Hold Out were.
Another reason I like “Disco Apocalypse” is because Rosemary Butler gets to sing a solo part. It’s sort of like what we were doing, when last heard from, in “Stay” at the end of Running on Empty.
Let me be “dogmatic” for a minute and get you off the hook. I hear the new LP as a love story between two people—you and Lynne — who have difficulty coming together because the man at first doesn’t want to make a commitment. That’s clear enough in “Hold Out.” But by the end of the record, he’s changed his mind and tells the woman that he loves her in “Hold on Hold Out.” And the transitional song is “Call It a Loan.” All this is set against the gritty urban background of “Boulevard” (Hollywood Boulevard, obviously). “That Girl Could Sing” — a song that’s not about Lynne, I would guess—and “Disco Apocalypse.” Which is a much less romantic background than that of your previous records. Is that an accurate summation?
There are certainly definite ties between “Hold Out” and “Hold on Hold Out.”
They’re meant to be songs to the same person, but they weren’t only written to the woman in my life. They were also written to the part of me that still has ideals. “Hold Out” was a parting with the person inside me who was idealistic but kept saying: Listen, I really don’t believe that strongly anymore. I’m sorry but I don’t.
My willingness to love again was what I was talking about. At the end of “Hold on Hold Out,” there’s a reuniting between both Lynne and the idealistic part of myself.
When I first heard “Hold on Hold Out.” I thought you were talking to yourself until the last three verses, which are clearly addressed to Lynne. But the “Hold a place for the human race” verse and the one right after it seem to have more to do with personal philosophic concerns than with the love story.
Well, I was speaking not only to myself but to that idealistic person who exists in me, in Lynne and in a lot of other people. I was talking to anyone who believes that the planet is going to survive and that the race will quite likely go on for several thousand years and fulfill a destiny. And the spoken section at the end of the song sort of neatly ties up the album, I think.
And brings it directly back to Lynne.
Was she in the studio when you recorded those lines? The ones I’m thinking of are: “Anyway…I guess you wouldn’t know unless I told you/But…/I love you/Well just look at yourself — /What else would I do?”
No. I think she was in Japan. Anyway, she wasn’t there.
Most of the lines you’re talking about were from the live take. A lot of the record got sung again, but those lines were from the first day. If you start changing a thing like that, you start changing the rest of it. But when I said “I love you,” that was the time I really meant it. As a matter of fact, I did try to say it a few more times. It was ridiculous. That’s the hardest thing in the world to say, I guess. For me. On a record.
When I first started writing songs, I was aware of a couple of things. I never said “baby” in a song and I never said “I love you.” Those words were in almost every song — particularly Beatles songs — in the Sixties, but I was aware that they weren’t in mine. But, ah, they’re in there now. They seem like natural punctuations of my thoughts.
I’ll tell you, the whole album kind of surprised me. I think I knew at one time what each little piece was supposed to say, but when I finally saw it coming up in the solution — developing, as it were — I suddenly realized what it was about and I was ecstatic. But I also had to make some changes in the way I was living.
What do you mean?
I saw what had been going on in my life for the last year and a half. I saw where it was going and I liked it. I realized that my life had changed. I was just the last person to know. I mean, it wasn’t that I had to change my life, it was that my life had changed.
But in the LP’s second song, “Hold Out,” you’ve left Lynne — and the idealistic, romantic part of yourself — temporarily. Pardon the pun, but there are these chilling lines: “It’s starting to be cold out/For people who live like me.”
Well, when you leave a relationship, you’re out on the street, you know. And “That Girl Could Sing” was a song about a real person I knew. Here I was, someone who didn’t believe in love but in my own personal freedom, my own personal search — and I found myself drawn to somebody who was free. So what did I do? I immediately became the person I didn’t want to be. I wanted to possess that woman. It was a complete turnaround from what I’d said the week before.
Then at the point at which I made my peace with that— saying to myself, I guess the sanest thing she could have done was to leave, to disappear without explaining — I found myself out on the street again.
Yeah. And one connection between “Boulevard” and “Of Missing Persons” is that in both songs I’m talking to young girls. In “Boulevard,” the girl could be a runaway, someone who’s just passing through, hopefully. But everybody’s saying “Nobody knows you,” nobody gives a shit, your “folks are home playing Beat the Clock.”
What’s Beat the Clock?
A TV game show from the Fifties.
“Of Missing Persons” sort of brings you in from the boulevard, where nothing matters, to where you really hope that someone can see the values. In this song, I’m talking to an even younger little girl. And I’m talking about her parents, particularly her father, who was—as they say—a wild and crazy guy. He was “a leaper and a bounder”…
You’re talking about Lowell George, right?
Yes. Lowell was one of the most amazing persons I will ever know and one of the best friends I’ll ever have. But he was a father, too. He was a parent, you know.
“Of Missing Persons” was written to Lowell George’s daughter?
It’s to Lowell and Elizabeth’s little girl, Inara. But the song is about Lowell. It was written the night after we put on the tribute concert in Los Angeles.
The Fourth of July is mentioned a couple of times. Is that when he died?
Pretty much. Maybe a few days earlier. He was supposed to be playing the Roxy on July the Fourth. July the Fourth is Inara’s birthday. And every year, they’d give her a huge birthday party, a huge barbecue. It was sort of a gathering of the clans and various far-reaching members of the community who liked to be together. So “Of Missing Persons” is about this day and about a birthday that turns into a wake.
It reminds me of “Song for Adam” and “For a Dancer.”
Despite the fact that they’re all songs about death, you somehow manage to make them affirmations — rebirths — also.
That’s a pretty basic idea, isn’t it?
In “Call It a Loan.” you undergo a considerable transformation from the man you were in “Hold Out.”
“Call It a Loan” is the real turning point as far as the personal relationship on the album goes. Quite unexpectedly, you feel the strange and foreign sensations of love. And you think: Shit, what if I don’t want this to end?
It’s a terrifying moment when you’re scared to accept love and more scared not to.
But then the album evolves positively into “Hold on Hold Out,” which we’ve already talked about.
These things are supposed to exist simultaneously as well, you know. Even the bleak parts aren’t supposed to be entirely bleak. “Disco Apocalypse” has lines like “In the dawn the city seems to sigh/And the hungry hear their children cry/…And in their dreams they rise above/By strength, or hate, or luck, or love.” It’s supposed to be paradoxical.
The Pretender struck me as a record about dreams not coming true but still dreamed, while Hold Out seems to be about dreams coming true. On The Pretender, you start with the LP’s most optimistic tune. “The Fuse,” and then move toward pessimism. On Hold Out, the reverse is true.
Maybe it’s a two-album cycle covering four or five years. Really, it’s not so mysterious when you consider that neither of these cycles was intentional. I mean, the events in my life on The Pretender certainly weren’t intentional.
Though your records clearly aren’t concept albums, there always seems to be a story or some form of narrative sequencing that the listener can pick out — or not pick out—if he so desires.
Yes, but he shouldn’t have to. It should be there for those who care.
I hate the term concept album. Running on Empty and Desperado were concept albums, I suppose, as opposed to Hold Out or Hotel California, on which a real direction — a real train of thought — was taken and followed through all the way.
This will probably sound immodest as hell, but that’s the thing I admire most about my work, and when I see somebody else do it, I get real excited. I believe this kind of approach gives rise to a lot more music, a lot more content, than thinking in terms of, hey, we got a couple of uptempo numbers, now we need a ballad, or vice versa. Those kind of physical considerations I don’t think about a great deal.
I have a particular penchant for writing in sequence, recording in sequence—we even tried to mix this LP in sequence. I don’t mean that the songs were written in the order in which they appear. But as they were written, they were placed in sequence.
I didn’t realize that you recorded and mixed in sequence.
Well, almost. Practically speaking, we did.
What do you think you gained by that? Unity? Continuation of mood?
Yeah. And train of thought. If you know the sequencing, there are things you can do in the arrangements to make the songs work better musically together.
Maybe I’ve gotten it out of my system this time and won’t have to do it anymore. I’d hate it if I had only one trick.
Maybe when you get married, you won’t have to tell stories anymore.
Oh, I imagine there will be other things to resolve.
Parts of Hold Out seem to be influenced by black music. Have you been listening to a lot of black music lately?
Well, I’ve always listened to black music. But I don’t know why it should suddenly start coming out now. It doesn’t sound black to me. Danny Kortchmar was telling me that he thought this record was really influenced by R&B, and someone else mentioned it, too.
When you sail into those falsettos now, they sound black, not Mexican or Spanish.
We call that spoken part at the end of “Hold on Hold Out” the “Very White part.”
You seem to be singing stronger than ever these days. How do you think your singing has changed since The Pretender?
I think it’s changed because of the writing, to tell you the truth. See, singing is writing, playing is writing — that’s something I learned from Lowell George. How you sing and play determines how you write, and I think that with my love for Little Feat’s music and looking at Lowell and considering him a maestro, I began to sing more when I wrote. As I’d write a song, I’d really sing it instead of just walking through it and singing it later. So a lot of the way Hold Out is sung is written into the songs.
I think the music’s stronger, too. In the past it used to serve as a vehicle for the lyrics. It probably still does, to some degree. But maybe not as much.
Musically, “Hold Out” reminds me of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”
Sometimes we call my song “When a Man Loves a Whiter Shade of Hold Out.”
Seriously, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” is one of my favorite songs in the world, so it’s not really an accident. Because of its descending progression, you could play quite a few songs over it. I like that progression a lot.
Has your life been less hectic lately?
When, in the last week [laughs]?
No. In the last couple of years.
About a year and a half ago, there was a period of about a year when I wasn’t really doing much of anything except hanging out with Ethan. That time was great, and I taught an elective course in songwriting at his grammar school. It was fun.
Did the kids write anything good?
Yeah, some shit was happening there! I thought it was tremendous. Three kids wrote a song called “You’re Still Good.” The refrain was “You’re still good if you can rock & roll.” Kids have a very exacting way of speaking, you know. Like if I asked Ethan, “Did you have a good time at so-and-so’s house today? Was it good?” And he’d say, “Well, it was a little bit good.” Now “a little bit good” is pretty exacting, even if it’s not a real graceful way of speaking. And “You’re still good if you can rock & roll.”
“You’re Still Good” had a story about this guy who apparently was a real mess at everything else, but he could still make it because he could rock & roll. Except halfway through the song, he got murdered on a train. Someone stabbed him with a knife. I didn’t understand that part [laughs].
But I found that when I’d make suggestions to these kids about changing something, they’d talk it over and come back and say, “We decided to leave it the way it was.”
It’s funny that kids so young would be singing about “still being good.”
Yeah, it’s a cellular thing, I guess. In their genes. It’s that old Our Gang riff: “I remember when I was a kid.”
One girl had this amazing little whiskey voice. She must have had a cold or something, because you could hear every little rasp in her voice. Her song was really lovely. It was just the kind of song you’d want an eight-year-old kid to sing.
Two girls wrote a song called “My Mom Smokes.” [Sings] “My Mom smokes/And I really feel bad about that/’Cause I don’t want her to die.” There were verses like [sings] “When she gets home/She gets out a cigarette pack/And she smokes again.”
We were going to write this one song in the second grade called “Disco Elementary.” A good friend of mine told me that disco in Latin means I’m learning. [Sings] “Disco means I’m learning/Ticka ticka dum bum bum/Elementary means it’s easy/Dicka dicka dum bum bum/Disco elementary…”
You should make a documentary record.
I’ll tell you, they wrote such good songs that they could make an album.
There was this really pretty little girl who’d written only half a song. Somehow, she just couldn’t finish it. So I said, “Well, that’s okay. You just leave that thing sitting around. Think of it as a piece of wood from which you’re going to make a guitar someday.”
Then she got up in front of the class on graduation day a year later and sang her song with another girl — one of the girls who had written “My Mom Smokes” — and about halfway through, she began to cry. It was a heavy thing to watch this eleven- or twelve-year-old girl singing this song and blowing it in the middle and then getting herself together to sing the rest of it in front of her parents and all the kids in school.
And it was a terrific song. It talked about the school and all the people there. It mentioned various field trips and how the food could have been improved. It was great. Oh, it was great.
What school was this?
My son’s school.
I know that you’ve been studying acting lately.
Yeah. I started to study acting about a year and a half ago with a teacher named Jeff Corey. He’s a wonderful teacher. Then I had to stop to make my album.
What got you interested in acting?
I’m probably like everybody else when they see an incredible movie with an incredible actor. You see Jack Nicholson or Robert De Niro and you think, God, could I do that? I guess I wondered if I could act.
Anyway, a friend of mine introduced me to a friend of his who’s a screenwriter. My friend told me, “This guy writes screenplays the way you write songs, so you ought to meet him.” I did, and we got an idea for a movie and started writing the story. We got a deal and everything. He’s writing the screenplay now.
What’s his name?
Jeff Fiskin. He’s very good.
You know, what I wanted to say is that the Los Angeles Times printed a couple of stories that said I was making a movie. They claimed I was studying acting seven days a week or something, and that was never true. At one point, I read in the Times that I was making a movie about my life. Supposedly, I’d written this film about a person whose wife dies, and how he’s got to raise his young son by himself.
I couldn’t believe it! It’s all untrue. This is bad information or stupid guesswork that just gets repeated again and again until it becomes common belief. And there’s very little that I can do to stop it.
Then I was talking to Paul Simon a few months later about his movie. I asked him what it was about. And he told me that it was about this guy who’s on the road who has a young son. I guess they just got me confused with another rock & roll singer who was making a film.
Is your movie about the music business at all?
No. It’s about this artist — I suppose you’d call him a conceptual artist — but it’s really about a relationship. Having written the story and a song for the film, I think that the character is really close to my own, but I don’t know.
See, I might not be in the movie. I didn’t really write it to be in it. I told the producers and Jeff that I’d like a chance to be in it if it makes sense at the time. And they said they’d be looking for that to happen if I could act, if I liked the script, and so forth. But we don’t have a script yet.
And this film has nothing to do with the story lines of any of your LPs?
Is there a working title?
It’s called A Change of Plans. Or Change of Plan.
I heard that Francis Coppola approached you about a project.
No, not really.
He invited me to the Philippines when he was shooting Apocalypse Now. I was in Japan at the time and I got this message that he really wanted to talk to me. He went through three or four different people to reach me, and it was like I was being called to the Philippines for some important assignment. This was in 1977, I think. Anyway, I had “Disco Apocalypse.” Ah, I thought, he wants some music. But the first thing he said to me was, “I just wanted to talk to somebody.”
Then he said, “Since you were in the neighborhood, I thought I’d invite you to come by.” I was in Japan and it was a goddamn nine-hour plane ride! I must have been visibly disappointed that I wasn’t being called on to work, because later he said he was interested in my putting some contemporary lyrics to La Bohème. I don’t know if it was a consolation prize or what. It sounded like a good idea, but I didn’t think I could do it.
It’s interesting that you have “heart of darkness” in the lyrics to “That Girl Could Sing.” Was that accidental?
Well, it wasn’t on purpose, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that I bought the book when Francis told me that Apocalypse Now was based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. But my line is “Reaching into the heart of the darkness.” Big difference [laughs].
Let me ask you about the album again…
You know, there’s something about reading Rolling Stone. The print seems to get smaller, and it’s harder and harder to see. I mean, it’s a little difficult to stick with a six- or seven-page interview, so maybe you ought to put this statement at the very beginning: I forgive each and every one of you who can’t get with this or don’t want to read on and on about what I happen to think, because it’s got to be infinitely more interesting what you think than what somebody else thinks — I think.
Play that back. That sounds like a good opener.
More like a final cut, I’m afraid.
You’re probably right.