The Eagle looks back across his diverse, rewarding career
You had a love/hate relationship with David Geffen…
I think the hate is much stronger than the love!
He called you a “natural malcontent”, which doesn’t sound all that bad of a thing to be…
That’s just him mouthing off, I don’t care what he says about me. Everybody knows who he is, and what he is. I don’t need to say a thing about him, because everybody knows.
It’s just a puzzle why you re-signed with him later.
Yeah, well, he’s very slick, and he’s got a good line of bullshit: he came to me and he said, “Nobody understands you like me, I’m still your biggest fan, you know I love and respect your music” – and it was just enough at that time, he was the devil I knew, and so I went with it, and it was a big mistake. I learned a lot from him, about the realities of the business. And at the end of the day, he did give us a contract, which I appreciate, the fact that he signed us to the label and got us into the spotlight. But then he went and sold the company, and we woke up one day and found ourselves on a different label. I have much more respect for Kenny Rogers, for getting me my first record deal, and getting me from a little town in Texas to Los Angeles, and putting me up at his house: he is a totally straight-ahead, honest good guy, and I owe him a great debt of gratitude.
When you start a band, it’s like a gang, done partly for the fellowship; but when you reunite, is it done mostly for the music?
To be perfectly honest, it’s partly for the music, and partly for the money! When The Eagles broke up for 14 years, we didn’t know there were so many people who still wanted to see us play. We were just too angry and fed up with each other: “I’m not getting onstage with that guy again, no matter how many people want to see us!” But when we started touring again, we were just flabbergasted at how many people were turning up. We’ve been together now longer since the reunion than we were originally. I don’t know if we’ll ever play together again, we could have done our last show; or we may decide in a year or two to go out and do some more dates together.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a solo career, as opposed to a band career? It’s a little tougher being in the solo spotlight all the time, singing all the songs in a set: in The Eagles we get to rotate, so I get to rest my voice between songs; but when I have to get up there and sing for an hour and a half without stopping, it’s really tough. I think I might start doing what the R’n’B singers used to do, and let some of the background girl singers come up and do solo spots – “Gentlemen, presenting the lovely…”!
At the show the other night, you referred to “the backward island of darkness on 12th Street”. What did you mean?
It’s the Texas Capitol Building. Texas is a real paradox: it’s full of wonderful, generous, good-hearted people, but when it comes to politics, they vote against their own best interests: this state is basically run by the oil and gas industry, and slowly but surely, they’re taking control away from all the towns and cities. I would not hesitate to say that this is the worst administration that we have ever had in the history of Texas. We went from Bush to Parry, and now we’ve got this new guy, Abbott, and they’re all cut from the same cloth. It’s ironic, because Austin is such a liberal town, but the rest of the state elects these people and sends them here so we have this dark, backward little island here in the middle of a wonderful musical, artistic culture.
So, when will you be standing for Governor?
No, no, I like the job I have now! I wouldn’t want that job, it’s a no-win situation.
You once said that “the creative impulse comes from the dark side”. What did you mean by that?
I think it’s true, to a certain extent. It doesn’t mean that all the creations have to be dark, but it comes from a certain side of the personality. That great Southern writer Willa Cather said, “There are only three or four stories in life, and they keep repeating themselves just as desperately as if they had never happened” – so you just keep expanding on the same themes. When you’re writing a song, if you’re trying too hard, can you iron the life out of it? Yes, you can paralyse yourself. If I reach a roadblock, I’ll just go and do something else, drive around, load the dishwasher – I’ve often thought of songs while doing menial tasks. But I do try hard on the lyrics. I tried to make this new LP very straightforward: it’s a country album, and country language is very direct. But I think I made some fairly subtle points. I mean, “Praying For Rain” is really about climate change, but it’s the gentlest, kindest way I could say it to the redneck faction here in America that doesn’t want to fuckin’ hear about it. So I put it in the character of a humble farmer. The giveaway line is, “Maybe we just took too much and put too little back/It isn’t knowledge, it’s humility we lack”.
It has a lovely warm feeling, like a choir.
I just tried to fill that song with humility: “Lord, I’ve never asked for much, and I don’t mean to complain”. It reminds me a lot of my father, who never went to church: he’d get out on Sunday mornings and plough the garden with a mule, that was his form of meditation, his sacrament, and I thought, that’s more religious, more honouring the fertility of the earth, than sitting in some fucking building listening to some guy yell at you about how you’re going to fucking burn to a crisp. I admired my old man and his ethic. I’ve been researching my family tree – when you get to be my age, you start caring about that stuff; when you’re younger, you don’t care about your ancestral trail and roots, you just want to get away from it. And sometimes, when I go home, I remember why I left! I still have a love/hate relationship with my home town. And with the state of Texas. And with America!
The September 2017 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – featuring Neil Young on the cover. Elsewhere in the issue, there are new interviews with Mark E Smith, Nick Lowe, Iron & Wine and Sigur Rós, we remember Dennis Wilson and explore the legacy of Elvis Presley. We review Grizzly Bear, Queens Of The Stone Age, Arcade Fire, Brian Eno and The War On Drugs. Our free CD features 15 tracks of the month’s best music, including Randy Newman, Richard Thompson, Oh Sees, Lal & Mike Waterson, Psychic Temple, FJ McMahon and Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band and more.
Uncut: the past, present and future of great music.