CHATTING WITH THE FABULOUS RICKIE LEE JONES


This article is written by MIKE RAGOGNA at THE HUFFINGTON POST

MIKE RAGOGNA: Rickie Lee, how are you?

RICKIE LEE JONES: I’m great. How are you?

MR: Terrific. So there is a certain new RICKIE LEE JONES DVD out called LIVE IN STOCKHOLM. Let’s just start from the beginning on this, like with that story about how your neighbour became the director.

RLJ: Sure. I was living in Beachwood Canyon, next door to what looked like a little Swedish family. As it turns out, his family is Swedish, but he’s actually from Colorado. His name is IAN (McCRUDDEN) and he had worked on the ANITA O’DAY film. I thought I should go ahead and ask and I said, “Well, would you like to do a film of me?” He said, “Yes,” and that’s how it started. I was going to do a couple of shows in Europe and he asked to film the show in Sweden. So he flew over and he had a little crew there – maybe one or two other people, I think – and filmed this beautiful show.

MR: What was it like to perform in the BERN SALONGER, which was built back in 1862?

RLJ: It looks really old and it was incredibly beautiful. It was cold and it was a perfect night to film there. The Scandinavian people have been really supportive of me through my career and in the darker times, they were always there. They are really great fans and discerning. It was one of those really fine nights, you know, that’s hard to do when you’re filming because you’re aware that you’re filming and you can’t help but alter, usually, what you do. This one, though, captured a lot of what it’s like – I think of myself more of a performing artist than a recording artist. I think what happens in the live exchange of energy is what I do. In the recordings, yeah, it’s there, but where it’s really going on is at the shows.

MR: Yeah, it seems like live venues are more important these days for an artist. In a lot of ways, with MP3s etc., we’ve devalued recordings.

RLJ: Not to get political or philosophical, but in a capitalistic society, we really value a thing if we pay a lot for it and when it’s too accessible, we somehow feel it’s less important. That’s unfortunate because I would really like to give it away for free.

MR: That’s a really great point – the psychology of it.

RLJ: What happens when people have come to listen to music, all you hear about is the terrible things people do. But on their own, they’ll spend money and gather just to have this music wash over them. It’s them at their purest…and me too. Often, such loving and powerful energy happens in concerts and I think it’s really wonderful.

MR: That’s beautiful. Your track list is pretty comprehensive and the close relationship you have with your audience comes across.

RLJ: Good. I’ve never put out a DVD and I think it’s a good chance to see what I’m all about – at least in a little solo setting or trio setting.

MR: So, you nabbed LIONEL COLE, NAT KING COLE’S nephew, to play percussion.

RLJ: Evidently. (laughs)

MR: And you also have JOEY MARAMBA playing bass and singing background for you.

RLJ: Yeah, JOEY and I have done these duets and trios for a few years. I met him on THE SERMON ON EXPOSITION BOULEVARD recording. He’s so inventive and free. His spirit’s so kind. He’ll bow his bass and he’s willing to take chances. So I really like playing with him a lot.

MR: Now when you did this project, did you rehearse for it with IAN McCRUDDEN?

RLJ: No, we didn’t rehearse.

MR: So there was a more spontaneous approach.

RLJ: Looking at it now, it is. You know, the lights and everything were done by the house. It’s really, really pretty I think.

MR: How did you decide on the track list? Did you wing it the day before or did you put a lot of thought into it?

RLJ: I always make up the track list depending on how I feel about how the audience is responding, whether I should go up or down. I generally do these same songs because those are the ones that people know, but not usually in the same order. That was challenging, probably, for the filmmakers, who would’ve liked to know what was coming next, but I think we did a pretty good job.

MR: Did any songs get cut from the DVD?

RLJ: Actually, I don’t know what they ended up doing. We edited a few songs that were kind of long, I think they were talking about adding them as a bonus, but I don’t really like bonus things. I think when you make a piece of art, that’s what it is – that’s it as its best – and if you left stuff out, it’s because it wasn’t good enough to be in. So I don’t know if they ended up doing bonus tracks because I was kind of against that. But yes, there were some things, hopefully, that were left out.

MR: Well, you have a total time on this thing of almost two hours anyway.

RLJ: Yeah, I started playing longer shows. I get up there and feel like I hit my stride at about an hour fifteen, which is when I used to end the shows. I like playing.

MR: One of my favourite performances on this project is also my favorite RICKIE LEE JONES song WEASEL & THE WHITE BOYS. I just love that song.

RLJ: I like playing it.

MR: And you change it up a bit. It’s nice that some of these songs have taken on different kinds of arrangements over the years.

RLJ: Yeah, they change gradually, so I don’t even realize I’ve changed them until I listen to the record and go, “Oh, I used to do that twice,” or “On the record I did that other melody.” With WEASEL, though, the form is the same, the melody is a little different. My voice is a little lower and it’s a little quieter. It was a sexy song anyway. But it’s even sexier, I think.

MR: Yeah, I think so too. You’ve got some other songs on here that are sexier as well such as LIVING IT UP.

RLJ: Well, I don’t know where I got that idea. Ten years ago, there was this really famous dance music kind of guy and he worked on the track as it had been performed on the record…if I could have re recorded it for him, it would have been better. I got the idea to do it because my daughter loves really atrocious Eurodance music, (singing) “Boom, boom, boom, boom.”

(laughs) I’ve gotten to know some of it because I love her openness to understanding it and listening to and I think that’s where it came from. I would really like to do a record with those kinds of beats because it doesn’t happen in any way organically for me to think that way when I write. I like to be put in a new setting than the one I think of – staring myself in the mirror creatively isn’t what I want to do. It’s exciting and we’re excited when we do it that. It’s really a lot of fun.

MR: Other great revisits include WE BELONG TOGETHER and CHUCK E.’S IN LOVE. As one of your first songs, is CHUCK E.’S IN LOVE like your special child now? Or, is it like, “Oh my God, I can’t do that song one more time”?

RLJ: It’s not my special child, but I set it aside for many years. My audience, God bless them, probably would have liked to have heard it, but I didn’t do it at all for seven or eight years – for all of the 90s, I would say. Then I started playing it at home and I found my way back into the song. It’s a sweet melody and it’s a sweet song because it was my only big hit and I think I resented it for a while – poor song. Now, when I play it, I appreciate it. I like the sweet R&B feeling of it. The bridge is very groovy, but it became the signature of the song, so the bridge is the place where I’m still trying to totally inhabit it. But I think I’m just about all the way back to her and I like her a lot.

MR: YOUNG BLOOD…another wonderful pick.

RLJ: YOUNG BLOOD and SATELLITES I do more the way I heard them when I wrote them as opposed to how they were recorded.

MR: Also, I was surprised to see IT MUST BE LOVE on the track list.

RLJ: Well, that’s one of the songs folks know, I guess. It ended up in a few movies, like JERRY MAGUIRE and a couple others. It’s a pretty melody too.

MR: Now I think we spoke last in 2009 for your BALM IN GILEAD album, right?

RLJ: I think so.

MR: Well, going from your first album to that one, what do you think about your body of work?

RLJ: Gosh, I’d have to think about that question. Sometimes I think good things and sometimes I think not so good things. I mustn’t judge my work…it just is what I have to offer. If I judge it, then it’s really hard for me to make it, you know what I mean?

MR: Yeah, I guess you have to stay objective. It isn’t like repainting the painting.

RLJ: Or your kids. “What do you think of your kids? Which one do you like best?” I think they have strong points and I think maybe later in life, I’ll listen to them and go, “Wow, what a beautiful record.” But I tend to make them and not listen at all to them after I make them, which probably has to do with all the hubbub of promoting it, measuring it and so much of that encumbers the joy of being able to make music that people want to come listen to. I think that’s why performing is so pure, because I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder in any way.

I do what I want.

As I get older, I’ve really come to appreciate how generous people are, to spend money and some of their life to come out and stay with me for a few hours while I sing. I just can’t get over it and I think it’s really something. Sometimes, I think artists forget how honoured they are.

MR: That’s a beautiful point.

RLJ: They’ve taken time – they get a baby sitter and they spend money parking. They have just one life and they’ve come to spend part of it with you and when you remember that it makes the concert process much more joyful and much less frightening. I think sometimes artists think people are there to judge them, they’re not going to like the way they dress, they’ll know they made a mistake or whatever. All that is so trivial compared to the spirit that’s happening between people. All the dance routines and stuff helps, but all it’s about is between you and them, you know?

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

RLJ: I’m so not good at that, but I’d remind them that at a performance, everybody has come to be loved, not just you. All of your audience has also come to be loved by you. They haven’t come to judge you, they’ve come to be loved and give love – that’s all that’s going on. If you remember that and not stare at the tuning of your guitar or worry about whether or not you hit that note perfectly, but just remember that this is about people that love you and need you to give that spirit back, then you’ll have a good time and you’ll do good work in the world.

MR: Nice. “…you’ll do good work in the world.” What a good line.

RLJ: Well, it’s my job.

MR: (laughs) Let me just ask you one more thing. I’m all excited to hear a new album. Where is it all ready?

RLJ: You know, I’m starting to write little pieces. I’m making myself sit with my little tape recorder and I’m starting to write little things, so we’ll see. I have a couple of really diverse ideas. I don’t know, but at least I’m beginning to write melodies, so that’s good.

MR: Is this possibly the album on which you’ll be using those dance beats you were talking about earlier?

RLJ: I think that will happen if some guy like FAT BOY SLIM or some variety of people said, “Yeah, we’d like to do that with you.” I don’t know if I would do that myself, though one or two could end up on it. I might also like to do THE STREETS OF LAREDO, write a melody to a kid’s book or make up a different kind of song. I have so many things right now, I don’t know what it’s going to coagulate into yet.

MR: This has been an amazing interview. There are more things that we could talk about, but I know we’ve talked about it all before…

RLJ:…I like the name of the radio station.

MR: Solar powered KRUU FM?

RLJ: That’s bitchin’.

MR: (laughs) Thanks…and we’re the only solar powered radio station in the Midwest.

RLJ: You know, I just can’t figure out how we’re still being compelled to buy gasoline when there are so many perfect kinds of energy. I guess it’s just because Mr. Bush and his friends have invested so much money in oil that they compelled us to continue to have to use it. I’m so excited when a group of people defy that, so good for you. Thank you.

MR: You’re beautiful. Thank you for saying that, Rickie Lee. When I saw WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? and understood the conspiracy to prevent an alternative energy source for fueling cars, it just made me sick.

RLJ: You know, in our lifetime, we’ve watched our control, or even sense of control, slip away little by little. I woke up, oddly enough, thinking about 9/11, the building that was demolished, the gold reserve underneath and all the questions that everybody just didn’t ask and aren’t allowed to ask while they pass the Patriot Act. Sorry to digress, but it seemed like there were a couple of reasons for that and one was to create a war to take the oil and one lucky part was that they could create a Patriot Act, which actually gave them the right to investigate citizens and hold them without any Miranda rights.

I remember I woke up thinking, “What’s happened to my country?” The energy thing is probably the seed of the answer. British Petroleum destroys our coast and their stock goes up. We sit here and talk about it and we don’t like it, but we feel so helpless. I think, “Wow, you know that wall went down in East Berlin. So there are ways that it can crumble.” If we just keep talking about it, there will be ways we network together.

MR: To me, during the Bush years, there was this massive economic and power grab by all the corporations and no one was even bothering to try to hide the concept of was used to be called the shadow government.

RLJ: Once Bush came in, all that clandestine stuff disappeared and they did it all right out in the open. The most disturbing sign of what was going on was when they legalized torture, though they called it another word. Now we are a country like Chile when they had a dictatorship or any of the most horrendous countries. Now we are like them legally. Perhaps we’ve been doing it behind the scenes forever, but that mattered. When it became legal I thought, “Oh my God, isn’t anybody looking at what’s going on?” I’m so glad to talk about it.

MR: It’s glad we got to talk about it. Anyway…I loved our time together, as always. You are a great interview and also a wonderful person, so I really appreciate your time.

RLJ: I’m really glad you’re helping me let people know what I’m working on and what I have out so they can buy it. Now I can pay my rent and my taxes. (laughs)

MR: (laughs) Rickie Lee, thank you again.

RLJ: I have to say one more thing. On NPR the other day, I was listening to the Republicans versus the Democrats talking about the budget and this one Republican said that it wasn’t necessary to investigate businesses so deeply, just to bother them with ridiculous things about their taxes. Anyway, I thought, “Now they give corporations making so much money so many tax breaks, but if you’re a waitress with kids and you’re barely making it, they’re going to audit you.”

It’s such a tradition to tax and tax and tax the poor. I’ve been reading this book called A DISTANT MIRROR, about the 14th century – this has been going on forever. I know I digress, but I just wanted to mention that. They’re so brazen that they don’t even hide that it’s a country that belongs to business now and we’re just guests. As long as we continue to consume, we’re valuable.

MR: As long as we continue to consume and go into debt, which ultimately makes the country a bunch of fiefdoms.

RLJ: OK. Where are you, anyway?

MR: I’m in Fairfield, Iowa.

RLJ: You’re out there in Iowa. That’s fantastic.

MR: Once again, thank you for your time. It’s really been great.

RLJ: Thank you for calling.

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