By Jessica Berson
(Sound: Static and noise as stations get flipped through
before landing on an already in progress interview.)
…have had a number one hit in each of the last four
decades. Doesn’t that define you as an icon?
I don’t love words like ‘icon.’ As if I’m some figure to be
worshiped. No one should be worshiping me.
Isn’t that what all artists want? To be adored by crowds of
fans? Have them congregating outside your hotel and all
I want people to listen to my music. They shouldn’t be
concerned about me as a person.If they are, I ain’t doing
my job right.
What about adopting an anonymous persona then? It’s worked
for people like Sia and Daft Punk. Buckethead. You could do
something like that.
Anonymity wasn’t an option back when I started up. Well…
unless you wanted to just be a session musician your whole
life. Nothing wrong with that. I’m just not interested in
playing other people’s music.
Ok, so if it’s not the adoration you’re after, why do this?
Why be a musician in the public eye?
I’m chasing something.
Success, I guess.
Haven’t you achieved that?
There’s always more to chase.
And what is your key to success?
My key? (pause) The right instrument with the right sound.
It’s interesting you say that. Your guitar has become
another element of your legend, so to speak. The vintage
Lake Placid Blue Fender Strat.
It took a long time to get the sound on that guitar right.
But once I got it…
How did you get the sound right?
It’s a hard thing to explain. You just kind of… know, you
know? (sound shifts from an in studio interview to real
time narration over the events being described). I’d booked
a gig back in ’79 at The Whiskey. It was a big (bleep)ing
deal, playing that place, but especially as a chick, and
double especially as a solo act. I was in between bands at
the time, didn’t particularly want to be playing on my own,
but I didn’t have much choice. So I’m walking to the club
down the Sunset Strip, guitar case slung over my back,
worried about the D string I’d busted back in my apartment
when I was warming up, and I hear this… voice coming from
the alleyway behind the club. Beautiful tenor just ringing
through the night air. Against my better judgment, I swing
into the alley to find the source of the voice. There’s
this kid there, probably mid 20’s at the most, but from far
away he looked pretty frail, like one of the run of the
mill smackheads you used to see all over LA in those days.
He’s stumbling over himself, slamming into one brick wall
after another until he plops down in a dirty puddle. Drunk,
stoned, I don’t know which, but he ain’t right. I go
further into the alley to see if the guy’s ok. If he
noticed me, he doesn’t give any sign. And he starts singing
again. This gorgeous high tone with a little gristle to it.
Always wished I had a voice like that. I get right up to
him, kneel down in the filth so I can look him in the eye.
His face is rough. Sunken cheeks, scabbed over scratches
he’d probably done to himself during a bad trip, dark hair
plastered to his forehead with sweat. He sort of made eye
contact with me, and his wrinkled little lips glitched into
some kind of sneer. He croaks, “Hey baby,” and makes a
halfhearted attempt to reach out for me. “You ok man?” I
asked him. He sort of wobbled like he was gonna fall over
to the side. “Hey man, you need some help?” I tried again.
He starts singing. It’s so beautiful that I actually sit
down next to him, the back of my jeans getting soaked in
dog piss and vomit and who knows what else was on the
ground in that alley. “What song is that?” I asked him. He
seems to register my question. He says it’s his song. “You
wrote that, man?” Yeah, he says. He slurs his way through
this story about how he came to LA because someone promised
him a record deal, but some shady producer stole one of his
songs, handed it off to a teeny bopper heartthrob, and made
mint off of it. Nothing he could do. They didn’t give him
nothing for the song, not even a thank you in the liner
notes. “Sing it for me, man,” I said. He seems like he’s
beginning to sober up now that he’s been talking for a bit.
And he starts singing this song he wrote. His eyes are
fixed on me, super intense, bright green eyes like a cat’s.
Like he’s looking right into my core. I swing the case off
my back, take out my guitar, and start trying to finger the
chords to the song he’s singing. He’s lighting up, this
sort of bliss coming over his face as he closes his eyes
and gives himself over to the music. He hits this note…
this transcendent note that echoes through the alleyway,
and he holds it. I stopped playing. His head is back, his
eyes closed. He’s just absorbed into this space where the
music is coming out of him, using him as a vessel. An
instrument for the great beyond. That was the moment I
sliced his throat with the switchblade I kept in my pocket.
I wanted that note. That pure, clean tone. His eyes opened
immediately, but he didn’t move otherwise. He’s just sort
of staring at me with those really intense green eyes as I
hold a polishing cloth up to the cut to absorb the blood.
His mouth’s trying to form words, but no sound was gonna be
coming out of his body ever again. “It’s alright man,” I
said to him. “You’re gonna live on. Your voice is gonna
live on.” He’s gurgling and bubbling for a long while, and
then he finally flops over. I took a spare string out of my
case, unraveled it, and ran the bloody cloth all along the
frail metal wire. Then I strung up my new D string, plucked
it so I could hear the tone. Rang like a (bleep)ing bell.
(transiting back to the studio) I guess what I’m trying to
say is that I don’t know how to define the right sound. I
just know it when I hear it.
Was… was that your… first?
Yeah. The week after that, I decided to form my own band.
Put an ad in the back pages. This chick comes in to
audition. Singer and a drummer. She was a (bleep) drummer,
but she had a real pretty voice. I got her into the storage
room of the bar where I was auditioning people and… yeah,
she’s been my A string ever since. She’s been getting a
little shrill lately though, so I’m on the look out for a
replacement. Sometimes that happens, you know? Voices that
used be perfect start to get above themselves. Don’t want
to work with the group any more. I’ve had to replace my low
E like five times. It is not easy to find a good (bleep)ing
bass voice, let alone one that no one is gonna miss. I’m
not about to go around stalking opera houses, you know?
Oh man, that would be difficult.
Yeah, so… you know, if any of your listeners want to donate
to the cause, hit me up (laugh)
You know, I don’t doubt there’s someone out there listening
who’s willing. Alright, so let’s get ready to play the
second single off your latest album-
(Sound: Back to static between stations)