Q: Ageism is rampant in American culture. Have you experienced it?
A: It’s insipid, and it’s tied to sexism. “Yes, ma’am” means, 98% of the time, “Yes, old person.” “Yes, old woman.” Old woman says there is a divide between you and I. You are not sexual to me. You are an old person, not as capable. I hear that in ma’am. Sometimes I hear it as respect, but for the most part it is said only to older women, so of course it is somehow demeaning because, let’s face it, we don’t respect and admire age in this environment. Women my age and much younger are altering their faces and bodies to look young, way young. Why would you do that? Do you really want to have the sexual attention of 25-year-old guys? I don’t. Do you want to be lusted after by them? Christ, I hated that lust when I was 25, why would I like it now? I don’t want to be a sexual object. I want to be included as a whole being, and this I felt at six years of age and 56 years. I don’t see myself separate from anyone because of sex. I realize there is this dynamic between males in the band, but I never think about it and am always surprised when it slaps me in the face, almost literally, because some guy is not used to a woman speaking to him without giggling or apology. I am not rude, I’m very polite, but it’s my gig, my music, and I am hiring you to do this work. It’s simple. Men do it with each other but for some reason men and women do not do it much, I guess. Often I have to have a guy say what I just said…It’s odd but it’s true. So I experience sexism, and ageism to a lesser degree.
Q: Does your sense of your value in the marketplace color your identity as an artist?
A: Yes, in a way. I do need to feel relevant to someone, somewhere. I do need to feel appreciated, understood, valued. I know few people now know the whole picture of me, my meaning, what I have inspired or created, what is taken for granted, small details of culture. I know few people realize how much of my voice has become part of so many other voices. But if I get some love from somewhere I have enough to be humble, grateful, kind. That thing when people get bitter, I understand how that happens. You feel like you did not get what you deserved. You deserved a chocolate milk after lunch and no one called your name. But you did get to read your poem at the fair, and you did get to spend the afternoon with your daddy, and those things mattered more. You know what I am saying? There are still people coming to see me play, I still sell a few records, there are still younger people who know who I am. That’s what I came here for, to go on. My sense of value in the marketplace colors a lot of things that will affect my confidence. If I can’t get a good offer for a recording deal, two things can happen. I can say, “Wah, it’s over,” or I can say, “F you, I am making a record with or without you.” Hopefully what I have to say musically is an internal landscape, colored by my life, yes, but by more etheral things, my confidences and losses, by invisible matter that builds you up inexplicably. When things seem like they are bad on the outside, you’ve got this inner color, this inner light, and your work reflects a joy.
Or it could be sad, who knows? So yes and no. It affects me, for sure, but my work, I am not sure, because I can’t say how it would be otherwise. I am professional, and part of being professional is responding to things, all things. And also not responding, but protecting and nursing the private nest of your inner life.
Q: Has the sense of gratification you get from making art changed over time?
A: Yes. I believe I am aware of gratitude now, and I was not when I was 24.
Q: Lyrically, how have your interests and concerns shifted?
A: I am not as interested in making up fanstasies I think someone else might like, stories like “Easy Money.” I like seeing where a lyric takes me. It’s so exciting when it comes. It’s such a discipline and such an innocence.
Q: How does the growing sense of mortality play out for you as an artist?
A: Again, like the motherhood question, it just IS. I am and have always been aging, I’m as young as I have ever been, and inside I am not ever old and probably will never be. I am no closer to death than I was yesterday. Who knows when I will die? I don’t, so every day it is as far away and as close as the day before. I am on a sea. I do not see a beach in the distance.