Q: Do you feel like you did your most vital or important work when you were young or have you created your best work as a more experienced artist.
A: Well, one thing to consider is that artistic quality isn’t determined absolutely. It’s definitely subjectively.
Q: Fair enough.
A: It’s often obliged to feed the machinery of popular acceptance. In other words, if a hundred critics say an artist that’s been around for years is doing something well and a hundred critics say a new artist is doing something well, the first group is dismissed because it’s a boring thing to say and the second group would be all over Twitter. Because new is news.
Q: Agreed. But is there any merit to the sense a lot of people have that pop music is a young person’s game?
A: Songwriting is so easy for young people to do that it’s easy to be excited and good at it at a young age. Writing a good lyric is a much lower bar than writing a good novel. You need a whole lot of craft and knowledge to write a novel, but you can write pretty stupid rock lyrics and have an exciting song. In that way it’s a very forgiving art form and very amenable to young people doing it. To the other point, poetry is a realm where you can really see unfairness to old poets. One example is W.H. Auden. I’d heard a lot about how his early poems were great and vibrant and vital and the later poems were boring, and critics were asking what happened. But I thought they were really good, and possibly in the realm of communication that only older people are going to appreciate. Younger people appreciate different things.
Q: Who appreciates what you do?
A: The people who get what I’m doing are probably patient and older. I’m grateful when younger people spend the time, but you get to the point where you’re so far away from being able and willing to produce something that a lot of young people are going to like, it’s not a temptation anymore. Another change I’ve gone through is moving through the phase of thinking that progress is always good. It’s a natural attitude for young people and it gets things done, but you get to a point where all change is not advancement. Change usually occurs for imitative and stupid reasons. The hypocrisy is that it plays like originality, but really it’s the opposite. It’s all unoriginal imitation of the same gesture that signifies originality. There’s a key moment for an artist when you have to tell the producer you’re not going to chase the new sound.
Q: Are you driven more by the urge to express yourself or the urge to communicate with an audience?
A: The initial expression is all conveyance. Later on it became more a matter of expressing what I suspected was not out there. It’s a balancing act. Some will read it as familiar, but the payload is something you’re not initially going to hear. I think I learned that from poets, and also filmmakers. James Joyce, T.S. Elliott, Stanley Kubrick. There’s the part that reels you in and the part where they’re socking the message to you. It’s a very bitter pill. You fall for it and then you’re slapped in the face. That’s the kind of appeal, versus didacticism, that I’ve picked up from older artists.
Q: Can you imagine never making another record?
A: Oh, yeah. I know how much work it is. Every step of the way costs something. It costs time away from my family. It costs some money which means dollars out of my kids’ college fund. I still think I’m good, but I can see making that decision. Despite the fact that I feel like I have something to offer.