Inteview by Luis Boullosa
To follow-up on our previous interview with Mr. Hart, the author also did this interview with him, also from 2011. Instead of a narrative from GH, this 2nd part is in straight Q&A format.
This interview was done for the book El Puno y la Letra which was published in Spain by 66RPM.
Grant Hart died in September 2017 of liver cancer.
PSF: What's the importance of the singer/songwriter/bard nowadays? I still feel like these kind of artists are doing a really important job, but nobody seems to think anymore that a poet could be important.
One problem is that it is impossible for a bard to become a bard or to become recognized as one. You either perform on an instrument or with a band in order for your songs to become known. I am having to perform my material on guitar because clubs do not have acoustic pianos anymore. I would love to do a tour where I can play some songs on guitar, some with a full band, some with a symphony orchestra and some with just my voice. There is no place today for eclectic artists. You cannot challenge an audience and also make a living from it. The industry is more worried about how handsome I am than how great my songs are. That was the great thing about rock and roll radio. Someone like Roy Orbison could have a worldwide number one hit. He did have to dye his hair though. Today, nobody can put time into developing their craft. Boy-toy singers are too old by the time they get interesting or good at their craft.
Poetry was becoming more popular but then it turned into poetry ''slams'' where people were just competing for attention and it turned into stand-up comedy for shock value. Art should be created in a critical environment but not as part of a competition.
I should be able to tell fellow poets how I think they could improve their work, but to say one's work is better than someone else's is not very poet-like.
PSF: Where do songs come from? I've listened many times to this explanation: "they are out there floating and you just have to be 'tuned' so you can get them". It's the classic idea of inspiration as an outer force. Is it just easier to attribute it to higher powers?
I believe we attribute to higher powers that which we find god-like in ourselves. There is a mystical moment often called the moment of inspiration when we realize we have an exciting idea. If it were a duplicable event, then it would not be special feeling. There is a certain gloating that happens when we realize that we are to be given credit for something that just occurred. What is better than to be able to say, if only for a moment, “I am brilliant!"' Whether we acknowledge it or not it, is satisfying to be creative, to be a creator, to match God. Doing what we like to do, in a fashion and to a degree uncommon, (it) feels pretty fucking good.
PSF: Once you told me that moving or being kind of exhausted used to help you with your writing. Is there any tried-and-true method for writing in your case or does it depends on the kind of work you wanna do?
Over the years, I have learned what works and what does not work. For example; having a heavy smoke is great when i am jamming on an instrument, looking for a new musical structure that pleases me or conforms with some words I've written. When I am sitting down trying to find a stanza of lyrics, that same heavy smoke might make it hard to focus.
I have found that working in one medium and then taking a break from it and paint or do a collage helps clear the way for what you are working on. The muse avoids capture like a monkey do.
PSF: Your adaptation of "Paradise Lost" is an ambitious effort. Did you ever felt like that work was too big? You've told me that you were interested in the 'light' side of the book. Why is that? Is it more difficult to picture than the dark side?
There were times when I thought I had embarked upon the most treacherous project of my life. That I would die with it unfinished. I have one mix to go, so knock wood.
As far as light side versus dark side goes, it would be easier to make a scary Goth serving vampire sucking zombie musical than to examine the so-called goodness of the story. It really is a love triangle times two. Lucifer is the bringer of light, light is knowledge, knowledge is power and disobedience. God don't like that. Neither did Milton's models.
PSF: The influences from other arts (literature, painting, cinema) that I can see in your songs give me the impression of being in front of a 'modern' person, someone who has the same experiences I could have and lives in the same time span, but Rock and Roll is getting more and more and more vintage somehow. Do you think that rock and roll is already FOLK music?
Rock and roll is a lot like the inexpensive overhead valve V-8 engine in the way that it was something that offered much power at a low cost to people who were seeking it. It is folk music, but only in the local sense. Information technology puts things out to the public for consumption before it can really codify into a true folk form. Without regionalism, there might not be folk. Rock and roll is not rock and roll without the hype and the artist's reaction to the hype. Rock and roll must have an exploitive element to it. There has to be a gold lame suit in order for the blue jeans to make much impact in such a way as there is no resistance without despots.
''What are you rebelling against?" ''What do you have?'' said St. Brando on his motorcycle on the road to Damascus.
PSF: "A letter to Anne Marie" is one of the few songs that made me cry in my life. It’s a 'simple' text in the sense that anyone could understand it, and that's its force, power. But that's not the case with some other songs of yours, which can be cryptic and have many cultivated references not everybody can get at first. Are you ever afraid of people not getting a sense of what you're saying?
I think I must be somewhat embarrassed because I am the only member of my immediate family not to attend college. My grandfather lost his farm and became a share-cropper. His son was reacting to that his entire life. I wish to be deep. I am from the land of Zimmerman, F. Scott Fitz and Sinclair Lewis. I have pretense of cultivation that I am not entitled to as a student. I mimic those who inspire me.
The critical acclaim that Husker Du had raised the bar for me. I wish to deserve it with all my newer work. I have to go back and hear the old stuff in order to set realistic goals. When I re-read a new lyric and it does not ring with profundity, I am disappointed.
PSF: You knew William S/ Burroughs. What did you learn from him? I can only speak as a reader of his books, but he had a really sharp vision of mankind.
William was a character. He enjoyed attention no matter what he may have said. In private, he was hilarious. His books are very funny as well. I learned from him the value of tenderness and thoughtfulness in friendship. I learned to not let your public or your public image dog you around. I learned that minding your own damn business is a prerequisite to respect coming in and going out. William was the most potent of all the practitioners I have met. William taught me that there is a way that things are going to be, regardless of what you desire them to be like. The greatest change possible is the change of your perception. Much of what I learned from William is for the initiated only. There is wisdom in keeping some wisdom to yourself. In a world that trades carelessly and selfishly in information, one must know how to keep mum. A loose tongue is like a hole in your pocket.
PSF: A friend of mine that writes songs and puts out a record here and there, but lives out of a completely different steady job, always says that the need to create "is a damnation." I feel it like a gift. What's your thoughts on that?
Anyone who thinks that an artist should do what they do best probably would advise artists to give up their art entirely if a better offer came along. People who are envious of an artist's life give that sort of advice. Most artists that I know can do visuals or at least appreciate well done visual art, can probably dance all right, cook a fine meal, keep their lover stimulated and entertained, decorate a fine Easter egg and so on. Once a person has their creative breakthrough they can find the same breakthrough elsewhere also. I am very happy to have spent some time in my life with creative people in the field of engineering. The pursuit of mechanical truth and the duplicable event are the foundations of rosicrucian thought. That's 'rosicrucian' with a small r. What seemed magical two hundred years ago is today just considered good grounding.
If your friend is unhappy making his art and considers the price too high, he might consider something else. To be an artist is a blessing that he wants pity for.
PSF: Could you name some artists (musicians or not) that were an important influence on your work?
Groucho Marx. He taught me the joy of words and the courses of meaning, as in courses of brick, that words may have. As a dyslexic like Groucho, I have a deep respect for the value of puns.
In my own experience, growing up and spending a good amount of time in hospital, Groucho showered me with the white light of realization that words were toys to be played with. Not just weapons my father used on my mother or the tools that they are most often used for.
For more info about Mr. Hart, see granthart.com. His most recent album is The Argument on Domino
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