Michael Tearson Interview: Part II

on Nov 24 in Interviews by

Unbeknownst to Michael Tearson, he discovered me. When I was thirteen years old, living in a Philadelphia suburb with parents whose musical adventures consisted of Harry Bellafonte and Barbara Streisand, I spent many long evenings listening to him. There were some really good DJs in Philly in the late 60s, but it was Michael more than any other who schooled me in the history of rock and roll and the social meaning of my generation’s music.

Here is part two of a conversation that took place in August 2012 in a converted bedroom of his small house in Maple Shade, NJ. For three and half hours, Michael sat at his desk in the middle of a room, covered floor to ceiling with CDs, answering questions and musing about his career. On the desk was an old computer for googling facts to augment his prodigious memory and a rack of pretty standard looking old audio equipment — CD players, equalizers, compressors and a large mic. The man with the golden voice was amiable, generous and voluble, particularly excited by his own recording, and happy to tell it like he sees it about any number of subjects from music to radio to the ups and downs of his personal life to many of the artists he’s come across (live and on recordings) over the course of an almost forty year career.

A few times, I felt like I was a kid sitting in my bedroom in the dark listening to a disembodied iconic voice. Because of its breadth and length, I’ve broken the interview down into sections that I’ll post over the course of the next few weeks.  Michael’s CD, Stuff That Works, is available from the CD Baby. Review it! Nowadays, he can be heard on the internet at Radio that Doesn’t Suck, on Sirius-XM on the classic rock channel, Deep Tracks and the Blues channel and in Philly on WMGK.


Part II

When you’re on the air and in the zone do you feel like you’re playing a role?

Absolutely.  Especially on Sirus/XM Deep Track shows, on the Saturday morning ‘60s WMGK shows and when I’m filling in on the Bluesville Channel for Sirus/XM and also when I’m doing the Radio That Doesn’t Suck.com shows.  I think of myself as a curator more than anything else.  I shine light and illuminate the music so that it has a little more than if I just played by itself.  That’s the beauty of those channels.

Do you listen to everything that gets sent?

I no longer have the craven hunger to go through the slush and discover stuff.  To a large degree I’m saturated.  It’s not s easy as it used to be.  It’s personal.  In the last seventeen years I’ve been a widower, I’ve had to scramble and scrabble and squeak to get by, haven’t made more than $30k a year.  This year I’m semi retired and am receiving my pension and let me tell you, having $1600 net a month is a game changer.  It gives me the ability  – will power is easy, I can do anything  – but won’t power  – the ability to say no to things.  In two years, social security kicks in on top of that so I’ll be making half again what I’ve made over the past fifteen years just from pensions.

What will you do?

Radio That Doesn’t Suck is a big part of that.  I get to do anything that my imagination can devise.  So I do all kinds of things from continuing the Bob Dylan Radio Hour that got me into Sirius about nine years to Worldwide Dylan to highly thematic shows, sometimes I knock out psychedelic shows.  You tailor to the client and I figure I’m a true radio freelancer at this point.  My Radio That Doesn’t Suck Audience is the most hard-core and I can really be completely imaginative and quite challenging in what I play.  I can really push the audience.  I figure if you give me 70-75 minutes, I can take you for a ride.  Radio really doesn’t challenge the listener. Radio is mostly content to be wallpaper.  But the Blues Channel and definitely Deep Tracks and my Saturday morning show on MGK absolutely step outside of that.  I like to do shows ahead.  Right now, I have six shows in the can.  For this particular one, each hour is in two segments, the second segment is five Robert Johnson songs – The Rolling Stones’ “Love in Vain,” Taj Mahal from his first album doing “Dust My Broom,” Robert Johnson doing “Sweet Home Chicago,” which is a bizarre lyric, “Going back to California, my sweet home Chicago.”  What the hell is that about?  Then we have “Come on in My Kitchen” by the Allman Brothers. And in the final segment, I opened up with  some Led Zepellin from the BBC tapes again Taj with “The Celebrated Walkin’ Blues,” “Hell Hound on My Trail” from Robert Johnson.  Doing that kind of thematic on MGK is way to hip for the room but screw it, you can’t worry about that.  After “Hell Hound” I go into “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver, reminiscing that that was the song I played the night John Lennon was shot right after I announced that he’d died.  And I look back at that as one of the absolutely perfect to the moment choices of music I have ever made.  That’s the one that opens, “Turn on your mind, relax and float downstream.  It is not dying-g-g-g-g-.”  That’s really good radio.  Then I played “We Can Work it Out,” which is short enough and I like the thematic statement.

I always liked the contrast of Lennon & McCartney in that song, with Paul’s verses all optimistic and then John saying, “Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend.”

That was the songwriting team.  A lot of them were McCartney’s and a lot of them were Lennon’s.  Together, they were more than they were themselves.

Any other inspired moments you recall?

One of the things I wish I would have taped was an interview with Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman of Firesign Theater.  I had gotten a call that they were early and wanted to come in and talk with me.  I wasn’t prepared.  It was a Sunday afternoon and the commercial load was really light, which was a blessing.  We wound up essentially doing a radio show that was largely improvisational comedy with the two of them and me as a full partner.  There I was in the ring throwing punch lines with the champs.  That was something real special.

There’s another one I wish I had done – I could have sold the damn thing – it was the night the shows at the Bijou were done and Gram parsons and Emmy Lou Harris came over. I’d known Emmy since  ‘67 from Baltimore.  She was actually the catalyst for me finding Plan B (radio) and not pursuing playing.  That was a matter of the incredible luck of coming along when album rock was a brand new form with no history.  As an artist, there can be no greater, thrilling experience than to create something from scratch with no rules telling you what you can’t do.  So we were making it up as we went along.  That was such a heady experience and that was where my career started.  If I’ve learned nothing else over forty-five years of doing radio, I can select and sequence songs.

What was the Emmy & Gram Parson interview like?

 We basically did a walking tour through Gram’s first album and some of the Burrito’s stuff.  And really with the Burrito stuff, Chris Hillman never gets enough credit for co-writing all those songs with Gram Parsons.  People would always credit Gram but Chris was an equal partner in the Burrito Brothers.

What was Emmy Lou like in those early years?

 I met Emmy after my freshman year of college, May of ‘67, I got back home to Baltimore and there was a folk club called Fifteen Below and it was only about a mile towards town from the state fair grounds and Sunday night was an open stage so I made a point of getting there early that Sunday and sign in and get a prime spot and one of the regulars brought Emmy over to audition and they asked if I’d mind if she went on immediately before me.  Well that night nobody saw or heard me cause they were shocked and awed by a 19 year old Emmy Lou Harris.  I had two thoughts.  One of them was I need to be friends with this woman yesterday and the other one was I needed to be thinking about plan B.  The following April when Emmy Lou played the Main Point and did her first ever radio interview with me at WXPN, which was the fall of 67.  I was the first one to do an album rock show on XPN AM on their campus anywhere.  The following January I was the first one to do album rock on the FM signal.  Of course that no longer appears in Wipe’s history.  That goes back too far for them. Their history now starts at the end of the ‘70s when they switched from 88.9 to 88.5. They don’t include the years when it was all students, when nobody was a professional and nobody got paid. We were in the top of Houston Hall at that time.

I remember in the spring of ‘68 there was always a bag of mail when I’d get arrive in the morning and I’d always go through it and see what albums had come in.  One Saturday, I opened it up and there was the third album by Procol Harum, A Salty Dog, that I got to debut that way.

One of the things I was always very conscious of through the end of my MMR years till March of ‘92 was listening to what was out on the edge, what was new and really fresh.  I look back over the years and compare myself with Pierre Robert, who has now finally been at MMR longer than I was.  But, over the years, Pierre never championed or broke a single artist.  He’s been very good at sucking up to stars but he has never had any interest in finding and championing anyone new and different.  I was doing that until the very end of my days at WMMR and take great pride in that.  At this point, Pierre is regarded as a great radio personality and I guess he is but to me there’s always been something hollow there.

 (Michael took a call on his land line  (he doesn’t have a cell phone) from Earle Bailey of Sirius/XM, another alum of WMMR)

Earle’s been at XM for over a decade now.  After the merger I was transferred from Classic Vinyl to Deep Tracks, which became the eclectic esoteric channel.  Sirius Disorder got closed down.  And that’s where my Bob Dylan Radio Hour was running in its last days.  It’s last several years.  The funny thing about that is 22 months after the Bob Dylan Radio Hour started people from all over the world were doing Dylan songs, wildly different versions, his show on XM Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio Hour started and it didn’t escape me that he stole the name completely from me. Imitates Dylan, “Hey, put theme time in the middle.  That’s cool!”  Then at the merger because of his XM contract that didn’t allow anyone else to do a Dylan theme show which I still feel is aimed precisely at me, he took the food off the table as my show was cancelled, so he stole the name and took the food off the table.  And the shows had no overlap whatsoever.  He did 100 theme times and not one Dylan song in a hundred shows.  I was doing people all over the world.  And at this point, I just double-checked the total today.  I have at this time combining the covers of Dylan songs, the Dylan performances, which include a couple of bootlegs and all the stuff where he’s a sideman on someone else’s record, the tributes to Dylan of songs that are about him are just under a hundred and the translated versions of his songs, and just to put that into perspective I’ve got 1390 Dylan performances and 1460 translated versions of Dylan songs, which is astonishing.  That’s about 14,800 tracks in the arsenal and growing.  That was my favorite project ever.   I created the concept and I figured I was the best-equipped person in the world to do it and it ran for about 260 some weeks on Sirius before that merger shut me down cold, which I will forever be somewhat bitter about.  Hey, I offered to change the name of the show.  He can have Radio Hour, I’ll call it Worldwide Dylan, which is a better name anyway, a syllable shorter and it has that nice alliteration.  But Sirius said no and I was told a year later that his contract was the cause.  And I just thought that was stupid.  Bob Dylan wouldn’t want his songs played?  He would figure to make some small amount of money from the mechanicals (royalties that get paid for broadcast of someone’s original songs).  In what way did that damage him?


 Less than zero.  It was obviously an enhancement to the legend.  One of the things I learned doing those is that especially from the translation songs when you’re hearing a song that you know in a language you don’t, it becomes one of the purest sonic listening experiences where the sounds of the words as they’re sung have to convey the meanings without understanding the words.  You know who that works particularly well with?  Leonard Cohen songs.  I’ve developed a nice stack of translated L. Cohen things and there is an extraordinary album in Swedish called Ebba Forsberg who also did an album of Dylan songs with a partner named Mikael Wiehe, she’s from Sweden, doing them in Swedish.  And recently I did a Worldwide Dylan show on RTDS (Radio That Doesn’t Suck) that’s entirely Dylan songs in Scandanavian languages.  Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic.

Is the library of your music that you play, mechanically speaking, on your hard drive or in physical CDs here along the walls?

 I play all my music from CDs.  I just really like the notion of doing that kind of thing and the real time nature of it.  I do everything accept the voice tracking work for Deep Tracks in real time so it is live; it’s just not live when you hear it.  The segment begins and runs and then the segment ends except in the case of MGK when I have two 20 minute segments an hour, but I juggle the time over the four segments so the total time comes up to 89 minutes. I figure I’ve got leeway to go about a minute over and I usually do. Sometimes I even run short.

Is it a matter of the sound quality of CDs being better than MP3s?

 Well some of the CDs come off of MP3s that I burn off.  While MP3s are not in the grand picture the greatest possible sound, when you put them in terms of radio where they’re going to get compressed further anyway, they’re fine.

Music’s been around thousands of years.  Where it is today – we carry it in our pockets.  Bob Lefsetz says that if a song isn’t a hit within 15 seconds, nobody will buy it and that nobody is interested in albums anymore.  How do you consider the modern experience of music now versus when you got started?

 Music’s been around since the earliest of men/humans?   Let me first answer in a personal term.  As Tom Hampton was egging me into doing an album, when I finally decided to move ahead with it my thinking was every day I look around, albums are a bit obsolete so it’s about damn time I did one.

Let’s take a specific point in time.  1984.  That’s the year that a computer program called Selector became endemic in radio.  What it did was if you’ve got a radio station and you’ve got a finite universe of music segments available to you and you break it down into the various categories that you want it to be – for instance, in the early days of MMR there might have been six or maybe more categories: the newest of new music, the hit current music, those which are kind of fading, re-currents, varying degrees of older stuff.  You sequence how you want that stuff by category and then you add parameters like minimum time between the same artist.  And you can add parameters to say have Phil Collins and Genesis count together.  Then you hit a button and you’ve got a whole day of programming.  What it did was it took the smoking gun of song selection from the sweaty little hands of the disk jockey and instead we have a script to follow.  In the early days, I took great liberties with the script.   Juggled the music.  Juggled what songs from categories were available so that I could make the show flow way better.  And as a result, through the end of my time at MMR in ‘92, people were still telling me I had the best music on the station.  I’m playing the same music as everyone else so it must’ve been that my segues were better and gave people the illusion that I was playing better music.  I was just constructing the way the music flowed better than anyone else and I still get to do that with Deep Tracks and the shows that I put together whole cloth. Ultimately, that meant you had an entire population that were to varying degrees expert at composing the music for a show that became completely disenfranchised and disengaged from doing what they do best, and that made for a period of some very bitter people on the air.  And led to the segue and the modern day disk jockey who I’ve frequently said only slightly joking that if they had any relationship with the music whatsoever, most frequently it’s open contempt.  Especially when you’re talking about your morning guys.  One of the direct corollaries of the DJ not being responsible for the music content was the rise of Howard Stern, who completely did away with music to be all personality and DiBella at the same time was a large step toward that.  Of course Stern and Di Bella had Stern’s first syndicated war here in Philadelphia, which got plenty ugly and that’s where that asshole who’d posted the calls on You Tube came from and I’m still paying for that twenty years later.

Why?  What role did he feel you had in it?

 I was on the other team.  He was a minion of Stern.  A self-perceived disciple.  I was on the MMR team, which was the anti-Stern team.  And briefly when I was on IOQ he called me up one time and said, Now we’re on the same team, we can be friends, and I said, No we can’t.  You’ve been mean and rude and nasty to me for an extended period. Just because I have a different job does not mean you’re my pal.  No.  You earn respect!  You don’t just get it because I work for a different set of call letters.  I would still squash that mother like a bug if given the chance.  And I’m not a violent person.  Despite the close encounter I had with professional wrestling for several years…but that’s another story.

 (I will post the conversation Michael and I had about professional wrestling separately)

What about moments interacting with performers or artists? High points or surprising things?

 One night the Grateful Dead were in town and Jerry Garcia was supposed to come over around midnight when the Dead show was over.  He showed up at 2:10AM and we went back up the elevator and took over the station until about 3:00AM and there’s a picture of us and he’s got this smirk on his face.  I just kind of thought that Garcia seemed like a nice enough guy but I kind of thought he was a jerk.

After meeting him and spending an hour with him?

And having him be two hours late after my show was done without calling or checking in at all.  He had a road manager, Rock Scully.

Then again, I got to become friends with people like Captain Beefheart.  The first time we met we recorded an interview which I used and then we retired to the old Pub Tiki over on Walnut for a lunch with several other radio and music writing people from Philadelphia.  I sat at his left elbow.  And we had a great rapport. He got that I was one of the people that got what his act was all about and the wordplay of it, the humor of it, even though he could be a really imposing and scary kind of guy, I just thought he was a big old bear you know.  So it got to be people were asking questions and he was doing the Groucho Marx, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, non-sequitor kind of answers in Captain Beefheart’s style and I would be coming up after and throwing out another line to top him and after a while he poked me and said, Now cut that out, which was Jack Benny’s line.  I’ve always been a huge Jack Benny fan.  I learned more about timing from Jack Benny than anybody else.  It got to be that there were times when Don Van Bleek the Captain came to town to do a gig, he got to be so erratic.  He had crippling stage fright that made him impossible to deal with and he was always threatening to blow off the shows so they had me come over and hang out with him and mellow him down.

I never really got to do a lot of the interviews really because they came around in the daytime to talk about the shows they were doing while I was on the air.

How about when you subbed for Gene Shay?

 I did that for twenty-eight years.  Most of the time I just brought in my own records and just did music and even so, out of that, I got to help break a couple of artists in Philadelphia.  Tish Hinojosa from Austin I turned Gene on to and she became well loved around here and very popular for quite some time.  And there were others.  I miss doing Gene’s show and it’s too bad that the XPN connection where he is since the end of ‘97, beginning of 98, precludes me doing that anymore. But that’s their loss.

The Sunday night of the Philadelphia Folk Festival fill in that I did for Gene every year got to be a tradition in its own right.  Back around the early part of 2003/4 for Gene’s 40th anniversary in radio, they did a big benefit for the Philadelphia Folk Song Society at Sing Out at the Keswick.  I got to get up in between acts with Ed Sciacky.  I had Ed talk first because for one thing, I knew I’d scripted myself way better and funnier than Ed was ever going to be.  So Ed talked about this and about this and I got up and I said, You know, from 1970 till the end of 1997, I was Gene’s designated go-to fill in guy and I went back and did the research and I estimate that I did a minimum of 65 shows in those twenty seven years, which means that of Gene’s forty years, 1 ¼ were mine.  I got a real good laugh out of that.  But that’s a year and a quarter spread across twenty-eight years.  Two or three weeks a year for twenty-eight years.  It might have been seventy-five, but truthfully, I thought that was pretty telling. I’m still good friends with Gene.

Right behind you, near the Joni Mitchell stuff, in the second of five columns if you look down at the bottom there are three bootlegs of Philadelphia tapes, which were Ed Sciaky taping Joni at the Second Fret and Gene Shay show tapes, including several songs she never, ever, released, that had never been recorded anywhere.

Wasn’t there a concert hour that was broadcast live that was unique to Philadelphia, Live at Sigma Sound?

 It wasn’t a regular series.  We did radio concerts from Sigma Sound  – it was not a regular series, but whenever we could get one we had one.  The first one was Todd Rundgren.  There was one with Bonnie Raitt that’s come out in England and Europe.  They’ve recently released in England and Europe the Flying Burrito Brothers concert that we did.  And, on the reissue of Todd Rundgren’s Runt album  –  the first two solos after the Nazz.  There’re a couple of tracks from the MMR radio concert.

The sound quality was great.

 Brilliant. And the Bonnie Raitt performance was wonderful.  There was one concert completely misfired through miscommunication or lack of communication between Robert Fripp and WMMR.  We brought him to do a radio concert and he was doing Frippertronics and ambient stuff at the time that does not lend itself to sitting down and listening concert-style.  So he tried to do some of it and then just threw his hands up because it wasn’t working.  I respect him like crazy for that.  It was a valiant concept — it was so cool to get Robert Fripp – Mr. King Crimson in. But it didn’t work.

Anything over the years you’ve wanted to say but haven’t either been asked in an interview or had the opportunity to say?

I don’t even think in those terms.  I’m pretty much an open book as you can tell.  I’m not really afraid to address real personal stuff.  And I’ve lived my life out on a very public stage.  These days where one of my clients, the local one, has put out a fresh policy about social media, strongly giving us the advice that we should not post anything that we would not say to a client or a fan at an appearance.  I immediately posted a disclaimer on my page which says, The opinions expressed by Michael Tearson here on Facebook are his own and have no relationship whatsoever to any outlet that he works for.  I will not shut down my political animal especially during a very vicious Presidential campaign year.  In the 70s, what we did on album rock radio helped bring down first the Vice President and then the President and it was essential they went in that order, otherwise Agnew would have President.  I’m from just outside of Baltimore where he was the County Commissioner so I knew what a doofus that guy was from when he was zoning board commissioner running for county executive and then Governor and then Vice President.  That kind of responsibility and social impact has been completely eradicated from radio. There was a point in March of 2009 when WMGK nearly fired me for having cracked a joke at the expense of Dick Cheney after he was several months out of office.  And that’s when I put up that thing you see on my emails:  If you don’t stand for anything, you stand for nothing.

I won’t back down.  There was one person just last week who posited that I was probably very foolish for being as outspoken as I am want to be because I risk alienating half of my audience, but I don’t really talk politics on the WMGK show, although the music does.  There are times I might be able to in reminiscence and talk about something political and if people choose to find the parallels…

Do you play Ted Nugent?

 Not if I can help it.  And at this point, I won’t play Journey if I can help it.  You know about the gig they have tomorrow night in Tampa in connection with the Republican National Convention and they’re getting a half a million dollars for it.  They have a new lead singer just like Yes has had two new Ian Anderson’s.  Hey the kid sings well.  I was more interested in Procol Harum though – they’re still my favorite band.  That was one of the least satisfying Procol shows I ever saw.  I thought for one thing they were going to playing a greatest hits kind of show, but they still had some stuff in there that was enough of a reach that I didn’t feel completely cheated and I thought they were playing too slow.  Everything dragged.


I don’t know about that but, earlier this year, Gary Brooker took a nasty fall and was in critical condition for a couple days in South Africa.  They had to cancel a couple shows.  But within ten days or so they had a gig that they had in Denmark.  And then they had the American tour where they about twenty-nine dates with Yes this summer.  The most extensive Procol Harum tour in many years.

I saw that you weren’t particularly enamored with Springsteen’s last Philly show.

 No. I saw the first of the two Springsteen shows at the Wells Fargo Center.  It was the first time I’d been in that building in a couple of years.  I really don’t go out a whole lot anymore.  For one, I really can’t afford tickets.  When you’re making as little money as I do, those $75, $100 and up tickets are fairly prohibitive.  I went that first night and I thought that having seventeen people in the band, including himself sucked all of the life and spontaneity out of the night.  It just all felt completely pre-fabbed and canned to me and though I know that he cannot be insincere, I didn’t feel emotionally moved by the thing.  I thought it was just a dull and drab concert and the audience was mostly there for the participation parts like singing the first verse of Hungry Heart.

So are we going to talk Dylan for a minute?  How do you explain the Bob Dylan?

 There’s a line in the song Jaw Bone in the second Band album that goes, I’m a thief and I dig it. Dylan has been a thief from the very beginning. I mean the stories that we know about him ripping off other peoples’ best records so he can learn them and absorb them and he absorbed the Woody Guthrie forms and he especially absorbed blues.  It’s easy to forget how much of Bob Dylan is blues.  Nearly all of it.  Basically, everything on Highway 61 is one degree or another a blues form, even Desolation Row.  And Blonde on Blonde, everything except Sad Eyed Lady, and one other – Fourth Time Around – are pretty much all blues.  Dylan’s always been a blues writer first in the format of how he writes.  And though he does lots of things outside of that on his new album, Tempest, is supposed to be all devoid of blues (I’m looking forward to hearing that).  No blues.

Are you saying there is more richness in blues that allows his songs to be more consistently great?

The thing about the blues as a form is it’s such an elastic thing.  The traditional angles of sex and society artistically kind of keeps things to a very narrow, straight ahead thing, shaped-notes, hymn singing. There’s the raw difference in the way the same hymn will be sung in a white Baptist church and a black Baptist church and that speaks dramatically to the power of the blues.

On top of that, Dylan is always monkeying with how he does his songs.  They’ve evolved and changed in performance radically so over time so that they’re almost completely new songs.  There’s a great version that he released around ’98, the way they were doing “Blowing in the Wind” then with Charlie Sexton in the band I think Larry Campbell was just joining.  On the chorus they’ve got these Stanley-brothers harmonies.  (Starts singing, The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind, with a totally different melody).  A completely different feel from the original.  Dylan himself throws down the gauntlet to not recite the songs and to find some way to make the song personal and to make it your own.  I really did that with I Want You on Stuff that Works. I had the idea originally that slowing that song down did something really radical to it.  In its basic form on Blonde on Blonde it’s really an arrogant little bastard of a song.  Sings, Guilty undertaker sighs, the lonesome organ grinder cries, the silver saxophones say I should refuse you.  Slowing it down as if it was molasses left out on the porch overnight in February in the Dakotas and the song did a 180 flip to a real gentle and tender plea of a song.  Completely different song although the only thing that changed is the velocity.  I find in myself remarkably devoid of any funk and utter inability to sing blues very well, which I call a very serious case of Caucasian rhythm.  If you understand some of your own limitations, you can really work around and through and beyond them fairly successfully.

Seems like Bob Dylan has fewer limitations than most.

The guy has always been completely fearless to do whatever the hell he wants regardless of the impact on anyone else. The one guy who’s had that and even to a worse degree talking about career paths is Neil Young.  Neil has really hurt some people by his deciding he didn’t want to do something and bailed on it in the fourteenth hour.  For instance, the Buffalo Springfield tour when he decided no we’re not going to do this – we’re just going to do these few gigs and I don’t want to do any more of this. Richie Furay was the guy who really got hurt the worst by that.  That would’ve been a real boost for Richie more than for Stills, more than for Young.  And Richie is a sweet enough guy.  He’s a preacher you know out in Colorado – has been for thirty years. A really sweet guy.  I’ve met him a few times.  We did an interview in this very room.  I love the guy tremendously.  He could’ve found a whole new audience by having that Buffalo Springfield tour.  He would have been the principle lead singer. And the Stills – Young tour when Long May You Run came out.  Young bailed on that suddenly about one month into the tour.  They started in June.  Young famously quit – I just read this so I know the dates – he quit on July 18th and Stills had to do the rest of the tour as a solo tour.  And I understand the artistic demon that drives somebody like that but, really the hurt that can put on some other people should mitigate that and there are some things that you really should do just cause they are the right thing to do if it really doesn’t hurt you artistically.  I really wanted to see that Springfield show a lot.  Sometimes people just get left behind.  It happens more with Neil that people get left behind.  With Dylan at this point ever since he’s been doing the never-ending tour, there is one strong thread of continuity and that’s the bass man, Tony Garnier, who’s been with him from ‘89.  No one else has played as many Dylan shows except Bob Dylan.  Tony is like Dylan’s security blanket I think.  He’s been known to call out audibles but the way he goes about his show, they’ve got a couple different versions of set open and set close so he kind of changes things up in the middle and just from looking over the set lists he doesn’t do the same show two nights in a row because he’s Bob Dylan and that would be way too boring.

I guess he has more stamina than anyone else in the business.

No, Bruce Springsteen has more stamina than anyone else.  He’s just done the longest shows of his career at over four hours in Spain.  He’s previously done the second longest show.  Dylan isn’t out there all year long.  He has long gaps.  And while Dylan does a slightly more rigorous schedule than a lot of his contemporaries, he doesn’t do too many nights in a row anymore.  A lot of these guys won’t do more than three in a busy week.  And if they can get away with two they will.  The only time you’ll see Springsteen do multiple nights in a row is if he’s not traveling. Otherwise, logistically, they need to move the stage gear from one place to another.  I will give Springsteen a whole lot of credit for this last tour.  In a time when people need jobs, he’s provided a lot of them.  And a lot of them are in the band.  Clarence is gone, replaced by the five-member horn section including Clarence’s nephew.  Again, I’m a less is more kind of guy.

The one thing about Bob is his constant reinvention.  And some of his misunderstood stuff is just because people didn’t get what the idea was.  Under the Red Sky for instance, the early ‘90s album, which was pretty generally reviled though not really as much as Knocked Out Loaded and the other one that were really bad.  Under the Red Sky is children’s songs.  Really.  If you listen to them, things like “Wiggle, Wiggle,” can only be a children’s song.  Maybe with one of his later wives he had a kid or two.  Maybe he was starting to get some grandchildren by around the ‘90s.  His kids would’ve been well into their twenties by then.

There are some other people that have done that reinvention thing constantly. Elvis Costello springs to mind as the greatest of the personal chameleons.  His first album, My Aim is True, is virtually an Americana album.  Although some of the songs are very English.  Then he came back with his overdrive punk album, This Year’s Model.  And various things like Get Happy was a Stax/Volt style album.  And he did the full country album, Almost Blue.  He’s done a couple of jazzy albums.  There’s an album of real cocktail stuff recently called Morph that’s quite lovely.  He’s done an opera.  He produced an album with Anna Sofie Von Otter which is really a full collaboration with several duets.  She’s a terrific opera singer and that takes Costello to a whole other place and his wife, Diana Krall, and they’ve actually had one album that they did that’s a virtual full collaboration.  People who can do that and maintain some degree of being centered – especially Costello is great about that.  The thing about Elvis is that he’s one of the great music fans ever.  He comes from a family where his father was a big band leader.

Like McCartney.

Understanding and valuing music for how other people are going to appreciate it without your having to like it yourself.

On the English shore.  So he grew up with appreciation of music, which brings me to one really important thought.  As a critic and a listener – especially one who is going to have to be the gatekeeper – and deliver music to other people, which again, is what I think of myself as.  Again, I was sifting through all this stuff that came out to get the really good stuff.  Sturgeon’s law states that 90% of everything is bullshit.  It was at an early science fiction convention that he was quoted when a fan stood up and said, 90% of science fiction coming out today is bullshit.  Sturgeon said 90% of everything is bullshit.  So what I’m getting at here is that word, appreciation, is understanding and valuing music for how other people are going to appreciate it without your having to like it yourself.

So as a critic to be able to successfully review music you don’t necessarily like and convey why it’s good and valid and vital and important is one of the most important things to do and very few critics even get to try that. I think of an album like Madonna’s Like A Prayer album that I gave a very rave review of and I have no use for Madonna whatsoever otherwise pretty much. Also, there’s a subliminal thing wherein the songs and the sequence of stuff really do have an underlying story line as much implied as anything and some things that kind of reflect back on other songs.  That’s very intentional on my end.  Like I said, if I’ve learned nothing I’ve learned how to select and sequence songs in the last forty-five years.

There are a couple songs on (my) album that have more full bands than other ones but I don’t think we did anything that was – hell there was a full verse that was a capella, which should tell you where my fear level was.   I sing to myself all the time anyway so I figure I’m already doing that, why can’t I do it on the record.  So this other a capella song that’ll be on Co-Conspirators is The Pretty and the Fair by Jesse Colin Young and that’s a great little song about the beauty of nature that sounds like its hundreds of years old.  I already recorded it.  It was the first thing I did was cut the two a capella tracks with Andy (Kravitz) to see how we got along.  And ironically, although he did use some auto-tuning on my voice, the one song that is completely without auto-tune is the a capella tune.


Nah, it’s just honest.  I think there’s a whole lot of honesty in the way we did this.  And really if it wasn’t for Tom Hampton continuing to push me about it, I wouldn’t even have done the first one let alone think about another one.  I will work again with Tom – he’s become one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had.  TINA

Thanks Michael for your time today.  I really enjoyed talking to you.

You’re welcome.  It was great fun to see you.

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