Jackson Browne’s musical inspirations – from community to causes

The Post and Courier‘s Stratton Lawrence spoke with Jackson Browne last week in the build up to a show in North Charleston, South Carolina, last weekend.

On his new song “Come On, Come On, Come On”, which was contributed to the Occupy This Album compilation:

“It’s about songs that raise hope and connect you with an issue; not so much resolving an issue but putting you in touch with it,” Browne said of his approach to songwriting. “I like the first verse of ‘Come On,’ how it suggests that you might be a young man, an old man, a woman or just about to be, and you know that the battle for the future is coming and asks, ‘Which side are you on?’ It’s a good question.”

On the risk of an audience responding badly to his activist messages at his concerts:

“I don’t think people go to the trouble to hear you play if they’re going to boo,” laughs Browne.

“I was playing at the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam in Asheville (N.C.) a few years ago and I sang this song that was pretty much an anti-war song, and I told another performer backstage, ‘You know, maybe I don’t want to sandbag this audience singing a song like that at a Christmas show,’ and he said, ‘Jackson, people know you and nobody should be surprised to hear you singing an anti-war song.’ You have to sing what’s in your heart and what really moves you.

“People ask, ‘Do you think music can change the world?’ and I say, ‘It does, every time you make it.’ The Indians believe that God is vibration, so music is very much a pathway to a higher plane.”

On the craft of writing songs with controversial subjects:

“I do think there’s a hope found within touching on certain subjects,” said Browne, giving the example of a song he wrote about the earthquake in Haiti. “It very quickly turned into a song about poverty, and also our difficulty responding to natural disasters. These are subjects that are so vast and thought provoking. I think that anthemic singing about helping people in need, while certainly heartfelt and welcome, doesn’t really talk about the real need to address poverty and talk about a debt that has gone on for centuries. The real needs are the poor who live in the flood plains constantly being wiped out by hurricanes or living in buildings that can’t withstand storms and wind.”

On a new song about the dangers of plastic:

“Plastic is everywhere, on our beaches and clogging drains. In 30 years as a culture, we’ve completely transferred our delivery systems for commodities into plastic bottles and containers,” Browne said.

“We’ve found ourselves saving hundreds of bottles every day and saving a lot of money in the process. The truth is that every bit of plastic ever manufactured is still in the environment. I needed to feel the relief of knowing that I’m not adding to it.”

After speaking with Charleston Scene, Browne was on his way to the studio to track out a song he’s written about the issue called “If I Could Be Anywhere.” In the first verse, Browne goes surfing, but by the second, he’s found himself in a sea of plastic.

“Then it starts being about empire, because plastic really is an empire controlled by the people who make a profit delivering goods. I’ll admit it’s hard to sing about it, and I think the song may end up working better as a viral film for the Internet with visual images,” explains Browne. “The line where plastic comes up goes, ‘They say nothing lasts forever. But all the plastic ever made is still here,and no amount of closing our eyes will make it disappear.’ I liken it to the problem of nuclear waste, and how what we do for our short-term needs is going to be around forever.”

On working with Sara Watkins, who is opening for him on his current tour:

“It’s a pretty amazing six-piece by the end of the night,” Browne said of the collaborative group, who were working on a cover of a song by the band Ween just before our interview.

“We started trying to figure out which instruments we wanted to take and as it turned out, we’re bringing all of them, even the Hammond B-3. We’re jokingly calling it the ‘Comforts of Home’ tour.”

On jamming at house sessions in LA:

“There’s something about spending time kicking around these jam sessions in peoples’ houses that makes this an exciting time. People sat in with each other in the ’60s, but it didn’t really happen to this scale,” Browne said.

“Jonathan Wilson is kind of responsible for reviving this sort of thing, so maybe it took somebody from North Carolina coming to L.A. to make it happen. It comes by way of that Southern idea, where there’s just music that happens in peoples’ houses in the South. That’s the best thing that could happen to an industry town like L.A. — for people to start treating music in that way. It’s just been a huge transfusion of soul.”

Check out the full article.

About Corey Blake

Corey Blake does things on the Internet, and sometimes even in real life.
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