YOU’RE A FILM BUFF. HAVE MOVIES EVER PROMPTED A SONG? Absolutely. Literature, TV shows. I wrote “Can’t Give It Away” after reading Huckleberry Finn and watching the fifth season of The Wire. They both have to do with children. There’s a line where Huck says, “I felt like someone broke my breath in half like a twig, and they took the bigger half.” At the same time I wrote a song I haven’t used yet called “Just One Breath”: “If I had one breath I’d break it in two/I’d take the smaller and give the big one to you.” I felt like I was trying to rescue little Huck. It was also written for a friend who was really lonely at the time, so alone that he’s even happy to let trouble in — it’s his only visitor. “Cousin Mary’s New Car” has a scene from Look Back In Anger, the part where she irons her hair and the trumpet player abuses his girlfriend. But John Ford westerns, and Marty Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, they’ve been inspiring me for a long time.
EVER WRITE SHORT STORIES? Yes, but they’re nothing memorable. I’d like to take a graphic novel course, though. I have an idea called The Hovering Man that has to do with my father. He died in a car crash 20 days before I was born. An oil tanker crashed into my father’s car. Bad winter storm, very cinematic. The guy got out of the truck all dazed, and dragged my father from the car, and wires were sparking. I was thinking, “Wow, what a great start to a story.” I wonder: when my father’s soul was leaving, mine was coming in, and maybe we passed and he touched me, and that made him not be able to make the full transition, so now he’s hovering above the place he died. He sees everything that’s going on. I’m trying to think of ways to flesh that out. Wonder what super powers he would have?
DO YOU FEEL MORE ELOQUENT AS A WRITER THESE DAYS? DO AGE, MATURITY, OR EXPERIENCE MAKE IT EASIER? It doesn’t make it easier. But you definitely know when you’re bullshitting. You try to avoid the clichés. Unless you grab a cliché and twist it your way. Sometimes you get a hot three-day stretch, writing two songs. “Wow, it’s happening.” Then you go for a month or two without anything. Working the day job doesn’t help the process. I was reading an interview with Richard Thompson. When he gets in a songwriting mode, the first day he’s just messing around, plucking guitar, and the second day it starts to come a bit. Third day, it arrives. So it’s like setting the table for your muse. And I don’t get those three days in a row. Real life interferes. Raymond Carver wrote short stories because his family life was in the way all the time. That’s why he didn’t write the long book — he took what he could get. I look at it that way, too: “All right, this is what I’m getting, this is what I can do. And I’m going to seize the moment.”
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