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Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt talks with Here & Now’s Robin Young about her new album “Dig in Deep.” The album features five songs written by Raitt, who says that she chose the title to reflect not only the grooves she and her band dig into, but also the depth of the topics she chose to write about.
Are you feeling a ‘vital glow’?
“Absolutely, I can’t wait to get these songs and take them on the road.”
Is songwriting easy for you?
“No it isn’t, and part of it is I just have impossibly high standards and I love really great songwriting and, you know, when you have Randy Newman and Paul Simon and Dylan and Jackson Brown and then you look at your own lyrics next to that and you go, ‘I don’t know, maybe back to the drawing board.’ So during the time when I want to write something, I have to really not listen to anybody that’s intimidating. With 19 records and going into this 20th one, I’ve really covered a lot of territory musically and lyrically, so I – it came kind of easily this time because it was motivated purely by wanting music to fit in my live show that’s particular. Grooves that I missed, you know there’s gospel shuffle, there’s a song I wrote about that. So I kind of wrote on assignment and I had some specific things I wanted to say, so that helped, but usually it’s just really when I assemble other songs that I really love and get up to about six or seven and I see how the album is coming together and I kind of, if I’m going to write I tend to write to fill in the full picture of where I’m at at the moment.”
You mentioned grooves that I missed and gospel shuffle. Which song would that be in?
“’What You’re Doing to Me’ is a song that is written about something that I can really relate to about when you’ve kind of had it, when you’ve been around the block with love too many times and, you know, you’re just appreciating the non-drama part of your life, and seeing your friends and being alone, and then suddenly, you know out of the blue, somebody come and go ‘hey, over here, check it out,’ and you know you put up your defenses and they still keep coming so that’s what this one’s about. I play piano on it and my band is stomped on this groove and I can’t wait to play live.”
What do you mean by ‘dig in deep’ in the song?
“I chose dig in deep, it’s a line from ‘Unintended Consequence,’ and I wanted to use it because this band and I really have been together for, in many cases almost 30 years, so I really feel that there’s a way that we dig into the grooves that we play, whatever song, style we hit there’s an unspoken compatibility and a telepathy between us that makes it really easy to go as deep as you want in these grooves and the playing is just, staying out of each other’s way, we listen to each other, and it’s a family, you know we’ve really been together for a long time and so some of it refers to the grooves and then I wanted to talk about how some of the topics, especially in some of the ballads are digging deep, so as I thought it was apropos.”
On ‘The Ones We Couldn’t Be’
“This one is the most personal one I’ve done in a while, and you know I tend to write these piano songs about topics that are – cut a little bit lower for me and deeper, the scales fall away at the end of a relationship, whether it’s friendship or a work colleague, or someone in your family passes away, or a love relationship that’s over. Years later, I really think you look back and see the relationship a very differently, at least I have and that’s what this song is about, it’s that, you know, at the time you can picture it one way or cast blame and say you know if only this person hadn’t been like this, I could have – we could’ve stayed together or you know this family member, it was all them, but really in time, you really see that you had as much to do with it and that’s what I mean about the scales falling away.”
On who people think the song ‘The Comin Round is Going Through’ is about
“Oh anybody on TV that’s just talking out of the side – I mean I wrote it a long time ago, starting with the Occupy movement where you see this groundswell of people that just aren’t putting up. It was the Tea Party before that and people know this system is broken, they know that those at the top are controlling too much of legislation and people are bought off, it’s an auction instead of an election, and it’s gotta stop. The cost of the election cycle, the lack of election reform, of the money in campaigns, the lack of transparency just pisses me off, so I just wanted to write a song and I deliberately skewered it so that people from all sides of the spectrum can get and vent their frustration, it’s not just my position pointing my finger at the other side, it’s the polarization in general. It’s ridiculous that too few people are controlling too much.”
How do you process the loss of your father?
“You know, I sing with him in my heart and I sing – I hear him when I need to hold a note like on ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me.’ Sometimes if I’ve done a lot of shows and a lot of talking and I’m kind of hoarse, I go ‘come on dad, help me out,’ and I take a deep breath and sure enough, all of a sudden this power comes out of that note and I feel him with me. I know it sounds like magical thinking or wishful thinking, but there are times when it was a profound assist, I went ‘you know what, I wonder if this, if he’s really in here helping me out sometimes.’ So that, for whatever reason I energetically summon him and he’s with me all the time and I’m so grateful that fans come up all the time and tell me how much he meant to them.”