JM: I listen, and I hear the most horrible contemporary musicjust horribly derivativeand I hear young deejays go, Thats the best record I ever heard! And its bad, out of tuneits tragic! I mean Madonna is not very talented, but shes a very hard worker. Were no longer looking for talentwere looking for a look and a willingness to cooperate. Because talent is a pain in the ass. We need to go back and listen to Duke Ellington his work is where Africa met European classicism. It was one of the most exciting times in the history of music. All those African rhythms started to match up with the polyphonic harmony of Bach. Gershwin came out of that. There was a tremendous amount of degeneration from Gershwins generation to my generation.
NH: How have your musical tastes changed as youve aged?
JM: Well, you become more discerning. You like less and less because youre looking for inspiration. Been there, done that, heard thatit takes more to get you off. You know youre looking for something more spectacular because youre growing, getting rarefied. I think its a natural thing that happens.
NH: So its just part of the process of getting older?
JM: Perhaps. Classical music, with its complexity, becomes more satisfying as you get older.
NH: How do you look at the music industry now?
JM: Its gone, isnt it? Youre not getting your royalties, so kids are gypping you out of your retirement fund, you know? And the whole thing is a mess. I would like to make another record. Im loaded with ideas. Im kind of itching to go, but what do I do with it? Where do I put it?
NH: Are you still writing songs?
JM: I jot all over the place. The last album I wrote in the studio, which is usually what bands do. I never did that before, and I really enjoyed it. I used to write all of the songs and go in and arrange them in the studio, but a lot of the last album was completely invented in the studio, and its exciting that way.
POETRY IN MOTION
NH: Do you think songwriting is a kind of poetry?
JM: Well, Leonard Cohen and Dylan tried to make music literate. You know, when the ballet was in Japan, the press said, Joni, you used to be a poet, and now youre a journalistwhy? I should have asked them what they meant, but I went straight into the answer and said, Because America is the land of ostriches, you know? Somebody has to do it. And then afterward I went, What do they mean by journalism?
NH: Was it a compliment?
NH: What about poetry?
JM: I dont like it as a rule. Nietzsche and I are on the same page. He says the poet is the vainest of the vain: All of them make their water muddy that it may seem deep. To me, a lot of poetry, even the so-called best, is kind of like cracking sunflower seeds with your fingernailsits a lot of effort for very little meat. And sometimes theres no meat at alllike Shakespeares sonnets. I can smell the commerce. I can see the poets. I can see the thumbs in their lapels. I can see the pomposity, and yet its much ado about nothing. The poet thinks all of nature is whispering to him. It doesnt have enough humanity in it.
NH: Are you reading anything these days?
JM: Im reading Emily Carr, a famous Canadian painter who went to art school with Matisse and studied at the Sorbonne. She paints British Columbia forests like I do, which are kind of hard to paint. Shes also a wonderful writer. Ive been thinking about doing a piece an album called Emilyand using her writing, which is very kindred to my own. The way she puts a sentence together is similar to songwriting. You have to put a lot of description into a very small space, and she must have felt the same need as a prose writer to get a lot of description into a very small space. Her writing is very visual, because shes a painter.
NH: Do you think that might be your next project?
JM: Part of it. I have other ideas.
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