Thanks for your extremely generous responses so far to my forthcoming record. I've noticed in the lead-up to this one that my age, alleged status, and the size of my back-catalog are being underscored as never before; in the headline on the SPIN site, I'm "50-year-old tunesmith," someone at a site called mapanare dubs me a "folk music luminary," over at Aquarian it's "legend," and so on. It reminds me of Bill Kirchen's comment that his career strategy was "never to go away." I enjoyed bearing the mantle of young wiseass during my first records for Bloodshot (I wasn't really young, at 33, but I had a young attitude, trying to prove myself, and I think the records sounded fresh and distinctive out of the gate) and I like this Old Wise One phase as well.
The only part I didn't care for was the one in between. At least I hope it's behind me now. This was around the time of Revenge! in 2007, when I noticed a tone of "why is this formerly young fresh person still trying to get our attention?" creeping into the notices. On NPR the critic Ken Tucker commented that it was clear from my music that I was desirous of having both critical acclaim and commercial success. With marginal cleverness, I can work back to the motivation for such a comment (for instance, on that two-record set, one of the records featured economical, if not ADD-attention-span, arrangements of songs that were mainly loud and sometimes comic, and the other disc was heavy on quiet wandering and longer-form improvisation) but on its face I can't find much meaning in it. My friend Danny Barnes said, "That's like saying you want food and a roof over your head!"
Danny also said, memorably, "These guys don't have anything to gain anymore by attaching themselves to you," which is a useful thing to keep in mind when you're reading criticism of musicians who have been at it for ten years. (Especially musicians like me who attracted critical attention early on, attention that turned out not to be a prescient gauge of what a bigger audience was interested in.) On the occasion, this month, of the release of an expanded version of Bob Dylan's previously reviled Self-Portrait-era efforts, to a reception that is so far highly respectful when not overtly rapturous, let's consider that the number of years into an artist's life and recorded catalog can exercise undue influence on the perception of a new release. A pretty-good first record by a pretty young person often sounds better than it is, as does a decent effort by a 70-year-old coming off a mid-career slump. On the other hand, ten years and ten records into a career -- that's just a terrible place to be.
Meanwhile, the music is doggedly what it is. It's Greil Marcus's opinion of Self-Portrait that has changed (from what I understand), not what's encoded on the magnetic tape. None of this stuff is very important, and to the extent that it does have an effect good or bad on my livelihood, I can't dwell on it. Thelonious Monk's anger at a contemporary critic ("you're taking food off my family's table" or something of the like) is a good example to avoid. The speed with which one prominently published opinion will come to be consensual reality, and the baneful consequence that can have on your reputation and market value -- this will drive you crazy if you let it. But to come back to what got me on this, I am very happy to ride on an unmerited, age-based reputational rise, if that's what this early press augurs, and I hope it does. If I am already at the point where, because I'm graying and my knees hurt a little when I walk, my records are to have the benefit of a helpful handicap when they hit the pavement, the benefit of everyone kindly forgetting that I used to crowd-surf and scream "fuck" repeatedly onstage and say catty things about fellow artists in particular and the music industry in general...I'll happily accept the rose-colored dispensation. I much prefer being a 50-year-old "veteran" over a 33-year-old gatecrasher. For one thing, country is one music that old guys can make without apology or explanation; you can take away the puppy-love songs and still have plenty of compelling subject matter to project your personality onto. When it comes to death and loss and nostalgia, the grayer and creakier the better, sez me.
By the way, Revenge! is a pretty good record, no matter what anyone says -- it's surely close to as well as I could do, at the time. The one coming out next week (I think the title is Gone Away Backward) is quite a bit better, because I've sharpened my skills since 2007. You can trust me on that, I'm a frickin' luminary.