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Ry Cooder Listening Party With Robert Scheer
Posted on Oct 2, 2011
Kasia Anderson: A timely topic. [Laughter] Maids, and big houses, yeah.
Ry Cooder: Yeah, you bet. [Laughs]
Robert Scheer: You know, I just want to throw in a little optimistic note here. And I think it applies to your business as well, but I feel it with the journalism activity that we do on Truthdig. It’s true, we haven’t figured out a way to make real money here. And I guess if we follow the lead of some others and sell ourselves to some very big operation, maybe we’ll do OK. But you know, as an independent voice, it’s rough. On the other hand, we have no trouble reaching people.
Ry Cooder: No, that’s good.
Robert Scheer: You know, we were discussing earlier that Chris Hedges gave this speech at one of our fundraisers; it was the night bin Laden was shot; he gave a little impromptu speech; we transcribed it right away; it’s brilliant, as Hedges always is. And we had 100,000 people come to it in a matter of hours. And I know we’re going to do that with this album of yours. It’s coming out in September. And I think, through the Internet, we can. Now, I don’t know if it turns into record sales; I don’t know how iTunes works; I don’t know…
Ry Cooder: I have no idea. No idea.
Robert Scheer: But you know, it seems to me that the Internet is a great vehicle for letting people in on something. And if we do our job right, you know, and we promote this record, it will be a very good test for us. You know, we want to really push it. It comes out in September, and I’d like to see if we can’t find a big audience for it.
Ry Cooder: Well, I think your audience is right there.
Robert Scheer: Yeah, but not only our audience. We want to share it with The Nation, and AlterNet, and all the other folks that are out there; you know, they’ll steal it anyway, so we might as well share it. [Laughter] In a good spirit; I don’t mean they are, particularly, thieves. But you know, the Internet is a place where people—you know, my column this morning was grabbed on about 10 different sites before I read it on Truthdig.
Ry Cooder: Wow.
Robert Scheer: Why not take advantage of that, get the word out. And then, I think—and you said you’re not familiar with it—but I think with something like iTunes or something, you must get some income … that … no?
Ry Cooder: Not that I know about. It’s tiny. The artist is usually at the bottom of that food chain.
Robert Scheer: Oh, OK. Well, that’s depressing. But anyway, as far as getting the music out, and getting the content of it out, I think the Internet is an incredible vehicle. And you know, someday we’ll figure out how to make a little money off it.
Kasia Anderson: Well, speaking of the Internet, I think this is the point where we’re going to share some of the message on Truthdig.com. And we will start by playing another track from the album. And Ry, can you set that up for us? It’s track nine, another of our favorites.
Ry Cooder: I don’t know how I got to this John Lee Hooker for president idea, except that I began to hear him campaigning. And hear him telling you, the audience, what politics means to him. … He was a very funny fellow, John Lee Hooker. He had a very interesting view of the world, and tremendous language; I just loved to hear him talk. And so, if he did run for president, what would be important, you know? And then juxtaposed along with certain issues like the horrible failure of the Supreme Court to do the right thing—what would he do about that? Would he reorganize the court? Who would be his running mate? [Laughter] You know, Jimmy Reed for vice president. And so forth. And then, so to extrapolate, I took certain passages out of some of his songs where he talks about himself, and just reworked the language a little bit. But I just like to play his music myself on guitar as best I can. It’s something that I like to listen to, and he’s not around to do it anymore.
Kasia Anderson: Let’s hear a couple of minutes from that track, then.
Kasia Anderson: So I was wondering, you mentioned—well, Bob mentioned John Lennon’s “Working-Class Hero” as a great political anthem. And I wondered, Ry, if you have kind of a greatest-hits lineup of your own kind of inspired political songs that you … no? Nothing really comes to mind?
Ry Cooder: Well, yes—I mean, but, from back in the day; when I was a little kid, there were friends of my parents’ who had all the Woody Guthrie records. And I used to go over to their house after nursery school, I think it was; it was the same folks that gave me the guitar that I started on. And they had these Woody Guthrie records with the photographs—the 10-inch LP, in those days—Folkways. And they had the photographs, the Farm Security Administration photographs to go along with it, and I just—I got all wrapped up in that. So those tunes started me, I guess, in the folk way of doing music. As opposed to, you know, formal, classical ways; it just didn’t have that kind of brain, I don’t think. But it was the way. So—and that’s political; I mean, that’s—he was the greatest of his time, Woody. You know, he was the bridge between, let’s say, Uncle Dave Macon of the previous generation and the future guys such as Bob [Dylan] and John [Lee Hooker] and others.
Robert Scheer: You know, you’re leaving out Pete Seeger …
Ry Cooder: Oh, I forgot about Pete! [laughs] Oh, dear …
Robert Scheer: … no, I just remember as a kid—and I won’t say he had the greatest voice or anything, but I remember as a kid I was living in the Bronx, and I was very young, I went down to Yugoslav Hall on 13th Street in New York, and somebody took me there to hear Pete Seeger. And I just never got over it. And anytime he played anywhere, there was an energy and an accessibility to it, you know?
Ry Cooder: Absolutely.
Robert Scheer: And he let you in on it, and …
Ry Cooder: Made you part of it.
Robert Scheer: Yeah. And then there was a feeling he sold out when he went to the Weavers, and so forth. And I actually liked the Weavers, and I remember once waiting in a very long line at Orchard Beach in the Bronx to try to go swimming, or waiting for the bus to come from swimming, and I couldn’t believe it—there was the Weavers coming out over the loudspeaker, because they were No. 1.
Ry Cooder: They were a huge hit.
Robert Scheer: Yeah … [laughs] … there was Pete Seeger suddenly, and I thought “Wow!” You know, the revolution has come, or something. But it didn’t, did it?
Ry Cooder: Amazing, isn’t it, to think it was popular.
Robert Scheer: It was. Well, they toned it down. So where did your politics come from? I mean, why have you got this concern? Why haven’t you sold out? [laughter]
Ry Cooder: Nobody offered me … [laughter] No, I’m just—I don’t know; it’s just something I like. It’s something that interests me, and it may very well be that those Woody Guthrie records were the beginning of the thinking. When you’re a little kid, you know, you don’t understand, you can’t grasp all the complex—we were talking earlier about Chavez Ravine? Now, I remember that chain of events back then; I didn’t understand what was going on, but it was—I understood something about it. …
Robert Scheer: People should understand, who haven’t seen the play or read the literature, this is the leveling of a whole community, and that’s where we have Dodger Stadium now. And you made an album about that. Maybe we should talk about it a little bit; I think it was quite powerful.
Ry Cooder: Well, I looked around for some of the Pachuco sounds of those days. And there were two left remaining; that was Lalo Guerrero and Don Tosti, both older then, and actually died by the time I got the record made; took me three years. So I thought if we can go back to them and get them going—and find a way to write songs, either in English or Spanish, that can evoke and tell some of this story, you know, and work it in. I really worked pretty hard on that record; I really enjoyed that. Because I was really fascinated—the Don Normark photographs; I liked going there, I liked driving around; and it’s music that I love, you know; the L.A. Chicano music is really special.
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