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Ry Cooder Listening Party With Robert Scheer

Posted on Oct 2, 2011
Nonesuch Records

(Page 4)

Ry Cooder: Yeah. And then, to the labor, working people had a voice in country music; it was their music in the South. And then sang so many songs, there are so many songs about work, you see; and hard times, and work, and the bosses, and all this. It wasn’t just Woody, you know. He was one of so many. And very articulate in that. And then that all got to be a big problem, you know; you couldn’t—and then of course Johnny Paycheck sang “Take This Job and Shove It,” and all that. But that was different.

Robert Scheer: Well, what about Johnny Cash and, what was it, the black—why I wear black, and the prison stuff—I thought that was very tough, and …

Ry Cooder: Oh, yeah. He’s right there. Oh, yeah.

Robert Scheer: I was very impressed with your dealing with immigration, and the cynicism about immigration. And you have the vigilante going after—which song was …

Ry Cooder: That’s called “Quicksand.”

Robert Scheer: “Quicksand.” Can we play “Quicksand”?


Robert Scheer: You know, again, that’s a pretty provocative song. You’re taking on sort of the prejudice of some country-music people. [laughter] You got the vigilante in there, policing the border.

Ry Cooder: Mm-hmm. In 1950, maybe ’51, the great Anthony Mann, the film director, made a film called “Border Incident.” I don’t know if you know this. Fantastic film; he depicted the whole thing, he told the whole story of the exploitation of the workers who come over the border, the evil ranchos they work; then they’re herded into these pools of quicksand and killed rather than sent back. And if the federal police come, United States police, the border police come, their bodies are thrown into these quicksands—I mean, it’s really, it’s really gnarly. And this film was made in the 1950s. So it’s hard to believe. So I remembered this quicksand thing. It’s a good metaphor, you know. The story of how these folks, when they come across in that heat, 120, 130 degrees—if you make a wrong move and go out of your way at night, five minutes, you can’t get back. And you dehydrate so fast that you turn into a mummy in four days. And the ones who live to tell about it, I got this from reading this book called “The Devil’s Highway”—they very often have this vision of the virgin flying, she’s flying overhead and they have all these religious visions. This is what people have heard about. So I put that in the tune. It’s a kind of a rollicking little song; it’s sort of Little Julian Herrera sitting in with The Byrds in 1966, this tune is supposed to sort of sound like in my mind, you know? But it’s very dire; it’s obviously very horrendous kind of a daily situation that we have, you know. All these poor people trying to live and get work, and nobody wants them to do it.

Robert Scheer: Well, everybody wants them to do it; they just don’t want to give them a driver’s license … pay them and give them citizenship. You know, another song which we might mention is the one about your vision of heaven.

Ry Cooder: Oh, sure.

Robert Scheer: Which one is that?

Ry Cooder: [laughs] There are a couple. There’s the one where you have—where heaven is segregated. The Republicans have taken over [laughter], Jim Crow has been re-instituted, and God and Jesus, all of them don’t have adequate proof of citizenship, so they have to leave. That’s a good one.

Robert Scheer: So we could play a little, a few minutes. What number is that?

Ry Cooder: That’s called “If There’s a God He’s Got to Bottle Up and Go.”


Robert Scheer: Is that—that’s based on an old Woody Guthrie song, isn’t it, the Jesse James one?

Ry Cooder: Well, the Jesse James, the original, as far as anybody knows, goes back to a time when he just had been captured or had been gunned down. “Jesse James, we understand, killed many a man”—it’s very old. And then Woody …

Robert Scheer: So that was just a folk tune?

Ry Cooder: Ah-hah. From his time.

Robert Scheer: Oh! I shouldn’t say “just” a folk tune, but …

Ry Cooder: Well, it was one of these bad-man ballads of the time, you know. They were popular, I think.


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By Record labels, April 2, 2012 at 2:59 am Link to this comment

It seems like quite a good album. I heard some good tunes on it that might end up stuck in my head. He is the kind of person that has done music all his life, and music being his greatest passion, it shows in his music. I wonder which record label signed him in his youth.

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By warren leming, October 4, 2011 at 2:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

cooder is one of the great slide players and his work on the “performance” sound track with jagger et. al. - is absolutely fantastic. his parents were folk-lorists and he grew up with the tradition. the new lost city ramblers ‘depression’ album he mentioned is an encyclopedia of early country music when it was aggressively political, progressive and radical. thats all gone now- but the album remains a classic-tho unknown: but it will tell you what happened to american music- its corporate dumbing down, and the sad state of radio play today.

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By Daniel del Solar, October 3, 2011 at 7:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Change will come when Ry gets onto Saturday Nght Live….

Wonder how that would work? Should happen, he and his group should be on the
air there or on the Rachel Madden show. 

Keep on!

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By Chemist, October 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Things happening now remind me of the 60’s, with worldwide demonstrations & now Occupy Wall Street. Problem now is tighter corporate control of media. It will be interesting to see if Robert Scheer’s vision of open media will be enough. A wonderful documentary that shows the arc of the sixties from optimism to collapse, that has important lessons for today (be careful radicals, as Thomas Merton said, Uncle Sam has a long right arm) is Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune. In the early sixties, after Dylan had rejected poltics,  Ochs songs were anthem - for instance “I ain’t marching anymore” was sung at numerous antiwar rallies and actually inspired burning of draft cards in Chicago.

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By bluesman, October 3, 2011 at 1:18 pm Link to this comment

One of my favorite blues guys is Joe Bonamassa, and Joe was influenced and learned the slide guitar from Ry Cooder. I only started listening to Cooder recently and have to say I love his stuff.

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By bob zimway, October 3, 2011 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment

Ry’s analogy of the train leaving the station without us is the kind of imagery that
gets through.

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By Bobi6, October 3, 2011 at 10:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am a huge fan of Ry Cooder and when I saw the headline this AM I
listened to it all. Next I either download the album or go out and buy it at
a music store - are there still places to buy albums? I once heard a
commentator refer to Cooder and a musical anthropologist/sociologist.
My favorite is “Third Base, Dodger Stadium” - it really touches me that
someone finally gave tribute to the community that was broken up and
scattered to build Dodger Stadium. To me it said what would downtown
‘Very Serious People” (Paul Krugman’s description of the idiots who make
big decisions). And all of his music - a huge range.

So here to day - two of my favorite people, Robert Scheer and Ry Cooder.
Observers par excellence. More, More, More

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By Carol Simonet, October 3, 2011 at 5:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It isn’t easy leaving money-making behind and going only for doing the right thing… but Ry Cooder drives home the Truth in the Dig - creativity is critical to solving the enormous problems that plague us…every bit as much as Cassandra Hedges’ powerful words and Robert Scheer’s managing editor talents.

Money? - a Cree Prophecy - you’ve heard it a thousand times…
When all the trees have been cut down,
when all the animals have been hunted,
when all the waters are polluted,
when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
only then will you discover you cannot eat money.

TruthDig is the best.  Don’t give up easy, please.

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EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, October 3, 2011 at 1:51 am Link to this comment

I am a great fan of Woodie Guthrie, and I know there are a whole lot of folk songs from before his time which Mr. Cooder speaks of.

After Mr. Guthrie,(and before) I am not so knowledgable, or in the case of Dylan and Lennon, interested. I am more into the civil rights and post civil rights black music like Curtis Mayfield with and without The Impressions as the supreme example which I believe led to Bob Marley and so much else here in the states.

It seems it has been diluted and continues to be diluted (whatever that means).

I am very interested in any recomendations (no matter how obscure, from any culture) Mr. Cooder may have from pre 1960’s folk music.

My recommendation for the thread or whatever is a documentary called “The Wobblies”.

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