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Ry Cooder Listening Party With Robert Scheer

Posted on Oct 2, 2011
Nonesuch Records

(Page 5)

Robert Scheer: What were “bad-men ballads”?

Ry Cooder: Well, just exactly that; sort of the Robin Hood notion. I mean, Woody did a good thing with “Pretty Boy Floyd”; he turned it into more of a Robin Hood story, you know; stole from the rich, gave to the poor. In my tune “The Corrido of Jesse James” it’s just the opposite; Jesse is in heaven, and he looks down and he sees that the rich are robbing the poor and giving to themselves, and they’re subsidized by the government. This—he cannot fathom this at all. It’s one thing to steal, but to be paid by the government, to steal and give to yourself, this can’t be right. So he goes to God and in Spanish he says—bilingual now, in heaven—and he says, con permiso, I’d like to go down to Wall Street, if you give me back—we can’t open carry in heaven, you see. So he says—because it’s advanced up there—give me back my trusty ’44. This old-time way of thinking, that one-man one-gun hero—we love our heroes, you know—can go down, walk down Wall Street like “High Noon” with Gary Cooper, and shoot up the place and teach these bankers a lesson. He doesn’t realize that it’s so thick and sophisticated and multi-tentacled, you know, that he has nothing—he’s not going to be able to do a thing about it.


Kasia Anderson: Well, I want to know about the story behind “Humpty-Dumpty World.” [laughter] That one was a real favorite of mine, listening through the album.


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Ry Cooder: Well, just—that’s a phrase that occurred to me, Humpty-Dumpty World, that’s about to shatter—or he’s just about to fall, or just did, you know; and you can’t put it back together. So I messed around with that lyric for a long time, thinking—the world in pieces, you know, and all the good thinking and all the money and all the stuff. But it was difficult to write, and I came again upon this notion that God is fed up. He says I made man and woman, I gave them simple tools, I did everything that I thought to create a nice environment; pretty birds, and flowers and trees; what more do you want? But that didn’t satisfy them, it didn’t please them. They wanted gadgets and they wanted this thing called television, and that’s really ushered in a very bad situation. So I’m going—I’m leaving, God says. I’m sick and tired of the whole thing. [laughter] I’m going to Mexico and have fun.

Kasia Anderson: Sounds like a good plan, let’s …

Ry Cooder: So it’s the opposite of leaving Mexico and immigrating; he’s going back. [laughter]

Kasia Anderson: He’s reversing the direction.


Robert Scheer: Do you know this song, if I recall correctly, it’s about the man who works with his hands?

Ry Cooder: Yeah.

Robert Scheer: And the other one who sells mortgages?

Ry Cooder: Oh! He says—my wife couldn’t understand, I make my living working with my hands; she took off with a junk-bond daddy, but he was a telephone man, he did everything over the phone … [laughter]

Robert Scheer: I love that song. That’s very contemporary, because—and now the poor junk-bond men, most of them lost their jobs too.

Ry Cooder: Well, sure. That’s true too.

Kasia Anderson: I have a general question, maybe, because I’m hoping that there will be some budding musicians out there listening to this interview. And I wondered, from your perspective—there’s a lot of hoopla about the Internet and the power of production that it gives people that wasn’t available before. But in your view, knowing what you know from your experience in the music industry, do you think it’s easier or harder now for someone trying to make a dent, and maybe come out with a unique style or perhaps a political message, to get anywhere—trying to either produce their own stuff, or have kind of an unusual act with the record label. What’s your purview of the music industry?

Ry Cooder: Oh, well—the record label is a different thing going on. Now, if you say a record label, what does it mean now? I mean what does a record label exist to do? They’re trying to stay in business …

Kasia Anderson: That’s true, yeah.

Ry Cooder: … they’re trying to survive in a corporate situation where they own copyright, or they have the distribution—it was all about distribution in the record business, you know. And the businesses, the corporations that these record companies became, growing from little back-of-the-Cadillac operations locally into these bigger entities, you know—it was because they controlled distribution. And then, now that’s failed; I mean, now that’s gone; it’s basically not working, so then you’ll say that it was because of digital technology, which is portable and small. I mean, I made most of this record in the living room of the engineer. It just so happens that he’s a great genius and can get a beautiful sound; not everybody can do that. But it’s nice for me, because I have my son Joachim on drums, and we can, together we can—because it’s family, you know, and you can access the personality or the presentation you have in your mind easier. We don’t have to worry about expensive studios, which are kind of dinosaurs now anyway; they’re almost gone. I really don’t know the answer to that; I don’t know … I grew up knowing, or thinking, the record company is your partner, you know. And yes, they take too much money from you, it’s true; but that also means that you have some kind of platform. And you need a business partner in the record business, you know; it was a good working relationship, really, for the most part; although many people cheated, and I used to hear Little Richard complain he never got paid. But I mean—and that’s true; but still, what do we do now? Now that there’s—everybody’s at home with a little recording unit and doing their songs, and it goes into the cyberspace somehow. It’s just not the same that I knew. So I just don’t know how to evaluate it; I really don’t know. Now, Robert’s sitting here being very optimistic, and I’m …

Kasia Anderson: He tends to be. [laughs]

Ry Cooder: … I’m listening to what he’s saying, and it’s positive, and I’m feeling good. [laughs] But we’ll see. But either way, I mean, I’m 64 now; so either way, I’ve done this professionally since I was 15, and I like to do it, so I’m going to keep doing it. But as far as—I don’t even—I used to tell Joachim, if you can support yourself to the extent that you have a tank of gas—because you need a car here in L.A.; you’ve got to have it—and you need a roof over your head, hopefully without bars on the windows, and a broiled chicken sandwich three times a week, and you’re all right. Most people in the world can never achieve that.

Robert Scheer: Oh, yeah. I mean, I’m 10 years older than you—more, 11 years older than you … and I have, still, four or five jobs—if you don’t have work that excites you, then you just—in my case, and I think you’d be like me; you’d kind of be like a nut, walking down the street muttering about how screwed-up everything is. And this way you got some outlets.

Ry Cooder:That’s right.

Robert Scheer: But the great thing is—and maybe this is a way to wrap it up—is you have this great artistry, this great talent, and this may be the most important work that you’ve ever done, this album. I mean, I’m not a great musicologist or anything, but I think it’s incredible. And maybe this is the culmination.

Ry Cooder: I hope you’re right, Robert. [laughs] That sounds good to me.

Kasia Anderson: And our listeners can hear it for themselves. We’ll be featuring this new album, called “Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down,” by Ry Cooder, on Truthdig. The track “No Banker Left Behind” is based on our own Bob Scheer’s column on Truthdig, and we’ll also be linking to that. So thank you very much for your time.

Ry Cooder: Thank you, Kasia.

Kasia Anderson: It’s Ry Cooder, Bob Scheer, I’m Kasia Anderson.

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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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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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