October 1, 2010
When Latin pop sensation Marre walked off the stage last week in Bogota, Colombia you would have thought she was walking out of a routine stop at a Starbucks Coffeehouse. [Read more]
December 29, 2007
By Andy Smith and Kimberly Egolf, Editors
Ah, 2007. How quickly you came and went. And how much good music you managed to deliver along the way. In the wide world, 2007 saw bands and companies employing new means to deliver music, while ways to listen to that music practically overwhelmed the marketplace. 2007 saw reunions by some of musicâ€™s biggest artists (Do we deserve Zeppelin and Verve in the same year?!) and reissues of many classic albums weâ€™ve loved. Podcasts exposed us to an increasing number of new artists, many of whom hit the ground running with some of the yearâ€™s best discs. Yet established artists held their own and proved again why they are artists we respect and love. [Read more]
November 20, 2006
By Kevin Selders
Fresh off a 40-city headlining tour with Shiny Toy Guns, Jonezetta and The Whigs, Paul Meany, lead singer/keytar player/magician of the alt-rock band Mute Math, took time to share with Interference where he found the bandâ€™s hyper drummer, how the keytar has always been cool and details about the mysterious home-made instrument, the Atari.
Mute Math, a four-piece from New Orleans, also features Greg Hill (guitars), Roy Mitchell-Cardenas (bass) and Darren King (drums/samples/programming). The bandâ€™s sound includes hints of everything from DJ Shadow and Bjork to U2 and The Police. The band recently played Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, the Warped Tour, Englandâ€™s V Festival and the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City.
Mute Mathâ€™s self-titled debut is available on Warner Bros. The band will play Jimmy Kimmel Live Dec. 1. on ABC, tour with â€œHow to Save a Lifeâ€ hit makers The Fray through January, and visit Europe in February.
So, tell us, how was the CMJ Music Festival? What was the experience like for you guys?
Thereâ€™s nothing more addicting for our band than playing shows in New York. I actually forgot that it was CMJ. We were in Times Square at BB Kings. It was splendid.
Your shows are so energetic â€“ how do you keep the energy level up every night, as well as the spontaneity?
How do you get bulls to buck at a rodeo? And you should know it works on humans too.
Some of you have even suffered a few injuries during the tour because of your live show. Darrenâ€™s hand was all bloody toward the end of the show in Lawrence, Kan., yet he still managed to play the beat-heavy â€œResetâ€ with one hand. Explain how this is humanly possible.
Itâ€™s not. Darren was genetically engineered in an underground lab just outside of a small Siberian town called Fruscher. I found him on eBay.
How did the idea of MuteMath form? I know some of you were together in Earthsuit, which was very different sonically.
Well as soon as Darren arrived in the mail, we got to work. We wrote some songs, played some shows, found some more musicians, and before we knew it we had a band. I think in the beginning, Mute Math was just a side project for us, as we were spending more of our time trying to launch another band called Macrosick.
Some of your lyrics seem to have a spiritual side to them, Paul. It seems like a lot of bands â€“ i.e. U2, Moby, Doves, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club â€“ are drawn to exploring that aspect of life, lyrically. Where does your inspiration come from for your lyrics?
I grew up in a very strict religious home. Had the doâ€™s and donâ€™ts of the Bible drilled into my head. I think, the older I got, the more suspicious I became of what all of that stuff was about, but was still strangely drawn to it. I have to assume everyone at some point in their life has had some tie in with religion whether theyâ€™ve embraced it or not. I think itâ€™s a valid subject matter that intrigues us all on some level. As much bullshit that inherently gets attached to that topic, itâ€™s still a part of me somehow, and when I sit down to write songs those ideas inevitably surface.
Musically, who are you influenced by as a band? Thereâ€™s definitely a hint of the Police on songs like â€œChaos,â€ and â€œNoticed.â€
Well itâ€™s no secret that we love the Police. They are in my opinion one of the classic bands who could write simple great songs and take it to new heights live. Other artists like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, U2, etc., all have written the text book on how to construct a complete musical experience.
Many people â€“ fans and critics â€“ are touting Mute Math as the â€œnext big thing.â€ Whatâ€™s it like hearing that, even before your debut album hit stores?
I think that phrase is way overused and doesnâ€™t really mean anything anymore. Iâ€™m more concerned with just etching out a little nook in the music world where Mute Math can live and make music for a long time.
Your life on the road has been well-documented in your MySpace videos/iTunes podcast. You even rotate photos you receive from fans quite regularly on your site (many of which are quite good). How important is technology to the development of the Mute Math community youâ€™ve created?
Actually, we owe a lot to electricity if you want to break it down. Forget about Tom [founder of MySpace] . . . what about Thomas Edison and Benji Franklin?
How was â€œPlan Bâ€ selected as the first single? Thereâ€™s so many possible first singles on this album.
We didnâ€™t select Plan B as the single, iTunes did. From the way I understand it, iTunes picks their favorite song, and you either go with it or you donâ€™t get a single of the week. I like Plan B. It probably wonâ€™t end up as one of the officially released singles though.
You each play multiple instruments during your shows. Who plays the most instruments?
Out of necessity â€“ Darren [King]
Effortlessly â€“ Roy [Mitchell-Cardenas]
While wearing other instruments â€“ Greg [Hill]
The wrong way â€“ Me
Explain the keytar. How did you make it cool again? (If it ever was.)
I didnâ€™t make it â€œcool againâ€ . . . I just simply recognized an already existing phenomenon. I canâ€™t take credit for the beauty in the flowers and trees just because I opened my eyes to see it.
Now explain the Atari.
I want you to imagine for a moment, if you will, a world where Atari games walk the streets of a red light district pimped by Radio Shack. The noises, the smells, the sights . . . Thatâ€™s the Atari.
Your latest tour with The Whigs and Jonezetta winds up Nov. 19 at the Culture Room in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Whatâ€™s Mute Mathâ€™s next step toward world domination?
Getting our hands on a nuclear bomb.
September 11, 2006
By Devlin Smith, Contributing Editor
(RED), a collaboration of various companies in support of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, recently launched a MySpace page. One of the organization’s friends is the Canadian band WHY, a group that’s been around for more than 10 years.
WHY (Brian Cook on vocals, Derek James on drums, Stephan Makarewicz on guitar and Greg Barre on bass) has supported causes like Make Poverty History and The Global Fund since its inception. In fact, George Stroumboulopoulos of the CBC News "The Hour" interviewed Cook about issues relating to HIV/AIDS and poverty on World AIDS Day 2005. This year, the band is supporting (RED) with the release of an album and single named for the organization.
Interference.com e-mailed the band about its history and connection to (RED), learning from lead singer Cook about how WHY integrated its belief in these causes into its music.
How long as WHY been together?
WHY has been around since 1993. We released four CDs, "The Naked Soul," "Suddenly Bang," "The Rise and Fall of the Question Mark" and, most recently, "Lazarus Effect," which is a CD to help make people aware of Make Poverty History and raise some funds for the MPH campaign. We are currently in the studio recording our next full length album "RED," due out this fall. The title track has been released to radio and we have a free download of the song on our website. We encourage anyone who wants to burn it and take copies to your local radio station and ask for airplay. This has been a great way to infect people around the world with our music.
Where did the band’s name come from?
I was watching a TV special on John Lennon around 1992 and there was a part filmed the day he died and fans were all around his and Yoko’s New York apartment with candles and signs and one sign just said "WHY." No question mark, just three capital letters, and I thought, "That’s the most used word in our troubled world." Henry Thoreau said, "Why is the beginning of knowledge," so it seemed right for a band with so many questions. We still do, by the way.
How would you describe your music?
I wouldn’t, I’d leave that up to you and anyone who listens to it. I find people take our songs as their own, which is very flattering and humbling. They tell us what we sound like to them. So I suppose I could say, "WHY: Whatever the music makes you feel." We get very passionate comments about how, "This certain song really got me through a rough spot" type of thing. That is the best thing to hear as a musician or artist of any medium for that matter.
Who are your musical influences?
U2 have left a stain on us, as have The Alarm, Bob Dylan, The Clash, REM, whatever we heard growing up. I wasn’t ever inclined to sing as a kid., it wasn’t until later I felt like I could express myself emotionally and, moreover, spiritually through music, rock ‘n’ roll.
It’s funny we get a lot of, ‘You sound like U2′ or "You sound like Bono," which is very flattering but I really am trying to be my own person, have my sound, create a new thing and I, in the past, used to get very frustrated with the Bono comparison so I would deliberately sing in a way that wasn’t my range or even try new styles, [like] sing rougher or softer. The more I tried to not sound like Bono, [the more] I’d get, "Hey, you really sound like Bono on that song," so I realized that I sing this way because that’s my voice and no point fighting it, just so happens I sound a bit like the greatest rock singer of all time. Not a bad thing, by the way, people could say I sound like [comedian] Emo Phillips when I sing.
How did your band become interested in the Make Poverty History and (RED) causes?
Well, the whole band is passionate about the destruction of stupid poverty. Speaking for myself, I was very involved with [Christian relief organization] World Vision through child sponsorship, (I still sponsor two children, really a great way to do something to help), and the [international youth hunger-fighting movement] 30 Hour Famine from the late ’80s through the ’90s. I used to go to schools as a rep for World Vision and speak and show films and get kids involved. Kids really believe, if you tell them, that their voice, their actions, their passion can change the worldâ€”and they’re right.
We as a band recently decided that from now until we end as a band, we will give a dollar from every WHY CD that is ever made to fighting extreme poverty, for now The Global Fund is who we will send cash to. Our next album "Red" will be used to draw attention to The Global Fund and raise money for them. "Lazarus Effect" is available online [and] we are giving a portion of the money from sales to Make Poverty History. In Canada, MPH is badly under-funded so we want to add our two cents.
I was fortunate to be able to produce a compilation CD for The Global Fund with some great Canadian bands like Our Lady Peace, 54-40, Finger 11, The Trews and unsigned local bands who believed in putting their music where their mouth is. It was called "Rock for a Reason: Artists United for African AIDS Relief." We only printed a couple thousand and it sold well. It raised $15,000.00 for The Global Fund and I got to interview Richard Feachem [executive director of The Global Fund] on a local alt rock radio station.
[Feachem] is on my short list of people to meet and talk face to face. [Also] on that list [are] Prof. [Jeffrey] Sachs, Sir Bob Geldof, Bono, although he and I met in Winnipeg back in 1997, along with Edge and Adam. I would really like to pick those brains on what we in the grassroots movement can do to make poverty history. WHY isn’t a big name band with clout, so our ranting about this issue isn’t as affective as, say, Bono, Brad Pitt and so on, but maybe one day we will be able to be a large pain in the ass of our PM here [Stephen Harper] in Canada or, for that matter, a global pain.
Why did you decide to write a song and name your album for "Red"?
That’s the magic of music, at least for me, as I don’t sit down with a plan, the music is constructed beyond us, it just pours through us. Red just seemed like a great color to touch on as it has so many different applications, for example, red can be a color for anger or passion or danger, sacrifice, heat, joy.
When it was done I was made aware of the (RED) campaign, so we offered it to (RED). No response as of yet, but they can use it for free. We plan on using it to promote (RED) and The Global Fund either way, they are getting the money no matter what. It really fits the campaign, though, doesn’t it? We were surprised how well it works. I guess a little help from the Divine Mover.
What kind of reaction has the song "Red" gotten from fans?
Very positive, people have had a very strong reaction to "Red." People have been downloading for free from us and have been put it on their iPods and, as one woman in Australia said in an e-mail to us, "I can’t stop listening to ‘Red,’ I listen to over and over." That is such a great thing to hear.
Have you gotten the song to people with (RED)? If you have, what reaction have you gotten from them?
We have been in contact with Sheila Roche at (RED) and she has it, but so far they haven’t got back to us. They are busy trying to save lives, mind you, so we are I’m sure [we're] at the bottom of their to-do list. I really hope they like it and use it as we have told them we want to give it to them free of charge if they can to use it.
What are you hoping to accomplish with the song "Red"?
Move people, inspire them. Look, if they just dig the tune and enjoy driving and listening to it, great, but if it can get people thinking passionately about (RED) or MPH and what they can do to help, even better. That’s all we can ask of a rock song, a single, as it were. Hey, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, or is it?
You also have a song called "Lazarus Effect" about the AIDS crisis. What inspired this song?
The actual medical term "Lazarus Effect," which is what happens when AIDS meds are given to a dying person at death’s door due to HIV/AIDSâ€”literally from death bed to up and walking around, working, feeding your family in a month. Back from the dead, a miracle like Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. I found the two images too powerful not to write about them.
Your band gave out copies of the new album at U2′s Canadian shows last year. Where did that idea come from? What kind of reaction did you got from U2 fans?
Well, first off, not our idea. It was a mad U2 fan from Ottawa who was a MPH volunteer who heard our songs on our website and, when "Lazarus Effect" came out, decided to order a bunch of CDs online and give them out. He also got us involved in a poverty symposium in Ottawa. He couldn’t work out a way to get us out to play there, sadly, but had us do a video feed and we were off and running.
As for U2 fans response, mostly great, supportive, very kind. I think some were leery of us, and understandably so. They didn’t know our history with the campaign, as far as they knew we could be using extreme poverty as a way to break the band. But actually we had lost money, not made money so far. We are lifers for this war on extreme stupid poverty. "Keep My Peace" is a song I wrote about this issue back 2000, it sums up our feelings on this front.
I have to say U2 fans are not like any other fans; they really are a community, a family, and if WHY can get people moved and united as U2 has, we will see that as our greatest success. I have met so many bands obsessed with "making it" or what they mean is, "When we’re famous men, then we will blah, blah, blah," that’s the top for them, the pinnacle, the goal. Fame isn’t our goal. Yes, it’s a platform to be heard, a springboard, but it’s not the Promised Land. Our goal is to do music full time and use fame as a tool to continue to push the envelope in songwriting. It’s a tool to use to swing the spotlight off of us and onto our family in Africa, Asia, and the developing world who are dying every three seconds for a lack of what we call pocket change, coffee money. And, yes, I call these people around the world "our family" because we are all connected. If a distant relative is ill or in need you still step up and help. Well, they are our sisters and our brothers as I sing in "Lazarus Effect."
Your band has a MySpace page. What kind of impact is that site having on your band and its mission?
Yes, we have recently taken over a WHY fan MySpace site and it has been almost frightening how fast the world has come to us. It is a wonderful thing. I know some have had issues with MySpace but it has been a great networking tool and MySpace is a big supporter of (RED).
As for "our mission," as you put it, our mission is to keep writing honest songs, no matter how uncomfortable or naked we feel. WHY is a band that has come from the grassroots of this issue (extreme poverty), we are like everyone else who saw the need and said, "I will not keep my peace, cannot keep my peace while this continues." This is a global mission; this is our fight.
Do you believe music can help change the world?
Music can inspire people to change the world. I hope that is the case with our songs. Let’s be real here, people, everyday people, change the world, not movie stars or rock stars or world leaders, regular people have and will change our world.
For more information on WHY, visit the band’s website or MySpace page. More information on (RED) can be found on its website or MySpace page. More information on The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria can be found on its website. More information on Make Poverty History can be found on its website. More information on World Vision can be found on its website. More information on 30 Hour Famine can be found on its website.
Many thanks to John McAuley and Brian Cook for their help with this article.
July 31, 2006
By Jake Olsen
Over the course of five years, Chicago Sun-Times‘ religion writer Cathleen Falsani interviewed 32 well-known peopleâ€”among them intellectuals, artists, political pundits and rockersâ€”for her book, "The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People." Subjects like Bono, Playboy founder and editor-in-chief Hugh Hefner and singer Annie Lennox all opened up to her questions about their individual faith and deeply held beliefs and doubts. Interference.com got to return the favor, asking her about the difference between religion and spirituality, how 9/11 impacted our faith, and even the similarity between church and a good U2 concert.
How did the interview process change or challenge your faith?
It didn’t change it in terms of the quality of what I believe. I didn’t go from being an evangelical Christian to being a Buddhist or anything like that. It did by virtue of the intimacy of the conversations I had and the candor and the generosity of spirit that the folks in the book offered to me. Beyond that, each one of them said at least one thing that I’ve continued to ponder since our encounters that really enlivened my faith. Some of it was challenging. Some of it was perplexing. Some of it was heartening. But every one of them said something that I’ve continued to carry with me. One of the first things that I think about when I wake up is something that one of them said to me and so I think that it’s enlivened my faith, but hasn’t changed what my faith is. In my best moments, it’s changed how I live my faith as a believer.
Russell Simmons was an unlikely source, some people might think, for spiritual wisdom, but he said something I think about all the time. Actually I think he’s quoting Louis Farrakhan when he says, "If you’re going to be a Christian, be a practicing Christian. If you’re going to be a Muslim, be a practicing Muslim. If you’re going to be Jewish, be a practicing Jew." And that’s something that I think about all the time. If I say I’m something, what does that really mean? And I hope people read it and come away with a similar experience. The book starts with a quote from one of my professors from college, Arthur Holmes [Wheaton College Professor Emeritus of philosophy and author]. It says, "All truth is God’s truth," which is something I think I heard in my sophomore year in college and have always said I believed. But this process of interviewing the people for the book, of talking to lots of different kinds of people with many different kinds of experiences in a short period of time sort of focused that and made that more real to me in a much different way than it ever had been before. And now looking for what God’s trying to tell me no matter who it’s coming from is something that I think about all the time in my interactions with everyone.
In my best moments, I try and be very conscious of the fact that everyone, as I understand it, is a child of God and everyone, whether they believe on paper the things that I do or not, might have something that I can find out God needs to tell me that I couldn’t find from any other source. Someone asked me previously in an interview, what did I learn, how has it changed the way I look at life. I think I listen more carefully, or at least I try to, both to the people around me and look for that still, small voice that the Bible talks about. I think I’m, in my best moments, much more respectful of the transcendence that’s all around, the fact that all truth is God’s truth and I should be on the look out for it. For many years something also that I learned fairly early in college was from a book that I read for theology class called "The Go-Between God," talking about how God is the bridge between people and that God makes the space for us to connect in a way that we wouldn’t otherwise and that’s something I think about in a much more visceral way now than before I wrote the book.
I’m kind of picking up that that’s the challenge you have now is to be on the alert for the divine.
Right. Keep awake and be listening carefully. Literally and figuratively.
Were there any interviews that stood out to you?
There are certain people that you connect with, by virtue of your personality, your shared history or something. Some people, you just connect with and you have no idea why. There are some people that I felt a different kind of a connection with although I felt something with every person there, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the book. People often say, "What’s your favorite chapter?" and, you know, it depends on my mood, but the one that I say most consistently is John Mahoney, the actor ["Frasier," "Say Anything"]. And John is someone who I’ve sort of knownâ€”vaguelyâ€”as a very loose acquaintance for a number of years. I’ve gotten to be around him in social settings and he’s a very, very gracious, kind, lovely man, and that’s his reputation. So here’s somebody I knew a little. I had kind of went into the interview thinking I sort of knew his story: you know, Irish Catholic, man of a certain age â€¦ I figured I sort of knew a little bit. I always try and leave my preconceived notions behind, and I’m pretty good at it. So by the time I got into the little restaurant to have lunch with him I was sort of like, let’s see what we find out, but I had no idea what I was going to discover and how moving it was and how much faith is the center of his life and how he has a deep well of love and faith and peace and other things â€¦ joy and that’s where this kindness comes from that he’s got this reputation for being unfailingly kind.
I found out during the course of our conversation that that’s actually a very intentional practice for him. So I learned so much about someone that I thought I already knew and that’s one conversation that I think about all the time. It was beautiful. It was quite sacred. A lot of these encounters were really sacred â€¦ very intimate, and I didn’t have to pry, people wanted to tell me things. John was one of those people. I had this happen to me a number of times. We were kind of done and he actually left to go ostensibly to put coins in the parking meter and have a cigarette and came back and when he came back in he decided he wanted to tell me something. John’s intensely private and he had told me something that I certainly never would have known to ask about. And he just felt he wanted to. [Rock singer and musician] Melissa Etheridge did the same thing. I don’t ask a lot of questions during these interviews; I didn’t have to. This wasn’t like prying a clam open by any means, these folks knew I was coming. Some of them had weeks or months to prepare and many of them really had things that they wanted to get off their chest. They all stand out to me in different ways. But John’s the one I always come back to and, of course, Bono. He’s in a category by himself, the wee Irishman. There is a reason we start with him and end with Elie [Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize-winning author of "Night"]. If you read the introduction to my book, that’s fairly self-evident. That and the fact that I spent more time with him than most of these people and it was over time.
You mention in your introduction how listening to "October" in your friend’s basement set you on a path to find God "in the places some people say God isn’t supposed to be." Would it be fair to call the song an inspiration?
Well, I don’t know if it was the inspiration for the book, it certainly set me on a particular trajectory that I’m still on 30 years later, sort of an inspiration for the way I see the world. Probably everything I’ve done in life was fueled by the catalyst of that epiphany that I had listening to that song when I was 12. And it was something I didn’t realize until I started working on the book and I saw life come full circle, as they say. That’s something that’s not supposed to happen more than a couple times in life, and usually when you’re much older so I’m very careful not to step in front of buses. I’ve seen about 10 of these things come full circle. I’ve had a lot of clarity about all these disparate things in my life experiences and parts of my history that at first seemed eclectic and wacky before and now they made sense, and he’s one of them. And that moment is one of them.
Is that by design on your part?
No, I’m an idiot. I think it’s God, more and moreso. Something I started trying to do a few years ago and do even more consciously since the whole book experience is to get out my way, just get out my own way and try to let God do whatever God’s trying to do. I could not have designed the perfect mix of people in this book. I could not have made them say the things that they said. I could not have planned the experiences that I did. The happenstances of the connections that a lot the people in the book have to each other that I had no idea about when I asked them to talk to me. There’s too much intricacy and serendipity not to think that, maybe that was the spirit moving. I don’t think it’s me. I’m just trying to get out of my own way.
I’m reminded a little bit of CS Lewis [author of sci-fi and Christian-themed novels] in some of what you’re saying. It seems to be that he was kind of willful about letting the self die, which is one of the hardest things in the world to do. Are there any other authors, or would he be a legitimate influence?
Oh sure, CS Lewis, [priest and author] Henri Nouwen, [Pulitzer Prize-nominated author and lecturer] Frederick Buechner, [author and professor] Anne Lamott, who’s a goddess and a prophet and I hope to be one 10th of her when I grow up one dayâ€”but without the dreadlocks. Those are just off the top of my head.
You mentioned that it seemed kind of serendipitous about the folks that came in to be interviewed. How did you pick them? Were there any you wanted to get but that you couldn’t?
I mostly picked people that I thought were interesting, or I liked what they do, or I heard them say something once that I thought was intriguing. But about 85 to 90 percent of the people in the book I had no idea what their spiritual predilections might be or not be before I asked them. Obviously, somebody like [Toronto Raptors center] Hakeem Olajuwon, I asked because, 1) he’s interesting; and 2) he’s a Muslim. Somebody like Elie Wiesel, I mean, I knew he was Jewish. But I didn’t know the answer to the great question about his faith: Is it still there? Is it not? Did you ever come out of that? If so, why? How? There are people like John [Mahoney], who I thought I might know his history but I didn’t. [Journalist and author] Tom Robbins I asked based on a complete fallacy from something I had read online. Apart from the fact that he’s one of my favorite authors in the world, a lot of his books deal with spiritual issues in the most irreverent of ways. I didn’t know what Melissa Etheridge’s background was. I asked [director] David Lynch because I knew he was a transcendental meditator, that’s why I asked him. It was kind of counterintuitive to the idea of what you think of when you think of a transcendental meditator and then you have "Blue Velvet." How does that work?
Most of the other people, I just thought they were interesting and they had a certain quality about them of introspection. There was something about them that made you think there were some deep waters there. And also they had a certain quality of openness about them. If I felt that someone wasn’t being genuine, or if they were giving me stock answers, or more so if they were just full of it, that this wasn’t the real person, you know, they’re not in the book. But that didn’t happen very often at all.
Were you able to call them on that?
No. I could have, I certainly could have. This book was done intentionally in a non-combative, non-dialogical way. I told them when I approached them, "I’m not going to judge you. I’m not going to say whether what you believe is real, right or wrong or genuine or otherwise." That wasn’t my job. My job there was very intentionally to not call them on disconnects that I might have seen or something that I thought was wrong or something that was factually wrong or whatever. That wasn’t my job. That would have led to a very different kind of conversation where I think they would have been far less candid than they actually were. I just let them say what they really said they believed.
Did you often have to fight the urge to proselytize?
I always fight the urge to proselytize. I don’t think proselytizing is a particularly helpful means to an end, at least not in the ways people think it is. People ask me about evangelizing. We all evangelize, we just do it in different ways. But to just hand you a tract about Jesus and the New Testament is not the way I did it. If they found out later that I’m a Jesusyâ€”which is a better, more unloaded wordâ€”and they thought, "Wow, she wasn’t judgmental or mean-spirited" or many of those other things they may think about when you think about evangelicals, my work here is done. I don’t try to proselytize or evangelize intentionally through anything I write. I like to think of my life, in my best momentsâ€”when I’m getting out my own wayâ€”does that. The best way to evangelize is by living well and by loving well. And I tried to be loving with all these people. That I think I accomplished.
Your interview with Hugh Hefner seemed to surprise both of you. Can you talk a little about that?
Like I said, I really try very hard to leave my preconceptions in the car, but when you drive up to the Playboy mansion and the guy comes down in his silk pajamas, it’s hard to leave all of that in the car. It’s impossible to leave all that in the car. I think Hef was expecting someone very different and he was expecting a very different conversation. He’s talked about religion over the years, mostly about its role in society and how un-helpful it can be. I wanted to talk to Hef about Hef. It wasn’t a bad conversation at the beginning. The first 10 minutes he was giving me very thoughtful answers, but there was sort of this tension in the air. Very subtle. He was incredibly gracious, very kind, was listening carefully. But there was just a veil between us. And it wasn’t until we found common ground, completely in a different place, that that veil kind of blew away and we had the kind of conversation that you saw in that chapter. Our common ground was movies. I asked him, "What’s the most spiritual film you think you’ve ever seen?" He kind of hemmed and hawed and said, "You know, I’m not really a big fan of DeMille and those big biblical epics." I interrupted him, which is something I normally don’t do and I said, "Can I tell you mine? It’s ‘Harold and Maude.’"
(Photo credit: (copyright) Paul Natkin, 2005)
His face just melted into a huge smile. I didn’t know when I said that, but Bud Cort, who played Harold, is a good friend of his and still comes to the mansion on a fairly regular basis. Ruth Gordon, who played Maude, and her husband, who was a director, were also very dear friends of his and that it’s one of his favorite films. He said, "Well, if that’s what you’re talking about when you say spiritual, that’s a whole other ballpark." And then it was a completely different conversation. I like to think that was that "Go-Between God" that I was talking about. When I do interviews, I try to be very present, I try not to think about the next question I’m going to ask. I try to be really listening to what the other person is saying, because that’s the most respectful thing to do, is to be fully present. In this case, I was doing the "help-me help-me help-me" prayer, because it just wasn’t going where I thought it should be going. I didn’t know how to do that. "Harold and Maude"? Who knew? It’s brilliant. It’s one of the most soul-raising movies I’ve ever seen. It’s wonderfully quirky and very ’70s. It’s fabulous.
Was there anything that surprised you about your interview with Bono?
Everything, in good ways. The first time, when I knew I was going to be talking to him and spending this time with him on the road, I was absolutely terrified. Not that I was worried about me, I was worried that he would be a jerk or something and that I would be crushed. I was so concerned that he wouldn’t be what everyone expects him to be in those good ways. Thank you Jesus, he was better in every way and more delightful and more loving and more generous of spirit and smarter and funnier and naughtier and more profound and more deeply faithful than I could have wished him to be, and it was wonderful spending time with him. Life changing for me in some ways, because he is a very challenging person to be around in terms what it really means to be a faithful follower of Christ. I think I say somewhere in the book that he makes me want to be better in lots of different ways, to do more. He’s just that kind of guy. He’s not like Yoda or anything. There’s a difference between my experience with Bono, who’s incredibly profound in his wonderfully profane way, and Elie Wiesel. There’s a difference there. Elie Wiesel is Yoda; Bono, not so much. They had equally transformative effects on my life and I am blessed deeply to know both of them, even as little as I do.
Forgive me for asking, but why did you select Elie Wiesel as the book end?
Because if there’s anybody in that book â€¦ anybody in my life â€¦ who has every reason not to believe, he does. It’s him. I wanted to start with graceâ€”that’s Bonoâ€”and end with hopeâ€”that’s Elie. For the book and my life â€¦ on a good day.
Speaking of Grace, I really liked the short piece you did with [jazz vocalist] Kurt Elling. I noticed that 9/11 seemed to have a big impact.
And that was something completely organic, that was something that came up in almost every conversation I had. That was a big thing for us as a people, as Americans, certainly, as a human race. That was a really jarring moment. It was like an asteroid hitting the planet, in a spiritual way. Everything was up for grabs after that. It was really traumatizing for everyone, not just the people who were there, and it continues to be. It changed the way we look at the world. We were attacked by people who said they were doing it in the name of God and that’s fucking frightening. I don’t care if you believe in a god or not. Maybe if you don’t it’s even more frightening because it makes the fanatics look even more fanatical. And so that made people think about spiritual things in a different ways. It led a lot of people to get their butts back in the pew, for a couple months anyway. But the more lingering effects, as I see it, having covered the God beat for 10 years, are these kinds of conversations that we’re having now that we didn’t have five years ago. I don’t think I could have done this book. I don’t think I could have gotten two-thirds of the people in the book to have these conversations five years ago, but that changed everything.
Do you think it was, at least on a spiritual perspective, a positive thing?
No. I don’t think God would employ horror and violence as a means to a good end, but it happened. There is a verse in scripture that says all things work together for good for them that love God. I don’t think God caused it or wanted it to happen. That’s not the God I know or understand, but the fact that we’re having this conversation in a different way, I think is a good thing. Did 9/11 need to happen for us to have it? I certainly hope not. But it did, so here we are. It’s not the only reason we’re having this conversation, but it’s a significant reason.
One thing I noticed, it seems so much that the really strict definitions by religion weren’t as common in your interviews.
They’re not as common in society, period, as I have experienced it over the last 10 years at least. The people in the book are certainly extraordinary people. This was not meant to be a reflection of what America is like today because these are not average people. That said, they are reflecting back to me what I see happening all around me as a journalist who covers this. There are people in there who will give themselves a label and they’re comfortable with that, as there are millions of people out there who will label themselves. Even the strictly religious people in the strictest sense of that word still have to make that their own in some way. Whether it’s [Chicago Cubs manager] Dusty Baker, who’s a Baptistâ€”a label he applies to himself. But when he has cancer, he’ll go to a kahuna healer in Hawaii. That’s one more colorful example, but I know plenty of Catholics who call themselves Catholics, who are mass-goers and pray the rosary and call the Pope the Holy Father but they don’t believe everything that’s in that doctrine, but they are still "in the tent.’ I just think that’s more and more common. Strictly speaking, there are more people now than in 1970 who are willing to say they have no religious affiliation. I think it’s a jump between 5 and 10 percent. It’s still a very small portion of the population of the United States, but there are many more now than there were 30 years ago, but that’s not necessarily what I’m talking about.
I was curious as to whether you thought 9/11 had any impact on the fact that it seems people are less willing to call themselves fundamentally this or that.
Fundamentalist is like a naughty word.
It’s like the new "communist."
Someone once said fundamentalists are scarier to me than the Russians. Yeah, nobody wants to call themselves a fundamentalist, right? I don’t know if I had anyone in the book who would call themselves a fundamentalist. Fundamentalists have much more in common with each other than they do with the other people in their faith traditions. A Muslim fundamentalist and a Jewish fundamentalist and a Christian fundamentalist have way more in common with each other than they do with moderate Christians and secular Jews and Americanized Muslims.
There is something to the lesson we learned when the majority of the population learned the word Muslim on like September 12 and then we had to quickly learn that there’s a difference between the people who did what they did in the name of their God and they said in the name of Islam and the vast â€¦ vast, overwhelming, like 99.9 percent of the Muslims in the world. That taught us a lesson about labels. Just because you call something something doesn’t make it so, that labels aren’t terribly helpful. They’re usually fairly ill-fitting, I find. And they’re conversation enders. Melissa Etheridge said to me at one point, "Thank you so much for asking about this. People so rarely ask me about this and I like to talk about it, and when they do it’s like, ‘Are you religious?’ and I say, ‘No, I’m spiritual.’ And that’s the end of the conversation." What are you? I’m a Christian. Okay, What the hell does that mean? That’s nice. I know what I think it means, but what does it mean to you? Labels aren’t real helpful.
Now that you mention it, I remember you kept the "religion" word out of it and you focused more on spirituality. What, to you, is the difference?
Okay, I’ve got a great metaphor: The difference between religion and spirituality is akin to the difference between bourbon and whisky. Because all bourbon is whisky, but not all whisky is bourbon. And all religion is spirituality, but not all spirituality is religion. Get it?
I do. Your introduction ends with a coda that basically implies that you don’t think faith has changed much. What’s the commonality between say now and 10 years ago when you started?
I think faith is a thing. It’s like joy. It’s a thing unto itself that isn’t qualified by whatever else you put around it. Muslim faith. Christian faith, Zoroastrian faith. Vegan faith. Faith is just a thing. It doesn’t change. It’s a gift, as I understand it. It’s a spiritual gift. We live it and express it. And abandon it and embrace it in different ways. Faith itself doesn’t change. It is what it is. Religion changes. Spirituality changes. Dogma changes. Doctrine changes. But faith is always faith. Always has been, always will be.
How is it expressed differently now?
The quality of the conversation about faith has changed. Faith is just faith, like joy is just joy. Love â€¦ just love.
What is the one thing you would like your readers to take with you?
I think if people come away with a sense of urgency to listen better to the people around them, that would make me very happy, and if people would open their eyes and see that God is right there. If they get that from reading this, that would make me thrilled. Those are two things.
Is there something you could tell our readers that they don’t already know about Bono?
I was thinking about this. There are three things: He smells really good. Dolce & Gabbana for men, if I’m not mistaken. He is quite fond of corn-beef hash. And that ring he wears [on his pinky] was given to him by Larry, not Ali, and it’s a fish. I thought it was a griffin and told him as much and he was adamant, "No. It’s a fish. See?" . . . Bono’s forever losing things. This was a few years ago, so we could be on yet another incarnation of the ring, but at that point he’d lost it twice already. If I remember what B said correctly, the first time Larry gave it to him in yellow gold and he lost it and Larry had it remade in white gold and Bono lost that one, too, and now he’s on to platinum, I think. If memory serves, it looks kind of like a koi wrapped around itself.
Do you know the significance of the fish?
It’s a fish . . . I don’t know what the significance of it is.
Do you know much about the faith of the other members of U2?
No, I don’t know them. I’ve been around them but I’ve never had this conversation with them. Love to, but until I do, I’m not going to guess. When people guess they’re usually wrong. Lovely men all.
This is fanboyism talking. Were you at the Chicago show when they filmed it for the DVD?
Yes. They taped two or three nights and it was the last night of taping that was one of those magic shows . . . Adam is the one who’s talked about this, that when the Spirit’s in the room you can feel it. Well, the Spirit was in the room that night. It was amazing. It was an incredible show, which has a lot to do with the band and also has a lot to do with what’s happening in the house. It was one of those shows where it was like church â€¦ well, like how church is supposed to be. That was a good show.
Did you have any future plans or any other projects in the works?
Yes, but if I told you I’d have to shoot you. There’s more to come. Inshallah, as my Muslim friends would say â€¦ God willing.