In January, I took part in a WordPress challenge called Bloganuary. Every day for 31 days, I received a writing prompt to inspire me to write a post for that day, which I did. During those 31 days, I sang a song for you, wrote a poem, shared childhood memories, offered advice and aspirations, and much more. Below are what I consider to be the best of Bloganuary in no particular order. Thank you to those who read my posts and engaged with them. I appreciate it. I hope you enjoy this greatest hits retrospective of this fun writing challenge.
Do you have a memory that’s linked to a smell? The smell of something can immediately trigger a detailed memory or an intense emotion. Read on for my thoughts on this question, and share your thoughts with me.
So, the song “Obsession” came out of your experiences with drugs?
It came out of drug use, yeah. But I turned and mutated that, in a literary sense, into a romance about a man who was determined to get this woman. But it could be donuts, or Prada, or guitars, or whatever you collect, man. It could be whatever you want. It will collect and capture you. It’s about ownership, taking something hostage – obsession.
How was it working with Holly Knight on the song?
Oh, she’s brilliant! Just an extraordinary writer. She’s a classically trained pianist. I must have written that lyric in 10 minutes. I’ve found all the best stuff comes that way. It just flows, there it is and you don’t touch it. When you start tinkering with it – at least for me – that’s when it loses its potency. It was a great experience working with Holly.
I think the new recording of “Obsession” is the definitive version. Do you prefer it to the others?
I love the new one. I think that it’s very relaxed, and I love singing in that Bowie-esque baritone. And I love the girl singer, she’s fantastic – Teal; she’s a great singer from Austin. We just got lucky with it. I played it on acoustic guitar, we sang it and turned it over to a new mixer, Kyle Moorman, who turned it into what you hear, which I think is terrific. It’s a movie almost. It’s got a great story with a good chorus.
You recently hinted that a live album is in the works. Do you have a sense of when it will be released?
It’s done and ready to go, I just have to pull the trigger whenever I want. But first I wanted “Obsession” to come out so people could see what I wanted it to be in the first place. I’m following no rules here. I’m off to do this radio show now, and I’m going to put out the live album within the next several months. It’s all ready to go. It’s called Hot ‘n Sticky.
When I saw you live, you did a few cover songs. In addition to music from Carnaby Street, what covers are going to be featured on the live album?
It’s a rocking record. It starts with a medley of “Little Latin Lover,” “My Baby Saved My Ass,” “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” “Get It On,” and “Long Tall Sally.” It was so rockin’ and so satisfying. You’re gonna’ love it!
Did you have to spend a lot of time in the studio on the live album, making sure everything sounded just right?
No, I didn’t change a fucking thing on it. I just went in and heard it. I did take out some of my conversation with the audience in between the songs because that had a lot to do with what was happening in the room at the moment. But other than that, I didn’t touch it.
Most of the time bands will do some audio tuning or one of the musicians missed a chord. But to me, that’s rock and roll! When you do fuck up and the microphone falls over, I like it. When I was a kid and I would listen to a recording and a tambourine would hit the floor it made me feel like I was there. It puts you in that room, it puts you in that club, it makes you part of it. If everything is so perfect, there’s no soul to it. I think that the greatest things that have ever happened to me have been by mistake. I turned a corner, bumped into somebody and my life changed. It’s the same thing with rock and roll.
When you’re writing music, do you first think of a lyric or does a melody come to you while strumming the guitar?
The way it happens is I get a title and I see how it goes and where it fits. I love up-tempo rock and roll and I love ballads. I don’t know what’s going to happen, really. But I write so much every day that lines pop in and pop out. I’ll sit around and watch the news or hang out with my friends and somebody will say something and I’ll grab it, I’ll just grab it out of the air. I’ll say it and write it down. And the next morning I get up at dawn, drink a gallon of coffee, I go to the gym, I come back, I pick up my Les Paul, I plug in, and I write.
Musically, you’ve done quite a bit. But as of right now, what would you say is your proudest accomplishment?
My proudest accomplishment has nothing to do with having any band members in the room or music. The highlight of my life is talking to you right now … because this is all I’ve got right now. Today is what’s important to me. There’s an immediacy to what I do. People sense it. It’s intense and it’s urgent, and it’s what keeps you alive. Enthusiasm is what’s important. I just don’t want to go backwards. I don’t even want to go forwards. I just want to go! (laughs)
Is it true that it only took you 10 days to record the Carnaby Street album?
Yeah, I recorded it in one week, and I mixed it in three days. Everything you’re hearing on that album was done in no more than two takes. And I fixed nothing, vocally. We went in and did some backups here and there and maybe added a tambourine. There were no solos that were put on there, not one. Mixed it. Put it out. And people went crazy for it. I played it in the clubs – Atlanta, Austin, you name it, LA. Came back, we were red hot, we went in and cut it. Everybody’s laughing and we’re looking at each other. We were all in one room, with the earphones on – just smiling and enjoying each other’s work, if you can call it work. We enjoyed each other’s taste and execution. Took a smoke in between songs and set up the next tune.
Do you have a favorite song from that album or does it change for you all the time?
I don’t have a favorite. Lyrically, I think “Carnaby Street” because it’s an autobiographical narrative. But “Please Stay,” I think, is the most accomplished song. I just got lucky one day and wrote that thing. And it says everything I mean to say about heartache. You can’t have a blues-based information pool from which to choose and not write these soulful ballads. That would be like no wearing trousers on your first date. (laughs) There’s nothing on that album that I don’t like playing. I love “Route 69,” all of it.
Were any tracks left off the album?
No, I just went in with the set that we worked on and shuffled around live and recorded the songs that we knew. There’s many more that I wrote and rehearsed. I just wanted a collection of songs that worked as a whole. But I always have 10 or 20 songs completed and ready to go – the others were just not right for what I wanted for that album. And I could only find that out in rehearsal, singing them live. And those were the ones I liked singing the best – the ones that wound up on Carnaby Street.
Do you have any new songs coming out soon?
Yeah, I’m always creating new music. For my radio show for the David Lynch Foundation, I provided them with “Life Is Always Right.” It’s a beautiful acoustic ballad that came out of the slew of songs I wrote during my time in Texas, including “My Baby Saved My Ass” and “From Cloud 9 To Heartache.” While many of these songs weren’t included on Carnaby Street, they will see the light of day.
Below is part one of the interview. Stay tuned for parts two and three. And at the end of each part I’m including live clips from Michael Des Barres’ concert in New York City on March 7, 2013 at the Bowery Electric. I was in attendance, and it was an awesome show. Enjoy!
Hello, Michael. You recently announced your new radio show, Roots and Branches. How did this come about?
I had a relationship with David Lynch because I had done Mulholland Drive with him when it was a TV show. And what happened was he cast me to play the bad guy in the pilot for a TV show for ABC but ABC passed on it because it was incomprehensibly Lynchian, ya know? (laughs) So, a couple years go by and he invites me to the premiere and I realize I’ve been absolutely cut out of it and replaced by these two chicks fucking. And I thought, oh man, this is very exciting, but where the hell’s my footage? (laughs) So, we’ve had a relationship for a while.
But he’s got this amazing TM (transcendental meditation) movement going, and he just created this network, Transcend Radio, and he’s contacted people and asked them to produce some content for that and it ended up my door. And I came up with a show called Roots and Branches, which is essentially about influences, where lots of musicians got their influences and passed it on to the next generation, and the next generation. I deal mainly in American blues music and also the edginess of Manhattan rock and roll, heroin rock and roll, I call it – the psychosis of rock and roll. So I do various genres. I play a song and then I play a song that was obviously influenced by that song or artist, hence the title Roots and Branches, because it’s very important for me. And I do it in the vein of Stevie Van Zandt, who flies the flag of the lineage of rock and roll, the history of rock and roll, soul, pop, and rockabilly, and all of the wonderful music that is, in a sense, threatened by extinction today because of the advent of technology.
If you can see relationships between artists, you can go deep into it and that’s what I want to create: A sort of atmosphere of research, ya know? You start at Zeppelin, then you back to the blues and where that came from. You listen to Jack White and then who influenced him, and equally groundbreaking musicians that inspired them. And it becomes this enormous organism, and hopefully an enormous orgasm (laughs).
I recently read Rod Stewart’s autobiography, and in it he talks about how his music as well as other artists’ music, including The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, was influenced by the blues. What was it like during this time period?
I was in the clubs at the time you’re describing with Mitch Mitchell saying to me, “Why don’t you come see me play with this black bloke?” And I did, and it was Jimi Hendrix. I was there in London at the birth of the skinny rock and roll dudes being inspired by the blues. It was a phenomenal hybrid, which I’ll explore deeply in my show. It’s why working working class English boys and girls would turn to the oppressed black slave music that came out of oppression – out of Chicago and the Delta. Why would that be? I think it’s because it’s almost the same today: You get out of the ghetto by being a rapper or a sports figure. It’s the same man, you know?
Yeah, Jeff Beck was heavy. But there were a lot of people that were plugging in and turning up because rock and roll was blues real loud, essentially. And if Chuck Berry hadn’t existed, there wouldn’t be a Mick Jagger or Keith Richards. I mean imagine a world without Chuck Berry in it. What a horrible thought. (laughs). But they were smart enough to marry that with the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud and the style of Oscar Wilde. It was this pop-hybrid of Muddy Waters, Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron with a slide guitar. It was this incredible cocktail of stuff.
Your modern music seems to harken back to that classic three-chord rock and roll.
Yes, because what happens is, as an artist in the beginning it’s all about passion. Then you learn how to do it and you learn the chords that are complicated, and to keep yourself interested you start experimenting. And you lose sight of why you did it in the first place. Rock and roll is a synonym for having sex. It’s not a synonym for meditation. So you’ve gotta roll with it. And, for me, I went on all sorts of tangents because I was thinking too much. But when I got back to it three years ago, when I was in Texas recovering from an accident, I broke a lot of bones, I had time to reflect on what I really wanted to do, so I started to write. I couldn’t write with my right arm because it was smashed, so I wrote with my left hand these social media updates and people started to respond. So I took those ideas and put them to simple chords, blues-based music and I wrote “My Baby Saved My Ass,” (laughs) which sounds funny and cute but it’s true. It’s a redemptive song about the redemption of love transcending a drug addict’s downward spiral.
Stephen King once stated that, “The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.” Like King, you’ve overcome drugs and alcohol. Do you agree that these substances don’t enhance an artist’s creative work?
He and I are the only ones that have said that. I mean, I’ve been saying that for 30 years. The myth of the self-destructive genius is bullshit. And I can give you one and only one example: Jim Morrison did not write the “Great American Novel” … and he could have. And it’s as simple as that. Genius is divine; it’s a talent you’re given by the universe. It’s like being born beautiful and you fuck yourself up.
I always think of Chet Baker and his beautiful face and how ravaged it was at the end of his life when he fell out of a hotel room window and smashed his skull because of heroin. So, I’m with Stephen King. It is a myth, and I’m 100% more creative with clarity than I am in a fog. I might think I’m a genius, but I’m not.
What made you stop using drugs?
I looked in the mirror and I looked like a monster. And I’m way too narcissistic and vain to look like that. I can honestly say vanity got me through it (laughs). I felt like a fool, and there’s nothing worse for me than feeling foolish. And being a slave to something? Good lord! I can’t be owned by a bag of white powder…unless it’s foundation. It’s absurd; it’s childlike. Unfortunately many of our greatest artists capitulated to it and died, and that’s a shame.
To answer your question, I’m not being glib when I say I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. It was absolute vanity. But once I got into that spiritual groove, I woke up from the trance of drugs. And I wrote “Obsession” within the first few weeks of being sober. Everybody around me was saying “I’m obsessed with this” and “I’m obsessed with that.” Is it an obsession? Yes. So I thought, OK, and I wrote that song, which was a worldwide hit because people could relate to the thing.