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Answers to your November Questions, Part I
12/3/2010 (updated 12/3/2010)

It’s evident from watching TV these days that many artists, well-known and obscure, increase their exposure and income substantially by allowing their songs to be used in commercials. Nick Drake’s estate’s earnings have increased substantially thanks to From the Morning appearing in the AT&T “Rethink Possible” campaign and Pink Moon being used in a Volkswagen commercial a few years back. If a major advertiser offered to pay a healthy six-figure sum for the rights to one of your songs, would you allow it to be used in an ad campaign? Or do you think using a song commercially represents selling out, diminishing its value as art?

I would not allow a song to be used to promote a product I considered to be contrary to public health or public interest - a cigarette brand or chain hamburger might fall into that category. Some things seemingly benign, like San Pellegrino, are owned by Nestle, and one might have to consider whether or not the parent company is a force for good or evil. But then there's In-And-Out Burger, a smallish burger chain I'm quite fond of. In theory I'm not against the idea, but an offer would need to be scrutinised on an individual basis. My good friend John Densmore was recently in court with the other members of The Doors, some wanting to exploit to the hilt the old catalogue, and John and the Morrison estate wanting to be more selective.

Considering that you spend a majority of the year living, working and traveling in the U.S., how do you view the current political climate? As a British citizen, are you able “keep your distance” from the American political discourse and remain a dispassionate observer? Or do you find yourself getting disgusted by the degree of polarization and nastiness that has come to define American politics today?

I suppose I usually position myself as an outside observer of US politics, a slightly smug place where I can bemoan the broken system and the corruption, without offering too much in the way of a solution. It is a mess, it needs drastic reform, and it will take a near-revolution to restore accountability to the voters, and haul the power away from the banks and corporations.

Have you ever ridden a motorcycle, Vincent or otherwise?

Never a Vincent. The only bike I owned (briefly) was an old BSA single from the 50s, and I spent most of my time underneath it.

When you passed through NYC on the Dream Attic tour, I was surprised that you didn’t appear on Letterman to promote the new record. Any chance of you and the band doing one of the late night shows at some point in the not-too-distant future? Or, are bookings on such shows arranged primarily through major labels such as Capitol?

We tried, as we always try, to get a Letterman date. The competition for those slots is fierce, and bigger companies have more clout.

Given that you live primarily in warm, dry southern California – with some time spent in cool, damp London – and tour extensively to locations in the U.S., UK and Europe (and soon the Cayamo cruise!) where the relative humidity and temperature vary considerably, what do you do to keep your Lowden from being adversely affected?

I fit humidifiers into guitars or guitar cases. I like the long green rubber ones.

Your reputation for clean living is well documented in this space. Considering how many great musicians have used drugs when writing, composing and/or performing, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the role of drugs in the music making process.

Perhaps each to his own is the best approach, without being too judgmental. I'm certain there was a bit of weed being passed around on those classic Louis Armstrong Hot Fives, and a lot of musicians will have a 'loosener' before a show - just one or two drinks or equivalent to break down some mental barriers. Charlie Parker was dumbfounded that people trying to emulate his musical style would go for the lifestyle as well. He felt he was a victim of heroin, and his musical talent was in spite of it. There are always drink and drugs around music, and many talents have been destroyed by them. It's a fine line.

It appears from the recent tour that your new baby blue Strat has replaced your blue “Ferringtoncaster” as your number one stage electric. What about the new instrument’s tone do you prefer to the Ferrington? Cheers, Douglas Alan Feinstein

My crew currently prefer the added bottom end of the Strat. I still love the Ferrington though, such a cool sound, and a little different.

I don't know if you remember me. I'm the teacher who uses some of your songs instead of proper poetry in his lessons (some of them have featured in A-level exams as well). Anyhoo (as Jeremy Hardy would say), we were discussing Dad's Gonna Kill Me in class today and Moritz, one of my students, suggested that the passage starting with 7 muzzle monkeys standing in a row [against the wall like sitting targets as he sees it]... might refer to the execution of G.I.s by the Iraqis. I didn't agree with him arguing that the verse could simply mean that they felt like sitting targets on patrol or when being on guard. Any elucidation by the creator of the song? Wilfried Ulamac

I had in mind just that they feel like victims in a shooting gallery.

After 7 defeats of the Aussies in a row what are the chances of England down under? Surely a 5:0 defeat like last time is out of the question? IMHO the England bowling attack has the edge judging by the latest results. As regards the batting I'm hoping for a miraculous recovery of form from KP and Cook. Hope you don't mind me bringing this up but as an Austrian who lived in England for 4 years cricket is important. Thanks for your time and (hopefully) see you at Cropredy next year! Wilfried

From the advantage of having seen the extraordinary First Test, I would say England are stronger, and if they bowl well they will win. Graeme Swann in particular needs to be on top form. Ponting will be the hard man to budge, he's such a great competitor, but he has very little quality support. I'll go for England, 2 - 1.

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