Q&A October 2011, Part I

Art imitates Life - we believe - and some of your songs do that more obviously ("Cooksferry Queen," "Joseph Locke," "King of Bohemia"). But does Life also imitate Art? Or is it just coincidence in a shrinking world? These examples occurred to me recently:

1) A street a hundred yards from my house (on a small island near Seattle) was recently renamed Tabor Avenue, with no fanfare and no reason given. Could it possibly be named for singer June, the great Valerianan and Thompson fan? (Does my placing June and Richard above all others in the Folk-and-beyond genre mean I have good taste? Or, more likely, that I share the doom-and-gloom gene?)

2) How many of those '50s Vincent Black Lightning motorcycles remain operable? What about in the States? Well, there's one right here on the island, ridden by a large barrel-chested guy about 60, looking tough but from another time as he rides the roads on his vintage bike, garbed in WWII goggles and bomber jacket. (I hear he's an ex- record label promo man.)

3) I was in the Tongan Islands some years ago and wandered by a video store in the capital city. Rather than martial arts and horror movies, the front window was full of Elvis Presley records and memorabilia. Stepping inside I learned that the owner spoke no English (a customer interpreted), but she was such an Elvis fan that she'd gone from Nuku'alofa to Graceland-two times!-to be with the King.

I'm sure there are other examples in the lives of most of us but, Richard, sir, have you had the experience of coming to a sudden halt, thinking, "Wait a minute. This looks too familiar. I wrote about that man/that machine/that moment in my song X... But I've never been here/never seen her before."

Are such moments real or are they Memorex? Is it deja vu all over again? Curiously yours, Ed Leimbacher

Many writers claim that they see characters from their stories in real life. I would say it's hard to know whether one summons them up, or whether they were there all along, but now you're paying more attention to them. I tend to be one of those people who believes that everything is connected to everything else, especially the outside to the inside, so one should not be surprised by these kinds of coincidences. Of course, this is not rational or scientific.

Question from Canada
Hi BeeKeeper: We love the fact that Richard includes Canada in his tours, and I am sorry I was unable to go to the Koerner Hall show. I was wondering: is there any hassle with crossing the border - either getting in, or getting out and back into the  USA? There are some artists who just never come up here... for some tiny infraction (or other reason) they don't "do" Canada. Best regards, Madeleine Hague - Toronto, Ontario

We have fairly easy crossings these days - the paperwork is sent ahead, and it's usually just a few extra minutes. There was a period when the UK was being tougher on immigration, and so Canada reciprocated, and there was a bit of attitude for a while. If we drive across with the tour bus, they always go through the whole thing - looking for drugs, I suppose. We have to allow a good bit of extra time for the border crossing, just in case they decide to strip everything - typically, we drive in the night before we play... Last year, Simon and I were in Vermont, I think, and we thought we'd take a scenic route and cross at a tiny customs post to avoid the big queues. Mistake! They went through everything. They were so excited to get customers.

Your show in Stoughton, WI was beyond fantastic! You generate more energy and enthusiasm with your acoustic guitar, your lyrics and your vocals than most top-shelf rock bands can muster. But this was a question and answer session. My question is this. How can you write such somber lyrics and yet pair them to, oft times, upbeat music with a sly/humorous stage presence? Brian Moyer

I like the contrast. If you thought it was a good show, then maybe you found it effective?

Re: Questions for Richard
Any thoughts on the Arab Spring? Thanks, Tim Whitney

It's been a long time coming. The end of the Ottoman Empire, England and France draw lines in the sand, post-imperial convolutions, socialism, despotism - it's way past time for these dictators and military regimes to move on, and if we can't have a caliphate, democracy will do for now. Unfortunately, the oil-rich states are harder to budge, but not impossible. Hurray for people power, and the possibilities of the internet.