So there I was driving down Van Buren on my way to work, mind numb as usual, when I saw it. It was huge. It was grinning. It nearly made me lose control of my vehicle.
It was Linda McCartney.
Well, a billboard with her picture on it, but still--what the hell was she doing up there next to this crummy stretch of road? Here's what: Linda has her very own brand of vegetarian entrees, conveniently available in the frozen-food section of your local market, and her warm, meat-free countenance was up there pimping the stuff.
No big deal, just thought you'd like to know.
Maybe I'll be a Linda McCartney frozen vegetarian entree for Halloween.
And from the Lovely Linda, we move on to Freedy Johnston, a 32-year-old man from Kinsley, Kansas, who happens to be one of the finest songwriters around right now. Critics toss his name around with the likes of Bob Dylan and Randy Newman, and while those are big shoes to fill, Johnston's music stands strong on its own. His songs are pop/folk without being mellow, his lyrics tell introspective tales without lapsing into the scary world of touchy-feely. His latest album, This Perfect World, is filled with hooks and stories about people whose world is anything but. Johnston will be performing on Wednesday at the Rockin' Horse, and here he is by phone from somewhere in South Carolina, in all his honest, neurotic glory:
Screed: It seems like this rock 'n' roll thing is going pretty good for you these days.
Freedy: Oh, yeah, things are going okay. I'm a pretty humble guy as far as my expectations, though. I don't have any astronomical dreams at all. But things are going well and I'm happy about it because I've been working at it for a while, so it's nice that it's paying off. I don't feel undeserving or ashamed about it at all.
Screed: Well, there's no reason why you should feel ashamed, is there?
Freedy: Oh, well, I'm sure there's some voice in my head that would like me to feel that way. I've always been sort of guilt-ridden and I don't know why. I can't figure it out; I'm not Catholic. Sreed: Why'd you get into music?
Freedy: I was fairly antisocial, pretty unathletic, so it was the perfect thing for me.
Screed: You lived in Phoenix for a while, didn't you? Freedy: I lived in Sun City with my grandparents from 10 to 12 years old. That was when I discovered music, so I definitely have some weird, deep connection to Phoenix and the desert. Memories of being a kid there, and discovering music; it was totally magical. I first started listening to the radio, "Bennie and the Jets," "Band on the Run," "Let It Ride" by BTO. Still, when I hear that stuff, I almost break into tears. So it's really ironic now that I'm on the radio in Phoenix. It's come full circle. It really means something to me to come back to Phoenix.
Screed: But I read that you lived here in your 20s.
Freedy: There was a period of four months in '83 or '84 when I was living with my grandfather, that was just a really brief stint in Mesa. I was having some tough times. I was 21 and my grandfather was 85 or 86 and we were living together. It was strange.
I was totally alone there; I spent my 21st birthday alone in a trailer park and I didn't know anyone in the entire city. I went out to a bar on my own. It was really, really awful. I threw up in the bar, it was the most humiliating night of my life. It was kind of a bar/restaurant, so it was even more humiliating because there were people eating. That's how I spent my 21st birthday.
Screed: What was the name of the bar?
Freedy: I'm not gonna say.
Screed: Was that the same grandfather whose farm in Kansas you sold?
Freedy: Yeah, he divided up his farm among my siblings. I had to sell my share of wheatland to finish my [first] record, and it was a real gamble; I didn't realize how much of a gamble when I did it. It did pay off, but had it not paid off, I would really, really be unhappy.
Screed: That seems like such a drastic, romantic thing to do, selling the family farm. What was the family's reaction? Freedy: When I did it, I wasn't even thinking about that; it was my land. I've never even talked about it with my mother, not even for a second. She's happy I'm doing well now, but it's too sensitive to talk to my mother about. But I'll talk to you about it. One of those things.
Screed: I listened to your Unlucky album on an airplane from Kansas City to Phoenix recently. It was better than Dramamine.
Freedy: That's great to hear, because I have a terrible fear of flying, and it's almost paralyzing to the point that it's almost beyond fright. I assume when I get on an airliner that I'm going to die, and I start dealing with it. If it's time to go, it's time to go, I'm ready for it. There's no amount of comforting that's going to work, and I'm going to be flying so many flights the rest of my life. It's not fair to have to face that stress on a routine basis. It would make life a whole different thing if I never had to get on a plane again.
Screed: But you do quite a lot of touring.
Freedy: Oh, yeah, it's a good thing I don't have a real life at home because I wouldn't be able to enjoy it. My life is spent in hotel rooms. I have a suitcase with a four-track in it, a guitar and an amp, and I work.
Screed: Do you listen to music on the road?
Freedy: I carry one of those CD wallets, which forces me to listen to music, which I like to do. I find that I actually like to listen to music. In the past, I never really sat down and listened to records. I was always too busy working on my own stuff. I just bought the Jeff Buckley record, I like the Velvet Crush record, Urge Overkill. That Prince single, "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," I just have to listen to that song every couple of days. It's like a drug or something, I have to have it. Screed: Are you into music similar to your own?
Freedy: I don't have too many folkie, songwritery records. I don't know what goes on with those. I know it's a definite attitude problem that I have. I know that I'm just like them, I'm just another folkie with an acoustic on a lot of my songs. It's something--at least I think--that I've got to learn to appreciate and I'm having trouble with it. I always listen to things that are different from me. Screed: Such as?
Freedy: Well, there's some stuff I don't understand, so much so that I like listening to it. Like speed metal, or Slayer. I like watching their videos because they have so little to do with music. It has more to do with sports, or Dungeons and Dragons. A cross between a cartoon and a sport.
Screed: Do you read your own press?
Freedy: No. It either distracts me or pisses me off. I don't want to read some even slightly negative press 'cause it gets me unnecessarily upset. I've learned in the past that it does, so I avoid it all. It's not written for me, it's written for other people to read.
Screed: Your lyrics are very involved, almost like short stories at times.
Freedy: I'm not totally concerned that they be some mind-bending, groundbreaking achievement at all, I'm not concerned with propagating some kind of message. I just want them to be listenable and not stupid, that's the main thing. I don't want to suck. That's why writing lyrics is so tedious for me. I resist, I really procrastinate. I'm afraid of failure.
Screed: Do you get groupies who're into the sensitive, singer/songwriter-guy thing?
Freedy: No, that's never happened to me once.
Freedy: No, I'm totally lying.
Screed: Spill the beans.
Freedy: No way.
Go See: Tempe's own Horace Pinker brings its punk rawk here on a rare return home--the band has been on the road almost nonstop for the last year.
"We played a lot of the punk-rock shows from early '91 through the middle of '92," Pinkerman Bill Ramsey tells me from Houston. "Then we decided everyone's sick of us, we're going to go on tour for the rest of our lives."
The boys are slated to spend 45 minutes of their lives onstage at the Nile Theater on November 5. Call 649-2766.
Everyone's favorite music critic, that's right, Serene Dominic, will play the Mason Jar on Sunday with his band Semi-Detached. Get him while he's hot. Call 956-6271.