John Mayer is one of the best rock-star interviews. He’s thoughtful, articulate and deeply self-aware, as well as witty and self-deprecating. He doesn’t duck tough questions. He says provocative things. And he doesn’t censor himself.
Mayer can be wonderfully insightful — and unbelievably idiotic. That’s why his interviews get him on magazine covers and in hot water. In recent chats with Rolling Stone and Playboy, he talked about why he masturbates, how former lover Jessica Simpson was like crack cocaine to him and that his biggest dream is to write pornography.
Those pronouncements are probably not what people expect from a female-loved hitmaker known for his soothing voice, sensitive lyrics and hot guitar licks.
Musically, Mayer — who has won three Grammys, released four smash studio albums and jammed with Eric Clapton — is widely respected.
Take it from country superstar Brad Paisley: “I’m a big fan. He writes great songs and he sings uniquely. His (guitar) playing has come so far; he started out a great player and got even better. I think he’s been a great influence on music. I wish he was better at keeping his personal life out of the tabloids, because I think that is a major distraction for his music.”
Indeed. The day after Playboy hit the newsstands (and gossip wires) in early February, Mayer, 32, spent four often-tearful minutes onstage in Nashville apologizing for his big mouth. (“In a quest to be clever,” he said, he ended up crawling into “a wormhole of selfishness, greed and arrogance”; find it on YouTube.)
Mayer turned down three requests for an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune — my pitch was not to talk about sex and drugs but rather rock ‘n’ roll.
I did speak with Mayer by telephone in 2007, and he explained his obsessive creativity (“when that creative bug hits, I’ve got to cancel dinner and stay in and write”) and his screwups (“to think I’m going to go through life without a misstep, forget about it. ... what matters is your intention and your heart and soul and being a good guy”). He candidly declared that the Dixie Chicks, not he, deserved the Grammy for album of the year (the Chicks wound up winning for “Taking the Long Way” over his “Continuum”).
Mayer’s recent Rolling Stone cover story and Playboy interview were intended to promote his chart-topping but slightly disappointing CD “Battle Studies” and tour. To Playboy, he admitted: “I think the world would be better off if I stopped doing interviews.”
Prince said something similar when I first interviewed him in 1978. But his decision was about creating a mystery for marketing purposes. Mayer’s is for self-protection and self-preservation.