20 Questions: JD Souther

Photo: Jeremy Cowart

The man who helped create monster hits for the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt takes them back on his latest album, and along the way reveals why he wishes to live in multiple universes at once . . .

JD Souther has had one of the more remarkable songwriting careers in recent memory.

After all, even with his numerous solo successes ("You're Only Lonely", his James Taylor collaboration "Her Town Too"), Souther has had a hand in crafting numerous hits for the Eagles, produced notable songs by Linda Ronstadt, and even sang backup on Christopher Cross' Grammy-winning smash of a debut album. Now, following the success of his long-in-the-works 2008 effort If The World Was You, Souther is now back with one of his most reflective and personal albums to date: the lovely, muted, Natural History, wherein he re-records several of those hits that he helped other artists make so popular in the first place.

To help celebrate its release, Souther stopped by to answer PopMatters' 20 Questions, here revealing a love dogs, a penchant for borrowing airplanes, and how Stephen Hawking's books jokingly make him cry . . .

* * *

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I recently reread Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and felt again the abject sorrow for what white people have done to Native Americans. Also, any writing about the death or endangerment of a beloved dog breaks my heart (example: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein or Nop's Trials by Donald McCaig). Also Stephen Hawking's books make me cry because I can't follow the math.

2. The fictional character most like you?

I don't know if the fictional character I like most is like me, but the crazy image of Gatsby throwing his closet full of hand made shirts in the air resonates.

3. The greatest album, ever?

It's a mood thing. By day, Glenn Gould's first recording of the Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach. By night, obviously, it's Kind of Blue.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Where Nimoy goes, I follow. LLAP.

5. Your ideal brain food? [Note: We mean 'brain food' as in creative sustenance, not literal food.]

To bracket and then italicize "[... creative sustenance, not literal food.]" may display a thoroughly Eurocentric god/man relationship that is a pathetic pseudo scientific explanation of a Bronze Age mythology. I deign to comment further. Although food counts.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I seem to be fulfilling both my dreams and those of my father. I couldn't ask for more.

7. You want to be remembered for . . . ?

It's all about body of work. One good thing is promising. Two good things are great. A lifetime of good work is a true accomplishment.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

[John] Coltrane, for sure. The combination of talent, artistic freedom, and incredible discipline in his work staggers me. And of course, Ray Charles.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The Bill of Rights.

10. Your hidden talents . . . ?

. . . have been revealed to the few, but remain hidden from the many.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

Advice is difficult if not impossible for me to follow. But a good example can last a lifetime. Two examples: high school drama teacher Neil Hess. College: Music Theory and Composition professor Evan Tonsing. What these guys taught me will stay with me forever.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

My friend Mike and I stole . . . well, borrowed [a] Cessna 172 single engine airplane, but we did return it without a scratch.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . . ?

In life: Levi 501s. On stage: Canali suits.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

I love Ritz Carlton Hotels and would live in one if I could afford it, but with the exception of Dean Faring's excellent restaurant in the Dallas R/C and BLT Market in the R/C in Central Park, I almost always eat in my room. Company is optional.

15. Time travel: where, when, and why?

Where have you been for the last few hundred years?

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?

Ok, so you pick one . . . Aw fuck it, sex.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . . ?


18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I'm definitely a city mouse living as a country mouse, and loving it. I even grow winter wheat and blue stem. If I told you where I'd have to kill you.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Keep your promises.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

A plan to telekinetically alter the space/time continuum enough to exist in more than one dimension at a time, and be aware of it in each one. Since that's not completely worked out yet, I suppose I'll finish the music to this trio album I've been working on. If you buy enough copies of Natural History, I'll do another one like it.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.