SCOTT SIMON, host:
Chris Smither releases his twelfth album next week. It's called Leave the Light On. He put out his first album in 1970, when they were called albums and not CDs. He's been playing and writing music all the while in-between. Here's a taste from his new release. The song is called Seems So Real.
(Soundbite of song, "Seems So Real")
Mr. CHRIS SMITHER (Singer/songwriter): (Singing) Up and down never mind the low. And now we're up. You couldn't get much higher. Diggin' deep working where it shows, trying to set your soul on fire.
SIMON: Chris Smither joins us now from the studios of WBUR in Boston. Thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. SMITHER: It's a pleasure.
SIMON: Your twelfth album, as we note. What keeps you making music?
Mr. SMITHER: Aside from the obvious thing, that it's almost the only thing I know how to do, I enjoy having written the songs. I can't say that I really enjoy writing them that much, but - I'm trying to come up with some way to describe it without resorting to some trite and true expressions. But the sort of the magic that happens when you get an audience involved in music and the whole thing becomes a collaborative effort for an hour and a half - that just hasn't gotten old for me. I'm not tired of it.
SIMON: That's not trite at all. I want to listen a little bit to the song that opens this CD. It's called Open Up.
Mr. SMITHER: Okay.
(Soundbite of song Open Up)
Mr. SMITHER: (Singing) Well, I don't think for pleasure, it's just hard not to do. My thinking is a measure of how much I need a clue. I'm still flying blind hoping I might find a way to stop my thinking and open up my mind. Well, I don't see too clearly...
SIMON: Is this a song written in the voice of someone who's been hurt?
Mr. SMITHER: Well, I don't know anybody who hasn't been hurt, so I suppose that's probably true. But you know, the - it's written in the voice of somebody who's still looking for the way, you know. But ultimately someone who's at least gotten the hint that there's some answers. There's a way to do things in such a way that you don't hurt yourself or anybody else either.
SIMON: Quit all those questions, just open up your heart.
Mr. SMITHER: Yeah. Well...
SIMON: Now the implication is, stop asking all those ridiculous questions and just live.
Mr. SMITHER: Yes. There, you see, you put your finger on it. Don't stop asking the big questions, but quit asking the ridiculous ones.
SIMON: So what's the most ridiculous question you think you've ever been asked in an interview? Unless we've already done it in the past couple of minutes.
Mr. SMITHER: No. One of the things that bothers me the most is not so much would you say that this song is about such and such, because that gives you an entrance, you know, but when somebody says, what's the song about, after they've just heard it - now, when you consider that you've probably spent anywhere from three weeks to three months writing the song and trying to make it as clear as possible and as condensed and concise as possible, for somebody to ask you what it's about is to tell you that you've failed.
SIMON: Okay. The song Diplomacy.
Mr. SMITHER: Uh-huh.
SIMON: What's this song about?
Mr. SMITHER: I would just say...
SIMON: Should we hear it? Let's hear a little. I did that for the exercise.
Mr. SMITHER: Okay.
SIMON: Let's hear a bit.
(Soundbite of song, "Diplomacy")
Mr. SMITHER: (Singing) We're getting edgy. We better find a war. There must be something worth fighting for. Peace is so peaceful. It ain't a way to survive. When nobody hates you nobody knows you're alive. We got the guns. We got old band too. They like to fire. They want to sing for you. Wham, bam, slip sliding away. You know the less you got the more you're gonna play.
SIMON: Now, you previously have not been known for doing songs this pointed or political.
Mr. SMITHER: Yeah that's true. That is true. It's one of those things that, you know, finally you make up your mind, well, it's time to say something. I have a daughter now. I just adopted a little girl a little over a year ago. And I would hate to have her grow up and ask me what I did when all this stuff was going on - all this stuff that I disagree with, you know?
(Soundbite of song, "Diplomacy")
Mr. SMITHER: (Singing) We are the land of the free, blind and leading the lame. We are the land of the free, blind and leading the lame. We got the land of the free riding and leading the lane.
SIMON: Let me ask you a question.
Mr. SMITHER: Uh-huh.
SIMON: And you've been open talking about this in the past. Did you - did you in some ways lose 20 years?
Mr. SMITHER: Well, not quite 20 but probably somewhere between a dozen and 15. Yeah, I did.
SIMON: Drugs? Drink?
Mr. SMITHER: Drink. Drink and drugs that allowed me to drink as much as I wanted. You know, it's just - again, you know, it's a waste of time but at the same time I wouldn't be the same person if I hadn't gone through that. Not that it's something that I recommend for other people, but it's a very difficult thing to say, do you wish that part of your life hadn't happened? Because you have absolutely no idea of what sort of person you'd be if it hadn't happened. Especially having come out the other side.
SIMON: You know, we have another cut that we'd like to play from a previous work of yours. Do you mind for just a second?
Mr. SMITHER: No. Not at all.
(Soundbite of song, "Love You Like a Man")
Mr. SMITHER: (Singing) Now you're coming home sad, laying down to cry. What you need is a man to hold you not a fool to ask you why. You know you need someone who cares. I could be your lover man. But you better believe me when I tell you I could love you like a man.
SIMON: But what do you think about that guy? Is he promising? Does he have...
Mr. SMITHER: Boy, he sounds young.
SIMON: That's 1970.
Mr. SMITHER: Love You Like a Man. That's a song that's been very good to me over the years.
SIMON: You get a lot of requests for it?
Mr. SMITHER: Sometimes I play it and people come up to me and ask me when I changed that Bonnie Raitt song.
SIMON: How do you say someone nicely, though, no, Bonnie Raitt did not write that song? She merely recorded my song.
Mr. SMITHER: Well, I don't say it like that. I usually just say it's my tune. And most people don't believe that it was written by a guy, because it's never been recorded by a man other than myself.
Mr. SMITHER: Yeah. I think there's 15 different covers of this song out there and every single one of them is by a woman.
SIMON: You conveniently have your guitar there, don't you?
Mr. SMITHER: I do.
SIMON: Anything you can play for us?
Mr. SMITHER: Yeah sure.
SIMON: What are we going to hear?
Mr. SMITHER: Well, this is one of my little educational numbers. This is an overview, a brief overview of human beginnings. This is called Origin of the Species.
(Singing) Well, Eve told Adam, snakes I've had 'em. Let's get outta here and go raise this family someplace out of town. They left the garden just in time with the landlord cussin' right behind. They headed east and they finally settled down. One thing led to another. A bunch of sons, one killed his brother. They kicked him out with nothing but his clothes. The human race survives because those brothers all found wives.
But where they came from there ain't nobody knows. Then came the flood go figure. Just like New Orleans only bigger. No one who couldn't swim would make it through. The luckier ones were on the boat. Think circus and then make it float and hope nobody pulls the plug on you. How they fed that crowd is a mystery. It ain't down in the history. It's a cinch they didn't live on cakes and jam. 'Cause lions don't eat cabbage. And in spite of that old adage you will never see one lie down with a lamb.
Charlie Darwin looked so far into the way things are that he caught a glimpse of God's unfolding plan. God said I'll make some DNA. They can use it any way they want from paramecium right up to man. They'll have sex and mix up sections of their code. They'll have mutations. The whole thing works like clockwork over time. I'll just sit back in the shade while everyone gets laid. That's what I call intelligent design. Yeah, you and your cat named Felix, you're both wrapped up in that double helix, is what we calling intelligent design.
SIMON: Thank you, Mr. Smither. And it's amazing: you did get more or less all of human history in there. I'm a little bit surprised the Red Sox winning the World Series didn't make it in, but maybe...
Mr. SMITHER: Oh, it should have been. It should have been.
SIMON: All right. Thank you so much. Nice talking to you.
Mr. SMITHER: Good talking to you.
SIMON: Chris Smither's Leave the Light On comes out next week. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.