STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
The singer John Mayer has spent 33 weeks on the music charts with what sounds like an antiwar song.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAITING ON THE WORLD TO CHANGE")
JOHN MAYER: (Singing) Now if we had the power to bring our neighbors home from war, they would have never missed a Christmas, no more ribbons on their door.
INSKEEP: It sounds like a protest song, but different from the protests of an older generation. Mayer is 29, and the song turns into more of an explanation for why his generation seems so apathetic.
(SOUNDBITE OF "WAITING ON THE WORLD TO CHANGE")
MAYER: (Singing) It's not that we don't care, we just know that the fight ain't fair. So we keep on waiting, waiting, waiting on the world to change.
INSKEEP: Rather than urging people to change the world, John Mayer seems to say, there's nothing we can do. That, at least, is one way to interpret "Waiting On The World To Change." When you ask about it, you hear one musician's understanding of the generation that he'd like to speak for.
MAYER: Look, demanding somebody do anything at this day and age is not going to fly. Kids don't even like being talked to like kids anymore, you know? Just give me the option and I'll think about it. I don't know that I would have had success if it was like...
(Singing) We got to change it, change it. No, we got to change the world. We got to change it, change it.
It'd be like, that's neat. That's neat, but don't tell me what I need to do. So, basically, it's like, you know...
(Singing) Hey dude, on your own time, on your own dime, look up some stuff, but don't think it's 'cause I told you to.
You know, a song is - all I want a song to do is to just kind of present an idea. I'm a lover, not a fighter. It's what Michael Jackson said to Paul McCartney on 1983's "The Girl is Mine," you know?
INSKEEP: Well, maybe this is a good moment to ask you, and the excellent guitar player Robbie Macintosh - you're both in our New York bureau with acoustic guitars - ask you to play your song "Belief."
MAYER: Okay, cool.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BELIEF")
MAYER: (Singing) Is there anyone who ever remembers changing their mind from the paint on a sign? Is there anyone who really recalls ever breaking, wreck at all? Something, someone yelled real loud one time. Everyone believes we're never gonna win the wordl. We're never gonna stop the war. We're never gonna beat this if belief is what we're fighting for. We're never gonna win the world. We're never gonna stop the war. We're never gonna beat this if belief is what we're fighting for. What puts a hundred thousand children in the sand? Belief can. Belief can. What puts the folded flag inside his mother's hand? Belief can. Belief can.
INSKEEP: John Mayer, a song from his album "Continuum," played here acoustically with Robbie Macintosh. You know, the lyrics in that song give me a sense of a really passionate point of view.
MAYER: You know, they do go hand in hand. I mean, "Belief" and "Waiting On The World To Change" go hand in hand. "Belief" maybe explains "Waiting On The World To Change" a little bit, you know? Tricky song. Writing a song about belief is a land mine of defenses, you know?
INSKEEP: You're talking about people that are certain that they have the right ideology, the right religion.
MAYER: I'm taking everybody. No, everybody. I'm talking about the chemistry of belief and how futile it is to think that you could replace one belief with another belief, you know? You only need to turn to a cable news show to realize that in the history of cable news shows, nobody - when they split the screen - and had, you know, Seattle and L.A. on together. Nobody, you know, ever went, you know what? All right hold on a second Charlie. You know what? I got to tell you. Seattle's got me on this. You know what I mean? I'll see you at the rally.
INSKEEP: People just push their own point of view and don't listen to the other side.
MAYER: But I don't think they need - I mean, listening - the only way that anybody can change a belief is internally.
INSKEEP: If I take something away from these lyrics that aren't - isn't quite what you intend, is that okay with you?
MAYER: Absolutely. I take it to a certain point. You know, I take it to the 10-yard line. That's what I do.
INSKEEP: And somebody else drives it in the red goal.
MAYER: That's what I do. That's the job that I have, you know.
INSKEEP: There's another song you're written called "Gravity."
INSKEEP: Which you said somewhere is the most important song - or one of the most important songs - to you that you've ever written.
MAYER: And not political. I can finally stop sweating when I talk to you - says a young, stupid Mayer, you know? I'm just constantly frightened that every quote I have will be preceded by, you know, I'm John Mayer, this is NPR. When I was in the studio earlier, talking to Steve, it was early and I was still in a mental fog. Here are some things I said that bloggers will pick up and make my life more difficult over.
INSKEEP: Is it true that you wanted to be a radio announcer of some kind?
MAYER: Can you hear that special timbre?
INSKEEP: I can hear that special timbre.
MAYER: There's honey in there.
INSKEEP: Okay. So, there's a song called "Gravity." Why is it the most important song you've written?
MAYER: I was very successful from a very early age, and I want to keep it, you know? And how do you live your life based on what you want as opposed to what you can have? I would love never to have to go to rehab, love never to have to divorce, love never to have to - in a documentary of me - see a picture of myself spun around with a Ken Burns effect, and then hear, like, and then things get out of control, next on inside - you know, I mean, "Gravity" is my reminder to keep the - stay in the noble path.
INSKEEP: You're flying high and you want to keep flying high.
MAYER: I don't want (unintelligible). I always kind of feel like human beings are better at, like, attaining than keeping.
INSKEEP: John Mayer, the song from his album "Continuum," "Gravity."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRAVITY")
MAYER: (Singing) Gravity is working against me. Gravity wants to bring me down. Oh, I'll never know what makes this man with all the love that his heart can stand.
Want to play, Robbie? You play it.
INSKEEP: Not that we're telling you what to do, but if you'd like to hear more of John Mayer's performance, just go to npr.org. It's up to you.
(SOUNDBITE OF "GRAVITY")
MAYER: (Singing) Gravity, stay the hell away from me. Oh, now how can that be? Just keep me where the light is. Just keep me where the light is. Just keep me where the light is. Oh, yeah.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.