Steve Forbert, Seasoned Optimist, In Studio 4A
SCOTT SIMON, host:
All right. So during your lifetime who are some of the other singer-songwriters who you've heard dubbed the new Dylan?
Mr. STEVE FORBERT (Musician): Let's see. John Prine is one, Bruce Springsteen was one. I think maybe Eliot Murphy was one. Loudon Wainwright III was one.
SIMON: So what's it like to carry around?
Mr. FORBERT: Oh, it's nothing. You can't pay any attention to that. It was just a cliché back then and it's nothing I take seriously. And it's a good thing. It means I, you know, I'm off the hook. I don't have to be smarter than everybody else and know all the answers, like Bob Dylan.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: Well, we're talking to a pretty smart man under any circumstance, Steve Forbert. Chances are he's played in a venue somewhere near you during the past 30 years. Of course, "Romeo's Tune" was his major hit in 1979 and he's been making music steadily ever since. Writing songs, singing them on CDs, and on the road.
And a distinctive voice that's weathered but vulnerable - or if you prefer, shy but seasoned. Steve Forbert has a new CD out. It's called "The Place and Time." Thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. FORBERT: Shy but seasoned? Was that your…
SIMON: Yeah, I came up with that, yeah. What do you think?
Mr. FORBERT: I was saying, that's a new one.
SIMON: Good. Glad we could contribute something. You're on the road an awful lot, aren't you?
Mr. FORBERT: Yes.
SIMON: You must like it.
Mr. FORBERT: I love it. You like, you know, I would say, no, I don't like all the packing and unpacking and moving and this and that, but I love it.
Mr. FORBERT: I don't know. It's just part of the whole troubadour thing. It's part of the whole deal. You love it and you're going to do it or you don't care for it and you're not going to do it.
SIMON: We're really fortunate that you're joining us in the studio to play some songs from your new CD. We've got several possibilities but could we begin with "Hang On Again Till the Sun Shines"?
Mr. FORBERT: Sure. We're trying to get the guitar accustomed to the climate here in the studio, but I think it's all right.
(Soundbite of song, "Hang On Again Till the Sun Shines")
Mr. FORBERT: New York City's grown old now, Its arms won't unfold now; Strangers' faces all cold now, An' I'm cold, too. Hang on again till the sun shines, Hang on again till the sun shines, Hang on again till the sun shines through. And what to do I would ask you? And what to do? And what to do I would ask you? And what to do? Live on dreams, that might do, Even if dreams don't come true.
New York City's just stone now, The green leaves are gone now; Wind rips through to your bones now, And I'm cold too. Hang on again till the sun shines, Hang on again till the sun shines, Hang on again till the sun shines through.
Live on dreams, that might do, Even if dreams don't come true. New York City's grown old now, Its arms won't unfold now; Strangers' faces all cold now, And I'm cold too. Strangers' faces all cold now, And I'm cold too…
Hang on again till the sun shines, Hang on again till the sun shines, Hang on again till the sun shines through.
(Speaking) Something like that.
SIMON: That's an awful nice song.
Mr. FORBERT: Thank you.
SIMON: I want to describe for our listeners the setup we have here. Because here you are a man and his guitar, but you've got a number of harmonicas laid out the way a great chef probably has a lot of knives laid out on the table. You've got - what is that board that you're stomping on below you?
Mr. FORBERT: This is probably about a half inch by two feet or so piece of plywood.
SIMON: And you didn't think we had wooden floors or…
Mr. FORBERT: Well, I like to have this surface, which gives it something else a little more, you know, resonance to the sound, I suppose. Not quite as snappy as this hard floor of yours. But I pick these up all over the place, you know, and then I just leave them at clubs. My last stop on the tour - I don't have a particular one I carry around. They're easy to get.
SIMON: I love the line - live on dreams, that might do, even if dreams don't come true. Read a quote somewhere that you're considered one of the great optimists of American songwriting.
Mr. FORBERT: Well, that's getting into my little press section of late. And it kind of is the case, I think, in the message of the songs and maybe in the delivery, you know? If you knew me personally, you probably wouldn't think that was describing me. The songwriter part of me - not to be too analytical about it - is kind of a different voice, really.
SIMON: Wonder if we can - another song that I'd like to hear, I don't mind telling you, is "Stolen Identity."
Mr. FORBERT: Okay.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. FORBERT: Okay, you're ready?
(Soundbite of song, "Stolen Identity")
Mr. FORBERT: (Singing) I worked all week each month this fall, I also had myself a ball, punched a clock each day like most and also shopped the whole east coast. There ain't no telling where I'll be, because of late there's two of me. One has tons of fun for free, with my stolen identity…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FORBERT: (Singing) …my stolen identity. I bought two suits in Baltimore, jewelry on the Jersey shore. Popped up next in Portland, Maine for lobster tails and French champagne. There ain't no telling where I'll be because of late there's two of me. One of has tons of fun for free with my stolen identity, my stolen identity.
What have I done? Where have I been? The information's rolling in. A paper trail comes in the mail. I would like to put myself in jail. An evening out on Harvard Square - I really lived it up up there. I did it all, I got around, and not once left my own hometown. There ain't no telling where I'll be because of late there's two of me. One has tons of fun for free with my stolen identity, my stolen identity.
I've got to stop myself somehow. I have become a problem now. I really should be done with it but I just don't know when to quit. I hope to meet myself some day, that is the man whose bills I pay. We'll both get wined and caviared and he'll pull out a credit card. There ain't no telling where I'll be because of late there's two of me. One has tons of fun for free with my stolen identity, my stolen identity.
An angry husband's at my door. I have not met his wife before. He's not convinced and wants to fight. I guess I had some fun last night. There ain't no telling where I'll be because of late there's two of me. One has tons of fun for free with my stolen identity, my stolen identity, my stolen identity, my stolen identity.
(Soundbite of applause)
SIMON: That is an instant classic.
Mr. FORBERT: Thank you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: You're really - we're getting a call from - is Visa on the line? Is that what you're saying? Yeah, Visa's calling for you. That must be a concern, though. You're on the road so much.
Mr. FORBERT: Well, and I did have my - someone, you know, use some credit card information a few years ago, but it hasn't really happened to me where there's really some guy who's doing an ongoing thing. It just struck me that it's, you know, sorry to say, it could be funny, you know, this impostor wrecking your life while you're minding your own business and working hard.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: Yeah. Can I give you some questions from listeners?
Mr. FORBERT: Sure.
SIMON: We sent the word out. Glenda Freeman asks how do you make each audience feel special?
Mr. FORBERT: Well, this could sound like a showbiz answer, Scott, but you know, every now and then you get one that is just kind of a monster. It's nothing to do with the individuals. It's just kind of the night, the place, the mood, whatever. You can't - but generally speaking, each one is special. That's the fun of it to me.
SIMON: B. Talisman asks how does he make his hotel or travel home?
Mr. FORBERT: You know, I don't make it home. I think Keith Richards puts scarves over the lights and makes everything - maybe burns some incense and all. I think they burn incense everywhere they go - the Rolling Stones, officially, I've been told. But, you know, to me, I'm just moving. I don't have a staff to customize my room. I'm going to be gone in 12 hours tops.
SIMON: And everywhere you go, do people want to hear "Romeo's Tune"?
Mr. FORBERT: Yeah. That's fine. You know, it's pretty well through the ages. Twenty-four, 34, 44, 54 - still, you know, able to sing it and mean it.
SIMON: Is that the key, able to sing it and mean it?
Mr. FORBERT: Is that the key, is that the key? You know, it's okay that a lot of people are there to hear it. You know, otherwise, what if they weren't there? So no complaints.
SIMON: Mr. Forbert, thanks so much.
Mr. FORBERT: You're welcome.
SIMON: Steve Forbert - his new release is "The Place and Time." And you can hear more of Steve Forbert's performance here in our studios at NPR on NPRMusic.org.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
(Soundbite of song, "Romeo's Tune")
Mr. FORBERT: (Singing) Meet me in the middle of the day, Let me hear you say everything's okay, Bring me southern kisses from your room, Meet me in the middle of the night, Let me hear you say everything's alright, Let me smell the moon in your perfume…
Oh, Gods and years will rise and fall, And there's always something more, Lost in talk, I waste my time, And it's all been said before, While further down behind the masquerade, The tears are there, I don't ask for all that much, I just want someone to care…
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