Let The Bad Times Roll

Paul Westerberg talks about drinking, depressed fans, and finding a reason to live

Paul Westerberg has a cold. So does his wife, Laurie Lindeen, and so does their son, Johnny, and so does the interviewer. So all concerned cut their losses last week and, in order to discuss Westerberg's new movie, music, and life, talked for an hour over the phone.


City Pages: How's your dad?

Darin Back

Paul Westerberg: He's kind of going down slow. Yesterday, Johnny and Laura stayed away [from Westerberg's parents' house] because they had the cold, and I felt fine, and now this morning I've got it. If I gave him a cold he wouldn't bounce back from it. He's on oxygen and a nebulizer. He won't go in a hospital bed, he just lays in his own bed. You walk in there, and he weighs like 100 [pounds]. He hasn't eaten in 10 days. I made him a couple of shakes with some Ensure in it, and he kind of went for that. We watched the whole Twins game together, and he said maybe three words the whole time. It's emphysema. He's got one-fourth the use of one lung, so it's kind of weird.


CP: You said at the Guthrie [concert] that he's never seen you play, and that you love him to death for it. Is that true?

Westerberg: It is true. It would never be confused or misconstrued that [he] likes me because of what I do or what I've done. You know, he likes me because I'm his son. I have to go long and far to find someone who knows me just as me, rather than me the songwriter or whatever. And there's a song that sort of points to him, and unfortunately a couple of the ones that are about him on the Folker record [due this spring] will probably be out, I'm guessing, when he's in hell. So he's not gonna hear the "I love my dad" songs, but he knows it.


CP: What are some of your favorite rock movies?

Westerberg: [The Bob Dylan documentary] Don't Look Back. I've got a bootleg copy of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones. I like that better than Gimme Shelter, actually. I sat through Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones like three times at the Skyway when it came out [in 1974]. I don't know. I'm hard-pressed to think of a lot of great rock movies. Y'know, Blackboard Jungle [laughs].


CP: What do you like about Don't Look Back?

Westerberg: Everything. Just seeing Bob so pure and seeing him getting bitter already, where he really flies off the handle, and allows us to see him as a real creep, and then there's the other side of him that's thoughtful and creative and shit. For me, that movie sort of has everything. I like the Nico one [Nico-Icon], but that was sort of put together by her friends.


CP: I love the scene in Don't Look Back in that hotel room, where Donovan just gets destroyed by Bob, who kind of nods along to Donovan's song, and then does "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."

Westerberg: Yeah [laughs]. And also, you can barely see it but--I've read books--Marianne Faithful's in the room waiting for Joan Baez to leave. Which never happens, and then Joan Baez leaves at the crack of dawn.


CP: At the beginning of [the Westerberg documentary] Come Feel Me Tremble, you talk a little bit about having ADD.

Westerberg: I did? I don't remember.


CP: Right. Watching it, I couldn't help but think, is it truly ADD? Or is it simply the workings of a creative mind, and you get bored with reality? Like the John Lennon thing about, "reality leaves a lot to the imagination."

Westerberg: Yeah. I don't know. It's brain damage of some sort. [ADD is] a medical/psychological viewpoint of it. And the other one would be the creative side. All creative people have it, and it makes us poor drivers or poor followers of directions, and we don't like to be told what to do, and information goes in one ear and out the other. But you sort of overcompensate with that imagination part of your brain that gets the muscles flexed.


CP: Listening to the soundtrack, I couldn't help but juxtapose two lyrics: "We're feeling good from the pills we took, aw baby don't gimme that look" [from "Talent Show," 1989] and "I'm drinking once again, just to make the pills kick in" [from "Knockin' Em Back," 2003]. Your thoughts, sir?

Westerberg: [Laughs] My thoughts? I have no thoughts about that line. Take it as you wish.


CP: But what about the drinking? Is it a big deal, or has it been a big deal, because you weren't for a long time.

Westerberg: Yeah, it's not a big deal. It's like, I'll probably stop again for 10 years and no one will know the difference. I mean, I could've been drinking for the last 15 [years] for all people know. It no longer plays a role in the creative process. I always write [songs] in the day, anyway.


CP: The cool thing that the documentary captures is the love your fans have for you. When I think of you, I think of you as a loner, and then we see you onstage on that couch surrounded by people, and at the in-stores, and talking with them by the tour bus. It's cool to see; it's more like you're a ringleader than a wallflower.

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