Let The Bad Times Roll

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

Westerberg: I definitely wanted to see who the fans were, because I'd been away long enough. And back when I was playing before [the Stereo/Mono tour, when the Come Feel Me Tremble footage was shot], I wouldn't hang around to meet them. Doing the in-stores was something new for me. It scared me, and it was dangerous, and it appealed to me.


CP: Does the intensity of some of your fans ever flip you out?

Darin Back

Westerberg: Well, some of them get pretty deep. I hear, "You got me through" as their opening line a lot. Usually when that starts, I sort of go on automatic listen. A lot of 'em will just say, "I've seen you 20 times and I think you're great, thank you," and move on. Occasionally someone will say, "I'd never heard of you, my friend just hipped me to you," and that's always fun, too. But, yeah. There's a little fistful of weirdos that are looking for me to show them the way to life.


CP: What is the way, Paulie?

Westerberg: I don't know. I think it should be evident by now, but I'm as lost as anyone.


CP: Do you still hope to land on commercial radio?

Westerberg: I'm always slightly baffled when I get done with a record, because to my ear it sounds like what I would like to hear on the radio. But I guess it's just not meant to be. I went through the dog-and-pony shows with the major labels and did 500 interviews and meet-and-greets and all the shit you have to do to get on the radio, and they never found the song they wanted to ram home. It's like, it's up to the people to fall in love with the song. The record company can only do so much.


CP: You could always go on American Idol.

Westerberg: True. What is that? I haven't seen it. What is that, like one person gets his choice of something? Somebody said to me the other day, and I took it as a direct insult, that [Come Feel Me Tremble] is like a reality TV show movie. God. It's different. It's not like any documentary I've ever seen. It's got bits that are like this or that [documentary], but it's got a soundtrack that has a whole bunch of songs that have nothing to do with the movie.


CP: Have you heard the Lucinda Williams song ["Real Live Bleeding Fingers," which Williams penned about Westerberg]?

Westerberg: Uh-huh. I've only heard it once. I saw her perform it on television once. All I'll say is that she's a true songwriter, and I am too, and you have to take these things with a grain of salt. The hack songwriter will write the absolute truth every single word, whether it makes a great song or not. And the good songwriter takes something as a springboard and then goes from there. There's no saying that verse two isn't about something else. You know, fuck, I think "Jumpin' Jack Flash" was written about me. I put myself in all the songs I love. The singer's singing to me, y'know? I'm flattered, but it doesn't affect me, really.

People don't understand. People chase, to this day, "Who is the Mr. Tambourine Man?" Songs aren't really written that way. You take something that inspires you, and it might just be a roaring pack of lies.


CP: You cover "These Days" by Jackson Browne on the soundtrack. Still a Jackson fan?

Westerberg: Yeah. I went to see [Tom] Petty, and Jackson was opening. [Backstage] I walked past him and he looked at me and I looked at him, and it was like, "Here's my chance." And I couldn't open my mouth. Couldn't say it. Couldn't wink. Couldn't nothin'. So maybe he'll catch wind of it, though in all honesty, it's the Nico version [of "These Days"] that I heard for years and loved. I've never heard his.

CP: Tell me about the Sylvia Plath song ["Crackle and Drag," which lifts the last line from the suicidal poet's last poem, "Edge"]. What is it about her that you so empathize with?

Westerberg: I read The Bell Jar, and then I read her memoir and her diaries, and a third book, an outside opinion. Just the way she made the pillows so neat on the oven door. It just seems to be the opposite of, if you're going to take your life, in a horrible rage it happens. It isn't so well thought-out, like "make sure the kids don't smell any of the fumes." I always go back and forth: Would I have done that and saved the children, to see their dead mother? Or would I have killed the kids with me?

I don't know. She's one of those that does break the mold of, well, you knew it was coming. Unlike, let's say [late Minneapolis musician] Katie O'Brien [whom Westerberg paid tribute to in his 2001 song "No Place For You"], where nobody knew it was coming. I guess I'm attracted to both.


CP: What do you mean "attracted"?

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