To this day, Hofmann prefers to stay home and practice. Despite his own self-diagnosis, he's not a shut-in. He's a family man. "I've got a very solitary nature that feeds my music," he says, and family life seems to be feeding that solitude. Musicians, it seems, are always surrounded by people, and that usually makes them the loneliest guests at the after-party. Hofmann, on the other hand, is anything but alone, what with his day job, wife, and kid. It's like that old Greta Garbo quote: He doesn't want to be alone; he wants to be left alone. There is all the difference.
"My life is fuller and richer now than it's ever been," Hofmann says, as Sue busies herself in the kitchen and excuses the toddler toys strewn about the dining room. "Life with Sue and Simon is nice. I don't want my music to usurp that. I mean, music is my life, but I try to create a balance."
As he says this, Hofmann takes a sip of his tea, and I'm struck by that word "balance." I've heard him use it before--not in this dining room, though. It was while listening to his CD on the car ride over here; the lounge-style marriage meditation "She Balances," in which Hofmann celebrates his loving union with Sue by examining the ways in which that relationship unified the scattered components of his own life. While Hofmann continues to tell me about the musical milestones of that life--about how he studied classical guitar in college, and how Thelonious Monk was the first jazz musician to really speak to him, and how he's been undertaking a long study of South American guitar--I stare into the pile of toys in the corner of the room and notice a small plastic boat. The infectious refrain from "Little Boat You Must Wander This World" instantly fills my head. I look back at Hofmann, and then down at his tea, and I remember another track on Mermaid: "Mauritius," in which the singer tells the Beatniks to keep their weed, it's tea he needs.
And suddenly it all makes sense: the house, the wife, the plastic boat, the tea. Here I was, looking for some grand event, some trauma, some explosive thing that calmed Hofmann's ear and smoothed his wrinkles. But nothing like that happened. Domesticity happened. Hofmann's at a point in his life when speeding up and slowing down are starting to coincide, and Mermaid on the Rocks, with its lackadaisically multiculti charm and lovey-dovey undertones, is the record that he was bound to make.
As if to affirm my revelation, Hofmann says, "When you do things by yourself, you're forced to go as fast as the rest of your life goes.
"We, happily, are just kind of chugging along over here."