You wrote “Fortunate Son” over 30 years ago and it still rings true, even more so today.
I am personally a very political person and of course, the fact that I came of age in the ‘60s…that’s probably not so remarkable. Especially for my generation, the group of people who are now called “boomers,” the late ‘60s was a very remarkable, creative, volatile, tumultuous and wonderful time. I think we literally believed we could change the world and, in some ways, we really did. I was very, very political. The Vietnam War was at its height, and I was very much aware that rich kids were not serving and certainly, lower, middle class and poor people were serving. I certainly took note that Richard Nixon’s offspring…I always had his daughter’s names wrong. I think Tricia was going with David Eisenhower. I thought, they’re never going to Vietnam. So literally in my mind, “A senator’s son” could have been any one of those people. As I said in the late ‘60s, Nixon was a source of unending inspiration [laughs] because he was just so evil to me. It was very noticeable that rich people waged the wars and poor people fought ‘em. The whole business about rich people complaining about taxes but they never pay ‘em…Ronald Regan became the patron saint of that years later. Weren’t there a few years where he paid zero taxes? You thought to yourself, “How in the world can this work” [laughs]? They were fortunate sons. They were the sons of well-heeled and connected people.
Do you write songs to please yourself or audience in mind?
That’s a very interesting question. There’s stuff that I do at the nanosecond of creation, especially a guitar part, that’s probably for me. But then when I begin to weigh it against how it holds up, I seem to be writing for this other person out there-an audience. Lately I think I’ve discovered that person might be me out there. Where I get in trouble is if I think, “This is way hip. So and so critic is gonna think this is really intellectual and cool.” Well, that is the road to ruin right there.
Through the years you’ve selected Green River as one of your favorite albums. What makes that one special?
The song was the centerpiece of the Green River album-and the album too. I always considered it to be the very center of my music. It was all about what I was trying to be. I just felt that Green River kind of nailed what I was all about musically. The fact that it’s so much like Sun records is not an accident. I guess I would have liked nothing better than to have been an artist in the Sun Records stable of acts. Carl Perkins once said something very flattering to me: “Man, the way that boy can write, if he’d walked in the door and seen Sam [Phillips], who knows what would have happened?”