Fans fragen, Al antwortet - Teil 2

I was recently able to ask Al some of the questions I had saved up from our discussions. I will post his answer to one question a day until I've posted all the answers from this recent batch.

Question #1

Q: Is there a particular person or event about which you wrote
"Accident on 3rd Street"?

A: No, no particular person or event. Just the general tragedy of this
type of death.

Question #2

Q. Regarding "Almost Lucy," is this song at all autobiographical? We noticed
hat the intials for "Almost Lucy" are "AL."

A. (Laughing) I never noticed that about the initials! No, not autobiographical, except in the sense that it would apply to any performer just starting out.

Question #3

Q. About "Apple Cider Reconstitution." Why would the trains want to take you to the Earl's Court Road and why would it not seem right? Does it have anything to do with it being a hard party area or a gay center?

A. No, not about being a hard party area or a gay center. (Pauses to think.)
I'm not sure. I used to live near there. It wasn't a gay center when I lived there. Maybe it wouldn't seem right because it would be like going home or going backward, and I wanted to be moving forward.

Question #4

Q. Have you seen many of the fan lyrics to your song melodies? If so, do you enjoy them?

A. I've certainly seen some. Yes, I do enjoy them, if they're good.

Note from me: I didn't think to ask Al how he defines "good" lyrics. I do recall that he considers "bad" lyrics to be along the lines of "oh baby baby I want you, oh baby baby come close to me, oh baby don't ever leave me...." I also recall him having said that he considers Fountains of Wayne and They Might Be Giants to be groups that write good lyrics.

Question #5

Q. Is "Hipposong" meant to be funny? It seems to have a serious message.

A. It's meant to be funny. I had just finished writing "Trains" (long and very serious), and I wanted to write something light and humorous next. Also, the kids were young at that time and I was somewhat influenced by the kind of songs they were listening to.

Question #6

Q. You have a wonderful ability to make people laugh. What kinds of things do YOU find funny?

A. (Editor's note: I'm not 100% sure of the spelling on all of the following.)
Monty Python. Comedian Bill Maher. The live act "Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band" made me laugh so hard I thought I was going to die because I couldn't inhale.

Question #7

Q. Regarding "Last Days of the Century," which mentions a woman who quotes Shakespeare, and "Somewhere in England 1915," which mentions a girl on a bed who is reading Shakespeare: do these two songs refer to the same young woman/girl?

A. "Wow, this fan sees very deep connections!" (Jim, I told Al that you were the asker of this question.) "No, not the same person."

Dave had previously seen this question and had guessed that it wasn't the exact same young woman, but the same TYPE of young woman, which was a common TYPE during the time that Al wrote "LDOTC." Dave was present during the asking and answering of this question, and shared his guess. Al then said "That's right. What he said."

Also, there seems to be good evidence that "Hipposong" was not written during the time when Al was listening to the music his daughters listened to. Also, Al has said that "Trains" and "Hippsong" were written at his mother's home in England. Its possible that there were children visiting his mother's home while Al was there and those children may have been listening to children's music. But it wasn't his own children. We will therefore assume that either I made a mistake or Al did, and I will remove this reference from the permanent record of these Q&A's.

Question #8

Q. These days, how do you feel about Lawyers and about the song "License to Steal."

A. "License to Steal" was about music business lawyers, and about one lawyer in
particular who shall not be named. In general, most music business lawyers are still pretty sharky. I have never had any problem with lawyers in general, however, and in fact have several lawyer friends and/or lawyers who have been very helpful to me.

Question #9

Q. In your experience, what are the good and bad points of being a celebrity and having fans?

A. Good points are meeting lots of people and getting to know them. Especially getting to know them.

Bad points (pauses to think). I can't really think of any.

Me: "Really? I'm surprised. Some fans are pretty annoying."

Al: "Like who?"

Me: (I mentioned a complaining fan at the Chatham show.)

Al: I don't remember her.

This was quite surprising to me. Al seemed much more positive about having fans and interacting with them than I would have expected. I think many of us have seen some obnoxious, drunk fans hassle Al. I've even seen Al express annoyance about said fans at the time. But he doesn't seem to carry this annoyance around with him.

Question #10

Q. What do you consider to be the high points of your career?

A. (Below.)

1. When Love Chronicles was voted Melody Maker Folk Album of the Year. At that time my pay for gigs went from about 10 pounds to about 100 pounds.

2. When Past Present Future Came Out, and my pay for gigs went from about 100 pounds to about 200 pounds.

3. When Year of the Cat came out, one day I was driving down Sunset Boulevard, and the song Year of the Cat was on the radio. When it ended, I switched to a different radio station, and Year of the Cat was playing on that too. At that point I knew we had a hit.

4. At Christmastime 1976, the band and I were playing at, I think, University of Southern California. We were at the edge of the stage waiting to go on. The lights came up, and the band went on stage. At the same time I saw [I think Al said "the Band Manager"] come running down the hall toward me. As he got within earshot, he panted "WE GOT RKO!!!!" RKO was, at that time, a chain of 8 AM Radio Stations that played top ten hits over and over. This meant that Year of the Cat was a top ten record (single.) I ran on stage knowing this wonderful secret."

Q. What do you consider to be the low points of your career?

A. During the 80's when I was playing casinos with a band. Nobody even paid attention, they were too busy gambling.
I know now what I didn't realize then--it's much better, from several viewpoints, to travel and perform with one sideman than to travel and perform with a five person band.

Question #11

Q. In "Night Train to Munich," are you singing about any particular train station, either at the beginning or the end of the ride? Where would someone catch that train, for example?

A. No, no particular station or train.

Question #12

Q. Regarding the photo on the back of the lyrics booklet for "Sparks of Ancient Light," (not on the back of the CD case itself): who are those guys, and where was this photo taken?

A. The photo was taken at the Royal Albert Hall. From left to right, the people in the photo are Dave Nachmanoff, Gabby Young, Al, Mark Griffiths, Pete Hamilton, Laurence Juber, and Mark Macisso. The photo has no specfic connection to "Sparks of Ancient Light."

Question #13

Q. Regarding the song "Princess Olivia," we have some questions about the title character. First, was there a real, historical Princess Olivia who had anything to do with this song? Second, was there ANY real person to whom this song refers? (We won't ask who.) Third, does the song have anything to do with Olivia Newton John, on whom some of us had a crush way back when?

A. No, to all three questions. The only significance of the name "Olivia" is that it rhymes with "trivia."

Q. Again regarding "Princess Olivia," is there any other song you've written that starts with classical music?

A. (Pausing to think). I don't think so. "Swiss Cottage Manoeuvers" sounds classical at the beginning, but that music was actually written by a present-day person. (Al gave the name, but I didn't make a note of it and didn't recognize it. It might be in the credits for whichever album "Swiss Cottage Manoeuvers" came out on.)

Q. Again regarding Princess Olivia, does the phrase "she may be large" refer to physically large, or large in some other way.

A. Yes, physically large. The idea is that the singer is so helplessly in love with Olivia that even if she isn't the size of a runway model, he doesn't care. He loves her!

Question #14

Q. Regarding the unreleased song "Dark Side of the Street," is this song about any particular historical event?

A. (This is your interviewer speaking. I'm not sure that I got a definite answer to this question. When I asked Al about it song, he didn't remember it very well. I had anticipated this and had brought the lyrics for him to see.
As he was reading the lyrics, I think he got quite lost in them, and made comments to the effect that "these are interesting lyrics," and "you're right, they are very dark." He wrapped up by saying that this is one of those songs he might "cannibalize" (meaning, take some of the lyrics from this song and use them in a new song.) So I never really did get a clear answer to the original question.

My own belief is that the simple answer is no, this song is not about any single historical event. However, it seems to me that it might be about multiple historical events or historical trends or themes. There seems to be a theme of people regretting their actions and wishing they could take those actions back, and maybe another theme of people remaining angry about things that happened a long time ago--maybe even things that happened to their family before they were born.

You can see the lyrics to this song at the following link: /unreleased/darksidestreet.htm

Question #15

Q. In what kind of a place do you keep your wine? (Actual below -ground cellar, cooled pantry, special refrigerated unit, etc?

A. I never got involved with below-ground storage.

Most of it is in a warehouse. Author's note: I think Al said something like "down the street." Maybe it was "downtown." In any case, I got the sense that the warehouse is fairly close to Al's residence.

I keep about 200 bottles in a special wine storage unit, sort of like a refrigerator, in my apartment. It holds enough to get me through the weekend.

(Obviously the last sentence was said tongue in cheek.)

Q. Would you tell us about your role in the world of wine? We have seen photos of you giving talks about wine, for example. Do you have fans in the wine world, the same as in the music world?

A. I don't have fans in the wine world, but I do have colleagues with whom I exchange thoughts. As you mentioned, I sometimes give a talk or write an article for a wine magazine.

Author's note: Now that I look back on this Q&A, I think I could have asked lots more questions and learned many more interesting things. I'll put this back on my question list for next time. In the meantime, if anyone has more knowledge on this topic, please feel free to share it.

Carol Vermilyea