Tuesday, February 26

Cake's John McCrea on Jonathan Richman, Frank Sinatra, San Francisco and Day-Old Bread

In December, I interviewed Cake's John McCrea for The Onion. The piece was published in advance of the band's New Year's Eve show at San Francisco's Warfield. A couple days after that, my Volvo was demolished, RB saw my account of that ordeal, and invited me to help out with Jojoblog. Anyway, Jonathan Richman was discussed in the interview, and I wanted to share this excerpt. It mentions a new song that may or may not be a part of the new album, and since I'm Jojoblog's de facto San Francisco correspondent now, I'm including a bit where John talks about the politics and music scene in this fair city -- Jonathan's hometown.

Me: I saw your friend Jonathan Richman at the Great American Music Hall recently. As usual, fans were shouting requests all night, mostly for oldies like "Roadrunner" or "She Cracked". At one point, Jonathan delivered a bit of a rant about how, to him, those songs are like "day old bread", and why would we wanna hear day-old bread? This actually proved to be a segue into a new song with a chorus about day old bread. Thoughts?

John McCrea: I have a different view than him. I respect him tremendously, but I have a different view about it. People who don't play music every day, who are not completely absorbed in it, are not as tired of some of those songs as he is. Music being sort of a service occupation, now more than ever, i think it's honorable to play a song that people want to hear even if you've played it a lot. I think it's honorable to reinvent it and find a way to be thrilled with it again. That said, there's plenty of times when we don't play songs. Mostly it's because we don't use a set list, and we forget to play songs that were on the radio or whatever. People shout things at us, but generally we listen to what we feel like doing in order to provide a better experience for the audience. If we play something we can get into, we probably sound better. There's a real nobility to what I saw when I saw Frank Sinatra live. I saw it as really honorable, him playing songs to regular people. Maybe those people weren't in the music industry, didn't realize that was day-old bread, they just loved that song. They wanted to hear "Mack the Knife" by Frank Sinatra. Is that perspective so wrong? I don't think either side is wrong. Generally what we do is selfishly go through whatever songs we feel like playing, and there are certain songs we realize we probably should play, and a lot of times we remember to play them, and a lot of times we don't remember to play them. By keeping it loose, we've been able to keep ourselves alive inside.

John_McCrea, originally uploaded by rawman.

You headlined a show Jonathan was involved with a few years back. It was a benefit for San Francisco Green Party mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez. Matt lost to Gavin Newsom of course. What's your current take on local San Francisco politics?

There's something about our political system that is deeply flawed. There are some things that happened in San Francisco politics that could happen nowhere else in country. I'm grateful things are as progressive as they are. It's pretty amazing really. Compared to all the other cities that we visit in the United States, it's pretty remarkable. I know it's not perfect. People lambast us using catch phrases like "San Francisco values", but i just think values are shitty everywhere else... so live it up. That said, who can live in San Francisco anymore? All my friends have moved to Portland. It's like this little pristine jewel now, and I'm not sure if it's gonna be as livable without any musicians or degenerates. Over the last ten years, it's sort of emptied out. Sure there are lots of great musicians and bands, but they're musicians that happen to have jobs at Yahoo! or something.
So what do we think? Is Jonathan right to let day-old bread be? Or do we wish he'd play "Roadrunner" the way Sinatra always played "Mack the Knife" and Cake always plays "I Will Survive"?

Read the whole interview here.

For a fantastic 1997 Interview Magazine piece in which Jonathan interviews John, click here. I asked John about this experience, and he laughed but had very little recollection of it.

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