Jack Spencer
Hiatt supports his March album, The Open Road , with an August 25 show at the Woodland Park Zoo .
At 58, John


American Troubadour John Hiatt On Fiction, "Face the Nation," and Ghosts Behind His Barn

Jack Spencer
Hiatt supports his March album, The Open Road, with an August 25 show at the Woodland Park Zoo.
At 58, John Hiatt has three grown kids and more songs than he can count, many of which have been recorded by artists like Bob Dylan ["The Usual"] to Bonnie Raitt ["Thing Called Love"]. And according to Hiatt, the songs and kids all have their own lives, and don't need to be moving back home.

"We don't allow it," Hiatt says as he drives from his home toward town, Nashville, on errands. "I've kind of always felt the same way about the songs. Once I've written them, they're fully grown and they can take care of themselves."

What's on your agenda for today?

Well, I'm just driving into town (Nashville). I've got some errands to run. It's hot as hell.

Are you following the news regarding California's ban on gay marriage?

I saw that in the paper this morning (Aug. 5). We have a little paper, it's more like a little cartoon, but it's called The Tennessean. Time will march on. All of this stuff will slip by the wayside eventually.

Are you very politically active down in Tennessee?

I don't know what that means, exactly. Politics means people. I guess I'm active with people, yeah.

Do you participate in the local elections at all?

No. No.

One of the songs on your latest album that sticks out to me is "Homeland." It sounds like you're saying that the country's got a whole lot of problems, among them our treatment of Native Americans. But at the end of the day this is still your country and it's still something your proud of. Am I getting close?

Well, that's your take. You're perfectly entitled to it. What's your name again?


It's fiction, Chris. It's the wide view. It's meant to expand on possibilities, not narrow them down. That's a perfectly legitimate view of things if you want it. I can tell you what inspired me.

Please do.

What inspired me was that we had ghosts behind the barn. Finally our Native American friends said we gotta come down and do something, because there's people back there that are stuck. And so they came down and we did a ceremony. Apparently there was a slaughter behind the barn about 300 years ago.

Are you proud to be living in America?

Absolutely--this is a great country. I love my country. I think we have a myriad of problems and I think we're young and we make a lot of mistakes; and I think in spite of what everybody says, we're moving forward. The facts are that we're going to be a multi-cultural nation to a degree formerly unknown in about 10 or 20 years and all these upset people who don't want that don't have anything to say about it. Time marches on.

You mentioned "Homeland" was fiction. Has anybody covered one of your songs under false pretenses?

I think my point was there are no false pretenses. It's just lyrics, for Christ's sake, Chris. It's not the stone tablets. Ultimately you write words because you need something to sing.

Was "Face the Nation" [from 1980's Two Bit Monsters] that way? It seemed like a criticism of the time.

Wait a minute, what's "Face the Nation"? Are you talking way back when? Wow, yeah, I don't even remember that song. You got me there, buddy.

You've had a lot of peaks and valleys in your career. Some artists get success on their first record. Are they missing things by not having to slog through and make records that don't get much attention?

I think everything's gone just perfect for me. I know if I'd a had hits out of the gate, I was so fucked up as a human being, I probably would be dead. Any early success would have probably killed me.

I've never had huge hits, which is just perfect for an egomaniac with an inferiority complex, which is sort of how I am. I get recognized just enough to enjoy it. I'm not a household name. I can go where I please and only get noticed occasionally. It's just great. And, like I said, I can do what I love to do, and I've got enough people that support me that I can make a living. What more could you ask for?

And it might be an illusion, but I've always operated from the idea that my best work is still in front of me. And if I'd had big hits and huge big success, I don't know, that might be harder to do.

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