Syd's Photography 5:38pm, 20 March 2007
Conversations with Paul Zollo ~ Part II


Since conducting my first widely appreciated interview with Paul in May 2006, for www.flickr.com, in which he gave us an incredible insight into his amazing world, we have kept very much in touch and remain good friends. Paul continues to astound us all with his skillful photography, soulful writing and music. Much has happened since May 2006 that I felt an update of sorts was needed in order to keep up with him. Also, the opportunity to delve a little deeper into the many aspects of Paul's life, his thoughts, ideas and career was just too much of an irresistible thing to let slide. What follows is a collection of conversations that took place recently by a series of email exchanges.



It seems that much has happened since May 2006, you have a new band and your on-line music magazine Bluerailroad was launched on February 1st 2007.

Can you tell us about the band, its members, your latest songs and whether we can expect a new album.


Thanks, Syd. Always happy to talk with you. Very excited about my new band. It’s the best I’ve ever played with. There’s my old pal, Scott Docherty aka “The Duke” on piano, organ and vocals – he’s an amazing musician and singer, and a very talented man – Billy Salisbury – who I have known and worked with for many years – on fretless bass; Kirke Jan, who I heard drumming at the club Spaceland in Silverlake and fell in love with, on drums, and Aaron “The Electric Wolf” Wolfson on guitar. He’s a very sensitive, elegant and gifted guitarist. Also we have some satellites: Bob Malone, one of the best pianists in America, an amazing musician-songwriter and also a fine accordionist, sits in often with us, as does Craig Eastman on violin and mandolin.

I have been writing a lot of new songs inspired by them, with the sound in my head of how they could cook in their hands. Thinking about the Duke and the way he would show up at my house for rehearsal not with coffee but with a Pumpkin Cappuccino – a quad! – I wrote lyrics for a song called “Pumpkin Cappuccino” in my car driving from downtown LA to my home. I worked on the music when I came home, writing a bluesy, rock and roll melody – and that night I played it with the band at a gig at Coffee Junction in Tarzana. That is a privilege. To write a song and get to play it instantly with a band. Few things are better than that.

And yes, I am beginning work on my next CD, and excited about it, as I’ve written the best material of my life, in my opinion. Songs written alone and some with friends like Darryl Purpose (who has recorded many on his own albums) and the aforementioned Bobby Malone. The album is tentatively titled “Universal Cure,” which is the title of a new song. And it has many story songs – one about Edgar Allan Poe (“Baltimore,”) one about Rutherford Hayes (“California,” he was the first president ever to come to the Golden State), one about a man named Elijah Bluestone who invented an airplane in 1882 that never flew, and was beaten at his own game by the Wright Brothers (“Flying Machine”), one about the gangs of East L.A. (“Geronimo Street”), one about the meaning of Christ (“What Jesus Meant”), one about the echoes of the Native Americans (“The Ghost of Crazy Horse”), about the Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles and modern urbanity (“Crooked Line,”) about Billy Tipton (“Brilliant Masquerade”), one about love and the history of tequila (“Agave”), and the title song, “Universal Cure,” which relates the stories of different people searching for some kind of healing. And others. I’ve got enough for a double album, but I know not to record too many.


Tell us about Bluerailroad, where did the idea come from, what has gone into its creation and what does it have in store for us?

Bluerailroad is a global, online music magazine that launched on February 1st. I am the editor and chief photographer; Scott Docherty is the art designer and webmaster, and as such he is doing glorious work. It really looks beautiful. You can find it at www.bluerailroad.com and I hope you do. The idea came from my frustration writing for magazines that insist on very short interviews and reviews. Unlike SongTalk, the songwriting journal I used to edit, I can never do long, in-depth interviews and reviews. Also, most music magazines seek to segregate musicians into different genres, just as record stores place them in separate bins. But musicians know all music is one, and I have always attempted to unite rather than separate music.

So I thought of an online magazine that would enable me to do new interviews – long, thoughtful ones - with all musicians of all genres and generations. Also a place where I could publish stories I’ve written in the past – an archive of my past work. So I approached Mo Golden and Henry Crinkle, two music loving moguls I know who live in the Marquesas, and asked for their support, which I luckily received. And I asked Scott to design it. He came onboard, and Bluerailroad was born. The name is from an old blues song.

Then we thought about inviting some great musicians to be columnists, and we got Peter Case, John Doe, Deepak Chopra, Bob Malone, Parthenon Huxley and Veronique Chevalier to write monthly columns. And we decided to open our pages to music lovers around the globe in our Favorite Five department, in which people list five current favorite songs – in which I am happy that you, Syd, are contributing, as are many people in the glittering Flickr universe. Our first issue had a long interview I did with the legendary team of Leiber & Stoller – the architects of rock and roll – with portraits I took of them, and my archival interview with Bob Dylan, as well as some other choice archival stories. Second issue has Aimee Man – next month is Rickie Lee Jones.


You've spoken a bit about "The Duke" ~ Scott Docherty, can you enlighten us more.

I met the Duke many moons ago when we were both in a songwriting workshop that was led by Jack Segal, the lyricist of “When Sunny Gets Blue” and “Scarlet Ribbons.” Scott and I connected, and I started writing some songs with him as well as my own ones. He writes beautiful melodies, and I would write the lyrics – we wrote “Noelle” and “Season Of Grace,” both of which I still love a lot. And just to be funny, to answer Jack and those who insisted songwriters focus on songs with “good hooks” – catchy catch phrases – we wrote a comic reggae song called “African Mask Falls Off The Wall” – which was nothing BUT hooks. And produced it in an inspirational reggae-flavored recording session. And though it was intended as a joke, Jack and his pals thought it was the best thing we’d ever done.

I also started a band at that time, born on Halloween in Hollywood – in which the Duke played keyboards. It featured a fiery singer and good friend by the name of Leah Really. The Ghosters. Our first gig was a health food nightclub called The Natural Fudge Company on Melrose. We played around Hollywood a lot – always doing an annual Halloween costume party concert. Recorded one eponymous album.


Paul, I recall reading an interview you did with the legendary John Hiatt where you asked him, "Is songwriting for you more a sense of following where a song goes, or leading it?" can I ask you that same question and can you define for us what makes a truly great song?

What kind of weird question is that? Just joking. Always a little tough for me to answer these hard questions I ask other people! I ask that all the time precisely because I feel that songwriting is very much a process of both following and leading at the same time. The following is very important. One cannot impose one’s will on a song too much, or it will be contrived. One must be open, in a sense, to what a song wants to be. You have to listen to the song while writing it. But you also need to lead. It’s like a dance, leading and following both. When you play a chord on the guitar or piano, for example, you react to it – it creates an emotional response. You’re creating and responding simultaneously. It’s one of the rare opportunities in the world to do that – to have an instantaneous response, and then to respond to the response, and create this chain of events, which is music. Your brain and your heart has to operate on two levels at once. And songwriting is all about juggling multiple elements simultaneously: words and music. And the words have meter, rhythm, rhyme, imagery, metaphor, etc. And the music has rhythm and melody and harmony – consonance and dissonance both, tension and release - and tempo. So there’s a lot going on at once. It’s not unlike a painter tossing some paint on a canvas and then reacting to it visually.

So where you start a song is a big part of this. Some start with a blank canvas. Simon used to strum some chords on a guitar – music first. Now he usually makes a musical track first. But it’s still music first. I usually start with words, with an idea, a subject. I like songs to be specific. I like a story – or a character – or something concrete. Like most of my photos, which are portraits – I am very interested in people and the specific details of their lives and their characters and stories. Humanity is so rich and vital. It’s a universe you can tap into, which we all understand. And I find that I like songs with people in them. And I love writing songs about real people – recently I’ve written about Edgar Allan Poe, Jesus Christ, Farley Granger, Billy Tipton, Crazy Horse, and Rutherford Hayes. Some unlikely subjects – such as Hayes – but each a universe of wonderful details that you can play with. So I will do some research and then quickly write down a profusion of ideas and details and lines about that person – or about a subject. Another subject I did recently was fictional – about a man in 1882 who tried to be the first to invent an airplane, but got beaten out by the Wright Brothers. It’s not a true story – but I researched the Wrights and also the history of aviation. All of which sounds kind of dry, perhaps, but there’s so much richness and color there.

So I will give myself pages of lines and ideas and images, and perhaps even a title. The open, free, joyful, brainstorming process. For the Billy Tipton song – she was a woman who lived as a man and became a somewhat successful jazz artist; her gender wasn’t discovered till her death – I came up with the title “Brilliant Masquerade.” And once I have a title, I use it as an anchor, or a star around which one can revolve some planets and satellites. I will think of rhyming lines and ways to set up that title. And as Dylan told me, with rhymes you might throw one up and try to work backwards, come up with a set-up rhyme. So that you are consciously open to being unconscious. Dylan explained you must stay in the unconscious mind – you must remain open to inspiration and whatever guides those ideas that pop into the head, those lines that write themselves. And very often the rhyme scheme – the form – will dictate the lines. We create rhymes, and rhymes create us. It’s a very fun process for me, I love it. I don’t share the feeling of so many that songwriting – or other creative acts – are full of hardship and turmoil. For me it’s a joy. When it’s happening. I can’t always make it happen. So this act of being unconscious and conscious at the same time is another way of saying one must follow and lead simultaneously.

It all comes down to a perception of time. A song exists in time – you can’t take it in all at once, as you can a painting. You must experience it always as it unfolds in time – from the start to the end. And so we must write it so that it exists in terms of linear time. But just as I feel linear time has more to do with our perception of time than the actuality of time, so do songs only exist in linear time due to how we perceive them. In a larger sense, they exist outside of time – we can think of “Strawberry Fields,” for example – in our heads and our hearts – and experience it out of time. We possess its totality, though when we experience it, we listen from the start to the end. Same with a book. You can hold Lolita or Gatsby in your hand, and if you’ve read them, you hold their totality, outside of time. And the same is true with a lifetime. We think of Lennon’s life – and we can hold its totality, though when he was alive he was inside linear time. There was a narrative progression, and we were in it with him.

And so this concept of time is applied to writing a song. I tend to feel songs exist outside of time – which means that in one light, your song is already written. The best songs are timeless – literally, without time. Outside of linear time. And that instead of creating it new, you are finding it. Hence that feeling that so many songwriters have had, and have spoken to me about, that they don’t invent songs, they discover them. Those very words are from Paul Simon. “I’m more interested,” he said, “in what I discover than what I invent.” Songwriters are not contriving something, they are simply manifesting something which already exists, quite like Michelangelo’s famous statement of finding the essential figure inside a block of marble, and just cutting away the excess stone to free the inner figure.

But I don’t tend to believe those songs which already exist are out there in the cosmos for anyone to pick up on. I think we have created them ourselves, but outside of time. They come from us. It’s our specific souls and minds and artistic inclinations that give rise to specific songs. We are the mythical Aeolian harps through which the winds of music blow. But as all time, in my mind, is simultaneous – everything happens at once – so do all songs that we write already exist. But they exist because we wrote them. Hence, following and leading at the same time.

And very often, once I get a melody in mind, and words start to flow, my mind just keeps working on the song. There’s a hyper-creative mode you lock into, and once you start that momentum, it doesn’t cease, even when you’re away from the guitar or computer and, say, washing dishes. Or I’ll be in the car, or riding my bike, or any other non-writing activity, and a better line – or better version of a line – will just occur to me. Without active work. And did I invent that line? Or did I discover it? Or did it come to me? Well, it’s all of the above and more.

Which is why it’s vital for songwriters to go with the flow. Write down lines even if they don’t seem great. Don’t get in the way. As Randy Newman said to me, “Don’t let the critic become bigger than the creator.” Don’t criticize or judge it while doing it. Just get it down. You can judge it later. But get it down. Then you go back and let the song play on you, and work on all those lines till you love each one. The ideal form of a song does exist, but you need to find it. And finding it whole – bursting straight from the head of Zeus as it were – is rare. Many great songs have appeared whole – words and music at the same time, all at once. But it’s much more common that you will get pieces. Fragments. So you must write way more than you need and then cut back, and polish and change. Sondheim said that most of the work of songwriting is not the writing but the polishing. Indeed. And that because a song is such a short form, any flaw will become like a mountain. So you must polish a lot.

Very often I think of what the painter Francis Bacon said. Which is that he will paint a representational form. And then mess with it. Then let accidents occur. And those accidents, he said, are always more interesting than the straight attempt to paint reality. And I feel the same with songs. I’ll come up with a very straight way of saying something. But then an alternate line might occur to me. One that isn’t logical or straight. And it’s always more interesting. But because I had that logical, conventional line first – the odd one makes some kind of sense. It shares that logic. It’s like an actor who invents a whole subtext of character development about a role, even if it’s all unspoken. It adds to the totality. So writing the obvious line first, “The obvious child,” as Simon put it, is necessary.

So it’s following and leading. One works backwards all the time when writing a song. Never from beginning to end. More like a flower that unfolds, or blossoms from the center. As Simon said, “Yeah, backwards is still an order.” Yes. Songs unfold in every direction.

The question of what makes a truly great song is another big question. The answer is, of course, subjective. What is a great song to me might not be to you (though I know we agree on a lot of them, Syd!) There is no absolute standard for greatness in songs. Yet some songs resonate with almost everyone. A Beatles song, for example, like “Hey Jude” or “Strawberry Fields.” Almost everyone loves those. But it’s like food. Chocolate is delicious, but not everyone loves it. Or colors. People have different favorite colors. Why? Why do I like orange more than blue? Do we even see the same colors? As we know, light is colorless – it’s our brains that perceive the color. The color is not in the world, it’s in our brains. Do I perceive orange different than you do? Does music sound different to me than to you? No one really knows. (Though Levitin’s book This Is Your Brain On Music gets towards the heart of many of these questions about how we perceive music and art. Scientifically. Though science is often wrong.)

To me, a great song has an ideal balance of elements, and primarily these elements are the words and the music. Two disparate elements – one quite specific – language – and one more abstract – music. If a song has a very great, beautiful melody but the words don’t move me, it’s not great to me. Or if it has an amazing lyric but I don’t like the tune, it’s not great. So it’s a combination of a wonderful melody, and inventive, interesting and pleasing words. But what makes a melody wonderful? To me it has to be memorable – yet it shouldn’t be imitative. It can be beautiful or visceral. Earthy or celestial. Often when I hear a melody that goes places I didn’t expect, I’m drawn to it. If it has an inner logic. If it is seamless. Like a Joni Mitchell melody. Often she goes places I don’t expect. But on second or third listening, I absolutely love it. So the melody should be pleasing in terms of the succession of pitches – the basic tune itself, the succession of pitches in time – but also the harmony – the chords that go with it, and the rhythm. Often we are drawn to music for its rhythmic pulse, the compulsion created by the fusion of tempo and beat.

And lyrics – well, I like lyrics that are about something. I don’t want a song called “Feelings” or “Emotions” – yes, we are all feeling feelings. That is empty to me. I want to see an image, or be connected with a detail. I like songs that are as rich as the world is rich. And though Dylan told me, “the world doesn’t need anymore songs,” (and Petty said that was a joke), I feel there are worlds of content yet to be translated into a song.

As Leonard Cohen told me, it’s always more interesting in a song to say ‘sycamore,’ for example, than ‘tree.’ The specific is always better. God is in the details, not the devil. I feel this is because we perceive life not in a general way, but in an extremely specific way. We never see just a tree – we see a particular, specific tree. Whether we know what kind of tree it is, or how much we perceive of it – that’s a different issue. But we see life in terms of specifics. We see specific colors, experience specific times, remember specific times and details, smell specific smells, feel specific weather, etc. And our emotions are connected to these specifics. So a song lyric – for it to be emotionally resonant for me – must contain specifics. I like story songs – but a song needn’t have a linear narrative. There are other ways of telling stories than from start to finish. Just as you can cut a movie in a variety of time sequences, you can connect parts of stories with more than linear temporal connections. So I like story songs - but by that I mean the timeless stories of humanity. To me, those stories resonate. I also like misdirection in song lyrics – of which Randy Newman is the undisputed master. Telling us about a character by how he speaks, or what he does – allowing the character to tell us about himself in his actions or feelings. And an “untrustworthy narrator” is often extremely effective, as most people are quite untrustworthy in their narrations, so this is connected to life as it is lived.

I like color in songs. We see the world in color, so songs should be in color. Hence, Dylan’s “yellow railroad,” or the Beatles “yellow submarine” or Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain” or Prince’s “Purple Rain” or John Prine’s “blue umbrella.” My solo CD is “Orange Avenue.” I like color – what it means on one level, and how it makes us feel. It’s why I called our online music mag “Bluerailroad.” It’s an image, it’s a color. It’s the first and most elemental way of coloring the visuals of a song.

And I could go on and on. But what makes a song great is a magical and seamless integration of all of these elements. I don’t think “Strawberry Fields” would be as great without that title. It’s that very specific title – which refers to a specific place in history, but also refers outside of time to a state of mind, a place of remembrance and a spirit of youth – which makes the song great, in tandem with that beautiful melody. Yet the lyric is quite abstract. But that specific title makes it great.

What makes a melody great, again, would take volumes to express. It’s a succession of pitches – it’s steps and skips within that succession, it’s the chosen intervals of pitches, it’s repetition, it’s the choice of major or minor or a fusion of both (which is chromatic and very much at the heart of the Beatles’ songs and those of Stevie Wonder, and relates again to the use of many colors on one palette) , it’s harmony – how those pitches are wrapped within chords – (for example, repeating a melody line as the chords shift under it is beautiful, and frequently done) and it’s also in a large part a production – how music is arranged, performed and recorded. Not just the notes, but the timbre of those notes – the chosen instruments, and the arrangement and relative mix of those instruments. There’s many elements. So let’s wrap this up by saying a song should be perfect – though there are few perfect songs – but it should be a near seamless, perfect amalgamation of all of these elements – all the elements and dynamics within words and music should balance and shine, and how they relate and intersect and balance is what makes a song succeed for me.


Can you tell us about John Hiatt and what do you think it is that makes his music and songwriting so appealing?

I discovered him many years ago when a local DJ played “Riding With The King” on KCRW – I loved everything about it – the music, rhythm, humor, hipness. The use of Elvis as an icon in a lyrical setting. One of the first to do it – this was before Graceland. Then I went out and bought all his albums. Early ones were rock and roll. Great Elvis Costello-ish speedy rock songs with killer melodies and wonderful wordplay, funny hip songs like “I Spy (For The FBI)” and “Pink Bedrooms.” Then I saw Elvis Costello in concert and he brought out Hiatt as “one of L.A.’s best kept secrets” and they performed Hiatt’s great “She Loves The Jerk” in perfect harmony. Their voices are quite similar. Brilliant fusion of colloquial language with poetry and rock. First-rate stuff. I loved the guy, but had no idea of the success to come. He was still messed up on drugs at this time, and that messes with your clarity of vision and potential for success in the real world. He was having artistic success, but people had yet to discover him in a big way.

He would periodically perform at McCabe’s Guitar Shop – a very wonderful tiny hall in LA, lined by acoustic guitars in the back of an old guitar shop in Santa Monica – perhaps the most intimate and poignant listening room in this vast metropolis. I have seen many greats there – Loudon Wainwright III, T Bone Burnett, Laura Nyro – even Allen Ginsberg. (Also Joady Guthrie – Woody’s other son.) And Hiatt many times. Solo – on guitar and piano. And he was so good solo. His ballads so beautiful – like “Have a Little Faith” – and his funny songs so funny. He has one I don’t think he has ever recorded cause it’s X-rated, called “Because His Penis Came Between Us.” Hilarious – but crafty. He’d use a faux-echo – and sing, “Because his penis (penis, penis, penis) came between us (tween us, tween us, tween us)…” Used to kill me.

Then “Riding With the King” took off, and he toured with a band. Saw him at The Palace. Celebrated historic Hollywood theater. And the intimacy and poise of his solo show was gone. It was like coke-crazed. I didn’t like it like his old intimate performances. Nothing against having a band, mind you – it’s not like I objected to him “going electric,” – but the poignancy and warmth was gone, and the tempo was rushed. But that was just one show. But his career took off – people like Bonnie Raitt cut his songs and had hits with them – and he became famous as this country-tinged songwriter. Moved to Franklin, Tennessee. He was one of the first people I interviewed – even before I was editor of SongTalk, I wrote a couple stories for it – that was one of them. I knew he was a songwriter’s songwriter and we could talk music, and we did.

I recall like it was yesterday riding my old blue bicycle over to A&M records – then his label – then in Chaplin’s old studio at Sunset & La Brea in Hollywood (my office was blocks from there – always loved that place as I am Chaplin-obsessed) and picked up photos of Hiatt, and had that surreal recognition that what I had in my hands would soon be printed and published and distributed to thousands. It seemed momentous to me – I became accustomed to such stuff later – but it was still fresh and exciting to me at that time.

His songs are appealing because he is great with both elements: words and music. He knows how to write a good melody, put together a good chord sequence, and he is an excellent wordsmith. He’s clever, funny and poignant. He knows how to use imagery and color. He’s got a lot of heart and soul and intelligence. And he has an enormous range. He can write speedy almost punkish rock songs but also heartrending piano ballads. He can do it all.


Do you have any plans to interview him in more depth for www.bluerailroad.com?

I’d love to. I have interviewed him three times already.


Is John someone you would like to photograph? He has such an expressive face.

Absolutely. Would be a thrill. When I did most of my past interviews, I had my pal Henry Diltz take the photos. And I was apprenticing as a photographer, though Henry didn’t know it. I learned a lot, mostly how to allow people to relax when you’re shooting them. These were the days of film – remember film? You had to take it out of the camera and develop it! Anyway – these days I do my own photos, and wish I had photographed everyone I interviewed. Dylan. Townes Van Zandt, Zappa, Nilsson, Nyro. But now I am. Did a photo session with Leiber & Stoller a few months back (which is in Bluerailroad) and had that recognition of touching history, of preserving history – just as I have had in many interviews.


Your interview with Alanis Morissette was perhaps one of the best I've read (probably because I'm such a big fan). Do you plan to interview her again?

I’d love to. With few exceptions, I’d like to talk to all of these people again. I really mourn the missed opportunity to talk more to some of the people who are gone. Such as Zappa. Of all my interviews, that is the one I so regret I couldn’t revisit. As he was so brilliant, and I was still green. It was one of my first – and I got a good interview, but there are untold universes one could explore with Zappa, and I didn’t even get out of the Milky Way. And Alanis is special. So humble. “I’m Alanis,” she said to me when we met. Yeah – I know! She is sweet and generous – and so talented.


Paul can you tell us something (everything you know) about Mo Golden and Henry Crinkle, The intrepid publishers of www.bluerailroad.com?

Mo and Henry are mysterious, I think, even to themselves. They are two very successful businessmen, American ex-patriates who now live a very fortuitous & celebratory existence in the Marquesas, quite close to the graves of Gaugin and Brel. They love raw fish, breadfruit and coconuts. They are very funny. They are happy men. Their happiness is infectious. Though Henry is almost always more joyful than Mo. They are honest, almost brutally so, but I relish that. They are partners in life and business, and both love music a lot, and first connected with me when Henry wrote me a letter many moons ago in regard to my book Songwriters On Songwriting. He said he enjoyed the fact that I interviewed songwriters from different genres and generations, and liked the depth of the conversations I captured and conducted. We spoke for many years about doing something together – we were first considering a print magazine. I have had much more contact with Henry than with Mo, though I know both to be quite brilliant and very funny. They are lovers of life. They remind me of Harry Nilsson, in that each and every day to them is a day to celebrate, to embrace the joy of being alive in the world. A time to dance, to sing, to drink. Maybe drink first and then sing and dance.

When they looked at the facts about the costs of publishing a print magazine vs. the expected profit from such a venture, they lost enthusiasm. They liked that I did in-depth interviews – the kind of breadth one can find in very few American magazines, with the exception of The New Yorker (which I love though neither of them do). I think The New Yorker now makes a profit, but even it, I know, lost money for years. It’s quite expensive to publish a magazine, and to get good distribution, and one must have many ads to pay for it, and these ads take up a lot of space, thus necessitating that the stories stay short, as each extra page costs a lot. So magazines here are short with many ads and few pages – and stories are very short. You also want lots of photos to keep people happy – though The New Yorker doesn’t subscribe to that rule. They do have cartoons, of course.

But for years people have complained to me about his American magazines don’t do the kind of long pieces they wanted. So I thought of doing an online magazine – in that it wouldn’t cost as much at all – you wouldn’t need distribution – and you could have very long stories, the kind I used to do in SongTalk, ¬and which are in my books. I proposed the idea of Bluerailroad to them – though I didn’t have that name at first (I had many others, most bad, such as Yellowrailroad (which was taken), Geraniumkiss and Cowboymouth – I’m glad we landed on Bluerailroad; it works) – and eventually they went for it. From the start, Henry was more enthused and supportive of the idea than Mo, and this is still the case, I think.


How do you see bluerailroad progressing and what are your hopes and aspirations for its future?

It is expanding in all directions at once, like the universe. I am quite excited about it, as there are no limitations. We can do everything and anything. We got the great John Doe doing a “poetry slab,” so that poets from around the world can contribute poetry, thus opening our arms and our virtual pages to poets as well as musicians and lovers of music. Veronique Chevalier – a beautiful and gifted and generous soul – is doing a column about vaudeville and burlesque and other alternative arms of entertainment, which I embrace, and which opens our pages to those worlds, too. Our Favorite Five department involves music lovers from literally around the globe – Africa, Israel, India, etc. Even the glorious UK! It fulfills my vision of having Bluerailroad truly be global. Great writers like Bill Bentley are coming on board to write reviews. Also getting the great Deepak Chopra to write about music and the soul, and also Peter Case – the great songwriter – and others. I have a place for my archival stories – I’m including a Steely Dan interview in the next issue and one with Merle Haggard – right there you see the range I am going for. And much else. It is exciting and boundless. And all of it is unified and controlled by the excellent and exacting vision of Scott Docherty, our wonderful designer. I hope all your readers check it out. Syd it there, as well. www.bluerailroad.com.


What can we expect in the way of future interviews?

We will see. I am waiting as well to see how the movers and shakers move and shake in this regard. Happy to say Rickie Lee Jones sat down and gave me a wonderful interview – inspired by her inspirational and quite miraculous new album Sermon on Exposition Boulevard. My main first interview – with Leiber & Stoller – was conducted for American Songwriter, though I used only about a tenth of it there, and was able to publish the whole thing in Bluerailroad. I think it might take some time – and more attention – until I can land major interviews exclusively for Bluerailroad. But this is certainly my intention. And I think that like SongTalk progressed, that once we land some big ones, that will garner attention, and lead to others.


Is there any chance of another Tom Petty conversation (please)?

Not sure. I think Tom, after sitting through almost an entire year of Saturday interviews with me, might have felt he’s told me enough. But we’ll see. I’d love it, as I love him.


And perhaps Randy Newman?

This is a definite yes. I am working to convince Randy – one of the greatest songwriters and musicians and thinkers this country has ever produced – to do a whole book with me, to be Conversations with Randy Newman. I have known him for a long time, and interviewed him several times, and know his work inside out. And am in awe of him. I don’t think most people have any concept of the totality of his greatness. He is so good I don’t think people can understand it, not unlike Zappa. Both on their own trajectory totally. Both astounding musicians and composers and very brilliant men.

Randy is, without a doubt, also the funniest songwriter I have ever met. He is a great humorist. He has yet to agree to doing a whole book – but is entertaining the idea. “You think there’s a whole book there?” he asked. Well, yes! He’s Randy Newman, after all!

Happy to say that ASCAP is giving him the Man of the Year award this year – Petty got it last year –Randy chose me to interview him onstage at the event. That is both a privilege and a thrill, and makes me happy to be alive. Among other things. So I will certainly print that interview in our pages, and hopefully others. Randy and I are meeting soon to discuss the potential of the book, and answer his questions about it.


Bob Dylan?

I am confident I will get to interview Mr. Dylan again. Not sure when, but I know it will happen. I never got to finish my first interview with him – we were right in the midst of a great talk, and had to stop. We could have easily gone on for hours. We had a great connection. Getting Dylan for SongTalk was a huge coup for me back in 1993 when I did it – I think that was the year – and put SongTalk on the proverbial map. It was his first interview in about ten years at that time, and the only one ever just to focus on his songwriting. Which seems like an appropriate place to focus with Bob Dylan. You can find that interview at Bluerailroad (www.bluerailroad.com !) and in my book Songwriters On Songwriting and also in a new book Rolling Stone put out –The Essential Interviews. Sometimes in life you have a certainty about the future, a knowingness. And that’s how I feel about interviewing Bob again.


What about Joni (Mitchell), is there any possibility (do you think) that she may ever record again? and is there the possibility that you may interview her, perhaps for www.bluerailroad.com?

Not sure. I would certainly love to interview her. I love Joni dearly. She is one of the greatest among greats. One of the few songwriters to be as innovative and inventive and inspirational with music as with lyrics. Most are best with one or the other, but not Joni. Sadly, she has been marred by the marketplace. Poor record sales for past albums and lack of radio play has convinced her, I surmise, to conclude that she should cease making music and devote herself to her painting. This is a loss for the world. Great artists must transcend the marketplace. Great songs like the kind she writes – or that Simon or Dylan writes – or even Petty – don’t always end up on radio, certainly not the Top 40. Petty’s last album, Highway Companion, is a masterpiece, yet didn’t do well. That doesn’t change its value, though in Tom’s estimation it might. I’m not sure. I know with Simon, for example, that when his amazing album Hearts and Bones didn’t sell well (this is relative, of course – he is accustomed to amazing commercial success) – he felt he failed, that he lost his audience, that nobody was paying any attention anymore, so he went to Africa and recorded tracks that ultimately because Graceland. That is the best route. Allow the perceived failure to lead you into new music. He created one of the greatest albums of all time feeling that he had failed, so he could be free.

Some of Joni’s greatest albums, like Mingus, did not do well commercially or critically. It doesn’t change their value, though. But I feel Joni judges herself according to how she’s received in the marketplace. I hope she gets beyond it. There are millions of people like me and like you, Syd, who would cherish any new music from Joni.

As I would cherish an opportunity to interview her. Though I have tried forever, I have never convinced her to do one. My list of dream interview subjects, which I first wrote in 1987 – a list of people I’ve mostly now been able to interview except her and Stevie Wonder – was called my “Joni list.” She was the first name on the list.

I even produced and wrote a tribute to her in which she performed and Graham Nash read a speech I wrote – and he rewrote. And after this event, I told her the kind of interview I would do with her. And she punched me softly on my shoulder and laughed and said “That kind of interview would be a catharsis.” I told her manager she said this, and he guffawed and said, “You just gave her an award, of course she would say that.” Great. He’s not one of my favorite people. And I have yet to interview her. But I know we could have an astounding conversation, as I know her work and admire it so much, and I could also discuss with her the intersection of painting and music – of visual with musical and literary art. My good pal Noah Stone – great musician and photographer and fellow flickrite – actually grew up in her Laurel Canyon home – Joni rented it to his folks (his dad the manager Ron Stone) – and he knows her, and at some point I might gently ask for his help in getting Joni’s consent. As interviewing her without her consent just ain’t gonna work.


Paul, you have now illustriously reached over one thousand photographs in your flickr photostream already, that is quite prolific photography! Which are your personal favorites and why?

I have many favorites. I like the ones that show human triumph over adversity. Sorrow and joy together. Sorrow-jubilation. I took one of a neighbor’s daughter named Lydia who was severely burned over her entire body. Her entire face was reconstructed. And I saw her out on the lawn of her parents’ home with her new baby. And she just beamed with maternal love and pride. It was beautiful. I had my camera, of course, and Joshie, my son, with me – and though Joshie was a little scared by her – her face is not normal, mind you – he didn’t mind when we went to see the baby. And I asked if I could take their photo, and like any happy mother she said sure. And it’s an amazing photograph, because here is this intensely disfigured woman, but the joy of new life – of being a mother with a new and beautiful child – just emanated from her soul – and you can see her transcending her misfortune in that photo. So that one is special. Also my photo of Ray, a homeless man I met at Hollywood and Vine. He was in a terrible car accident, which damaged his brain and he lost an eye. He had a glass eye, but his body rejected it, and he used up all his insurance money and ending up on the street. Yet he is a happy and very sweet man – and it’s another photo of a person triumphing over adversity. It’s just one photo – but he is smiling – and looking quite like Quasimodo – and I think it’s extraordinary. I also love photos of beautiful people. My friend Marketa Janksa is a beautiful model from Bohemia who was a Playboy centerfold. (Miss July, 2003.) So she is conventionally very beautiful. But she is also on a golden path in life- a musician and songwriter and singer, and a really focused, clear, loving person. So her beauty isn’t shallow – and that depth of compassion and love radiates in her picture – you see the inner beauty and outer beauty both. So those are just a few examples.


Can you tell us more about some of your incredible subjects? I'm thinking of the beautiful Amy O' Neill, Billy Beck and Jonah Sparks amongst many others. What do you feel makes them such good photographic subjects?

Amy is beautiful and amazing. She contains multitudes, to paraphrase Whitman. She’s a gifted actress, but also a great mime, juggler, singer, tap dancer, stilt-walker and more. I first saw her and met her when she was doing her mime act in a vaudeville show at the El Cid in Hollywood. She was entrancing. Silence and repose and poetry in the midst of bawdy madness. I instantly wanted to photograph her – and did take many that night – onstage and backstage. I remember there was another photographer backstage taking her photo, and I wanted to elbow him out of the way!

Then I had a clear vision – like a waking dream – of Amy, the mime, in the alleyways of Hollywood. A Chaplinesque visual poem. I had sent her some of my photos of her, which were beautiful – she’s amazing – one of those few people who looks good in every picture. So I wrote her an email, inviting her to do a shoot in Hollywood. And there was no response, and I assumed she didn’t want to work with me, and didn’t like my photography. But then out of the blue one day I got an email telling me she had a mime gig that night in Hollywood and could meet me for a photo shoot. It was a dream for me. Come true. We met – and walked all around Hollywood – into the spectral alleyways – out on the old boulevards. And I got hundreds of amazing photos. Some I have still yet to process. It was overwhelming. I had never gotten so many good photos of one person before. So much poetry and grace in her images.

Then we went out for pizza after our shoot. And she looked so cool eating pizza in her mime face – using a fork so as not to wreck her makeup – that I took a shot of her eating pizza, and even that photo – though she was off the clock, so to speak – came out great. And we became friends.

Then she told me she was performing as a singer-juggler, sans the whiteface. And I had never seen her without it, and didn’t know if I would even recognize her. And I was out on the patio of El Cid with friends – and out she came – and she looked so lovely – and I knew it was her. And I took her photos that night – and ever since then I have taken so many photos of her, in every guise, in many performances, and I also helped to produce a swing-jazz track of “I Am The Walrus” for her, which she performed in a half-man/half-woman outfit. And she was in a macabre Halloween show – and I photographed that. And did a great photo shoot with her in October in the Hollywood Forever cemetery a kind of a spectre, a ghost. And we did a photo session of her on stilts with long pants, so she is a giant with a point hat – in front of great murals near the old tracks of the Southern Pacific railroad in North Hollywood. And those photos are colorful and dreamlike and surreal. Among my favorites. The other night I saw her do a clown act with Charles Schneider – and it was amazing – hilarious, right on the line between charming and macabre. Great stuff. I have a vision of doing a book of photos all of her – called “A Multitude of Amys” as Sondheim wrote a song with that title, and it fits her. And I told her I thought I had every Amy there is to have now – and she laughed, and said, “No. I have many more tricks you haven’t seen.” I love that. She’s amazing. And a good and sweet friend. And a courageous spirit.

I met Billy Beck cause of Amy. She invited me to the old Moose Lodge in Burbank one night – told me a man who was a clown at the Cirque Medrano in Paris along with Buster Keaton was going to appear. Billy Beck. I was hoping he would come in costume and makeup. He didn’t. He gave a slide-show and talk and a funny vaudeville routine. Afterwards I asked him if he would do a photo session – as a clown. He used to portray a poetic sad Emmett Kelly clown. He said sure, and I had to call him a few times to get him to commit. He’s 87 and still works as an actor – has been in hundreds of films and TV shows. So one day I got him to commit, and I drove over to his hillside Silverlake home, just east of Hollywood. And there he was - in full clown regalia. Sad clown. So poetic. And with a top hat and prop violin. And also kind of a cap. Two different collars with ties. And we talked, and shot photos in and around his house and down on the street. It was another dream. He told me after that he regretted ever agreeing, that he hadn’t put on this clown face for about 40 years – I had no idea – and figured it would be a lot of trouble. But that he loved it. Had fun, he said, more fun than acting.

And then the photos. They are so beautiful. Like Amy, he literally looks good in every shot. I am looking at two right now – I have them framed here in my office. Color ones and black and white. His image is so poignant, so full of poetry and jubilant sorrow.

Jonah Sparks is my son Joshua’s pseudonym which we adopted so people wouldn’t identify him. But as he was so beamish in his photos that I started referring to him as “my beamish boy” in every caption on flickr of photos of him, people quickly surmised I was a proud father and he my beautiful boy. And he radiates joy and love in his photos. He’s so beautiful – not just to me! – but also completely in the now, in the present. In the sunshine pocket of bliss. And he looks great in any guise – in any hat, in any outfit – in his Halloween vampire makeup. And in any setting. On the grass, in the ice cream store, in a TV studio dressing room mirror. He often gets tired of his daddy taking so many photos. People think I indulge him by shooting his picture so much. Quite the opposite. I am often appealing to him for “one more!”


Do you have any news on Doc's disappearance?

I wish I did. I have gone back to look for him, but there is no sign of him, and I am worried he’s gone. There is a homeless man named Bill who knew him, and now Bill is gone, too. Both have vanished. I miss Doc.


Amongst some of the more obvious, you often write some intriguing and sometimes seemingly cryptic tags to your photographs, which add to the experience of viewing your stream. I'm thinking of 11:11 in particular, amongst others. Can you explain these for us?

Well, writing funny and obscure tags is just kind of an exercise in working in the margins, drawing outside of the lines. It’s something I’ve always done. I like being creative in as many areas as possible. Even when I was a kid in school, I would invent creative pseudonyms for my homework. This amused my sixth grade teacher. She asked me why and I said, “Would Samuel Clemens’ teacher ask that?” I thought I was rather clever. So it’s kind of an extension of that. I do it mostly for my own amusement. I kind of wonder why more people don’t, but I wonder often about how normal other people are in everyday life. People very rarely venture beyond the accepted norm. But what is normalcy anyway? That’s a whole other issue, of course.
I do try to put some ordinary tags in there, such as ‘portrait’ and ‘hollywood,’ tags that will lead someone to my photos. But I also like to include the names of songs I’m working on, as these tell me, when I look back at them from a different time, where I was at then, what I was working on. I’ll include lines from my songs – and very often lines from other people’s songs that are on my mind. I have always enjoyed the resonance of taking song lines out of context – and I know other songwriters – such as Dylan and Simon – respond to this as well, as I have spoken to both about certain lines outside of the matrix of the song. And people often pick up on these lines – such as you, Syd! And you are the only one to ever add tags, which I love. I also include names of people in my life and thoughts at that moment, people in my real life and in the news, or in my imagined life. And foreign phrases, just because I love the look and rhythm of other languages besides English.

11:11 is a long story but I’ll try to explain it succinctly. I started seeing 11:11 a lot – it seemed like I always turned to the clock exactly when it was 11:11 and it seemed significant but I was unsure why. Then some friends mentioned the same phenomenon. And I’d see the date too in unlikely places – 11-11. So I did a little research and discovered there are thousands – maybe more – people seeing 11:11. And their belief – to state it simply knowing full well this will sound preposterous to many – is that beings from another dimension of consciousness – angels, if you will, for lack of a better term – are using that signal to contact us – to let us know we can evolve the spirit, we can move mankind to a higher level of consciousness, we can change the world by connecting with spirit. If you’re interested, just look up 11:11 on the web. Even Flickr has an 11:11 group. So I’m not sure entirely what it means, but I do know it’s meaningful, and to me it’s positive. So I like the idea of putting it there in my tags for other people to see – and thus spreading the good spirit, the positivity. Like finding a penny (guess this would be an American symbol – the heads-up penny?) – and turning it over, heads-up, to bring good luck to somebody else. I put 11:11 into my tags both as a reflection of my own discovery of positive thinking and direction, and also to bring this into the lives of others. It will only touch the lives of those, I believe, who are awake to this possibility of an evolution of spirit and mind – I do believe there is a new awakening, shaking off the sleep of life, and opening our eyes, paying attention, being active, being witnesses and participants – and those who see it will bring the positivity into their lives and spread it to others, and it will expand exponentially. I believe mankind will progress – that we will welcome the spirit, and understand it – how we are connected, how we can evolve beyond barbarism and inhumanity, how we can embrace a world beyond war, beyond killing, beyond pervading darkness. Peace and love and understanding and compassion. It’s still possible. It’s still real. It’s all there. 11:11.


In my last interview you mentioned your vision to have your photographs published as Caras de Los Angeles: Faces of the Angels. I'm certain it will be well received. How near are you to bringing that vision to fruition?

Hard to say. It’s like writing a song. Sometimes it’s hard to know when you’re finished. Sometimes it can be, in Dylan’s words, too much and not enough. I have thought I’ll just keep taking many portraits and then cull from those. Often I think I’ve exhausted the possibility – that I’ve taken pictures of every kind of Angeleno there is. And then I’ll find more. Having my camera always with me is key. Already I have many, many photographs of Angelenos – a true range of expression and kinds of people. Which is what the ruling idea is here – to show the range of people who live in this vast city. The whole world is here. It always amuses me when people (such as New Yorkers, for example) deride “L.A. people.” Because L.A. people are all people – from all parts of America, and the world. There are a lot of New Yorkers here! Two of my best friends are New Yorkers. People come here and never leave. Very few of the people I know are natives. That’s why you can always connect with people here by asking where they are from. Almost everyone is from somewhere else. So in my photos I have attempted to show that range of people – and also people of different generations – the very old, the very young. And different classes. I have some very wealthy people and many homeless people. And those inbetween. I have many different people from different professions and pursuits. The one thing I really don’t have, and which I think would fill in the gaps and lead me towards a feeling that this project is complete, are more famous people. And not fame just for the sake of fame, but because that is an actuality here – there are many famous people who live here – famous faces, faces we know from the movies or TV or music or elsewhere. And I am fascinated by faces – and how they are different, and what they mean. And there is something automatically dynamic about a famous face – a face that is part of the culture, that’s iconic. A face we know intimately though the person is not a friend. And I like the idea of mixing those in – not a separate celebrity book, but a book of Angeleno faces in which the famous are mixed in with the unknowns and everyone inbetween. I have a few – I photographed Al Pacino, Richard Benjamin and John Lithgow and also some famous musicians, like Aimee Mann and John Doe and others. But I need more. I interviewed some famous people for my book Hollywood Remembered, and I am going to invite them to sit for portraits, and then hit them up to connect me with others. I also want to photograph some character actors – as that’s an ingredient to life here: you see someone in the grocery store, for example, and your first feeling is that you know them – that you’ve met them somewhere. Then you realize that you’ve seen them on TV or in the movies – and you know their face, but not their name. That happens all the time here. In fact, I was thinking at some point of doing a whole book just of those people. There are many great ones. But regardless of if I do that book, I will include some in Caras. Sunday I am meeting the character actor J.P. Manoux – who is a marvelous comic actor; he’s been on the show “E.R.” and is a regular – in not one but two very funny roles – on the Disney show “Phil Of The Future,” which I have seen many millions of times, because Joshie loves it. J.P. and I are meeting at the Hollywood Bowl. Should be fun.


Do you have any plans for an exhibition?

There are few things I’d want more. Presently, thanks to Cay Enns, who discovered my photos on Flickr, I have a show of 8 large color portraits at a great restaurant – Joe’s Diner on Main Street in Santa Monica. They show photos there every month – Cay is the curator. And though it’s not a gallery, I love having my photos there as people enjoy the good food and sit there for hours, and take in the work in a different way than at a gallery. And they display them nicely there. I’ve also been featured in a monthly art event here called Cannibal Flower which is held at various galleries in downtown L.A. I would love to have a gallery show of my work – and just now – for the first time – I’m putting together a portfolio of my work; I’ve found a lab that makes perfect prints for me, and I am happy with the cumulative effect and range of having many portraits all together in one volume.


In my last interview with you, you mentioned a few things that have intrigued me. You said that you would like to have your novel published and maybe write another someday. A Paul Zollo novel sounds to me like a definite must have read. Can you tell us about your novel and are you any closer to having it published (if not can I read the draft)?

Yes, of course, you can read it, Syd! I’d like that. It’s called Sunset and Cahuenga, and it takes place in Hollywood in 1982, revolving around a recording studio at that spectral intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Cahuenga. It’s all based on the truth – when I first moved to Los Angeles in 1982, I got a job as a third engineer – a gopher, really, at first - at a major recording studio at that very intersection. And it was total madness. It was exciting, heady, fun, educational, sexual, druggy, insane, wild, mind-boggling, glamorous, funky, laborious, difficult, funny, friendly, warm, cold, political, musical, technical, simple, complex, easy and amazing – all at once. We had major bands in there and some famous artists, and also many that were not famous. Great musicians and very awful musicians. Classical and jazz and rock and roll. The full gamut of what a recording studio is and was. And now much of it seems historic, though it was not that long ago. This was pre-digital – there were no CDs, no pro-tools – everything was done on analog 24-track tape. There were no computers, no cell-phones. We had a typewriter in the front, and a regular phone. A red one with a cord. And there was much drug-taking going on. Coke mostly, and pot. (Also, lots of strong coffee.) In fact, the owner had a boat in the harbor, and would bring in immense quantities of coke from Mexico or elsewhere, and then sell it, and that is how he acquired the studio. But I didn’t know that at first. He was a mystery to me for a long time.

All I knew is that the place was gorgeous. It was a dream to me. I was new to Hollywood, and wanted nothing more than to spend my days in a studio like this – a dream Hollywood recording studio, state of the art – grand piano, beautiful woodwork, romantic lighting, amazing control room, big spacious game and party room and bar, Hammond organ, vintage microphones – the whole thing. Many British bands recorded there, as our chief engineer was a Brit who had worked with Gentle Giant and Peter Green and others. And so my novel is about this place, and also about the darkness and bliss of a young man in Hollywood trying to balance the glamour and the gloom of the place, the illusions and the reality, the glitz and the grit, the beauty and the sorrow. It’s a sad-jubilant, serious-comic, insane-rational exploration through the romance, the rock and roll, the madness of life on the razor’s edge, the music business, the state of recording art in the early eighties, the sex, the drugs, and more. All of which takes place in, and is all about, Hollywood.

I have an agent in New York who took it on, but has had no success in getting me a deal yet, and I’m losing faith that he will. It’s a different world than getting my non-fiction books published, which has been easy for me, relatively. Getting a first novel published is no easy feat. But I know it will happen eventually. I know it. But I am impatient, especially when I write about it like this. I don’t think many people who have been through this kind of life inside the music business here have written about it. The engineers and producers are busy engineering and producing. The businessmen are doing business. The musicians are making music or are mad or dead. Not many people have stood back and written about it. There is one – a woman I knew who was there – but her book is mostly about the sex she had with famous people. Mine is more. I would be very happy to send it to you, Syd. And to ANYONE who wants to publish it. Please do!!
Syd's Photography 11 years ago
You also said in our last interview, "I did meet Hitchcock once, but that’s another story" Would you share that story with us?

Sure, but it’s not really much of a story. No great meeting with a master, as I might have implied. I did meet him – and this was my very first taste of New York ever – but it was only a fleeting moment.

I was 17, and visiting New York City from Chicago for the first time ever. I was with my parents, who took me there. My father, who is from Chicago, always revered New York – and always considered Chicago – which he loves dearly – to be a “second city” – second to New York, which it was when I was growing up. 2nd largest and 2nd most important city in America. Now it’s third – L.A. has usurped it as Number Two – though the name “Second City” of course survives in the famous comedy club where I spent much time as a kid. (I loved Belushi and John Candy very much – they both ate up the stage.)

So there I was in Manhattan with my dad and mom – just a kid from suburban Chicago, and we were having our first lunch there – at the Plaza of all places. My father, high on being in New York City, and always a funny guy, was saying, “Okay, now that we’re in New York, we’ll be seeing many famous and important people.” (In Chicago, I remember well – the most famous person I met, outside of the TV actor Forrest Tucker and the late great Steve Goodman, was the Chicago White Sox third-baseman Pete Ward, who ultimately got demoted, sadly, to the Minor Leagues.) My dad pointed to a portly man eating lunch with a young woman. Entirely in jest, he said, “See – that’s Alfred Hitchcock.” He was joking. But I looked at this guy, and indeed, it did look like Hitch. So I went over to the reservation list – I remember this like yesterday, though it was 1976 – and I saw the handwritten name: Hitchcoke. Yes, spelled like that. Amazed, I knew it was the great man himself. I came back to my parents’ table, and excitedly told them the news. Of course, being a boy with ample chutzpah, as we say, I wanted to vault right over and meet the great man. I wanted my life to intersect directly with his, and right then. My parents demurred. Said I couldn’t interrupt his lunch, and they suggested I be happy enough just to have seen him. Life at a distance. Never my style, even then.

So I let him finish his lunch. And we finished our lunch. He got up to leave, and I figured we would never see him again. But as we walked through that beautiful ornate lobby, there was Hitch at the main desk, talking to a female hotelier. Unrestrained, I went to him to say hello and beg an autograph. He turned around very slowly, very Hitchcockian, and said to me in that low, ponderous, regal and often imitated voice, “Just… let… me… finish… my… business… here… first.” I did. I listened, of course. He was suggesting to the woman behind the counter that there was no way his daughter could have possibly have run up such a high phone bill. The hotel lady insisted it was the truth. When that was ultimately resolved, Hitch turned around and kindly gave me an autograph – I was so in awe of this great man I can’t recall anything that he said – and he was off, and I had Alfred Hitchcock’s signature burning a hole directly through my wallet.


Paul, I understand that you had the opportunity to meet again recently with one of this planet’s greatest singer songwriters, brilliant poet and legend, the one and only, Leonard Cohen. Can you tell us about Leonard, what makes his songs so great and memorable?

It’s hard to put into words. You have to experience the songs. He’s a poet. A true poet. He’s got the wisdom of the ages. He knows how to use words, and he knows how to construct songs. He writes five times the amount, sometimes, that he needs for songs and then cuts back. He showed me some discarded verses and they were extraordinary. Way better than the verses most people keep. He threw them out. He’s funny and very intelligent. He’s focused. He writes very beautiful melodies. A song like “Suzanne” is a little miracle. In which the words and the music are equally beautiful. They touch the heart in a very real way. There’s love there. Genuine love. And then there are songs like “Hallelujah” which are reverent – Dylan said it’s more like a prayer than a song and it’s true. Then the ones like “Democracy” that are fervent and pointed but still quite timeless and inspirational – the ageless poet confronts modern times. His work amazes me.


I understand that you are set to meet and interview him again soon. When can we expect to read that interview and what do you have in store this time around?

It won’t be for many months. He said he’s finishing his new album. And he doesn’t rush things. He gets them right. All I have in store is to spend time with him and talk about the new songs and the old songs and explore the world through his eyes. I am fascinated by him. How does a poet live in this world? And he lives in my world – right in L.A. I interviewed his girlfriend – Anjani – whose new album Blue Alert is produced by Leonard, and he wrote the lyrics. And I asked her mundane questions about their life – though she understood. I confessed that to me he seems like a God. But I know he’s a man. She laughed and confirmed that he is, indeed, a man. A ladies man, I asked? She said that legend has been magnified. Did they take walks together? Yes. At night. Did they watch TV? I think of his line about “getting lost in that hopeless little screen.” Yes, she said. They watch TV.


Will you be taking Henry Diltz along as your assistant?

Henry’s never been my assistant. I’ve been his apprentice more than he’s my assistant. He took photos – his photos of Leonard he took with me are beautiful. One of the two of us together that is my favorite photo of myself, as I was beaming with joy being with these two great men. Leonard and Henry. But at some point the apprentice goes out on his own – and that’s what has happened. I take all my own photos now. I’m no Henry Diltz. But I’ve learned a lot from him. And one thing I’ve learned – on a worldly level – is that if you take pictures of historic people, at some point they become history. And you have an archive of treasures. He has that. Go to the Morrison Hotel gallery on Sunset in Hollywood – or the one in Soho, New York – or look it up on the internet. There is Henry’s bounty


Flickr has some amazing members (and many whom would be a surprise to most) and some great photographers, it also seems to transcend mere photographic excellence, but moreover photography seems to be a medium for connecting people’s lives here. Would you agree with this?

Absolutely. It connects us in so many ways. We are connecting our artistic souls by sharing what is for most of us our art, our creative expression. But this specific form of expression – photography – is an expression that represents, preserves and presents our specific realities, our slices of life. And in this specific is the universal. So as I take photos of people mostly in Los Angeles and of things here in L.A., and you take your photos of people and things in your corner of the UK, we are sharing our world visions – sharing directly our windows on our worlds, as well as what we see through those windows, and how we see them. It’s a representation of reality – and it’s digital, mostly, and hence quite immediate – so that I can take a photo of a man in downtown L.A. and post it that same night, and you in the UK, or a friend in Bangalore or Tokyo or Jerusalem or any place on this globe can instantly see my world. So it is a very intimate connection – sharing our visions, and what we care about, as well as the specific details of life as lived in these disparate places in which we live.

I think it’s quite common to believe that wherever you are is IT – it is the universe. All of us feel, to some degree I believe, that we are in the center of the universe. And that our reality is THE reality. And Flickr provides us daily with the understanding that OUR reality is only part of a much larger reality going on every second around this world, and that in many ways our reality might be quite different from that in another country or state or city. So this is educational and instructive. And it is also a fascinating realization to find that which is not different – that you love your daughter with the same kind of ferocity that I love my son – and that the reality of her bed at night – all her pink toys, for example, is not that different from the reality of my son’s bed – though not pink – with all his toys. And this links us as well – discovering not only the distinctions in our lives but the similarities.

And Flickr, of course, connects people around the world who all love photography. We love it in different ways and with different reasons, but Flickr – as with the entire miraculous Internet – serves to connect people not by region – as we were once connected – neighbors with neighbors – but by vision and pursuit. We are all connected here by the shared vision of photography as a vital and dynamic artform and means of expression. And then within that totality there are all the groups – so that people are connected into smaller groups by love of portraiture, for example, or photos of live music events, etc. So Flickr’s ability to connect people in an immediate and meaningful way is vast and profound.


What connections have you made and how do you value those connections?

They are far too numerous to enumerate. But there are so many fine people and loving people and excellent artists here. There’s Syd, for example. A kindred soul – lover of music, of children, of women… And Syd’s beautiful daughter Melissa, who has her own flickr page – and who we love, my son and I. There’s a lot of love going back and forth across these oceans.

There’s Boctaoe (forgive me for using the Flickr names) – who is such a special and beautiful man. He has touched my life in a very real way by sharing his own. There’s Noah Stone – who I met through Flickr and has become a real friend here in Los Angeles- not only a gifted photographer, but an amazing musician-songwriter-producer. Nurit Wilde, who is also an Angeleno – but who I have mostly gotten to know because of Flickr. Stoneth, whose portraits of the destitute of San Francisco astound me, and have taught me much about portraiture – primarily about how to best frame a face and a story.

There’s Cay Enns – who I met through Flickr and arranged for me to have a show of portraits at Joe’s Diner in Santa Monica – she is very great.

Anandamide –– whose whimsical photographic collages simply delight me to no end. He is a visionary – totally on his own path, and his work warms my heart. Janoid – whose big heart is evident from all the people that love her and she loves. “A heart is not measure by how much you love but by how much you are loved by others.” From “The Wizard of OZ” – right? That applies. Lisa –aka Lat454205 – is another beautiful person with a profound love of others – her comments mean so much to me. She watched some of my webcasts with my band – which meant much more than I can express.

Dans Le reine – who is beauty personified. Her soul and her photos – and her sweetness and sexuality – her “gestalt sex dynamic” as I put it once – has really moved me in many ways.

There’s Rob Pongi – an American in Japan – who is wild and celebratory and great – he came to LA and came to one of my gigs. Ingsok – one of my first connections here. Though it does make me sad that, like the real world, we sometimes lose touch with good friends. People wax and wane life the moon. Memaxmarz is another who was one of my first friends – and I miss her. And I can go on and on but I won’t. Suffice it to say that Flickr is a place where friends can be friends – good friends, intimate friends – and never meet in the real world. But unlike other “social networking” sites – Flickr is special to me, because we have united here not just in a trivial way or a shallow sense – but in a more profound way, as we share our art, our visions, our soul, our heart = and our worlds – with each other.


Would you like to this opportunity to send a message to all your friends here in flickrland?

Sure. I’d like to thank sincerely all of those who have taken the time to look at my photos and to think about them and respond. I love the positive comments, of course – but even when people are critical or have some issue – I am very happy to receive that response. The greatest thing I feel all artists yearn for is to connect. And so many of you – without knowing me – have connected with me based on this shared foundation of photos and love. And for that I am genuinely grateful. I’ll admit I often feel guilty that I don’t spend as much time as I should going to your photos, and commenting on them. As I am living life and working and doing many things – such as raising my son – and taking lots of photos! I do spend a lot of time looking and commenting – but there are so many photos, and never enough hours in the day for all. And like most artists I am most obsessed with my own photos. I’m being honest here. So for those of you who visit my page frequently – that means way more than I can express. And if it brings some resonance to your life, for that I am very happy.

And I want to thank all of you who have reached out. There are many people in this world who are passive. Who do not do art. Who do not reach out. You are not among them. You are artists – your are visionaries – and you are beautiful, loving people – and not a day goes by that I don’t consider myself blessed to live in this age of technology which enables me not only to take these photos, but to share them with you, my friends around the world, and to see all the beautiful photos you share with me. We all are blessed. These are the days of miracle and wonder. Thank you all.

And if anyone has any other questions you’d like to ask me – (Syd suggested I invite more) – please ask. I am happy to answer. As you can see, my expansive nature doesn’t hold back in many instances, including this one. And I’d like to invite you to please come see our web magazine – Bluerailroad at www.bluerailroad.com – and to share your Favorite Five songs with us – go to the department and fill our the form – we want to include you all. With love.

And thank YOU Syd. You are a mensch among menschs!!!
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