Musician Magazine, 1991
“Tired Of Sleeping” is a song from the dream images. I find it weird to sing because it makes me feel sad, but I also feel that it’s one that I have to sing. Its a song of having intense dreams and wanting to wake up from them in your real life, as opposed to a deluded dream world where no one’s connecting. The “Oh Mom” lines aren’t specifically about birth. But probably there have been many times in my life when I felt that I was the child reassuring my mother that everything would be fine. I put the quote marks around “clean quilted heart” because the phrase was so clear in the dream. In the dream, the man was trying to prove his innocence, to show that he was pure. It’s a little strange, but it makes emotional sense to me. I trust that and go with that.
To me, “Men In A War” is about missing a piece of yourself, whether it’s a physical piece or a part of your will or spirit. I put the woman in the song because I wanted toshow these two people in opposite circumstances, both of them feeling incomplete. The man is feeling something he doesn’t have, and the woman is not feeling something she has.
“Rusted Pipe” is like “Language” from the last album. “Language is liquid” there and “Words are like water” here. And I’m rusted. The “creak” is like a faucet turning on. Basically, it comes down to feelings. Because as a child, I think I must have decided that feelings were impractical and not useful, so therefore you put them away for a while. It’s a song more about finding the story than telling it. But Paul Nelson’s reading of it – that it could be about a baby who wants to speak and walk but can’t do it yet – is accurate. Not in a literal sense, but to me, a song is like a piece of sculpture. You hammer at it from all angles until the pure thing is left in the middle. And then if it works from every angle, you know you’ve got something.
In “Book Of Dreams,” I wanted to write something about the way I wish things would be. Again, it has dream images, but they’re more like daydreams or fantasies. It’s me going, “What do I wish I could do?” Unlike the situation in “Institution Green,” your name will be called. And everybody is in my book of dreams. No one will be forgotten.
“Institution Green” could be about a mental institution, going to vote, a police station or waiting to get blood taken in a doctor’s office. The context isn’t so important. It’s whether I hit the emptional bull’s-eye that makes a difference to me. The actual events here are a combination of a doctor’s office and voting. When I was a kid, I’d go to the clinics with my mother. If you don’t have any money, you go to free clinics, which means you wait for hours. And it’s all dependent on this one person in charge, who, if she’s dropped your card on the floor or she’s having a bad day – well, you’ll wait forever. It’s extremely dehumanizing to feel that you’re just one of a million people, and that a lot of people have your last name and no one cares enough to pick you out. That’s where the rage comes in. You want to say, “I want to go in now,” because you’ve waited for hours and hours.
“Those Whole Girls (Run In Grace)” was inspired by the feeling of wanting to be whole and confident and complete. I was reading Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood , and she seemed so sure of her feelings. She seemed so different from the way I was as a child, when I always felt that I had to look two ways before I took a step. Also, I was playing with the language. I liked each word being one syllable. And the crunchiness of the consonants and the way the words felt in my mouth. I didn’t write the song with any malice or bitterness. It’s more that I would like to be that way one day.
“Room Off The Street” was originally called “Cuba.” It was what I imagined Cuba might feel like at some point. The feeling of giving your life for the cause, and how it incites all sorts of passions that don’t have to do with the politics but with the feeling in the air. The poster of the man with his hand in a fist was a recurring image in the posters we had at home.
“Big Space” is about the body being a network and finding the center. Then you think, what if there isn’t any center? Or what if you get there, and there’s nothing? Those were the fears I was trying to confront as I sat down to write this album. “Anger in a cold place” – that’s like, well, what do you hide when you put on the uniform to get through the day? What are the things you’re not acknowledging? What does the calm face hide? And it’s the feelings that you’re taking away. YOu just strip yourself of them, and you become not human – or wooden, as in “Wooden Horse (Caspar Hauser’s Song).” I guess as a kid, I felt like a thing sometimes. Or like an object. I felt sometimes that I wasn’t sure. As a child, it’s easy to get that confused. You look at a doll, and it seems to have a life. Then you look at yourself, and you seem not to be able to move.
Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire” was an influence on “Predictions.” One day, I was looking up a word or something, and I suddenly came across this weird list of ways that people have told the future. And each of these ways had its own name, its own -ology. I thought the images were so beautiful and pure. And all of these objects – the hatchet, the nails, the dough of cakes, the wax in water – are the kind of things you’d find around your house. I loved the idea of magic being contained in these everyday objects.
“50-50 Chance” is based on a real incident. Someone I’m close to had that experience last year. A suicide attempt. She’s okay now. She hasn’t tried it again.
“Pilgrimage” comes from an incense bowl. I’ve been a Buddhist since I was 16 – the Nichiren Shoshu sect. So every morning I chant and burn incense. It’s that linear thing of time as a line that’s burning. Sometimes I watch the incense burn, and I imagine that it’s this great journey from one end of this big, dusty bowl to the other. the song starts off with the one line of incense that turns into the life that turns into the land, and I felt happy with the idea of expansion. I’m saying, “I’m coming to you/I’ll be there in time’ to death as well as to the source. But there’s a feeling of, when I die, it will be okay, because I will have done what I mean to do. I won’t have missed it.