• The Real End of a Long Beginning (by Timothy White)


    Boo!"squeals the bouncy three-foot witch in the tipsy peaked hat as she greets her classmate, a pint-sized ninja in black pajamas and head-band who's toting a droopy trick-or-treat sack.

    "Hey, I gotta dog named Boo," says the bright-eyed blonde woman with a radiant grin, as she watches the costumed pair of kindergartners scamper through the Halloween fair being held in the local schoolyard, a wispy swirl of sawdust in their wake. It's a brisk late October afternoon in one of the picturesque canyons above Hollywood, and Rickie Lee Jones, appealingly disheveled in azure jeans, lemon sweatshirt and brand new tennis sneakers, is spending a few hours wandering through a peewee carnival environment in which she is decidedly out of scale.

     

    "It's amazing how the grownups here all walk around trying to play the role of big people for all the little people," she says with a gurgling chuckle as she scans the throng of children punctuated by attentive, towering parents. "They're as self-conscious in this kiddie-sized place as the kids are oblivious to it." She expresses delight with the bantam snack bars, the diminutive booths, midget Ferris wheel and shrimpy drinking fountains on the fringes of the festivities, speculating that there can be few other places in a community where tots don't feel threatened by the dimensions of the adult-controlled world."It never seemed fair when I was a little girl that everything in life was designed for the convenience of adults and the discomfort and obstruction of kids. Made me afraid to grow up-and afraid not to grow up.

    Her dark eyes burn with a wistful intensity, a slight but sure smile underscoring the conviction in her declaration. Her words are dispelled by the clang of the bell atop the Jack-in-the-Beanstalk Test Your Strength game, the signal that a feisty twelve year old wielding a sledgehammer has driven the counterweight all the way up into the plywood clouds of the angry giant's sky kingdom. After fortifying herself with some pumpkin-shaped pecan cookies, Rickie Lee tries her hand at the Beanstalk concession but slams the weight no higher than midstalk.

    " Never prejudge a kid," she advises afterward, as she leaves the grounds, heading for her nearby hilltop cottage, "they can have a lot of hidden strength."

    Indeed, Rickie Lee's thirty year long confrontation with her own phobias and inner might has made for an unpredictable personal saga of no small scope. That the inherent struggles and triumphs of her troubled passage are never far from her mind is only too apparent as she bounds out of her gleaming new Jaguar, calling out to the black-brown Newfoundland puppy romping in the ivy carpeted backyard.

    "Boo! Boo Radley! I'm home, Boo!"

    For those unfamiliar with To Kill a mockingbird, Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (or the 1962 film) about race relations and the loss of childhood innocence in rural Alabama, Boo Radley was a retarded small-town recluse who was an object of superstition and fear for the two motherless children of a local lawyer. In conquering her terror of the mysterious inhabitant of the ramshackle house on her street, a young girl befriends a purportedly "malevolent phantom" who later saves her life one inky Halloween night. It is a tale of ordinary courage and the step toward self-realization that is its reward. The book, and its lesson, hold great personal significance for Rickie Lee Jones.

    "Three fears weaken the heart," according to an old Welsh proverb. "Fear of the truth, fear of poverty, and fear of the devil." Rickie Lee Jones, singer, songwriter and saucy, shoo-bopping second of three daughters (and one son) by Richard Loris Jones and wife Bettye Jane, is descended from Welsh and Irish stock. Her long-estranged father, the orpahanage-reared son of a one-legged vaudeville dancer named Peg Leg Jones, used to tell her as a child that she should be proud of her "gypsy" lineage, because it consisted of "singers, dancers, poets and people who believe in magic." It's not easy to embrace one's background when the most flamboyant link to it, the father who exhorted his daughter to a pride of heritage, is a failed actor and embittered rounder who abandoned his brood when Rickie Lee was still in her teens. It was he who taught her to sing and play music, and it wasn't too long before she was following in his errant footsteps, a school truant and tireless runaway with rock rooted in the jazz side of life. Expelled from Timberline High in Olympia, Washington, she drifted from city to city, landing in Los Angeles in 1973 at the age of nineteen. She was wretched, anxiety-ridden and racing with the Old Deceiver, hoping she could somehow, some way locate a safe haven before he got a sturdy grip on her sorrow and fear-scarred soul.

    A Tinsel Town mendicant, she slept behind the HOLLYWOOD sign and on the couches of transient cronies, playing for pin money in bars in bohemian Venice, California like the Comeback Inn. Her phobias were numberless but her greatest qualm was also her gravest need: some lasting friends. "I guess I had learned not to depend on anybody else," as she puts it, "cause once people start affecting what happens to you, it's trouble." Spoken like a true vagabond, knowing the nearness of heartbreak with each fragile reconnection to the world. The big risk-and the resultant payoff-arrived in the form of one unkempt, carburetor voiced crooner named Tom Waits and sidekick Chuck E. Weiss, both habitues of the storied Tropicana motel on Santa Monica Boulevard.

    Buttressed by her buddies, she appeared at the Troubadour on its open-house Hoot Nights, and ambled through a spoken-word hipster monologue peppered with her own songs, the first being "Easy Money" A friend sang the slinky little ditty over the phone to the late Lowell George of Little Feat fame, and he cut it for his Thanks, I'll Eat It Here solo LP. Signed to Warner Bros., Georges label, due to the support of staff producer Ted Templeman and A&R man Lenny Waronker (who'd caught her at the Troubadour), her debut Rickie Lee Jones album clicked in 1979 on the strength of "Chuck E.'s In Love." The single was inspired by a 1977 phone call to Waits from Weiss, who'd lit out of the Denver to romance a cousin. "Chuck Es in love!" Waits informed Jones as soon as he hung up, and she turned Tom's exclamation into rock'n'roll folklore.

    In the years since she first scaled the charts with her fingerpoppin' mixture of Van Morrison/Laura Nyro-complexioned hymns of loneliness, disjunction and bartered love among the urban rootless, she has shown herself to be a wholly unique voice in the recent history of rock'n'roll, her downbeat swagger and raw jazz balladry soul-piercing in its poignant clarity. Though she is not prolific, her modest output of three LPs (her debut, 1981's Pirates and her new The Magazine), an EP (Girl At Her Volcano, 1983) and a handful of other, scattered tracks has nonetheless attracted enormous attention for its fusion of pop idioms, poetry, jazz, bits of gospel and theater. As her slurred, torchy purr swoops from a sob to a trill to an exhilarating wail, her eccentric, ethereal records take on the qualities of non-fiction musical novels.

    Jones has had much to sing about, not all of it particularly joyous. A moody, self-absorbed teenager (her brother Danny liked to joke that she was a "witch") she had a dark premonition one morning as he got on his motorcycle. Moments later, he had his leg torn off in a traffic accident that left him partially paralyzed and the family devastated. All her life she has felt that "things can go wrong on a moment's notice," a dread-steeped outlook that endured through the early days of her success. When her much-publicized romance with Tom Waits ended in 1980, she became physically ill with grief, and spent months in a daze of heartsickness. Plunging herself into the completion of Pirates, itself a partial diary of the breakup, she grew close with musician chum Sal Bernardi, with whom she wrote "Traces Of The Western Slopes." She also collaborated with Bernardi on "Theme For The Pope" for The Magazine, but they are no longer romantically involved.

    In the last two years, Rickie Lee has grappled with some of her most enduring demons and come out the victor. For the first time since she first ran away from home at fourteen, she has put down roots, and has found what she describes as a stable, nurturing relationship with handsome, soft-spoken actor Gregory Wagrowski. These days the once-boldly curvaceous and careworn singer is slim and athletic, her hair now straw-colored and streaked with silver. Her lifestyle is one of abstinence and simple pleasures and her mood is buoyant as we sit down to a sensible lunch of diet soda and tuna fish salad she prepared. Her world is not without its aches and elegies, however, as she mourns the recent cancer death of dear friend Bog Regehr, fifty-two, the head of artist development and publicity at Warner Bros., and her biggest booster and professional soulmate. And just several days ago she heard from her long-incommunicado father for the first time in years; he was phoning to say that he was about to undergo surgery for cancer.

    "Bob Regehr is still here," she says as she sets the food down on a picnic table on the courtyard of her back patio, across from a neat, compact chicken coop where a rooster and two hens cluck placidly. "He's alive in my thoughts and hopes." And my father, for all our distances and his determination to keep himself at bay, I know he's never really left my heart." She takes a small, pensive bite of her sandwich and then brightens. "In the sadness of life there is beauty-there truly is-but it comes only in the acceptance of it."

    Looking around the property she and Gregor share together, I remind her of something she told me in an interview in 1981: "I'd like to have a place of my own, but I don't like to speak of what I want most because I believe that if you do, you rob that dream of some of its energy and specialness. You jinx it."

    She nods at the statement. "You can want things too hard, whether it's fame and money or a centered existence. Gregory and I made this happen, rather than sitting around wanting it to. It's better to take action that to dream, whether it's Gregory going off today for a film audition (we later learn that he got the part) or me now organizing a tour for a record I once couldn't picture the completion of. I'm no longer frightened of my productivity, or of my happiness.

    "I don't do many of these,"" she allows with a smirk, pointing to the tape recorder, as the coppery autumn sun streams into the cozy courtyard. "Turn it on and I'll fill you in."

    MUSICIAN: You've been rather reclusive of late, leaving everyone to speculate about the cryptic Rickie Lee Jones and her enigmatic new record. While The Magazine has been well-received, it's been described as a "demanding" listen, and critics have been keen to unlock the meaning of its title. Is this a piece of glossy introspection? A musical ledger? An aural scrapbook with certain pages slyly excised? What's the message contained in The Magazine?

    RICKIE LEE: The first reason I called it The Magazine was because the opening line of the song, the first lyric bit that came to me-"Homeboys calling from the corners, station to station, for the magazine..." That line was so important, because in terms of mood it set up everything that was about to happen. Homeboys is a street community drug term; homeboys are lookouts on the corners, and the magazine was the type of dope that they sold. But that's not what it was when I wrote it. It wasn't these guys on the corner, selling drugs. It became the poetry of hope. The words continue: "but her pages are turning out the lights in the windows," so immediately I made the song something else, something less down and out, more forward looking.

    MUSICIAN: Let's discuss the tracks in detail.

    RICKIE LEE: Okay. The first is "Prelude to Gravity," an instrumental that was originally called "Things Made Of Glass," and was meant to accompany a children's fantasy I wrote about two little girls who keep their most prized possessions, thoughts and dreams in these special jars. I'd been writing a number of stories and hoped to match them with songs. The music for "Prelude" was written partly in France and partly in London. I spent four months in France in 1983, starting around late April, early May. After I promoted the little record over there.

    MUSICIAN: The "little record" meaning the 10-inch Girl At Her Volcano EP?

    RICKIE LEE: Yeah, the little guy. (laughter) I got an apartment for $800 on the Boulevard des Invalides, where they have all the political demonstrations. I wasn't in such great shape and, appropriately, I lived with the invalids. It's the big street leading to the Napoleon Museum, and on each side are big fields of grass, and then they have this little row of apartments. Actually it was lovely.

    MUSICIAN: Why Paris? Did you give in to some romantic, expatriate notion?

    RICKIE LEE: (softly) Well, I needed a big change.

    MUSICIAN: So what'd you do there? Just write?

    RICKIE LEE: Yeah, but only in fragments and spurts. The first thing I tried to write was "Juke Box Fury." Then "Gravity." I had written "Gravity," or rather the first verse of the actual song on the record, a few years before that, in 1981. And I had also had these impressions of "Runaround"; I didn't know what it was ultimately gonna be but I had these impressions and it was real Shirelles-like when I first heard it in my head. (sings) "Hut-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh, Better Wise Up Girl!" I wrote some of that at the same time I wrote "Gravity" but the rest of it didn't come for the next few years. So I had these scattered bits and pieces with me in France.

    When I got to Paris, I had just finished Girl At Her Volcano, and I started drinking gain that May, more heavily, heavily than I had ever drunk in my life. I drank for about six weeks. When I started waking up and drinking in the day, I figured-umm, bad news. I don't know how I quit drinking; I finally just dank too much one night an said "That's enough of this, it's awful." I think I went to Paris to put it together; I had to be in an absolutely foreign environment, to take stock. I was very nervous, eating a lot too-you can get away with a lot of eating and drinking in Paris 'cause that's all they do-but I quit both vices while I was there.

    So I was staying with a friend, and I wasn't happy, and I started to write "Juke Box Fury," and I had a lot of f random portions of it, but could not complete it. So I had moved out and gotten this apartment and I started to write on the typewriter and work in nearby studios. One was called Venus Studios-a big chateau, on landscaped grounds, with a pool, and they make your dinner-located out in Longeville. And one was called Uncle Sam Studios and it was right off the Champs Elysees.

    I loved Venus Studios. There was a sixteen-year-old girl there named Valerie, and a guy named Gerard who was a drummer for Phoebe Snow, and a woman named Regine. The house was always full of people and it was like a dream. They took me in artistically, not asking for any money, just happy to have me come there and work, and so I'd spend the night in a room of my own.

    I was so infatuated with Valerie, this gentle, shy girl would sit and play her acoustic guitar all day, and I remember this melody of hers, as she learned to write songs, that was implanted in my head. (She hums a wistful, bittersweet tune in waltz tempo.) That melody was the narration for all the moments I was there. And I started to write these peculiar images, a lot of pictures but still not getting a song, for "The Weird Beast" while on the train going to and from Venus.

    The first song that did emerge in a substantial way was "Deep Space." It was without a bridge, just two verses, but I was very happy and elated. It was enough that I could start to see that maybe I was gonna write again someday. You have to understand that it has been some years, three or four, since I had done any cohesive composing. I'm glad that I'm strong enough to admit publicly that I didn't know if I was going to be capable of continuing as a writer and performer. I was frozen for quite a while, and full of dread. Frankly, I was terrified, and it's important, probably, to know and remember that I was. I felt that if I'm never gonna write again at least I'm gonna go to Paris and go out in respectful obscurity.

    Then the songs began to come very quickly. When you stop drinking you can think, so its just a matter of stopping doing the things that don't let you write and you'll start writing again.

    MUSICIAN: During the summer of 1983 you made a pilgrimage to the Montreux Jazz Festival, right?

    RICKIE LEE: Yeah, I went to visit, just to watch, but I don't remember who I saw there because I was still drinking them. (nervous chuckle). I think the picture I draw now of myself and those days is perhaps worse than the picture people saw, but that's the way I want to see it. I was such a decimal then of what I can be, a small percentage of my potential, of what I have to give. I tend to forget, because I feel so much better this year, how badly I felt for the few years before.

    MUSICIAN: I've always felt that one of human evolution's greatest kindnesses is that the mind cannot remember either physical or psychic pain. It's a blessing.

    RICKIE LEE: Boy, that's true, and I wonder why that is. We learn from pain but let the precise memory of it fade away and die. I was able to banish my pain in France, and I was working twelve-hour days on the demos for The Magazine when I came back here, trying to finish those songs at Amigo Studios in L.A. "The Real End"came from a resolute emotional intention, me wanting to feel that the real end of a troubled, hurtful time had come. As for the lyrics, they were rather incidental to the music, no big deal to me, except as an expression of release. But the things that are the most loose and effortless are frequently the things other people get the most out of. And the things you work real hard on, that you learn from, half of them never hit home for outsiders, because you did them for you.

    MUSICIAN: You compose entirely on piano, and there's so much fire and drama in your singing. Do you think of the instrument that accompanies that vocal passion as a melodic or a percussive instrument?

    RICKIE LEE: Interesting question. I play a Yamaha grand. It's my pencil and paper, it's melodic to me and it supports me. I've never been percussive-minded, but my voice is very feminine and the instrument is pretty masculine, so clearly I have to learn to be percussive to keep the dialogue between it and me going. Women are encouraged to be soft, like I am on "It Must Be Love." I started to mess around with synthesizers when I was making demos for The Magazine and found the beautiful melody for 'It Must Be Love' on them. Working with Mark Linett, my engineer, I found that synthesizers-mine is a Yamaha DX7-are not as masculine, not as demanding.

    Overall, once the album material was brought into Amigo Studios it became pretty painless-but not that painless. I started writing in October, 1983. We started recording around January 18.1984. And we finished around the first of June. A long journey.

    MUSICIAN: How do you view the songs on the new LP?

    RICKIE LEE: They all are chronicles of my recent movement. In "Gravity" there's even a storyline, if you want one, about the passage of time, how it stretches and bends; how a day can actually be as long as a week, or the other way around. Time really does play tricks with your perceptions and emotions. But there are no hard or firm plots to any of the songs.

    It's so incredible to me how people write reviews and come up with these amazing storylines for the whole record. There are tow of them who found and followed some girl's love affair throughout the whole album. (Laughter) I thought, "That's amazing! I didn't know I was telling a story about a love affair!"

    I think it's a sexist presumption. They just presume that if it's a woman, she must certainly be writing about a love affair. I don't hear or see anything on "Magazine," for instance, that would indicate there's a love affair going on, much less with a woman. It sounds to me, if anything, like it's a man singing to a woman, or a woman singing to a woman, but it certainly isn't the same love affair that was happening in "It Must Be Love," the previous song. "Cuz you break my heart, Carol," the line in "Magazine," has got to be a signal that it's a completely different and separate story unfolding.

    To tell you straight-and this has everything to do with the nature of the new album-I don't feel tied down any longer to being simple or linear in any sense. Sometimes you work with the emotion of a tune rather than the actual lines. When I spontaneously sang "Ca-rol" during the session, I listened to that and I went, "Who the hell is Carol? How'd she get into this song?!" But I feel that the music and the lyrics were leading to that place, so I don't try to twist something that came naturally. I don't go, "Look, Carol, you don't belong in this song." I love these songs because they're mysterious to me, I still follow them and watch them come of age and expand.

    MUSICIAN: So you chose the word "Carol" the way children at play will seize on pleasant sounds to recite and drone, the kids just cherishing the sensations they produce?

    RICKIE LEE: Exactly. And I've never done that before. I've never gone for an element just for the feel and tone of it in a song. In the past I had to categorize everything and position it to make sense. This time I said words over and over, anticipating the feeling they would produce in the song, rather than the potential storyline. It's a new kind of writing for me, it's painting with words and sounds.

    MUSICIAN: It seems to be an impressionistic approach. But your previous record, Girl At Her Volcano, was very structured. I think the concept behind that EP is still hazy and perplexing to your fans.

    RICKIE LEE: Actually, it's awfully simple. I'd always done jazz ballads on tour-"Something Cool," "Lush Life"-and even some Louis Jordan stuff. People were always asking me if I was ever gonna cut any of that stuff, but I didn't want to just stick it on a record. The magic of those things was that they were live, they were vital performance pieces. And whatever I felt that night, raucous or whatever, that was the interpretation captured on tape. I didn't want to go into a studio and slick them up. ForVolcano, I wanted a very dark, quiet, soft record. We had live stuff that was very upbeat, real good, but I didn't want it. I was on my way to France at the time, and conceptually I didn't particularly have a big image of myself. That's not the way I saw Rickie at that time-so how could I make a record like that? I see these things as pieces of myself that I leave behind, musical photos and pictures of who I am at a certain time,k and at that juncture I was smaller and quieter than I am now.

    At Warner Bros., I met with incredible resistance to the ten-inch record. The only support I had was from Bob Regehr. It was our idea to release it on a smaller disc like the old jazz albums used to be on, and the company went wild. They said, "We don't know how to market it! They won't put it in the stores! They'll have to make a special bin for it! We can't do it! We must press it on a twelve-inch!" I had to have meetings with these people (giggles), and it's very hard to make a record at the same time you're trying to convince a record company to let you do it. It was a drag.

    There were also, no doubt, some ego problems on my part, and they had to do with how I was seeing my development and accomplishments up to that point. When I came out with the very first record in 1979 and was doing that jazz stuff, nobody was doing it. I turn around two or three years later and all the girl singers had recorded their jazz albums, and I was pissed off. I remember Peter Asher sitting backstage at Carnegie Hall when I was there, and I though, "Ronstadt's gonna come out with a jazz record, you watch. She'll do any damned thing that she thinks will sell a record." And they worked on this record of hers (What's New) for three or four years, and threw one pass at it away!

    (sighs) Anyway, I don't want to be judgmental and I'm really trying to change; I don't like that in me, I'm not proud of that tendency. I think it's very negative and you only use it out of a misguided desire to try to make yourself feel better. Ego generally gets in the way of being a good person.

    I guess I'm saying this today to let you know that my point of view was then, 'cause most of the time now, I look at what people do and I go, "Fine." Even if it's pretentious, or an obvious bid for stardom and having nothing to do with art.

    I still do what I do regardless of whatever crap any other folks put out, so why should I compete with them? Why should I look at Linda Ronstadt and get angry at her/ It has nothing to do with anything. And when that starts to happen you realize somebody's pushing your buttons, somebody's making you compete in the marketplace. I have nothing to do with her, or with Nelson Riddle, so why should her record bother me? The ego definitely threatens or dwarfs spiritual growth.

    MUSICIAN: Reading between the lines, it sounds to me as if you were under a helluva lot of strain.

    RICKIE LEE: Well, also, I was getting pushed to make a record, and I didn't have any damned material. I was told, "If you don't make a record soon, you won't have a career." Hell, I wanted a career! It's never like the first time around, when you walk up to the company and you go, (high-pitched squeal) "Gee, I've got all these songs! Will you let me make a record?" You make that record and you're money to them. Things are never the same again.

    MUSICIAN: Tell me your thoughts, in retrospect, about Pirates, a musically adventurous second LP, but one that also dwelt on romantic traumas and the dark side of life.

    RICKIE LEE: I think Pirates is a beautiful record, but it's a little scary to me. It's pretty deep. On tour, we play "We Belong Together" and "Woodie And Dutch On The Slow Train To Peking,"and I think "Western Slopes' is an extraordinarily fluid song, but I don't listen to the record anymore. There are ghosts in that song, like the Johnny Johnson I mention, who's the phantom of this broken-hearted preacher who actually haunts a Toys "R" Us store in central California, and there are a lot of ghosts for me in the album as a whole.

    In terms of self-awareness and state of mind, the Magazine songs are almost totally the opposite of the ones on Pirates. Even though I've just said that they don't tell a particular story, it seems to me that The Magazine's messages are more direct than those on Pirates. They deal exactly with you, and the spirit of them is kinda joyous. Pirates you cant' take hold of, which is part of the sadness it describes; you can't hold that woman in there, she slips through your fingers.

    MUSICIAN: Are you surprised to find that you now have a body of work behind you? That your growth is identifiable, your direction can be charted?

    RICKIE LEE: Wow, yeah! What's most apparent is that there's a lot of ways I've grown musically in terms of honesty. If I could be a completely objective critic of Rickie Lee, I would say, "When she began, she had a lot of talent but I didn't see a particular signature." One of the delightful things about the first record was that each song was in a completely different jazz-shaded style-say, a blues, an R&B thing, a this, a that. That integrated simplicity is really attractive to people, but a collection of styles is limited by its own demonstration. People love that record, and I do as well, but I've grown in terms of my candor, perception and personal range, and I have to acknowledge that.

    Right now, in my life, because of things that happened to me that were so bad, I've decided to live, and I've decided there is nothing to be afraid of. It's about being me. Why should I pretend on any level to be anything other than exactly who I am at the moment? Why should I ever lie, why should I be afraid? You make up all those fears in order to live in the world, but of course they eventually prevent you from being free or feeling protected.

    And so with my music, it was a decision of: Hey, people wanna hear me, but why should I pretend to do something else just so they'll listen to me. If I go that route, I'll live an unhappy life and die and never have been exactly Rickie Lee Jones. They're gonna like me or they're not, but I'm gonna take that chance. I'm going to try and develop my own eyesight, knowing very well it's not what anyone else will see.

    MUSICIAN: Are you saying that after the first record you found yourself being pulled into some sort of genre posture?

    RICKIE LEE: Well, I'm not talking about pressure to stick with what worked and sold. I'm talking about being able to accept yourself exactly as you are, and then if you want to change it, change it. You can't move forward until you have a complete acceptance of your design. That's down to your teeth, the food you eat, where you were raised, how you make love, how you dress. I decided that if I'm unhappy I must like being unhappy; whatever it is, I made it, it was my personal choice.

    A year ago I had the design of: Rickie, you'll never be able to live in a house, you'll go crazy. I made that true. Now , I make that untrue. I find I can have a backyard, I can live here and be happy. And the art that I do can be a part of the discussion at the breakfast table, which can be a part of someday taking the kids to school, all of it intertwined in a healthy way. I'd really like to participate more in a family life, because I've never had that. I can see myself wearing my hair in a scarf one morning, working in the garden with a kid pounding on my back, and also writing wonderful, unusual art.

    Professionally, somehow you often assess yourself too much as you create-I know I do sometimes. But I'm losing that. I feel the confidence now of the knowledge that I'm a very good writer. With that confidence I can return to the more naive state of just banging away at it for whatever reason, unbound by any rules. Then it's a real reward. Perhaps eventually I'll come up with music during which I'll stand on-stage in a bathing cap and recite poetry. Why not? Who knows? The excitement is in believing I can go anywhere artistically.

    MUSICIAN: I know that you're considering employing some unusual staging techniques for your Magazine tour.

    RICKIE LEE: Let me explain that. See, the thing I'd like to do through the years is to create a little world of characters and stories. I recently made a list of all the characters I've introduced in my songs, and who's met up with who again on various records. I'll look at Eddie from "Living It Up" and go, "I wonder what kind of f car he had when he was sixteen?", and then give him one. I want to make up whole worlds about each of these people and then tie them together. That's simply short story writing. I know, but being a performer, I can also get to interact with the stories on-stage. It's an incredible kind of f theater for me, because I can be me and not be me at the same time.

    Before, that was quite confusing and crucifying for me. Now I look at it as fun, having all these toys to play with. That's a good way to live my life, I think, and not get too serious.

    MUSICIAN: Are you saying you'd like to develop The Magazine into a theater piece, a musical play?

    RICKIE LEE: (nodding) With a couple of actors involved, and staging it so it is, for a moment, theater, and then moves back into a concert and vice versa. I'd like to move out of rock 'n' roll and into theater, into acting, into writing for and participating in various aspects of the performing arts. I'm too interested in it to not do it. I think my music has another place where it will fit better, or it can make its own place.

    MUSICIAN: Be specific about the plotting, or the blocking, of certain scenes in the program.

    RICKIE LEE: The interesting part of it is that you don't exactly know when the show begins. We'll start to show some visual suggestions of things you'll later see, but you won't assimilate a lot of it until after the show's over There's a program I'm trying to write for the show. It maybe fourteen pages or so, and I'm trying to get Yamaha or somebody to sponsor the printing of it. In it will be a couple of short stories that would coincide with portions of the show. During the "Theme For The Pope" song from the "Rorschachs" series of pieces, we're going to project a ouple of pictures on a screen that will be clues for what comes next, specifically three graphs that show theories of space-time continuums and quantum gravity.

    With these and other visual and theatrical tools on hand we'll begin to tell a story called "Gloria in the Kitchen." It begins with a narration about a Saturday afternoon in 1963, at Thanksgiving. At that time in my life, my father had ditched us, we had no money, President Kennedy had just been killed, it had been raining for days, and I was very sick. My brother had made a turkey but forgot to turn the oven off, so it burned up and we didn't have anything to eat. Across the street was this family of hillbillies and one of the young girls was Gloria Moore. And these neighbors brought over this turkey. So that's what actually happened.

    On-stage., however, I tell the audience that for me, there is this mythical woman named Gloria by a window, and she watches my father. She must act out and take the butt of all my agony, and his as well. She's a mental bridge between my father and me. Anytime my father looks out of the hiding place he's in, Gloria looks out of the window. When my father takes a glass of bourbon, I'll change Gloria's glass to scotch, so that my father will drink something better and won't die. Gloria is always by the window, never leaves. Any time zone is successful through her, any idea, any person, any image, because she has the window.

    On the graphs are the terms "inaccessible past" and "inaccessible future," as if to imply that there is a side of both that can be gotten to. And that's part of the idea of Gloria. I don't think time is a linear thing, and I think that when one thing is true, its opposite or contradiction is also true. I think that time has height and depth as well as forward and backward succession; I think it stretches and turns on itself. The show will reflect that in a series of scenes interspersed or paired with music. I'd like to maybe bring it to Broadway for a limited engagement of a few weeks. It's all about the power of the imagination in the minds and hearts of the child in us.

    MUSICIAN: Talking about access to the past and the future, do you know any longer the person who made the first Rickie Lee Jones album? Do you have access to her, that person you once were, in any sense?

    RICKIE LEE: Occasionally she shows up on-stage. and bops around a little bit. I think she just grew up. I have access to her, I think she's still here, but I can't be her anymore.

    MUSICIAN: What was she like?

    RICKIE LEE: I think she was a lot more special than I ever knew, 'cause I didn't think she was very pretty or smart. She was real scared of everybody and everything, every staircase she walked down, every move she made, every word she said. But also, she was highly motivated by fear; one doesn't exist without the other.

    MUSICIAN: I think that truly creative people lead often pained lives because they don't easily, readily see themselves in others. On the contrary, they feel their singularity, their onlyness very acutely. The act of making connections with others is for them a profoundly difficult one, and their art is both a defining of their isolation and an announcement of the desperate need to surmount it. En route, you're sometimes capable of an unusual degree of appreciation.

    RICKIE LEE: That's eloquent, very beautiful. And it's absolutely true, too. So you need a good conscience to stay on course. I think I've got a good one. Good moral skills.

    Professionally and technically, I feel secure around musicians these days, sure about what I'm trying to do, and relaxed and curious about what I don't know how to do. I'm excited about the process of learning. For me, this is an excellent time, reminiscent of the period of the first record, when I had done something I'd always wanted to do. The thing missing now that was there then is the panic, me saying to myself, "God, I did it-are they gonna take it back?!" Now, I think I cannot lose, because I'm not setting the game up that way anymore. Yet you eliminate some of the extraordinary highs and lows when you set up a game that you cannot lose.

    People want to pay for everything, always, over and over. You know how people will scold you, as a kid, saying, "God, you really like yourself, don'tcha?" You're told not to like and enjoy yourself. What a shame. It stunts you.

    When you're younger, you don't know how to do anything, so everything you do, you do badly till you figure it out. You love badly, you fight too much, you get things wrong. Your angels and your devils become accessible, and you pal around with one or the other until you decide which you like best. Then, if you're fortunate, you begin to learn how to be, and the good and the bad, and the child and the adult, find some balance.

    MUSICIAN: Is there anything else from the old Rickie Lee that's gone now?

    RICKIE LEE: What's also gone is the belief in the idea that there's something in fame and fortune that is going to change life for the better. Whatever the drive was for things beyond making music, it's gone now. Poor people believe that fame and fortune, like God, will save them. The old Rickie Lee, decked out in her beret, had that idea in her mind, thinking, "Okay! Here we go! This is it!"

    MUSICIAN: In other words, you had concocted a role through which to announce yourself?

    RICKIE LEE: It was really important to me to assume a character, probably all the way, even in my personal life. I thought that plain, ordinary me, just standing here, wasn't enough of a character, so I made up something more readily identifiable.

    MUSICIAN: Then the beret was a deliberate prop?

    RICKIE LEE: Sure. It was a prop. I used to say that I could send the beret out to buy ice cream, to make personal appearances, to get things done, because people didn't recognize me, they only recognized the hat. And if I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get into a concert, I'd wear my beret. I like that hat, but I swear, when I put it on, it weighed ten pounds. After a while, I couldn't stand to feel it on my head, and I couldn't wait to get it off.

    MUSICIAN: In the past, you've spoken to me about your determination to "try to make headway towards heaven." How's that quest going?

    RICKIE LEE: Generally, I'm doing great. I've got a man I love, and he loves me right back. I've got a house that's a home, and a garden with a crazy cat in it, a silly old dog named Boo Radley, and three chickens-two of which lay eggs that are so warm to the touch when they pop out that it's a little embarrassing. I've got faith in the future, greater understanding of the past, and a mother who sends me an American Express datebook every year for my birthday.

    The other day, I bought myself a new handmade acoustic guitar and I'm gonna put some effort into getting proficient on that instrument again. If I were the typical girl singer, who made homogenous, uncomplicated music that didn't evoke the kind of social feelings and dark, shifting colors mine does, it would be easier for me to go forward creatively. If I didn't feel things so darned deeply all the time, I might move faster, but I have the heart and soul I was given, and I'm making the best of them 'cause I know they're one-of-a-kind.

    I'm not a character anymore, and I'll bet you've never seen me grin as often as I have this afternoon.

    MUSICIAN: Still have that beret around here somewhere?

    RICKIE LEE: Uh-huh. Slowly, I'm starting to wear it once more, because in my eyes my identity is no longer dependent on any beret. (softly, a sudden smile) It's become just a hat again.