DIARY - 21/12/ 2011 - GRETCHEN PETERS INTERVIEW
PETERS AND PICASSO'S CAT
picked me up in Paris, I was scrounging in the streets/ he shared his
cream for coffee, and I curled up at his feet/ and ever since that moment
I've been his confidante/ he says that it's uncanny how I know just what
he wants/ but we both like our freedom and quite company/ in the end we're
not so different, Picasso and me." - Picasso And Me - Gretchen
Peters - Melbourne 2001 - photo by Hans Herdina
singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters arrived in Melbourne in 2001 to promote
her fourth album she had one important question.
"How are the cats going?" she asked as she prepared to do a
live to air interview at Melbourne radio station Nu Country FM at the
Paris, Texas, end of Collins St.
"What cats?" I replied.
"The Geelong Cats," the singer, now 54, explained, "Kinky
Friedman and I are cat lovers and he told me he was a big fan of the Geelong
Cats and saw them play football on one of his tours."
The good news, I was pleased to report to this distant fan, was Geelong
hadn't lost a game that season.
And, now a decade down the lost highway, they have since won three of
the last six AFL premierships.
was also timely tidings for the singing Texan crime novelist who
had been singing the praises of the Geelong footy team and its mascot
Friedman, 67, frequently features his cats as characters in his
29 novels and Peters' song Picasso And Me - on her self-titled
ABC album - was inspired by a feisty feline.
Peters - once owner of two cats, Memphis, and Moot - wrote Picasso
And Me from the artist's cat's eye after being disappointed
by the Anthony Hopkins movie Surviving Picasso.
Kinky and cat
was no viewpoint about who Picasso was in the movie," says Gretchen,
"there was a lot about his bad behaviour and womanising but little
about the man. It should have examined what it means to be a person with
that much creative energy. I was disappointed with the movie and was sort
of musing about it. Cats have a way of observing things without being
judgmental in quite the same way human beings are. Surviving Picasso rubbed
me the wrong way and I decided to get back the best way I know how, and
that's to write a song about it."
"The secret of life is a good cup of coffee/ the secret of life is
to keep your eye on the ball/ the secret of life is a beautiful woman/
and Marilyn stares down from the bathroom wall." - The Secret
Of Life - Gretchen Peters.
singer, born in New York suburb Bronxville and raised in Colorado,
performed in Tamworth and Sydney before her brief radio foray in
"I was amazed when people sang along and filled in for me when
I forgot the words in one verse of Waiting For The Lights To
Turn Green," Gretchen confided.
Although Peters has won a brace of prestige awards for other artists'
hit versions of her songs she relies on Americana and public radio
airplay for her versions of her original material.
tilled similar landscapes to prolific narrative writer Matraca Berg
- singing spouse of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band bassist Jeff Hanna.
the autumn tour by Mississippi born singing actress Faith Hill and husband
Tim McGraw she'll earn more royalties and exposure when Faith sings her
1999 hit The Secret of Life.
It all started back in Boulder, Colorado, where Gretchen moved, aged eight,
with her mother after her parents divorced.
Her dad, William E. Peters, is a former network television news producer
and prominent sixties civil rights advocate and author of A Class Divided,
For Us The Living (with Myrlie Evers), the wife of Medgar Evers, and
also A More Perfect Union: The Making Of The Constitution.
As a teenager Peters sang and wrote songs for bands that included musicians
Michael Woody who toured Australia with The Woodys and Cactus Moser of
Gretchen wed fellow musician Green Daniel and moved to Nashville in 1988
where her first song recorded was Traveller's Prayer by veteran
star George Jones - one of the late Tammy Wynette's five former husbands.
The hits soon flowed with soulful covers of her tunes Over Africa
and Love's Been Rough On Me by The Neville Brothers and Etta James
and bluegrass versions of High Lonesome and If Wishes Were Horses
by Longview, The Woodys and Claire Lynch.
she just lit up the sky that 4th of July/ by the time the firemen had
come/ they just put of the flames/ and took down some names/ and send
me to the county home/ now I ain't saying it's right or it's wrong/ but
maybe it's the only way/ talk about your revolution/ it's Independence
Day." - Independence Day - Gretchen Peters.
earners were covers by artists diverse as George Strait, Bryan Adams,
Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, Suzy Bogguss, Bonnie Raitt, Martina
McBride and Patty Loveless.
And it was Independence Day that won the Country Music Association
1994 video of the year and was CMA song of the year in 1995 and broke
Peters and singer McBride worldwide.
The reason - it was a strident story of spousal abuse told from a child's
viewpoint; it ends with the abused wife setting fire to her house with
her husband inside it.
It preceded other domestic violence hits - Garth Brooks-Pat Alger song,
When The Thunder Rolls and The Dixie Chicks revamp of Dennis Linde
song Goodbye Earle.
Peters believes writers have to adopt the persona of actors and live out
"You have to inhabit the character and feel what they feel at that
very moment," Gretchen revealed.
"You have to go there, be there. It's very defined, so you just have
to be honest."
Martina McBride's hit of Independence Day, like Goodbye Earle,
didn't crack No 1 - because of the subject matter.
"There is some weird, dark stuff in there," revealed Peters
who delayed finishing the song.
"One of the magical, mysterious things about writing is you have
to go there by being open.
You don't necessarily know where it is going, but it'll show you. Independence
Day was like that - I didn't know what the song was about for the
longest time; then one day it just ended like it was meant to."
Not so magical was hijacking of the song.
Peters was outraged when her song was used to introduce former Alaska
governor and Republican candidate Sarah Palin in the 2008 Presidential
campaign in a rally in St. Louis.
"The fact the McCain/Palin campaign is using a song about an abused
woman as a rallying cry for their vice presidential candidate, a woman
who would ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest, is beyond irony,"
"They are co-opting the song, completely overlooking the context
and message, and using it to promote a candidate who would set women's
rights back decades. I've decided to donate royalties from Independence
Day during this election cycle to Planned Parenthood, in Sarah
Palin's name. I hope with the additional income provided by the McCain/Palin
campaign, Planned Parenthood will be able to help many more women
LOVELESS - WATER INTO WINE
walked upon the water/ healed the sick, the lame, the blind/ we are miracles
of science, we are accidents divine/ just water baby, just water into
wine/ just like water into wine."
Peters was nominated for a Grammy song of the year for You Don't
Even Know Who I Am - another hit for Loveless.
But it was Loveless's censored hit version of Water Into Wine
that prompted Peters to revive it on her self-titled 2000 Grapevine-ABC
Although the hit had a verse deleted Loveless agreed to run the full
lyrics on the cover of her eighth album, Long Stretch Of Lonesome.
Controversy is not new for Peters whose spousal abuse anthem Independence
Day also suffered radio censorship.
you can't mention Jesus in a love song," says Peters, "it was
a comedy of errors and I wasn't asked about it. I feel they should do
the writer the courtesy of asking. I understood Patty's reasons. She loved
the song as it was. I felt the last verse was essential to the song and
definitely diminished the song leaving it out. When they tell you there's
something controversial in your song and you can't figure out what it
is, then it seems that one or the other of you has gone too far in some
Gretchen's 1996 debut album, The Secret of Life (the title track
was a hit single for Faith Hill), was on Imprint.
Two other rarities Buried Treasures and Words And Music
illustrated her deep and eclectic catalogue.
Peters, who wrote Waiting For The Light To Turn Green with Bogguss,
revamped Souvenirs (also cut by Suzy) for The Secret Of Life
She used Beat author Jack Kerouac, who died in 1969 but lives on in songs
by artists diverse as Bob Martin, Tom Pacheco and Steve Earle, as an embryo
in a parody of her country's treatment of its heroes.
"I also took a poke at the way Americans treat their icons and culture
because we trivialise the most important things," she says, "we
copy things instead of looking for and finding authenticity. The hidden
message was I was getting frustrated with the way the music industry makes
copies of things that have been successful instead of doing something
original. We have a tendency to want a make a copy of something that works."
LIVES OF FIRST WIVES
said I found me somebody/ someone who rocks my soul/ I'm in love and I
don't care who knows it/ and she's a good old girl." - Eddie's
First Wife - Gretchen Peters.
Walsh, Gretchen Peters & Rodney Crowell
In A Perfect World with Bryan Adams who cut seven of her songs
on his 1998 album On A Day Like Today.
She excels with narratives - Lilies Of The Field finds the two
wanderlust lovers chasing their dream until Penny the pregnant princess
from Tupelo makes her Harley riding lover Billy "walk the line"
west of Tucson.
Gretchen's penchant for riveting road songs peaks in evocative Love
And Texaco while Love Is A Drug is joyous celebration of sorts
of cyberspace romance - "Romeo's on the internet/ he's searching
for his Juliet."
Waiting For Amelia was inspired - not by a movie - but a magazine
article about pioneer aviator Amelia Earheart.
But Gretchen teased conservative U.S. radio with Eddy's First Wife.
It was the saga of a man marrying a woman - the composite of a homely
cake mix queen and the sensual appeal of a Brigitte Bardot siren - who
runs off with another woman.
Eddy's first wife also had the vanilla essence of his dear old dad's spouse.
It shared punch lines with Bellamy Brothers tune My Wife Left Me For
My Girlfriend and Since My Baby Turned Gay by Pinkard &
"I think it was a little bit of shock for Nashville," Peters
revealed, "it was a little bit of uncharted territory."
Peters released her Halcyon album in 2004 - a year before her divorce
from songwriter-producer husband Daniel.
She later released Trio Live in 2006, Burnt Toast And Offerings
in 2007 and Northern Lights in 2008.
In 2009 Gretchen collaborated with latter day Texan and Australian tourist
Tom Russell on their CD, One To The Heart, One To The Head on Frontera/Scarlet
The pair made it in four whirlwind days in Austin after Russell, now living
in El Paso, planted the seed of an idea with an email.
Later that year she released her eighth album - compilation Circus
Girl: The Best of Gretchen Peters.
The singer also married her pianist partner Barry Walsh in 2010 after
a 20-year friendship.
Gretchen releases her 9th album Hello Cruel World on January 31
with Rodney Crowell guesting on Dark Angel.
Kim Richey also harmonises on the disc featuring Will Kimbrough and producer
Doug Lancio on guitar, bassist Viktor Krauss and trumpeter Vinnie Ciesielski.
It's a far cry from Peters Australian debut.
That was an equally daring journey - even if she didn't have a chance
to upstage fellow cat lover Kinky Friedman by seeing Geelong cats scratch
out a victory.
"Maybe next time I'll come during your footy season," she quipped.
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