<em>Crime Of The Century</em>: Chatting with Roger Hodgson, Simon & Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell Box Reviews and a KMC Exclusive

Regardless, Simon & Garfunkel'sis an absolute essential. Each of these albums -- even the folk-drenched-- paint a picture of their era and suggest what we've lost spiritually and intellectually since then.
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photo credit: Brandise Danesewich

According to Kill My Coquette's Natalie Denise Sperl...

"'Close To Me' is a love song. Its about a boy too afraid to let someone in that is in love with him, so he ultimately walks away, leaving nothing but a memory and a melody. I'm singing from his point of view. The chorus was made up on the spot, it originally had a slightly different melody than the final version on the EP but pretty much stayed the same."

And her camp adds...

"Natalie Denise Sperl is the front woman of Los Angeles-based quartet Kill My Coquette whose self-titled debut EP is due out on January 20th. Armed with attitude and boasting vital rock and punk with a twist of designer blues, Kill My Coquette is influenced by game-changing artists like Jack White, Lou Reed, Joan Jett and the New York Dolls, but they have a sound all their own."



A Conversation with Roger Hodgson

Mike Ragogna: Roger, Crime Of The Century is forty years old, congratulations on that and for co-creating such an iconic album. So you and Rick Davies wrote the songs separately though you were both credited as the songwriters, kind of like the Lennon/McCartney arrangement.

Roger Hodgson: Right. Obviously, the album was a special album, but there's also been so much mystery and misperception around Supertramp for all these years. I thought, "What would be newsworthy and interesting to people and also clear up some of the misperceptions?" What I really reflected on was that when Rick and I first met, we used to collaborate on the songwriting, and at that time we had a third musician who handled all the lyrics, Richard Palmer-James. When he left, Rick and I began writing separately. We evolved and changed and grew and by the time of Crime... we had actually each come into our own as songwriters and composers and I think you'll agree that we both separately wrote some pretty substantial compositions. But for me, personally, I was once again writing songs alone, which for me has always been a key for writing more personal and effective compositions. Obviously, since I picked up the guitar when I was twelve, I had done that. But there's this misperception because of the writers' credit that Rick and I wrote these songs together and that is really the misperception that unfortunately a lot of the public still have. The truth is that whoever sang the lead voice on the song really wrote the song.

MR: Were these songs expressing your personal thoughts at the time or were you being more objective and writing towards a concept?

RH: No, I've never been able to write to order like that. My songs have always been very personal, very autobiographical and really reflective of what's been going on inside me. "Dreamer," I was a consummate dreamer at that point. I was a young man with many dreams and when I wrote the song "Dreamer" it exploded out of me one day as I was sat at the Wurlitzer piano for the first time alone in a room. I started playing and this song just erupted out of me. Then "Hide In Your Shell" was very autobiographical. At the time, I was feeling very alone, I had a lot of questions but I was also getting into a lot of personal growth in myself. I had just turned vegetarian, my spiritual quest was coming on really strongly and it was not really understood by those around me, both in the band and out. It was a really hard time, and I did "hide in my shell" a lot. The songs are very autobiographical.

MR: Another song on Crime... album is "If Everyone Was Listening," which is a play on Shakespeare's play.

RH: That was a lot of fun to write because as you say, it was a play on Shakespeare's As You Like It. It was comparing life to a play. "All the world is a stage," and we enact our dramas and our stories, and it took off from that theme. It was very effective, it's a great lyric.

MR: It's also the 35th anniversary of another huge Supertramp album, Breakfast In America though you're attention is on Crime Of The Century's anniversary at this time. So what does this album mean to you?

RH: Well, this seems like an important one to me because Crime... was a very, very special album. In a way, it was the pinnacle of the band being as together as a unified entity, but it was also a great collection of songs. To me, what I feel like I'm celebrating is the fact that these songs have lasted forty years and have not aged. There's a real kindness quality to them and when I witness the connection and the excitement that people have when I play them on stage tells me that, boy, there's something very magical about these songs. They have not aged, and they mean an incredible amount to a lot of people right now and I really want to honor that. I'm seeing so many younger people, teenagers and younger generations at my shows now who are obviously discovering this music also. For me, as an artist and performer, that's a very strong connection I have with them and with everyone who really has connected deeply with these songs.

MR: So what is it that you see resonating with this generation from Crime Of The Century? How is it still relative forty years later?

RH: I think the connection is really down to the content of the songs. As I said, for me, songwriting has always been very personal. I feel on this album, it was also personal for Rick, maybe more so than any other album. There's a lot of depth to what we were both writing about. It's a real journey in introspection and self-discovery, really. To me, that is the job of the artist; to express the feelings and emotions and dreams of the audience. I think it was very successful on this album.

MR: Who's coming to your concerts?

RH: It's amazing today that when I look out it's from age seven to seventy-seven and everyone in between. It's amazing. A lot of families, too. It's wonderful to see fathers and sons and mothers and daughters coming to see music that they can all enjoy. It really creates a bond for them, too. It's very wonderful for me to look out at my audience and see all these different ages and realize again that these songs still mean so much to the different ages and generations, maybe in a slightly different way because some are just discovering it and some have lived with it for fifty years.

MR: I always wanted to ask you about your high octave vocals. Did you sing falsetto, or is that the extreme, high end of your vocal range?

RH: [laughs] Back then, I was not falsetto-ing, it was natural. I could hit those notes very easily. I also was the main one that did all the harmonies on the Supertramp album, and I usually put a bit of Rick in with my voice to make it sound not too Roger-y, giving it some texture. But yeah, I've always been able to hit those high notes. I don't know how, but even today, I still hit them, even if there's a bit more falsetto.

MR: Awesome. Roger, when you created Supertramp material, did working it up with the band expand your perspective or approach to songwriting at all?

RH: To tell you the truth, back then, I was very naïve in the ways of business, so me not wanting to or not even thinking of changing the songwriting relationship, the credit for example, I didn't realize how that would hurt me later on, both financially and in the misperceptions that even a music journalist would have of who did what in the band. I guess I was influenced by Lennon/McCartney. I was aware that they wrote separately but kept the credit the way it was. I wasn't counseled by my manager that it would behoove me to separate the songwriting relationship and have it reflect the truth of what it was because we were both totally writing separately from before Crime Of The Century and onwards. So in terms of what happened in the studio, I was actually the main arranger within the band. I don't really want to put the band down, the band was a great band, but I wrote all the bass parts because I was a bass player and I heard all the bass parts in my head, especially for my songs, and even for Rick's songs. A lot of the arranging actually came from myself, and a lot of the passion for producing came from me, but I wasn't a very good champion for myself in terms of wanting this credit and that credit, I was very much democratic in my ideals. I just gave everything I could, all my gifts and talents because I believed in Supertramp. I just felt like that's what I had to give and I gave it all.

MR: Do you think the experience of being a member of Supertramp affects how Roger Hodgson approaches creating songs these days?

RH: Yes, and to tell the truth, as wonderful as it was being in a great band, my main evolution happened for me personally as a songwriter. Writing songs and even hearing them in my head came to me when I was totally alone. It was something that I learned almost by accident that writing songs didn't come from my head. It was almost like when I got out of the way, that's when magic happened. I realized without even really realizing what I was realizing that when I lost myself in the sound of the instrument I was playing, that was when creative ideas and inspiration came to me. That methodology and that ability really blossomed through the time I was with Supertramp. It was wonderful to have, then, these visions of the songs to take to a band like Supertramp and say, "This is what I want, guys. I want you to play this, I want you to play this." I really did hear almost all of the whole song before I took it to the band. To tell you the truth the opposite was true as well, Mike: If I took a band to the song before I finished hearing it in that way it would get really confused and I'd lose track of what the vision was for it.

MR: What do you think it was about Supertramp that made it iconic?

RH: I think it's the fact that they were great songs and I think that the lyrics had some credible depth and were very personal and were really relatable to a lot of people around the world. A lot of people felt the same things that I was feeling. I have to talk about my songs because Rick's songwriting kind of went off in the direction that he went in as he evolved, but for me my songs became very personal and stayed very personal. I really wore my heart on my sleeve. I think that is what has endured. The depth of connection and the depth of feeling that people had for the songs I wrote is really stunning.

I had a guestbook on my website, you should really check it out sometimes and see some of the postings I get. There was this eighteen year-old girl who posted yesterday saying she wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for my songs, and now they're helping her get through her finals. She's using the songs as a friend and a support and a comfort to get through life. I've heard this story so, so many times and for me as a human being and as an artist I take it as a great responsibility. It's a very deep connection that I have, all of the places in me--the pain, the longing, the joy, the questions, the journey that I've been on--that I've been able to express all of these feelings, fears, insecurities, everything that I've expressed have helped others not feel alone in their lives. To me, that's the greatest thing that I've achieved as a performer and an artist.

My biggest challenge is letting people know, "Hey, I'm still alive, I'm still playing these songs," because most people thought of these songs as Supertramp songs when, truthfully, they're not. These songs I wrote belong to me, they came from my heart, from my soul, and they're still very much alive when I sing them today in concert. That's where people can find them and come and have an incredible experience listening to them and celebrating them.

MR: Over the years, have the songs taken new paths when performed by you as a solo artist?

RH: They have because I have. To tell you the truth when I was with Supertramp I was a very shy, introverted, insecure young man. I've had the hard knocks of life and I've learned to really find my peace, find myself, and find my self-confidence. That is reflected both in the way I'm singing them and in the way I'm performing them. They've come of age, and to tell you the truth so many people, even the ones who saw Supertramp in their heyday are saying, "Wow, the band you've put together sound even better than what I remember Supertramp sounding like." I'm really happy with what I've put together. I can't say enough good about the show. I'm hoping people will come and see it.

MR: Beautiful. Do you put any new material into the show?

RH: I do play one or two new songs, and some songs that many people have not heard from my solo albums. It's always gratifying to me to hear afterwards, "Wow, the two songs I hadn't heard stole the show!" It's wonderful to have so many songs that bring back so many memories for people, and I'm very happy to do that because I love singing these songs, too, but I also balance out the show by playing some songs that maybe people haven't heard.

MR: Roger, what advice do you have for new artists?

RH: I'll try and verbalize what I consider the greatest secret. I believe that the music industry is a service industry. I think if you're blessed enough to have music running through your veins then the way to get the most fulfillment form the gift you've been given is to really apply it in service some way. I think the way that this industry has really lost its heart is because of the ego gratification and the desire for success and wealth and fame being the most important drive in our psyche, if you like. To me, service is the most important element. That keeps you in a place of really deep gratitude and satisfaction. It's wonderful to be able to offer your services in this way. I feel like one of the luckiest people on the planet being able to do what I do, make an incredible living and make people happy for a living.

And the other thing is--this is totally different--I would get a good attorney. [laughs] I don't have too many regrets in life, but to tell you the truth, what we started out talking about, the joint writers' credit? On a business level, that's something I should not have done. My manager should not have told me to do it. It's cost me. It's cost me financially and it's also cost me in not being able to claim authorship of my songs in peoples' minds because people think of them as Supertramp songs and Davies/Hodgson songs. It's a constant work that I have to do to really re-educate people in that way.

MR: What are you looking at long term? Are you doing anything outside of music? Writing a book?

RH: Well, I might just grab you and we'll go off and write a book together!

MR: [laughs] Sounds great! Hey, when someone has an effect on culture, I think they should write about it from their perspective.

RH: To tell you the truth, I have no desire to do that but quite a few people have been telling me I should recently. But in terms of future plans I'm really going one year at a time. I'm very happy to be doing what I'm doing. And you're right, there's a phenomenal legacy of music I helped to create with Supertramp and that takes on a life of its own. It belongs more to the people than it does to the artist, and I really honor that. I want to honor that energy between the audience and the people who have such a deep affinity and connection with these songs, and me, the author and artist of them.

MR: Imagine if Shakespeare's plays had died on the vine. That's the way I look at it with artists who have contributed enduring works.

RH: It's truly amazing, the deep stories that people tell me about the effects these songs have had on their lives. It really touches me so deeply. I'd love to put all those stories from my guestbook out as a book, actually.

MR: Nice nod to your fans!

RH: The amazing thing is people come over and over, I've had fans travel halfway around the world to see multiple shows. The spirit of what we're talking about here is very much alive in my shows. People come back over and over, not just to hear the songs, but there's a feeling of humanity behind the songs. When you hear them for two hours it's collective. I'm really sharing my life journey and my questions and my longing and my prayers. I'm putting myself out there, and in a way I'm putting them out there, too, because they're hearing themselves reflected in what I'm singing. It's a very cathartic experience for so many people and a very joyful one that people come and re-experience over and over. That's what sustains me, Mike. My body is definitely older, the travel gets a little exhausting, but it's the fact that I can really give a little bit of my heart, my passion, my love in this way and make a difference. That's really what keeps me going.

MR: "Give A Little Bit," eh?

RH: That's it!

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne




As Paul Simon's "The Boy In The Bubble" states, "Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts." How true that is when considering certain pop icons such as Simon and also Joni Mitchell in the seventies, Madonna and Prince in the eighties, Nirvana in the nineties, Eminem in the aughts, and Justin Bieber in the tens and you know I'm kidding about that last one, come on. And big emphasis on "such as" since there were so many others. But when it comes to the sixties, especially if you grew up in New York, were in any college at the time, or had a Bleecker Street bent, the duo Simon & Garfunkel was most likely one of your faves. Their recordings elevated folk music with challenging vocal and orchestral arrangements that wove around Paul Simon's intelligent lyrics and topics. Light years beyond those of his contemporaries, Simon's songs educated and entertained with scenarios involving boxers, asylum entrants, tenement hermits, graffiti writers, and even whores on Seventh Avenue. In Britain, Scott Walker's Jacques Brel-ish period of platters might have played to the same pathos through smarts and drunkenness. But in the US, these angelic harmonists' recordings subversively bridged the troubled waters between Middle America and Central Park with their beauty.

Enter Simon & Garfunkel's The Complete Albums Collection. Building on the concept started with their Collected Works box--a previous, three-disc release that included no rarities, not even "You Don't Know Where Your Interest Lies"--TCAC presents every remastered studio album and its associated odd track or three and marries them to every released live album. Perhaps the best thing about the box is its multiple perspectives, such as how they grew together then apart, evidenced when the performances jump from the '67 / '69 concerts to The Concert In Central Park album, and finally to their Old Friends reunion. Practically taking its cue from a VH1 Behind The Music episode, the cycle of innocence, passion, condescension, breakup then healing is the linear story revealed when listened to chronologically. Although their multi-platinum Bridge Over Troubled Waters album definitely has that "breakup" vibe due to tracks like "The Only Living Boy In New York" and "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright," an album like The Concert In Central Park shouted, "THIS REUNION IS DOOMED!" The sidebar here is this historic concert and the tour that followed led to the very unsuccessful Paul Simon and kind of Art Garfunkel album attempt, Think Too Much, that eventually was reworked into Simon's solo release, Hearts And Bones. Many believe it's his best album, including this writer.

Speaking of Think Too Much, since it's been bootlegged umpteenth times (and good sounding masters apparently do exist), it would have been nice to include it with this box, especially considering Bob Dylan's hugely successful bootleg series. The inclusion of the Al Kooper-engineered Hollywood Bowl concert would have been another nice touch. Also, adding remaining rarities like the holiday recordings "Star Carol" and "Comfort And Joy," missing live performances such as "Red Rubber Ball," and perhaps even a handful of wonders such as their huge hit "My Little Town" and "Cuba Si, Nixon No" would have celebrated Simon & Garfunkel's music even better, much like Billy Joel's similar The Complete Albums Collection did with his recordings. Lost opportunities, especially when we're looking at last hurrah, affordable, complete album box set releases by iconic artists, seems kind of...well, in the very least, frustrating for a fan. On the other hand, it does have the original Greatest Hits collection and The Graduate soundtrack. Okay, cool. Still...

Regardless, Simon & Garfunkel's The Complete Albums Collection is an absolute essential. Each of these albums--even the folk-drenched Wednesday Morning, 3am--paint perfect pictures of their era and hint at what we've lost spiritually and intellectually since then. And big picture aside, take a good listen to some of these tracks, all of which are now classics. There is the brilliance in the phonics and guitar work of "Mrs. Robinson," the smart-alecky, percussive flirt of "Cecilia," the goofy nod to psychedelia with "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)," and there's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," which is probably the greatest anthem of the 20th century. There's poetry on steroids in "The Dangling Conversation," there's much over-thinking in both "Fakin' It" and "The Sound Of Silence," and a total road-weariness in "Homeward Bound." That brings us to "America," an amazing compression of youth, relationship, boredom, fear and whatever else you've got neatly tucked into a nice little road trip that's also a metaphor for life. And on and on and on. Like I said, this box is an essential, especially for the thinking person, and it can serve as your culture fix, both meanings intended. Sometimes, you just need more than buns, hun.

Simon & Garfunkel - The Complete Albums Collection

1. Wednesday Morning, 3.A.M.
2. Sounds of Silence
3. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme
4. The Graduate soundtrack
5. Bookends
6. Bridge Over Troubled Water
7. Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits
8. Live From New York City 1967*
9. Live 1969*
10. The Concert in Central Park*
11. Old Friends Live on Stage*

*Note: Technically, the live albums above are listed out of their catalog number sequence, but here is the actual chronology by performance year.



Hallelujah. Finally, a Joni Mitchell career-spanning box set--Love Has Many Faces--has been released and it's pretty awesome. Joni herself archived and assembled her material into "acts," spreading 53 tracks across four discs, each CD bearing subtitles like "Birth Of Rock 'N' Roll," "The Light Is Hard To Find," "Love Has Many Faces," and "If You Want Me, I'll Be In The Bar." The good news continues in that the box also contains lyrics to every song and a sweet preface by Joni. One drawback is there is a technical issue with disc two whose sequence is a bit bollocksed, the tracks playing in a different order than the artwork states. On the other hand, what's the difference in an iTunes world, the mistake handled by the inclusion of a mass-produced, handwritten apology note from the artist.

Everyone's pretty much in agreement that Joni is a genius, proof residing in any one of her songs. The calibre of her lyrics are unequalled, except, in my opinion, by Paul Simon, even though they have dissimilar approaches. That said, I believe her songs greatly benefit from being presented with others, such as in the album format. Just picture Blue, Court And Spark, For The Roses, or the tragically maligned Dog Eat Dog and The Hissing Of Summer Lawns and how perfectly their songs not only segue but co-depend on each other for greater impact due to context. For example, it's my feeling that The Hissing Of Summer Lawns' "Edith And The Kingpin" as well as the title track are empowered by the rawness of "The Jungle Line." The emotional exhaustion and resignation of "The Last Time I Saw Richard" seem more significant after all of Blue's world and soul journeys. The material's exposition matters, and within this box, the songs interact and energize one another quite well.

Then there's that psychological depth and sophistication in each song that makes them ripe for re-examination. Night Ride Home's "Two Grey Rooms"--though partly written and recorded during Wild Things Run Fast sessions--on the surface, might be interpreted as a story's protagonist becoming a lustful voyeur, her life having turned a tad pathetic. But might another interpretation be that it's merely a moody dream by our heroine? Perhaps the song's central character is just an old romantic who sadly observes the man she adores but can never touch? Couldn't this also be the starlet of "Shades Of Scarlett Conquering," who previously chased the ghosts of Gable and Flynn? Despite or maybe because of their confessional/autobiographical nature, there's practically no Joni Mitchell song that can be taken at face value since she is Yvette, Amelia, Scarlett, and even Carey, constantly revealing and exploring herself through her cast of characters. And though, yes, love may have many faces, beauty is only skin deep, so you have to look beneath it for truth, something Joni unflinchingly champions.

So given the box set's title, love's clearly the theme, but does it work in every song's case? After all, where's the love in "Tax Free," in swindling, corruption, self-delusion and a messiah complex? With "God Must Be A Boogie Man," is it the love of some divine plan? Is "Number One" about the love of besting each other? Well, the key seems to be where it all begins, with "In France, They Kiss On Main Street," whose jazz-rock sets up more than the first disc's theme. Toward the end of that song, Joni sings the line, "In France, they kiss on Main Street--amour, mama, not cheap display." It's about amour, mama; that's her thing. What, this is a surprise? Amour and its cousin passion are at the heart of everything "Joni Mitchell"--her paintings, her music, her relationships, her love of dance and smoking, even this box set's contents. It applies to everything, love and its many, many faces, and that's why there could be no other theme for her career-spanning anthology and ultimately why it works so well.

That now brings us to the box's main problem. With a catalog as large as hers, it seems strange not to explore her works more extensively by expanding the number of tracks to include additional gems and classics, and at least a teensy portion of unreleased material. Maybe the reasoning was to set up four "albums," complete with a brevity of around 45 minute per disc to emulate days of yore. Perhaps it was the label's way of saving money on publishing royalties, which seems most likely. But what the package lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. Within this musical gallery, Joni knew exactly how to curate one heck of an exhibit.

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