Jackson Browne to Perform at the Cascade Theatre
By Phil Reser
Singing for ChangeApril 2016
Story by Phil Reser
A poet, philosopher and musician, Jackson Browne has written and performed some of the most literate and moving songs in popular music, along with defining a genre of songwriting charged with honesty, emotion and personal politics.
He was honored with induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2007.
Beyond his music, Browne is known for his advocacy on behalf of the environment, human rights and arts education. He co-founded Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE), Nukefree.org and Success Through the Arts Foundation, which provides education opportunities for students in South Los Angeles.
He received the John Steinbeck Award, given to artists whose works exemplify the environmental and social values that were essential to the great California-born author, plus Duke University’s Lifetime Environmental Achievement in the Fine Arts award. He received the World Hunger Year Harry Chapin Award and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers’ Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award.
Says Browne, “There was more nurturing going on in the ‘60s, because everyone was under the spell of all the changes that were happening, all kinds of awakenings and revolutions, spiritual awareness, civil rights, political change, opposition to the war, sexual revolution. It’s almost as if they’ve gone away now. Things have returned to a sort of material order. But I got the friendship and interest of people back then who saw some potential in my music. They encouraged me and helped me along. And I gotta say, I was happy to just coast along and work to develop myself.”
His debut album didn't appear until 1972, when it was released on David Geffen's Asylum label, though Browne had been working in the music business since the mid-1960s. Having been part of the original line-up of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, he later moved to New York and signed a publishing deal with Nina Music, a division of Elektra, and wrote songs recorded by popular musicians, like Tom Rush, Nico and the Eagles.
In the early ‘70s, he was celebrated as one of the core members of the era's singer-songwriter boom, alongside folk-rockers like James Taylor, Neil Young and Carole King.
His career has run the gamut from the intensely personal reflections on the albums “Late for the Sky” or “The Pretender,” via the hugely successful live album “Running On Empty” to the strong political songs on “Lives In the Balance” and “World In Motion.”
“I’d have to say that my favorite thing is writing a song that really says how I feel, what I believe, and it even explains the world to myself better than I knew it. It’s a way of examining my feelings and my perceptions and my situation and coming up with something about it, like saying where I am in the world in relation to those things. And some of the songs I wrote when I was really young are some of my best-known songs, and other people still sing ’em, I still sing ’em. The idea that I wrote something that stood for the way I feel about things, and that it lasts, that’s probably my favorite thing that I’ve done.”
Explaining his writing process, he says, “You know, you have a conscious mind and you have an unconscious mind. And there’s the stuff that you think when you’re using your head, as they say, and there’s the stuff that you think when you’re not using your head that you are nonetheless thinking, but it’s just below the surface. And so much music, especially the truthful stuff, comes not from the mind that works out equations or thinks of what you’re gonna do, but from the depths of your subconscious.”
Today, Browne has 14 studio albums and four collections of live performances. His most recent album, “Standing in the Breach,” contains songs about romance, mortality and what he views as the greed and apathy threatening the environment and the lives of impoverished people in places like Haiti, whose devastating 2010 earthquake is the inspiration for the record’s title track and cover photo.
Says Browne, “I don’t want to preach to people. I want to catch their interest. The song is me writing about an earthquake, and then it turns into a song about what’s really going on in that country, the perpetuation of the inequities that gave rise to slavery in the first place.”