Eric Andersen – Foolish Like the Flowers. Live at Spaziomusica, Italy (Appaloosa/IRD, 2023)

English version

Since the 2000s you have released a number of live albums such as 'Blue Rain - Live', 'The Cologne Concert' as a trio with your wife Inge and Michele Gazich on violin, but also the magnificent triple album 'Woodstock Under the Stars' in which you have collected tracks from 1991 to 2011. How has your approach to concerts evolved over the years?
When it comes to performing my shows, there are no plans. Maybe a set list. There are no Taylor Swift type pre-performing agendas, moves, strategies, or schematics. Nor are my shows mapped out in a down-to-the-second blue-print plan like a Leonard Cohen concert. We never work to achieve an effect with an audience. The music itself, song by song, each on its own, has to earn and deserve the respect to achieve a positive audience reaction every time on a song-by-song basis. The songs are on their own!  To be more specific, when I work with musicians on stage or in a recording studio we never talk about the music—such as--give musicians directions-play this, or do that. Not even where solos come in. The reason these musicians are there in the first place is not to talk or discuss effects. It’s because they know what they are doing. And the musical surprises they bring into a live performance or a studio recording are the gifts and riches that makes everything worthwhile. That’s the best and truest way a song can be served. Leave arrangements to the dance bands. It all comes down to the feel at the moment. If it is a guitar player, if you will, as an example, the music will speak to his fingers and his fingers will listen and then move and add the special gift it needs to the song. . This is more like a jazz ensemble approach than a rock group or classical music performance. Spontaneity is the key and all-important ingredient. The element of surprise must always be present. And the player must feel free. And know they are trusted. It’s an unspoken thing. Though the music is built around my songs, nothing is played exactly the same way twice on any given night or performance. This way it frees things up. But it all starts with a beat. The musical ingredients will change with mood, the time, the weather…Miles Davis once pondered that space music might be great. But space has no gravity. It takes gravity to lay down a beat.

How important is the contact with your audience at concerts for you? 
Well, of course, it always makes you happy when you feel the audience is “getting it (the lyrics and music”) and are following and taking the evening’s musical journey “with you” during a performance. And when they react positively; they are applauding for the reasons the song deserves.  But I do sometimes wonder if they follow the real poetical gist and subtleties of the words in my songs. When reviewers review my releases they basically review the overall “vibes” of the songs. Very few venture to examine the details of the poetical lines that create the narrative of any given song. But of course, when people come to shows they come to watch not only listen. And non-native speakers are going more for the “vibe” and experience of a song and not looking for any specific meaning.

In 'Woodstock Under the Stars' there are also some tracks from the successful trio experience with Rick Danko and Jonas Fjeld. What do you remember from that tour?
This trio was special on every level. It was more than a simple harmony group. The world has lots of those. But it was a story-telling group whose songs told stories. In some ways, it was the worthiest and happiest of accidents, and in others it was destiny and always meant to be. We had some powerful and incredible harmonic experiences in our trio with Rick Danko and Jonas Fjeld. With our separate talents, we each brought something to the table. The unspoken deal was great songs, harmonies, and real music.
The trio was subtle, dynamic, but as powerful as any rock group strutting a stage. It was also very democratic in sharing the lead vocals. Rick Danko taught us that power and gift from his experiences in The Band. Sharing vocals took the songs somewhere. I learned a lot about playing in bands from Rick. We played to enthusiastic audiences in Europe, the USA, Canada, and Japan. I wish it could have gone on longer. But we made two studio albums and Bob Dylan proclaimed our first DFA Trio album was his favorite album for years. We won a Spellemanns Pris or Norwegian Grammy.

"Foolish like the Flowers" documents the wonderful tour you held in Italy in 2019 with an excellent band featuring Scarlet Rivera's violin and your wife Inge. What memories and emotions do you have from those days on the Italian stages?
We had done a lot of great Italian shows on that 2019 pre-pandemic tour. The performance in Pavia for us was just another great show. Nothing special except they turned on the recording mics for what would turn out to be a live album. Scarlet and Cheryl and Inge gave the songs and music beautiful sonic rhythms, steady grooves and beats, harmonies, and sonic light. The dobro player, Paolo Ercoli, started out as our tour driver who ended up “sitting in” on stage each night with the band. Before our first show I heard him play three notes in the hotel and hired him on the spot to join in. He drove the van and learned the songs by feel with no rehearsals. For us it was amazing and exciting to hear the whole show grow. By the end of the tour, it turned out Paolo Ercoli was our band’s fresh “secret weapon.” He completed and rounded out the “sound” of the band. His improvisations can be heard on this “Foolish Like the Flowers” live
recording. It proves the theory that freedom with little talk can create great music if left alone to flourish. It must be said here his playing and versatility were both unexpected and outstanding. Nobody ever played the same notes twice. Each show was unique. A total thrill to share discoveries with each other and Paolo did his best to make this album truly come alive. It’s pretty much the same philosophy and approach for working with all my bands and musicians. I used the same approach when I worked with Michele (Gazich). We did some great stuff together on my Byron and Camus writers albums 1. When we’d start a song, and he’d play, it always held deep surprises. We never planned anything. We took our musical philosophy to New York, Rome, Tokyo, London, Oslo, and Paris. To fight repetition and boredom from constantly using locked-in pre-set musical arrangements, we just let the moment surprise us. Let the musician just be free to explore. That’s how you get the best stuff. It’s the unpredictability that keeps the music fresh. Especially in solos. It’s the spontaneity that continually surprises. Not just sawing away to achieve a show-biz effect from an audience. But something genuine. And that’s what we love and we live for. Those surprise moments. It calls to mind what my old band-mate Rick Danko liked to say, “Rehearsal is a negative attitude.”

You usually perform as a duo with your wife Inge or in smaller formations. What was it like working with this excellent transnational band?
A fine musician is a fine musician. Their ears have or know no borders. The simple answer is it’s not so much where you come from but where you going are taking the music. 

How did you work on the new song arrangements? What new nuances have come up?
As I mentioned before, in my musical world, songs are born to arrange themselves. My songs find their own way into the musical light like the way orphans find their way to a new home. My musical mantra and motto remain:  Less talk and more music. In the case of this new unreleased album, my approach was to record the new songs folk style—just me, the song, and the guitar—raw and direct—the same approach I used when I made my first two albums. Romance and love reentered the picture. But no frills. The frills and musical extras would come later in the form of some tasty overdubs on guitars and violins. The person writing these new songs were more age twenty than age 80.

The album covers almost the entirety of your artistic career. From 'Today is the Highway' comes 'Dusty Box Car Wall' from 1965. How you choose the songs to perform on stage? 
There are certain songs audiences want and expect to hear. Songs like “Thirsty Boots” and “Violets of Dawn and “Blue River.” We try to keep aware and get those into shows. But other factors we consider are rhythms and grooves. Stuff that keeps audiences from going to sleep. Also, songs with moods and atmospheres that create hypnotic effects. My world is basically about stories told in clear poetic ways. I
also try to bring in songs that are fresh and new and others that need dusting off to be brought back into the light—such as “Going Gone” and “Hills of Tuscany.” But there are so many. How do you choose when you can’t get them all in. So, we try and strike a balance when writing out a set list. But make it so the set is dynamic while still letting the music breathe.

What are your memories of those fabulous days in the Village?
The Village streets in the Sixties were my university education. Like the Muddy Water blues world was on Chicago’s South Side. Or Hank Williams’s Grand Ol’ Opry in Nashville. The whole world came to us on MacDougal Street. Where else could you find the likes these players in the space of three months’s time? I’m talking John Lee Hooker, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Charlie Mingus, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Reverend Gary Davis, Jr., Mississippi John Hurt, Dave Van Ronk, Phil Ochs, Muddy Waters, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Skip James, Doc Watson, Son House, Jimi Hendrix, Fred Neil, Tim Harden, the musical universe! I saw them all and repeatedly. 

How has your approach to songwriting evolved over the years? 
Well, like the “process” of arranging my own music there is no special “approach” to songwriting. I don’t write for effect or to try and please others. The main goal is to please the song by coaxing it into life and bringing it into existence.  Sometimes I’ll come up with a catchy line, jot it down, revisit it, sit down with the guitar, and watch the verses expand from that one line and see a whole song come out of it. My
approach to writing songs is more of being in a trance or surrendering to a magical mystery hour where you end up taking dictation from a higher force and let the song basically write itself. I call it the art of turning the invisible into the visible. Something that at one minute didn’t exist and then a minute later does exist! A new song!

With Lou Reed you wrote one of your most beautiful tracks "You Can't Relive The Past". How did that song come about?
Lou Reed and I were about as different as Tortiglioni is from Farfalle. I wrote this lyric before he had come for a visit to my house in Norway. We had planned to hook up and go meet Bob Dylan at his festival show in Oslo. He liked the lyrics of “You Can’t Relive the Past” (as I suspected he would). We Back in New York we finished the lyric and went into the studio with our guitars but no music. We sat down, strummed some rock chords, and came up with the groove and the music. We turned on the mics and recorded it in one take.

The beautiful ballad "Foolish Like the Flowers" gave the title to this live album. Can you tell us what inspired you to write this track?
In the mid-Sixties, I listened to the singing of Astrid Gilberto and compositions of Antonio Carlos Jobin. Like everybody else I was impressed by the cool infectiousness of the Brazilian Samba beats and Bosa Nova rhythms. I came up with an idea for a song based on these time signatures and played it to Bruce Langhorne. He came into the studio with his tambourines and guitar and we recorded it right after I’d moved to LA from New York in the late Sixties. It wasn’t a typical song for me. “Foolish” was a one-off. The only Bossa Nova-inflected song I ever wrote.

From "Memory of Future", your most intense work of the 90s, you chose "Hills Of Tuscany" and "Foghorn". What did that record represent for you?
These two songs along with “Under the Shadows” are fairly under-represented in my shows. They always
seem to get crowded out in the set lists by something else. But they are three of my most interesting songs musically and fun to sing. I thought I would resurrect them from the dead and put them on this record.

In recent years, you have crossed paths with literature and poetry by setting to music the lyrics of Albert Camus, Heinrich Böll and Lord Byron...
True. We performed the Camus album in Aix-en Provence with his daughter Catherine present. Then we performed the Byron album in his ancestral home at Newstead Abbey in England. Now I am working with a Flamenco guitar player on the final installment of this quartet of writer’s albums. This album will focus on the works of the great Spanish poet Garcia Lorca. I am making songs out of Lorca’s poetry and turning them into lyrics. I started writing them in England last January.

Last year saw the release of "Tribute to a Songpoet: Songs Of Eric Andersen". How was it listening to your songs interpreted by other artists?
Very different to say the least. Especially with so many coming all at once. I think the artists really put their hearts and souls into the project and I was very proud of this album. I am grateful to them.

In conclusion, what are your plans for the future?
Coming up. Special events. I will perform at a concert event at Carnegie Hall in November to celebrate the book “Music + Revolution: Greenwich Village in the Sixties” by Richard Barone. 
On December 16th, I will receive the Dubito poetry prize in Milan, Italy, under the auspices of Marco Fazzini head of the poetry chair at the University of Venice. It is a prize honoring activist songwriters and poets.  2024 will see the release a double album of new material called Dance of Love and Death. It’s the first album of completely new Eric Andersen songs (outside the Camus, Byron, and Böll writer’s series recordings on Meyer Records) since the release of Beat Avenue in 2002.  Coming next July 2, 2024, I will participate at the Lord Byron Society celebration in Athens on the 200th anniversary of the death of Lord Byron who died in Messolonghi, Greece, in 1824. The event is called “Byron: The Pilgrim of Eternity”, and I will perform my album Mingle with the Universe: The Worlds of Lord Byron. Byron had personally assembled and outfitted his own Greek expeditionary army to expel the Ottoman Turks from Greece. But he tragically died of fever before he could. While under horrible siege, his army bravely held on to Messolonghi for two years before being finally overrun by the Turks and Egyptians. 

Photo by Paolo Brillo e Renzo Chiesa


1 Eric Andersen. Mingle with the Universe: The Worlds of Lord Byron. Eric Andersen. Birth of a Stranger: The Shadow and Light of Albert Camus. (Meyer Records. Cologne 2015, 2017).

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