There Is A Crack In Everything (That’s How The Light Gets In)

January 23rd, 2006

“For me, it’s really about clearing my head of anything that’s of a trivial day to day nature and looking into something that’s timeliness, something that in some way I’m not even conscious that I know,” he tells me. “But sometimes quiet is the worst thing. I think it was Bukowski who said, ‘Nothing worth a shit was every written in peace and quiet.'”

That’s The Edge talkin’. And he’s talkin’ to me. And we’re talking about songwriting. And it’s barely eleven o’clock in the morning. And quite frankly, I’m beside myself. I’m trying real hard to sound calm. And I think I pulled it off.

The occasion is the Sundance premiere of “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man.” Matt Paco and I are at The Motorola Lounge on Main Street. It’s all brushed steel and hot pink upholstery. It’s kind of classic Sundance: faux brick, shag rug, closets of swag. There’s a gaggle of publicists. Everyone’s chattering into his or her cell phones. And I’m trying to keep calm, cool, collected, and on point.

Edge is slighter than you’d think. He looks great: fit, rested, and healthy. His handshake is firm. His eyes sparkle. He is — in a word — cool. I, in contrast, am not. Well, that may not be quite true. In contrast to my first interview ever with Michael Stipe way back in the summer of my freshman year of college, I’m steady.

Edge talks about Leonard’s work ethic, of how he will spend years at a time on a song (click here to read the entire interview). It’s maddening to consider. But when I hear lyrics like these, I get it.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

That’s Rufus Wainwright’s favorite lyric, or so he tells me (click here to read the entire interview). It struck me too when I heard it performed in the film. And now more than ever, we gotta’ look for the light through the cracks. Cuz it’s dark out. I’ve had tons of conversations about the cultural darkness, the global peril, we’re all in.

I interviewed Ron Reagan Jr. today. And Joey Pantoliano (our editor, Pat Deriso’s cousin). The occasion was a Creative Coalition panel. Harry Shearer was there too. They were talking about first amendment stuff, Iraq, Iran, North Korea. It was a sound bite feast.

Someone asked how long it would take America to get back on track. Ron said, “We’ve gone off the rails on multiple tracks. If you’re talking about the Supreme Court, it could take decades. If you’re talking about administrations telling the truth, it could happen tomorrow. The Bush Administration just has to decide to tell the truth. And the thing is, the powerful usually know the truth. They just don’t want to share it.”

Afterwards, he drove his point home with me. “We have an administration that wants to deny global warming, I mean, as if scientists have nothing better to do than sit around and make up lies about the earth overheating.”

Joey Pants was exasperated too. “One last question,” he said, “Then I’m gonna blow my brains out.”

Later he told me, “Man, I don’t even know what to do. I’m just numb.”

It seems to me that there’s a healthy dose of dialogue and art going on here at Sundance that really illustrates an awakening to the discord echoing throughout the globe. So I asked him if he was at all encouraged by all of the conversations going on here at Sundance.

“No, man. This place is all about buying and selling and swag.” And I thought, ‘Well, there goes my thesis.’

But I wanna believe the conversation and the art and the movement to create some awareness, to get people involved, to incite some action, that it’s vital. Maybe there is a groundswell. Maybe there is a little light sneaking through the cracks. There has to be.

Beyond The Red Carpet: Marines, Matzo Balls, Porn Have A Place At Sundance Too

January 23rd, 2006

PARK CITY, Utah — The Sundance Film Festival isn’t all about A-list parties, celebrity sightings and flashbulb-frenzied premieres. There are plenty of events that don’t involve a red carpet.

Twentysomething Marines Robert Acosta, Paul Reickhoff and Herold Noel are half a world away from their tours of duty in Iraq. The soldiers are in Park City to support Patricia Foulkrod’s chilling documentary, “The Ground Truth,” an unflinching examination of the war in Iraq and the psychological and physical toll of modern warfare.

“This war is more important than these guys snowboarding, or Paris Hilton, or any of this other crap,” Reickhoff said. “People gotta understand that it doesn’t just affect politicians, it affects people.”

“This is a war that’s affecting people your age,” Foulkrod said. “Get involved. Get active.”

Photographer Lauren Greenfield’s documentary, “Thin,” focuses on four women trying to overcome eating disorders in a South Florida treatment center over a six-month period. Greenfield had unprecedented access to both the women and the center itself, filming everything from weigh-ins to therapy sessions.

“One teenager came up to me afterwards and started crying, almost hysterically,” Greenfield said of her first Sundance screening. “I was kind of overwhelmed by the emotional response.” The film premieres on HBO in the fall.

Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain’s short film, “The Tribe,” premiered on Main Street, but she opted for a more intimate setting for additional screenings. The San Francisco filmmaker hosted fireside screenings of her “unorthodox, unauthorized history of the Jewish people and the Barbie doll” in her mountainside chalet, complete with hot chocolate and homemade matzo ball soup.

“The whole goal is to have a dialogue outside of the flurry of the festival,” Shlain said. “What I really wanted is dialogue with other filmmakers and the audience. So as soon as I got in, I thought, ‘I’m going to rent a house right off Main Street and invite people over every day to talk about it.’ It’s been really good.”

Byron Hurt’s “Beats & Rhymes: A Hip-Hop Head Weighs in on Manhood in Hip-Hop Culture,” takes on the genre’s “hyper-masculinity, sexism, violence and homophobia” head-on. “We gotta demand a lot more from hip-hop,” Hurt said.

“I want this film to be the talk of Sundance,” the first-time filmmaker continued. “But what I really want is for somebody with a lot of money to fall in love with this film.”.

“Destricted,” which should someday screen alongside “El Topo” and “Schizopolis” in a Strangest Movie Ever Made film festival, played to a packed house at a midnight screening. Six filmmakers (including controversy lightning rods Matthew Barney and Larry Clark) created the compilation using two rules: None of the films could be longer than 20 minutes, and the subject matter was pornography. The results are as shocking as they are indescribable: a naked, moss-covered man whose semen fuels a 50-ton truck, and a wannabe porn star auditioning his leading lady are among the choice moments.

And of course, there’s plenty of music all over Park City. ASCAP’s Music Cafe featured sets from Augustana, Rufus Wainwright (in town to promote “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man”), Mike Doughty and Michael Penn. The Starbucks Salon hosted Sonya Kitchell, Imogen Heap and Tyler Hilton (who was spotted ducking out of Self magazine’s gifting suite with armfuls of swag just prior to his performance). The Salon’s hottest ticket was to a Saturday night performance by “Entourage” star Adrian Grenier’s band, the Honey Brothers. “It was the first time we played in about a month,” Grenier said after the show. “But I’m feeling great.”

But the lingering question for snowbound music fans is whether Police members Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland — all of whom are in town for the premiere of Copeland’s documentary, “Everybody Stares: The Police Inside Out” — will reunite onstage. If that were to happen, perhaps starstruck festivalgoers would finally turn their attention away from Paris Hilton.

This article first appeared on

Rufus Wainwright: Bohemian Like You

January 23rd, 2006

Rufus Wainwright at SundanceI was in Park City Executive Producing MTV News’ extensive coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. I interviewed Rufus on his involvement in the forthcoming film, “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man.” This interview occurred at the Motorola Lounge on Monday morning, January 23, for a program on MTV’s broadband channel, Overdrive, “Sundance Rock Docs.” It is reprinted here for the completist.

BW: Benjamin Wagner, MTV News. So nice to meet you.

RW: Hi, Benjamin.

BW: I’ve been singing “Movies of Myself” all week.

RW: Oooh, goood!

BW: How’s your Sundance been?

RW: It¹s been great. I’m leaving today, which is good. But it’s been fun to be here.

BW: You talk in the film about growing up in and around what you call “Leonard Cohen world,” I wonder if you could elaborate a little about what it was like, and what you were seeing and hearing and feeling.

RW: I grew up in Montreal. There’s this street there called St. Lawrence Street, which is a very interesting street because on one side is the French side of the city, and on the other side is the English side. I grew up on the English side, and now I have a place on the French. St. Lawrence is actually the old Jewish District, and really where Leonard lives is kind of the heart of the old Montreal Jewish neighborhood, which is apt. And I dunno if he does it on purpose or if it¹s just luck, but everything he does — either where he has his house, or what he’s wearing, or what he¹s cooking for lunch — it always has this sort of double meaning, or this spiritual context. I don¹t think he does it on purpose. But where his lives is a very spiritual center of the city.

BW: Could it be you invest him with that because of who he is?

RW: Perhaps. He has so much weight within him, that you kind of go with it. But I know that Leonard is very humble, he really is. And more than humble, he’s actually very shy. But he¹s also a showman. He knows what he¹s doing. He’s a master of perception in many ways.

BW: Tell me about your first experience with his music.

RW: I really became aware of him during the album I’m Your Man. I always had a little bit of a quirky sense of music, quirky taste. I liked Edith Piaf, and I liked opera, and I liked all of these dead people. And my sister, who was much more contemporary and kind of rocking out in her room and telling everybody to screw off, and was listening to I’m Your Man. She was really into that record. So I really owe it to my sister who got me onto him and out of my dead people zone.

BW: There’s a sonic gravitas and texture to Leonard’s work that I hear, especially, in “Want One.” To what degree did that port over to your creative space?

RW: The thing about Leonard is that he’s greatest attribute is creating a perfect marriage between lyrics and music, neither one ever obliterating the other. And it just makes it so much more effective. That’s what I strive for all the time. In fact Leonard and I have talked many times about songwriting and he is always emphasizing, “We wanna hear the words. We wanna hear the voice.” I think I have a very different style, but still that is the aim: to make it as married as possible.

BW: Well, there’s richness and maturity and a substance to your work that relates.

RW: Well I think we’re both definitely romantics in a certain way, very romantic. We kind of act like Bohemians. We like the café smoky places. So I think there¹s definitely a European style going on.

BW: You got a ton of screen time in the film, performing three songs, including beautiful three-part harmony on “Hallelujah.” Is there a lyrical passage or song you can point to?

RW: For me these days the song that’s really talking to me the most … oh, I can’t remember the name. It’s the one where the light comes through … — “Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack, a crack in everything” — What’s it called? “Anthem,” yeah. And I talk about how everything isn’t perfect, but still you have to try anyway, even if it’s not the way it is. I think that’s a very apt song for today, that we just have to keep trying, even though everything is sort of falling apart.

BW: How are you going to follow up “Want One” and “Two”?

RW: I’m going into the studio in the spring for my record. I’m also writing an opera. But that’s just a tease for now. I’ll tell you more about that later.

The Edge: I’m Your Man

January 23rd, 2006

The Edge & Me at Sundance I was in Park City Executive Producing MTV News’ extensive coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. I interviewed The Edge on his involvement in the forthcoming film, “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man.” This interview occurred at the Motorola Lounge on Monday morning, January 23, for a program on MTV’s broadband channel, Overdrive, called “Sundance Rock Docs.” The interview is reprinted here for the completist.

BW: Tell me about your introduction to Leonard Cohen.

The Edge: I first discovered Leonard Cohen’s music back in 1978. I was 17-years-old. Courtesy of a friend who played his album with the track “Suzanne” which in those days we were listening to exclusively punk music the softest we got was like Magazine or some of the experimental music. I don’t know quite how he manages to make his way into our circle of friends but he was different. He was considered in some ways welcome in a way that very few artists were. And he stayed with me. That’s the thing about his work: it stays with you. If you become a Leonard Cohen fan you never stop being a Leonard Cohen fan.

BW: His music has real texture, which I hear in your work. Real sonic soundscapes, a richness. And also his lyrics are so substantive. Can you speak about what in his music resonates with you?

The Edge: Well, I think to understand Leonard’s work, you have to understand his very unusual process for writing. Leonard’s writing process is unique. He might spend years, five years, on one song, coming back to it, rewriting it. And its not necessarily a passive just five years, it’s like he will write multiple verses, he will whittle it down until it’s almost a crystalline, pure form of words, some kind of perfect song. But it takes a long time. So if you’re a lyric fan, as I am, when you hear a Leonard Cohen song, it’s like every word is so perfectly placed, and chosen, it just connects in a very deep way. The first time I heard his songs, that was what hit me.

BW: How do you balance that work ethic, that process, with the urgency of the pop music machine: the next album, the next tour. To what degree has that work ethic been an influence, or something you consider when working with U2?

The Edge: Well I suppose where we as a band and as writers would connect with Leonard is in the need to completely separate ourselves from commercial considerations at the moment where you writing a piece of music, or a lyric. Because it’s the only way to keep it pure, in a sense, is just to ignore what’s going on out there. A friend of ours who is a poet once said, “The best way to write is to imagine that you’re dead,” that you’re writing from this unassailable position. And I think Leonard in some ways is the one who does that the most. He’s really cut off. And it’s his own choice. But he doesn’t really do the 21st Century. He is off, out there, looking for little clues, trying to hear the whispers from the angels. And he comes down with these amazing songs from the mountaintop. Every time he releases something, we get very excited.

BW: In the film, you talk about going some place quiet, that you have to find the quietest place to find God, or the muse. Where do you?

The Edge: For me it’s really about just clearing my head from anything that’s of a trivial day to day nature and looking into something that’s timeliness, something that in some ways I’m not even conscious that I know, or understand, but the unconscious things that we know and understand, if you can somehow tap into that. So you can be in the noisiest place, if you can just find your way into that zone, you can write. And sometimes the quietest place is the worst. I think Charles Bukowski said, “Nothing worth a shit was every written in peace and quiet.” I think there’s an element of truth to that. It doesn’t work always for us to be somewhere silent, but you have to somehow eradicate the din of what’s going on out there to be in yourself quiet, to find those things.

BW: As is requisite here.

The Edge: Mmm hmm.

BW: I would be derelict of my MTV duties if I didn’t ask about progress on the next record.

The Edge: We haven’t really got to the point where we’re thinking seriously about the next record. We’re at that wonderful place where we’re just experimenting, and trying things, just really letting our imaginations go. It’s my favorite phase of making an album because there are no constraints, you just write and explore possibilities. That’s where I am now: loads of possibilities, but nothing concrete.

BW: That’s a terrific line, “Write like you’re dead.”

The Edge: It is a good line. We try to live up to it. But it’s hard.