Sunday, August 1, 2010

Marc Cohn talks about "Walking in Memphis"


The year 1970 provided a musical feast for a young Marc Cohn.

The then 11-year-old was introduced to such artists as Cat Stevens, John Lennon, Van Morrison and others that year.

Cohn, best known for the hit song "Walking in Memphis," pays homage to those artists and others on his latest CD, "Listening Booth: 1970."

Cohn endured a scary moment in 2005 after being shot in the head by a would-be carjacker. Fortunately, the bullet did not penetrate his skull.

He will perform with Bettye LaVette Aug. 8 at The Morton Arboretum, 4100 Route 53, Lisle. The show starts at 7 p.m., and tickets are $34 in advance, $36 the day of the show, available by calling 630-725-2066.

I had the chance to talk to him about his new album and his inspiration for writing "Walking in Memphis."

Q- So I understand 1970 was a important year for you musically.

Music resonates deeply and belongs with you for a long time. There was so much music that came out that year. It was a huge year for music.

Q - What goals did you have for the album?

I wanted to write it thematically, and not just make it 'Marc plays his favorites.' We looked at whether we could find a fresh approach into the song, and did I sound good singing the song. As an artist, I want to deconstruct a song and find a new way in. Some of my favorites I had to leave off in the end. Some of them are favorites and some of them are just songs from 1970.

Q- It seems like a lot of artists these days are revisiting the past.

This is quite different from a covers album. Those arrangements have nothing to do with the originals.

Q- How did the 2005 incident affect you and your work?

I had a lot of post traumatic stress to work through. After that, I found a new appreciation for my audience and I felt more motivated to work. I felt much more engaged and motivated to play and write and record.

Q - Did you realize when you wrote "Walking in Memphis" that the song would connect with people the way it has?

I knew it was a good song and that I had turned a corner as a songwriter. I had no idea that it would become a hit when it came out.

Q - I understand that you were inspired to write the song after hearing Al Green deliver a sermon.

He's always been one of my favorite singers. To hear him in that context, it was incredibly moving. He is a big part of what inspired the song.

Q - And then you got to sing with him.

I went on stage once with him, to sing "Let's Stay Together" at a show in Memphis. I was floating on air several days afterwards. He's one of the greatest singers that has ever lived. It was a thrill of a lifetime.

Q - Do you have any dream collaborations?

I've been pretty lucky. I've already had a lot of dream collaborations with people like James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and David Crosby. There are a lot of people I would still like to play with like Mavis Staples, Joni Mitchell and Paul McCartney.