Q&A: John Hiatt

The American troubadour will raise and write you. Then he'll show you the door.

At 58, John Hiatt has three grown kids and more songs than he can count, many of which have been recorded by artists like Bob Dylan ("The Usual") or Bonnie Raitt ("Thing Called Love"). And according to Hiatt, the songs and kids all have their own lives, and don't need to be moving back home.

"We don't allow it," Hiatt says as he drives from his home toward town—Nashville—on errands. "I've kind of always felt the same way about the songs. Once I've written them, they're fully grown and they can take care of themselves."

En route to the Woodland Park Zoo for an August 25 show in support of his March release The Open Road, the Americana troubadour took a minute to talk about fiction, his songs, and the ghosts behind his barn.

SW: One of the songs on your latest album that sticks out for me is "Homeland." It sounds like you're saying that the country's got a whole lot of problems, among them our treatment of Native Americans. But at the end of the day this is still your country, and it's still something you're proud of. Am I getting close?

Well, that's your take. You're perfectly entitled to it. What's your name again?


It's fiction, Chris. It's the wide view. It's meant to expand on possibilities, not narrow them down. That's a perfectly legitimate view of things if you want it. I can tell you what inspired me.

Please do.

What inspired me was that we had ghosts behind the barn. Finally our Native American friends said we gotta come down and do something, because there's people back there that are stuck. And so they came down and we did a ceremony. Apparently there was a slaughter behind the barn about 300 years ago.

Are you proud to be living in America?

Absolutely—this is a great country. I love my country. I think we have a myriad of problems and I think we're young and we make a lot of mistakes, and I think in spite of what everybody says, we're moving forward. The facts are that we're going to be a multicultural nation to a degree formerly unknown in about 10 or 20 years, and all these upset people who don't want that don't have anything to say about it. Time marches on.

You mentioned "Homeland" was fiction. Has anybody covered one of your songs under false pretenses?

I think my point was there are no false pretenses. It's just lyrics, for Christ's sake, Chris. It's not the stone tablets. Ultimately you write words because you need something to sing.

Was "Face the Nation" [from 1980's Two Bit Monsters] that way? It seemed like a criticism of the time.

Wait a minute, what's "Face the Nation"? Are you talking way back when? Wow, yeah, I don't even remember that song. You got me there, buddy.


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