So Many Questions

I bet Jenny Lewis would’ve really enjoyed our interview

MUSIC by Aidan Morgan

Jenny Lewis
Regina Folk Fest
Saturday 8

Everyone attending the 2015 Regina Folk Festival probably has one or two must-see acts on the lineup. Blue Rodeo’s crowd of “rodeoheads,” as the band’s fans are called,* will likely be out in force. Similarly, the “Bahamas Army,” the term given to fans of Bahamas,** will be in attendance, wearing their distinctive plaid shirts and trucker hats.

For me, Jenny Lewis is one of the major draws at this year’s festival. In 2014 Lewis released Voyager, her first solo album in eight years. Plaintive but acerbic, rounded off with a wit as dry as a rusty saw blade, Voyager deals with maturity, change and loss. Despite the sadness at the heart of many of the songs, it’s a strangely uplifting and cathartic work.

Given the richness of the material, I was itching to do an interview with Lewis before the festival. Unfortunately, our special Prairie Dog interview time was eclipsed by a media appearance for the new Meryl Streep movie, which Lewis contributed a song to. But when God closes a door, he opens a window (or he opens the door again, because that sounds a bit more efficient. Maybe the window has a screen and God doesn’t like bugs getting in? But since God made bugs, why wouldn’t he just make them so they didn’t like flying into houses? Seems simple).

Anyway, the lack of an actual interview gave me the opportunity to come up with my list of ideal Jenny Lewis questions, which would only work in an ideal world where Jenny Lewis had an infinite supply of patience.

Hi Jenny. How are you doing?

She’d probably say “fine” or “wow, I’ve been busy” or the usual things that people say. But she might go full rock and roll and say something like, “I’m a giant dragon riding a wave of flame into Waterville, so look out for my steam.”

In preparation for this interview, I Googled “questions to ask a musician” and pulled from the first result, which was aimed at people in pipe bands for some reason. With that in mind, have you participated in any regional competitions lately? Any fleadhs?*** What prizes did you win, if any?

This might not fly, to be honest. Jenny Lewis would wipe the floor at any of the county or provincial fleadhs, although she’d face some strong competition at the annual All-Ireland Fleadh.

Lewis’ musical roots run deep enough that the world of childhood musical competitions wouldn’t be totally foreign to her. Her parents were professional musicians ̶ Lewis described her father as “a musical genius” in an interview on NPR. The song “You Can’t Outrun ‘Em” is about coming to terms with his death.

In your Wikipedia article, a sentence in the section “Personal Life” reads “Lewis is Jewish [citation needed]”. Whenever this sentence runs through my head I start humming it to the tune of “Love Me or Leave Me,” which has been covered by everyone from Bing Crosby to Peggy Lee to Nina Simone. As far as I know you’ve never recorded a cover version of the song. Would you? I think it would be fantastic.

I don’t expect Lewis to answer this one. But wouldn’t an album of songbook covers be great?

Listen, Ms. Lewis. Listen carefully. I’m going to pronounce a few words. They’re harmless words. Just a bunch of letters scrambled together. But their meaning is very important. Try to understand what they mean. The Golden Girls. The Wizard. Troop Beverly Hills.

If Lewis isn’t a Kiss Me Deadly fan, this would definitely be the end of the interview. Before Lewis became an indie rock star, she got her start in television and movies. She’s likely best remembered for her role in Troop Beverly Hills (1989), where she starred with Shelley Long and Craig T. Nelson. She migrated from acting to music in the late ’90s when she formed Rilo Kiley. But her ties to film can still be seen in her recent music videos, where stars like Kristen Stewart, Anne Hathaway and Fred Armisen pop up.

You recently wrote the song “Cold One” for Ricki and the Flash, in which Meryl Streep plays a rock-and-roller who attempts to mend her damaged relationship with her adult children. I noted that Streep’s voice sounds a bit like yours. Did she take your vocal style as an inspiration when she performed in the film? When she sang, did you inexplicably find that your own voice dried up in your throat? Did you begin to see Streep in your dreams, a lone figure apart from the unconscious narrative, but then began to see her in waking life, first out of the corner of your eye, reflected in windows, but increasingly on street corners and coffee shops, until one morning you gazed into the mirror and found her face staring back at you? Asking because she did the same thing to me once and it was a trip.

I realize that it would be hard for Jenny Lewis to find an actual question here, beyond the assumption that Meryl Streep is a villain out of Dreamscape. The takeaway is that Lewis co-wrote the song “Cold One” for Ricki and the Flash, directed by Jonathan Demme (Something Wild, Silence of the Lambs) and written by Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult).

* The fans of Blue Rodeo are not called that.
** “Bahamas Army” is also not a thing.
*** A fleadh is an Irish musical competition.

2015-08-06