Quick Q and A with Cormac McCarthy

For folk music fans, there is only one Cormac McCarthy.  In this interview he discusses the “other” Cormac McCarthy, living and creating music in New England, his brand new CD Collateral, the creative process, and his old buddy, Bill Morrissey.

To learn more about Cormac McCarthy, check out his website.

Here’s a good example of Cormac at his best.

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Does a week go by when you don’t get at least one person asking you if you are a) Cormac McCarthy the novelist or b) if you’re related to THAT Cormac McCarthy?  I heard your radio interview in which you said that at least he’s a good writer!  😉

Yes,  but, less and less, most of the people at my shows know the difference. Cormac has been an unusual name, tho, I did hear a guy yelling at his kid at the aquarium,  “C’mon Cormac! Let’s go!”  It got me a little riled.

 And occasionally I will sign the novelist’s books,  “To so and so, this isn’t the best thing I ever wrote but, thank you anyays,   Cormac McCarthy”

 New England has been your home for many years.  What is it about this area that keeps you here?  It can’t be the weather.    

I’ve been and lived in many parts of the country and I really like New England.  The weather is great three quarters of the time. Winter is a good time to concentrate on projects. There are fewer distractions like going outside and having fun.

 And I like the quirky and irascible people who live here. The North Pond Hermit (note: a man who lived in isolation for 27 years in a remote part of Maine who recently got caught stealing some provisions) could have been lots of people I grew up with.

  I like the New England grit and opinionated attitudes. When I lived in California, I found it was very difficult to get into an argument. The response to a challenge or a disagreement never went any farther than, “Hey man, I can dig where you’re coming from.”  Although, I have to say, I’m more like that now.

 I like the Portsmouth area, the music and arts scene is vibrant.  And the area is very tolerant of the eccentric.  Last night they held the Spotlight on the Arts Awards. Collateral was nominated for album of the year and I won for Best Folk in the category of Folk/Roots and Reggae.  It was very nice to acknowledged in your hometown. Very often you get appreciation everywhere but, your hometown.

 I’ve seen Portsmouth go from a tough, dirty seaport to a yuppie laden 4-dollar coffee bar.   That is the way it goes. Artists and musicians gravitated to the seacoast because of proximity to the ocean and cheap rent.  They created an arts scene and community and it made the area attractive and then raised the property values.  Then of course, the artists couldn’t afford to live there anymore. 

I live across the border in Maine now but, spend my fun time downtown. 

 So tell us about your newest CD, Collateral.  For starters, what does the title refer to?

Collateral  is a re-ntry into the roots of the music I grew up on.   Ballads, blues, bluegrass and protest music.

There are stories that could come from the dustbowl era, some gut bucket blues and even a bluegrass murder ballad.  Along with the love songs that are the heart of all songwriting.  All you could really want in a record.

There’s a lot of talk about the middle class but there’s little talk about the great difficulty of moving up into the middle class – about the working poor. Many working people are just one minor disaster away from being homeless. The songs I write are inspired by what I’m seeing and what I’m not hearing.”

Collateral is that thing of value, that thing you put up or gamble in order to get something else. It begs the question, not just of material goods but of things you’re willing to do spiritually, emotionally — what you’re willing to ante up and put in the pot.”

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Your songwriting reveals much about your understanding of the human psyche.  Do you ruminate about people whom you meet day in and day out, on the road and at home and then think up song scenarios?  Or in other words—what sparks your songwriting?

Ruminate is a good word for it, like a cow chewing its cud.  I try to make sense of things I experience and witness.  I tend to mull over scenarios for story songs to try and find the logic of the moment, the things that make the narrative believable.  Driving through Iowa is good for that.

The songs I write come in about three categories:  songs I want to write, songs I need to write and the songs that just drop into my lap.  

 We all miss your buddy, Bill Morrissey.  You knew him perhaps the longest of all his other songwriting friends.  When you think of him, what comes to mind?

 I think of Bill daily, one of his old guitars is here by the computer. We grew up together musically and I knew him when the world was still new.   We challenged each other and had some great times together.  Mostly I remember the great abundance of humor and learning and discussing music and lots and lots of laughter. There are couple of songs on Collateral inspired by Bill.

One about old friends and one called “The Crossroads.”

 Cormac McCarthy will be appearing with Bill Staines at the me&thee on May 3, 2013.

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