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Hangin’ & Sangin’: Mary Chapin Carpenter

Apr 24, 2018

Hangin' & Sangin': Mary Chapin Carpenter

From the Bluegrass Situation and WMOT Roots Radio, it’s Hangin’ & Sangin’ with your host, BGS editor Kelly McCartney. Every week Hangin’ & Sangin’ offers up casual conversation and acoustic performances by some of your favorite roots artists. From bluegrass to folk, country, blues, and Americana, we stand at the intersection of modern roots music and old time traditions bringing you roots culture — redefined.

With me today in the Writers’ Rooms at the Hutton … Mary Chapin Carpenter. Hi!

How are you?

I’m good! This is fun already!

We’ve already been talking and having a great time.

Yes, bonding over all sorts of age-related issues. Good stuff. So now I guess we should talk about you and your record and all that kind of stuff, right?

If you’d like. [Laughs]

We could go back to talking about how many pairs of glasses we each have but … Sometimes Just the Sky — what a brilliant concept this was, this album.

Thank you.

Most people would have gone back and picked their seminal record and redone the whole thing. You didn’t do that.

No, and it wasn’t my desire to do a hits record or something like that. It wasn’t really to do anything at all. It was simply to mark time in a way where the idea was how does time — and the passing of time — if one were to pick a few songs, how would they hold up? How would they be different, if you recorded them 30 years on with half a lifetime already under your belt? How would they change? How would they differ? Would they hold up? Would they be dated? It was sort of an excavation and an experiment, but also the idea being to celebrate the passage of time.

I remember Sir George Martin — I may not have this word-for-word perfect — but he said something to the effect of, “Age is something you have to learn to deal with, if you’re lucky.” I love that.

Well, not everyone could go back through a 30-year career, to the beginning, and find songs that do still stand up, just as songs, but that also are still emotionally relevant that many decades later.

Well, you know, I think I certainly got lucky with the oldest song on the record, which came from the first album I made, which was called Hometown Girl, and it’s a song called “Heroes and Heroines.” And it does speak to our current times that we’re in in a way that’s kind of eerie. But that wasn’t something I immediately assumed would be the case. Again, it was like an excavation of sorts, figuring things out.

The inspiration for [the title track, “Sometimes Just the Sky”] was a Patti Smith interview, which I think is fantastic.

You’ve read it?

I haven’t. I’m gonna go find it, though.

You just Google — here we are in 2018 — “Patti Smith sometimes just the sky,” and it’ll bring you to this interview. It was this beautiful interview or talk she was giving in 2012, I think it was, to some young folks, and she was saying — and I’m paraphrasing wildly — but she was saying, “I’ve put out books of poetry that maybe 50 people have read. But if there’s something in your life that you love and are passionate about, you can think of it as your calling. And you have to pursue it and you should, but you have to be prepared for rejection and failure and other things in your life, because you’re living — loss and regret, heartbreak.” She goes on to list the things that you have to be prepared [for], the adversity of things.

Of humanness.

Of humanness. But then she stops and she says, “But on the other hand, life is magical and it’s beautiful and it’s amazing and it’s so worth it. It’s as simple as … a perfect cup of tea with a friend. Sometimes, just the sky.” And it comes right out. That phrase just carved its way immediately into my heart and, a few days later, I finished the song.

So many of the themes of the songs that are on the record speak to what she was saying. It was important to me that it be the title song. It was important to me that it be the end of the sequence to tie it all together, because all those themes — the connective tissue of these songs — it all sort of makes sense, in that regard.

It’s that idea of finding the things that soothe or comfort us, the beauty in things.

That’s one of the things in the lyrics. In the very last verse, it talks about making lists. Making lists of things that you know, and then when you feel like you don’t know anything, you start another list. You make another one. Things that are gratitude-based, things that just make you happy, things that you have to remind yourself to look up, you have to remind yourself to look out, you have to remind yourself to keep your heart open.

I’m gonna ask you questions based on song titles across your discography: Which beauty are you a slave to?

Love.

What lies between here and gone?

The unknown, and you have to be open to that.

That’s a hard one.

That’s a really hard one. I don’t know about you, but I think of myself as this person … I try to be open to everything and embrace the unknown and seek adventure wherever it may be, and yet the duality — I also know I’m this person who craves safety and security and order out of chaos. It’s really hard to have that coexistence.

I fully concur. What have you learned from the middle ages?

… Probably that the most wonderful thing is to get through them! [Laughs]

What do you need to be happy?

All the things that song [“Don’t Need Much To Be Happy’] lists. Books and food in my belly, driving toward home, a hand inside of mine … things like that. That song is a list song.

What would be the title of your life story?

To Be Continued

Watch all the episodes on YouTube, or download and subscribe to the Hangin’ & Sangin’ podcast and other BGS programs every week via iTunes, SpotifyPodbean, or your favorite podcast platform.


Photo credit: Aaron Farrington

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Hangin' & Sangin': Mary Chapin Carpenter
Hangin' & Sangin': Mary Chapin Carpenter