Nothin' Lastin' Q&A
the esteemed journalist d'Lorah Nonnac interviewed Hal Cannon about his upcoming, October 7, 2022, solo album
D.N.: – I don’t want to put you on the spot at the git go, but really, If Nothin’ is Lastin,’ what’s the use of these songs?
H.C.: I grew up with faith that things last. Holding ancient books in my hands, I figured their wisdom was timeless. Visiting buildings that took generations to build, they still stood and served us. And best of all, music, the most impermanent of the arts, kept speaking to the world in profound and lasting ways. And yes, I believed that, even though there were war mongers and power grabbers, there was an underlying code of conduct with most people that reaffirmed the Golden Rule, lasting world values of cooperation.
Then in the fall of 2016 my world came apart. It all centered around the national election. It seemed all rules of engagement, all trust and good-well had suddenly been stripped away. I was so naïve.
The title song of the album is a cry of despair when it hit home that permanence was a cruel illusion. When I finished recording the songs on Nothin’ Lastin’ I went back to listen and realized for the first time that each song was a simple cautionary tale. In response I wrote a one-line prayer for each. I can’t say why I made these prayers but writing them helped me. Mind you, I wasn’t writing a prayer in the traditional sense of praying to God. It was more like crying out to the wilderness. The result was that I started paying attention to things that do last, things that are timeless. I started hearing these songs in a new way, a hopeful way. They transformed miraculously. And from darkness came the light of day.
D.N.: You’ve been working on this album for years. What took you so long?
H.C.: Excuses, excuses. I could write a book. Frankly, I had to go out to the edge and back before the songs would release. Out to the edge of despair and back to hope, out the edge of overthinking, back to letting simple songs bubble up from the mysterious spring. I could write a book.
Actually, I did write a book. I wrote an entire memoir, a chapter for each song. It went through twelve drafts and there were fifteen songs at that point. I just couldn’t get it right. The stories seemed to detract from the songs rather than augment them. Then my daughter asked me directly, “Don’t your songs stand on their own?” That question was what I needed. So here it is. The songs stand proudly ready for battle.
D.N.: This may be off- point but I understand this little Q&A is going out to radio people and music critics. There is a backlash against experts in every field and many question the pertinence of anyone telling you what is good. What do you have to say?
H.C.: I spent many years producing radio features for NPR, mostly about music. I might add, I did this while still being a musician and songwriter. I love the idea that radio and music journalism can amplify music. We use the tools we’ve got, and the tools of communications are constantly changing. That can be discouraging.
The real job is an unwavering belief that it’s important to share great music. Music is inherently sociable. Some of us hear something and we know immediately that it’s good and important. And then our first inclination is to share it. Most people don’t have much musical confidence so they rely on those of you who have the ear to give advice. It means the world to them and you get to play a role in enhancing their lives.
I met an old cowboy a few years ago who told me he was called by God to start a daily radio show for the tiny town of Paisley, Oregon. After eleven years of spinning cowboy songs, poetry, and gospel music he learned he was riddled with cancer and had only a few days to live. I was privileged to meet him and assist as he did his final radio show. I’ll never doubt the power of sharing music after this experience. If you want to read the rest of this true story you can find my weekly article that is published as the Loose Cannon Boost. The story is called “Larry Duckworth’s Last Radio Show.”
D.L.: Is it true you hold a grudge against digital music?
H.C.: When I was a kid, robots had a face. Generally, they were made of tin. We are fed music, books, and perfectly-made everything, from little bits and bytes, each a robot of sorts saying yes or no billions of times to make everything from how your package got to you from Amazon (it started as a bookstore, remember?) to the insidious way we partake of music. Yes, I am sad that we have allowed these tools to trivialize our lives, making everything into a cheap all-you-can-eat buffet. And yet, I love and accept the world as it is. Therefore I can’t allow bitterness to creep in.
D.N. What role does music play in your life?
When I gave up on religion in my teens, I concluded that I was spiritually retarded. Ever since I’ve been on quest to find meaning. For years I got caught up in the wonder of exploration, bringing back cultural trophies like a big game hunter.
In the end, I’ve found the most meaning, the most mystery, in music. I love music for all its emotion but I don’t need music to be happy. Don’t need its adrenaline to get me up to dance through life. Don’t need it to fight a political or social battle. I need it for basic spiritual sustenance. No apologies.
D.L.: What do you consider to be your talents?
H.C.: I have two talents and many deficiencies. For some reason I’ve been blessed with an unlimited well of music that bubbles forth from some unknown deep spring. Melodies and words flow. I don’t question it, nor do I take it for granted. I wish I would have valued it earlier in life.
The other talent is forging small creative collaborations. I’m not so good maintaining long-term management, so projects with other artists that have a sell-by date are best. I delight in working with fellow musicians, cooking up arrangements, making recordings and figuring out album designs. With Nothin’ Lastin,’ one of my favorite collaborations was creating the music videos to be released before the album came out. You can look them up on YouTube. I loved this aspect so much that the public release of the album will be a screening of those four music videos with a little party to celebrate the video artists.
D.L.: So, what can music do to help the world along?
H.C.: Music is where the magic happens. I’ve seen people whose minds are riddled in dementia revived by a song. I’ve thrilled with others as artists do the impossible by bringing people together in joy through music.
When we released the song “Silver Dove,” it was shared with a family who recently escaped Afghanistan. They are currently trying to find a way to America from Tehran. Teresa and I were invited to meet them on a zoom call where they practice English each week. Two young women in the family, both doctors, looked me in the eye and repeated a single line from this final song on the album. The song is all about dreams for a better world. This line they both knew by heart goes, “where woman walk freely, and hold their heads high.” I wrote the song after traveling and singing in a totalitarian country that borders Afghanistan. They wanted to thank me for those words, that shared vision. Because of those dear women I started working to get the song out on social media in countries where freedoms are limited. I don’t know what it means to go viral but 80,000 people watched and listened to the song.
D.L.: You look old, like a damn sage. Do you think the spirit calcifies like our old worn-out bodies?
H.C.: Thomas Jefferson famously said, “Life is for the living.” I’ve always refused to support AARP because they are such a powerful lobby to take away scarce resources for the young and energetic. On the other hand, I see beautiful and energetic young musical artists who are doing very little to take music forward. Also, I see people in my generation dreamily reliving puberty in the music they listen to. And yet I’m around people every day who look like they have one foot in the grave but have minds and hearts as fresh as saplings in the spring. There are also young people, not necessarily glamorous, who are making divine music.
A couple days ago I did a stress test for my heart. As part of the process, an ultrasound took images of my heart beating both slow and fast. Along with the images were closeup sounds of the heart pumping blood from various positions on my chest. When I heard these, almost industrial sounds of pumping blood, honestly, it was sloshing around, it was so beautiful, the song of my heart. I almost came to tears.
Here I am, seventy-four years old, living with this same heart every day, rarely taking any account of what it does. It never takes a break for a smoke. It doesn’t go on vacation or on strike. It just keeps working. When it finally stops, I’ll stop. It was like I was hearing that part of my voice for the first time. I was overcome with gratitude. I can’t speak for others but no, my spirit has not calcified.
D.L.: This has veered off into the philosophical much more than I thought it would for a bunch of simple-ass songs. Do you have hope for the world?
H.C.: I do. There is so much evidence that the world is falling apart and yet I do have faith that great things rise from the ashes, just like in Paul Zarzyski’s lyrics to the song on the album, “Riding Through the Burn.” We all know things are out of balance, but I truly expect a miraculous righting. I hang out with my grandkids and have been influenced by their trust in the world. Trust in love. Work in love, and it will take us far.