Conductor James Levine has returned from an absence of more than two years to lead…
- Posted on Feb 13th 2012 4:29PM by Theo Spielberg
How did you get involved in the cause?
A personal letter from Philip Glass will accomplish wonders.
Had you ever met him before?
I have, actually. I sat at a table with him at a Bang on a Can benefit a few years ago.
Are you involved in Tibetan rights at all outside of the events?
No, but I was raised Tibetan Buddhist. I'm not now but I was raised around a lot of Tibetans. We often had monks staying at our house, that sort of thing.
Has that rubbed off on your world view at all?
No. It's rubbed off on me in that I make sure I never have a guest room.
Have you ever been to Tibet?
No, I haven't. I've never been to Asia.
Why did you stop practicing the religion?
Well, I never took to the belief system. I find religion wacky. Reincarnation is an absurd, incoherent idea. The Buddhist psychology is as silly as Freudian psychology. If I had to pick a religion to subscribe to, it would be Daoism, which only requires that you agree with one statement, which is that the middle path is a good idea. I don't subscribe to that, but it's only one statement that I disagree with rather than thousands in the cases of Buddhism or monotheism. But that doesn't mean that I don't feel sorry for displaced Tibetans.
How do you feel the year of the Water Dragon will bode for your career?
Too early to tell. It's only a few days old.
Do you have a setlist worked out for the show?
I do. I only have three songs so it's not hard to come up with a setlist. It's my famous song, 'The Book of Love,' my current single 'Andrew in Drag' and, because I'll be playing ukulele, my ukulele manifesto 'This Little Ukulele.' It's light. And it's good for if I only get one microphone. I can play the ukulele and sing into the same microphone.
I don't really deal with the record labels. My manager, Claudia, does, so it doesn't feel like anything. Merge and Nonesuch are the same distributor, ADA, so from my perspective absolutely nothing changes. So I would say that you would have to ask Claudia.
People are calling 'Love at the Bottom of the Sea' a return to early Magnetic Fields form. Would you say those comments are on the mark?
I don't think that has anything to do with the record. I would imagine they would say that without having heard the record, and it sounds like they haven't heard the record.
All the songs are under three minutes, was that a preconceived restraint?
No, I just like short songs. The average length of the songs on '69 Love Songs' is only a few seconds longer than the average length of songs on 'Love at the Bottom of the Sea.' All the songs on 'Distortion' are three minutes long, within a few seconds of three minutes long. This average is 2:15.
Why did you return to synths for this album?
Well, synthesizer was the first instrument that I learned to play well. The instrument that I took lessons on in high school was organ. If I could only play with my feet while playing with my hands, I would now be an organist. But no, I have some in-built inadequacy. I can play perfectly well with my feet as long as I don't also try to play with my hands. So I'm an incompetent drummer and an incompetent organist. But still, I think of organ, organ played only with the hands, like Farfisas, my main instrument, if you don't count the synthesizer. I think like an organist.
How did you come up with the concept for the 'Andrew in Drag' video?
I didn't, actually. A friend who works at an ad agency approached me about making a video and I said, "Well, we'd love to make a video but our new single is called 'Andrew in Drag.' Good luck." So Claudia went in for 20 minutes and got photographed drinking cognac and standing on our little rotating turntable and that was our basic contribution to the video.
Given the current political climate, with Prop 8 being recently banned, what are your feelings concerning how the gay-marriage question is being dealt with in America?
I don't discuss politics because I like to keep my passport.
You feel discussing this would get you deported?
No, I think I wouldn't be able to enter particular countries if my politics were widely known.
Anything else that you would like to say about Tibet House?
Well, the Tibet House benefit is a good cause. The money is going directly to Tibetan refugees in New York, I believe, of which there are a lot. There is a large community of people who have been forced out of Tibet. So it's a good cause. And the show is going to be ridiculously wonderful.