By Bruce Bressack web audio
First, you need to know that I'm a recent convert.
I had never heard of Joel until I stumbled upon his website a few months ago. I clicked on the song Rose and BAM, I was fan-i-nized! What struck me was the polished, rhythmic power of the guitar and the gentle, take-no-prisoners flavor in his voice.
I don’t take being a fan lightly, and rarely does an artist “stop me dead in my tracks.” In fact, it’s only happened one-time before (when I was channel surfin' and came across Nanci Griffith a "small lady with a huge voice", belting out the song From a Distance.)
I felt the same jaw-dropping experience when I heard Joel's song Rose for the first time. And, just to be sure it wasn’t an anomaly, I clicked on the song Lover….…and then listened to Elevator. Three-out-of-three is the real deal!
So, when the opportunity to do an interview with Joel presented itself, I gladly took the ride to “Camp-Cage” – Joel’s retreat, hearth, home and recording studio - in Meredith, New Hampshire. It was there, amidst the guitars and mountains of recording gear, that Joel and I sat down to discuss his life and music.
So, just who is Joel Cage?
The bio is spectacular! Here's a small sample.
Joel’s won just about every songwriting contest on the planet. He won the USA Songwriting Competition three years in a row [pop category in ’97, and folk category in '98 & ‘99], and was the 1998 grand prize winner in the John Lennon Songwriters Contest [folk category.]
He also happens to be the 2001 Kerrville Folk Festival winner - no small feat! Kerrville - the longest continuously running music festival of its kind in North America - has hosted the early performances of artists like Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Mary Chapin Carpenter and, dare I say, Nanci Griffith.
But, bio aside, it all comes down to Joel's songs.
Let's start with the song Rose, from the CD Nobody. Here's Joel's take on the song.
"... my interpretation of the song is to present four completely different, yet somehow unified, objective perspectives on god, and what god is, and where he resides and how different people see him in different ways".
Eight of the songs on Nobody were written about the loss of an important relationship in Joel's life. The songs Elevator and Lover speak to the hurt and anguish that come with the dissolution of love. Joel spoke in a reflective tone about these songs, starting with Elevator.
"I was going through a particularly painful relationship...ruing the loss of a woman that I had perceived that I was in love with at the time...the one thing I felt I could inflict upon her, with the curse of this song, was her acute awareness that I wasn't there anymore, and to wish I was..."
"Lover was essentially just an angry version of Elevator.."
The song No Peace in Dying - from the CD Live, Windmills Are Coming - was written during the debates over the 1st Gulf War. While it isn't a direct response (per se) to the debates, they did provide some of the tone and context for his song.
"Essentially, what came from the process of listening to the debates, was that you are not going to achieve any kind of lasting peace by using war to do it....It just doesn't make sense."
From The Farthest Reaches - from the CD Last Hard Road - is a song that is frequently requested in Joel's concerts. A crowd pleaser, in the truest sense.
"I wanted to write, basically, a profession of love in a Dylanesque fashion. To me the ultimate Dylan structure is that kind of an almost traditional folk song format with a list of things. I wanted it to be a list of things that I would come from the farthest reaches to do."
When we were closing the interview, Joel described his songwriting process. To me, his insights were like finding the Lost City of Atlantis. Here's the essence of Joel's approach.
"I write the very first thing I play on the guitar. I take that idea, as spontaneous as it is, and I develop it from there. Then I just go with what happens. For me, that is the greatest moment of songwriting; the inception. It's the only true and pure moment. I try to have that moment and keep going back to it as often as I can. It maintains a sense of continuity and it also helps you to stay simple. Complications arise as you begin to add stuff, so I try to keep it as simple as the very first initial thought...and that's how I write."
There are only a handful of artists that “stop you dead in your tracks”, and Joel Cage is a member of that exclusive league.
And, as I learned, there’s much more to the man than his music (or outstanding musicianship). Joel has thought things through. He knows what he believes in, and where he’s going. And, his music and lyrics are the gateway to his soul, and a pure slice of the human condition.
One word of caution – the songs will play in your head all day and all night. Just relax……..it’s not fatal. Sit back, listen to and enjoy the power and passion of Joel Cage’s music.
Take the road to "Camp-Cage"…...it’s a musical journey worth taking.
2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH