Christoper Cross is probably best-known to most music fans for the astonishing success of his self-titled 1979 debut album, which won him five Grammy awards and yielded three of his biggest hits in “Sailing,” “Ride Like the Wind” and “Never Be the Same.”
The singer/songwriter and guitarist has continued on with recording and touring over the last three decades, most recently releasing a new album entitled Doctor Faith in May. Currently on tour to promote the new album, Cross will perform a three-night stand at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center beginning tonight, Thursday, October 20, and running through Saturday.
In this final installment of a wide-ranging two part interview Cross discusses Doctor Faith, the state of the country’s political system, his disdain for reality TV, organized religion, and his joy in performing with the Nashville Symphony.
Thanks once again to Christopher Cross, and special thanks to Carol Kaye for arranging this interview.
Read Part One of the interview here
This is definitely not a quote-unquote typical Christopher Cross record; not that it would have been a bad thing if it was, but there are songs on here that are far enough away from what people might expect from you that I could probably play them for some people and they might not be able to guess it’s you.
I think that’s typical of the kind of thing we’re hearing, is that it’s a little bit of a departure, but still has a thread. “Leave it to Me” is very much a tip of the hat to the past, and especially Chicago, with the horns. But yeah, some people listen to the first track, “Hey Kid,” and they say, “If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t know it was you.”
That’s a good thing. You’ve got to move forward. I think too many artists from my era tend to just stamp out a record. Another thing that’s problematic in my business is that they’ll just find a single to hang their hat on, and the rest of the album is just cereal. Rob and I have never allowed ourselves to do that. We certainly strive for trying to make a quality record throughout, and I think that’s true of all of our records.
There are some better than others, but this seems to be one where we got it right, and I think the older you get, you should get better at it. The writers that I aspire to, like Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman, they’ll tell you that the work gets harder, not easier. And they set that bar for us where we’re always striving to do something better than the last time, whether it’s the next song or just the next line.
The first two songs that lead off this album, “Hey Kid” and “I’m Too Old For This,” both seem to come from the voice of experience addressing the way things are now. Was that important to you going in, sort of making an assessment of your own generation?
Rob and I are both the same age, 60. We’re both into politics. We’re very liberal, and I think at this point we have a small amount of wisdom and growth as men, and have children, and we’re trying to express that now. “Hey Kid” is sort of a passing of the torch to the younger generation.
And “I’m Too Old,” it’s just a Bill Maher rant. It’s a rant about how disenchanted we are with everything. Obviously Rob and I are big Obama fans, but it’s hard not to be disillusioned with the state of things. We thought this time of life would be different. I think Rob and I both thought, not that we’d be on Easy Street, but we didn’t think things would be this – excuse the French – f*cked up. I mean, it’s pretty disillusioning for all of us right now, and we feel pretty helpless when Congress, their approval rating is thirteen percent, and across the board, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you sort of want to walk in and fire everybody.
So we were just expressing our frustration with that, and expressing our frustration with things like the Kardashians, and reality shows like Jersey Shore, and the lack of substance in whatever drives television and society, when there are people like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou with important things to say, and yet all of that is sort of overlooked because of Kim Kardashian’s a**, you know? And you just look for the value in our life, and it seems to be missing at this point.
It says in the song, “It’s hip to be stupid, just wear the right brand.” And things like Paris Hilton and the Kardashians being promoted as being of some real value is a very bad message to send our young people. I mean, I have a daughter, and it’s a very bad message to send to my daughter that to be valid or accepted or to have value, you have to look a certain way. It’s all about appearance, and not about education and not about contributing. I think we’ve completely lost our way.
I remember an article that Steve Pond wrote in Rolling Stone entitled ‘The Faceless Bands Rule,’ which attacked a number of acts – I don’t think you were one of the main targets, but I do recall it mentioning you as one of a number of acts who did not put pictures of themselves on the covers of albums. That leads me to ask, was that by design, and did you ever feel comfortable with the imaging and marketing side of the business?
I grew up in a time with people like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Randy Newman – people who were pretty faceless. And Dylan . . . it was t-shirts and jeans and great songs, without the visual. Dylan doesn’t look like George Clooney, and I think Joni’s beautiful, but she doesn’t look like Keira Knightley or whomever you might compare her to. But it wasn’t important. The songs were brilliant, and it was about the music.
So as this whole shift happened and [videos and visual marketing] became more and more important, I never really felt comfortable with that, because I was never really interested in it. You know, if I wanted to be an actor, I would have gone into acting.
The other part of this, to be perfectly honest, is that I’m a big guy. The coaches in high school were very disappointed that I didn’t care about football. So I wasn’t ever terribly comfortable in my body, to a degree, to the point that I wanted to flash it around. So I was perfectly happy to hide behind the flamingo.
The first album cover was born out of the fact that my drummer at the time painted a lagoon scene and brought it to practice and said, “This is what I think your music sounds like.” So we hung it on the wall, and when we got the deal with Warner’s we asked if we could use it, and they said, “Sure.” So it wasn’t really an intentional thing to not put my picture on the cover. It was just the image we had. Then after the album was successful, Warner’s carried the flamingo around with us.
Now recently my record company hired a stylist, and I’ve kinda stepped up my game. I’m now wearing suits on stage, so I’ve kinda stepped up my game as far as image. Which I have to admit is kind of a pain the butt, but it’s fun. It gives you a certain amount of confidence to walk on stage and look nice, but I can’t say that I’m totally buying into the whole image factor. But I think I’m older, the music’s classy . . . that deserves me to walk out and look presentable, or dressed in a manner that reflects my age and the kind of pride I have in my music.
There are a lot of really terrible reality TV shows that center around rock music. What would a Christopher Cross reality show be like, if we followed you around through a day of your life?
It would be off the air within minutes, because it would be so boring. I’m a very private, very reclusive kind of guy. I have close friends that I get together with, but I don’t really go out much. I pretty much just read and keep to myself. I don’t pay much attention to television. My son lives in the guest house above my garage, and I try to see my kids as much as I can, so I have friends and family, and I spend most of my off time with them, because I do travel about half the year.
I don’t do anything too exciting, so I think if I was to do a reality show it would have to be based on something about the road, where I have some interesting people in the band and some interesting interactions. It would have to be based on music, because me just living my life, I don’t think that’s that typical of what’s on television.
If you had to say what you thought was the greatest misconception people have of you, what would that be?
It’s hard to answer that with any level of humility, because I think I get written off a lot as pop fluff. If you go on something like that site, I forget what it’s called, but you put in an artist that you like and it’ll make a collection for you to go with that artist. I’ve done it a few times, and I’m kinda shocked. (Laughs). They’ll remain nameless, but I think the worst misconception is that I’m kinda pop fluff.
I don’t think that’s really valid or fair. I think the music is a lot more harmonically interesting, and lyrically interesting, than people would imagine. They just kinda lump me into that category – a balladeer or whatever you want to say – and I don’t think that’s correct or fair. I think I’m a lot more serious songwriter than they give me credit for.
What are your personal favorites from the Doctor Faith album?
I really like “When You Come Home,” which you had some nice things to say about. I think that’s a really well-crafted song which I’d love to hear Michael McDonald sing, or some R&B artist cover. The working title was “Joni Marvin,” because we felt it was an amalgam of Joni Mitchell and Marvin Gaye. I think it’s a very nice song, and it’s accessible. There’s no big cryptic message to the lyrics.
The other one would probably be “Prayin’,” because I think it’s a nice album closer. It’s a song about our origins, with being raised Catholic but kind of rejecting that early on, and then searching for our own spirituality, and now finally coming to a place where it’s all just about gratitude, and embracing the world as one. You know, there’s probably some tips of the hat to the Eastern way of thinking, but it’s more about spirituality than being religious. I’m not a fan of organized religion in any stretch of the imagination. Quite the opposite. It’s really more about personal spirituality.
What is it about organized religion that puts you off, particularly?
Like it says in “I’m Too Old For This,” “Fancy churches preaching hate thy neighbor.” You know, like the Rapture . . . these things that are exclusive to certain religions, where it’s like, well, one of these days all the Christians are gonna go poof, and the rest of us are left with sh*t. (Laughter). That’s kind of absurd. Just that elitist quality of certain religions. Birth control being dictated by the Church, and when you travel in poor countries in South America, you see the carnage that has left.
Like Randy [Newman] says in one of his songs, “Excuse me, the great nations of Europe coming through.” A lot of that conquest was based on people traveling into native cultures and converting them to their way of thinking. And this whole concept of Creationism, and the world is 5,000 years old . . . if you don’t understand science, try religion.
The absurdity of it . . . Rick Perry with these prayer conventions and sh*t, it makes you insane. All across the board, I’m not a fan of organized religion. It’s kind of an evil thing. It just creates suspicion and separatism among people.
Really, it’s all about the same thing. We’re all here together, and the most important thing to take from any of this is just a moral compass, where you treat people with respect, you don’t judge . . . it’s about acceptance.
People like Michelle Bachman having these clinics where there’s reparative therapy for gay people . . . give me a f*cking break, they’re not a muffler! The concept that gay people weren’t born that way, for the most part . . . anyone that knows gay people well cannot seriously believe that. And yet a lot of these religious groups want to fix these people, and it’s none of their business, plus they’re wrong.
For anyone to negate carbon dating or global warming, it makes me nuts. I just think organized religion organizes people into groups based on ideology that can be very dangerous. Let’s face it, every religion can be misconstrued, and values painted toward where bad things happen, including all religions, not just Christianity. The Muslim religion has been misunderstood, but also the Koran has been misguided with these people who take something that’s basically okay, and twist that to where they basically justify blowing things up. The whole thing really scares me, and I don’t promote it.
You can live your life in Jesus’ path and certainly not do any better. The moral lessons in the Bible are fine things to follow. It’s just when you get extreme about it and you start to judge people, that’s when it makes no sense.
Is there anything else you want to say about Doctor Faith, your upcoming Nashville dates or anything else?
We’re just really excited about the new record, and very honored by the fact that people are listening to it and that we’ve gotten the great reaction that we have.
Nashville’s a great music town. I actually owned a house there for a short time on Music Row. I can’t say enough from my standpoint, and my group, about what an honor it will be to share the same stage with the quality of musicianship we will be. To get to play with that level of musicians in that venue is sort of the ultimate winning of the lottery for me.