Q&A - Hal Cannon on Nothin' Lastin'
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.