'Like Opening A Book In The Middle': Jackson Browne Returns To An Old Song
Singer and songwriter Jackson Browne remembers the circumstances well: Just 18 years old, with $50 to his name and new to New York City, he "lucked into" a job playing for the singer Nico. Suddenly he was an observer to the world of The Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol and their coterie.
On his new album, Standing In The Breach, Browne revisits a song he wrote during this time: "The Birds Of St. Marks," a portrait of Nico that he composed as he was leaving New York.
That request was in his mind when he returned to "The Birds Of St. Marks."
"I guess I thought the song wasn't really finished," Browne says. "But when I dusted it off, it seemed fine. It seemed — matter of fact, there was something about it being something from a long time ago that gave it a quality that I liked. It was, you know, like a picture from [an] earlier time of my life. But I'd never done it the way I intended it to be when I wrote it, so I realized I could do it like The Byrds."
Browne changed the arrangement to evoke The Byrds' sound, featuring a 12-string guitar and adding high harmony. But he says that, though he might write them differently now, he left the words preserved.
"C'mon. 'Dying midnight roses'? That's so extreme," Browne says. "But that's what I began to like about it. It's just like — it's a young song. It really is from my 18-year-old eyes, looking wide-eyed at this Andy Warhol scene in New York."
In spite of the intervening years, Browne says it's not difficult to summon up that teenage version of himself.
"There's something about playing a song 20, 40 years after you wrote it that is kind of exhilarating," Browne says. "Because it's really like just opening a book in the middle, looking back at a time that was captured then, and actually may mean something different each time you revisit it."
Hear the rest of Jackson Browne's conversation with NPR's Melissa Block at the audio link.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.