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  1. Wealth
September 10, 2021

Rickie Lee Jones – The Spear’s Midas interview

By Anna Solomon

Singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones has amassed a wealth of stories – not to mention fossils and bones – during a colourful life

How much is an ounce of gold worth?

Probably more than most of us can afford.

Do you think money buys happiness?

No, but it buys comfort. It can buy safety. But none of those things necessarily make you happy unless you’re inclined to be happy. And if you’re happy, you’ll be happy sitting out here in this dump looking at the birds.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

My father said when I’m singing a sad song, my job is to go with the audience to the point of tears, and then withdraw so they can cry. If I continue and I cry, then they’ll withdraw, they won’t be able to cry.

Do you collect anything?

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Yes, I collect little things from nature – a petrified piece of wood, or a fossil, or a butterfly wing, bones… This guy gave me an old shelf where they used to store letters, which in itself is fantastic. I have an old pair of glass frames, a honeycomb, some bottles I found in the dirt in New Orleans. It drives my boyfriend crazy because he’s very neat. He comes over and does the dishes. That’s very kind of him but it’s embarrassing, so it’s made me start doing the dishes!

What is your favourite genre of music?

I don’t like to think of music divided into genres. Those are marketing ideas. I have a banjo, but I also sing My Funny Valentine [Frank Sinatra]. So, I gotta say, I just shun the genre thing.

What is the best thing you’ve ever bought for yourself?

Well, whatever it was, I lost it! I bought myself a Miró but I didn’t have the money for the painting, so it’s a one-of-a-kind print. It’s wonderful, but not quite as wonderful as a painting.

What is the best thing you’ve ever bought for someone else?

I bought my mother and me a cruise ticket. We cruised up the ocean to Alaska and back. That was just before I got married, so it was kind of the last thing we did.

Are you a saver or a spender?

A spender, although I’ve been forced to be a saver since the financial crisis of 2008. Things were very difficult for me. When I was younger, I always made enough money so that I didn’t have to go on tour all the time, but that changed. Ever since then, I’ve had to work. And that has been such a relief for me because I just didn’t do well with that kind of affluence. If I have to work, I’ll do good things. If I don’t have to do it, it’s not going to be the greatest work I can do.

What has been your career’s most memorable moment?

When I went to my first Grammy ceremony, at the party afterwards Bob Dylan came up to me and said: ‘Don’t ever stop, you’re a real poet.’ And I was thinking: ‘Try to remember this moment. How can I glue myself into this moment?’ Luckily, there’s a photograph of it. When I see the photograph, I can almost feel it. I also met Van Morrison, that was a very funny story. You should read it in the book, because it’s so fantastic. You wouldn’t believe it happened. There’s a leprechaun in it.

What is your book about?

It’s about my evolution and growth out of a family unit to become a girl on her own. And then, finally, a woman on her own. I wanted to reflect their stories as well – women’s stories. This was what it was like to be a teenager in the Sixties, this was what it was like to be on your own in Venice, this is what it’s like to ride across Route 66 non-stop.

There are iconic places in my life that are touchstones for my whole generation. But there are also things that uniquely happened to me that are extraordinary. One journalist said: ‘This is a story of a woman who owns her life.’ Her words meant a lot to me. When I die, I want the future to know, this was my life.

Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of a Troubadour is published by Grove Press UK

Illustration: Russ Tudor

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