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Tommy Womack

A Conversation with Tommy Womack

Puremusic: It's really great to talk with you today. It's a special time to be doing this.

Tommy Womack: Yes, it is.

PM: This new CD, There, I Said It, I've listened to it a bunch of times, it's a fantastic collection of enlightened and enlightening rock 'n' roll songs.

TW: Oh, thank you.

PM: I'd never heard anything quite like it. It's a classic example of how sometimes something you wanted so bad for so long just won't come together until you let it go, and then it starts coming toward you.

TW: Yeah, yeah. And that's exactly what happened. I totally quit. And about a year after I quit I started having gigs come at me right and left, by e-mail, by phone--no agent, me not lifting a finger, and suddenly I was working seven days a week--five days a week at Vanderbilt and every weekend, and often during the week. And now I am part-time at Vanderbilt, and about to go down to even part-part-time. And other than that, being on the road and doing what I do.

PM: Beautiful. It might even be related to getting your antennae lined up correctly so you don't repel the very thing you're looking to attract, as happens with the opposite sex sometimes.

TW: Yeah, yeah. Right. When you were going to high school dances looking to get laid you never got laid.

PM: Exactly.

TW: [laughs]

PM: Or when you know you're looking to be a rock star, and you know it should have happened, and it didn't exactly. I mean, certainly you got way further than most people do. And then when you finally lay it down, then it starts coming at you like a whole new animal.

TW: Yeah, yeah.

PM: Admitting failure I think is very difficult. I found it difficult, but it seems especially so for the many musicians I've known. I wonder why that is, that they or we seem to be more delusional than your average bear, more immature, and more prone to excess.

TW: Well, there is a rule in town that I violated. It has come out in my favor now, now with the Nashville Scene article and the record being successful, while being confessional. But before all that, I had a nervous breakdown in March of '03, and chronicled it on my website, thinking that's what John and Yoko would do.

PM: Right.

TW: And I violated an unwritten law that says, "Don't let them see you sweat."

PM: Right.

TW: And I really violated the heck out of that. I felt that vibe from a lot of people in town, that I did what you just don't do. I mean, everybody in town, if you ask them, "How's everything going?" It's always, "Oh, fantastic."

PM: Right. It's sickening.

TW: "What are you doing lately?" "Doing demos." Which means, "I'm waiting tables."


TW: And I violated all that, just came out clean. And now suddenly I'm the patron saint of all neurotic and scared people, struggling middle-aged musicians, so it worked out for me--thank God--because once you come out of the closet with all your fears and anxieties, there's no getting back in the closet, you're out forever.

PM: It's amazing how admission of failure turns out to be an open rather than a closed door.

TW: Yeah, it did. It opened everything up for me.

PM: And opened onto a crowd of fans that's resonating with the truth of what you're singing about.

TW: Uh-huh. And it's amazing how many people out there are scared. Somebody famous said, "Most men live lives of quiet desperation." And I guess that's true, because people are just coming up to me right and left reacting to these new songs saying, "You're talking about my life."

PM: And you know how all the greatest Motown songs were always a very simple idea emotionally stated, and that's exactly what "Never Going To Be a Rock Star" is; something really emotional, simply stated.

TW: I'll agree with you there. And it took forever to get it out of my mouth.

PM: Right. To actually say that.

TW: I've started three website rants with the very chorus of that song, "I'm never going to be a rock star"--new paragraph--"there, I said it." And I erased every one of them. I could never put that on my website. I couldn't admit what was totally obvious to the rest of the world. I mean, if you look at me, I look like your dad--a friend of your dad's. Because I am, I'm somebody's dad.

PM: Right.

TW: I'm 44 years old. But coming out and admitting it on that record, then it turns out to be the headline article on the Scene, and lo and behold maybe I'm not going to turn into a rock star, I don't know if there are even really rock stars anymore--are there?

PM: No, not like we had rock stars; no, I don't think so.

TW: No. So I don't think I'm going to turn into one. But by admitting that, boy was it freeing for a lot of people.

PM: I mean, it's basically--it's akin to coming out of the closet.

TW: Uh-huh.

PM: It's like a major figure in society saying, "Okay, so I'm gay, sue me."

TW: Uh-huh.

PM: "Okay, I'm never going to be a rock star, so shoot me." [Certainly brings to mind Beck's breakout refrain: "I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me..."]

TW: And people are taking it--I didn't realize this, but somebody told me the other day--but they're taking it as analogous. "I'm never going to be a rock star" could mean, "I'm never going to be a successful executive," "I'm never going to make it to the top office at my job," "I'm never going to make tenure as a professor." People are taking it as not just a rock star, per se, but as a success beyond their wildest dreams in whatever their pursuit is. So people are finding it liberating hearing it that way, too.

PM: That's amazing, Tommy, to be affecting people like that. That's got to be a surprise even to the author of the song who found it very hard to finally spit it out.

TW: Uh-huh, it is a surprise. And boy is it rewarding.

PM: Yeah, it's unbelievable.

Body & Fender


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