Joys of Bust-'em-up Rock

John Hiatt's "Midlife Crisis" Album Earns Raves

by Renee Hopkins
The Dallas Morning News
Thursday, March 3, 1994
page 5C

Perfectly Good Guitar is the title of John Hiatt's latest album, and ``perfectly good rock'n'roll'' describes his sense of what's up in the music world these days.

``For my ear, the big news in music the last year or so is the rebirth of the American rock band as a real deal -- not a pop thing, not a hair thing, but real men and women singing and writing real songs about real feeling, trying to get 'em out,'' Mr Hiatt says by phone from a Chicago stop.

Perfectly Good Guitar is Mr. Hiatt's hardest-rocking release since 1987's Bring The Family. Though it's no less thoughtful than Mr. Hiatt's other works, the depth of emotion that he brings to his songs is tempered on the new album by the exuberant edge brought by the young rockers he recruited to play with him. The result has been rave reviews for an album that even the 41-year-old Mr. Hiatt is calling his ``midlife crisis record.''

``I so regret having said that,'' he admits playfully, qualifying his statement to say, ``It's more like midlife bustin' out and goin' berserk.'' An example: The Wreck of the Barbie Ferrari, a ``twisted and sick'' story about a desperately unhappy man who wastes Barbie, Ken, Skipper and Midge before turning the gun on himself.

After his 15-year-old stepson turned him on to Faith No More, Mr. Hiatt recruited the band's producer, Matt Wallace, to work on Perfectly Good Guitar. Not only has Mr. Hiatt paid attention to what his son listens to, he also follows MTV. ``It's about the only thing I can bear to watch on TV,'' he says.

Mr. Hiatt's recovery from alcoholism some years ago also got him started exercising for the first time in his life. His exercise choice -- a NordicTrack cross-country ski machine -- put him in front of the TV, with MTV blasting, hands and feet busy but ears open and mind clear (his choices for best Nordic-tracking rock music: Iggy Pop's Instinct, Sugar's Copper Blue and ``anything by the Clash'').

So what does he think of the new young bands he sees on MTV?

``Nirvana has landed on its feet, God bless 'em ... Flaming Lips is one of my new favorites, and I really like Cracker. Two of their ex-members are playing with me.''

Mr. Hiatt's backup band, the Guilty Dogs, includes ex-Cracker members Davey Faragher on bass and Michael Urbano on drums, as well as guitarist Corky James and former School of Fish guitarist Michael Ward. Mr. Ward also plays with the trio Tiny Buddy, who will open Wednesday's show at Deep Ellum Live.

When not touring with young rockers, Mr. Hiatt lives with his family on the outskirts of Nashvile. His songs have been recorded by country singers such as Suzy Bogguss (Drive South), Rosanne Cash (This is the Way We Make a Broken Heart) and the Desert Rose Band (She Don't Love Nobody), but he listens to ``all kinds of stuff. I like that Junior Brown a lot; he gets it, he gets the connection. I like honky-tonkers. Billy Joe Shaver is king of honky-tonk singers and songwriters. That's stone-hard honky-tonk country...''

``They (Nashville) go for an anesthetic sound. It doesn't sound like music to me. The pop business has finally come to Nashville, which is mainly just corporations getting people who are dumb enough to do anything they say. It doesn't have a whole lot to do with music.''

It's been Mr. Hiatt's good fortune as a songwriter to have so many of his songs covered by artists from Bonnie Raitt to Ry Cooder.

``Go figure. I write mostly for my own amusement. I stumbled into a songwriting career, so apparently other people get the joke. I'm fortunate to have other people record my songs, but my main motivation is to sing the tunes myself.''

Renee Hopkins <>

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