I listened to the first season of James O’Brien’s podcast ALL YOUR DAYS with interest and a twinge of what some might refer to as jealousy. I don’t buy into jealousy, in the sense that I want what others have, but I do have a desire to be included where I believe I have something to contribute, so I reached out to James and he told me he’d love to do one of his deep dive explorations with me. He may even have said he was planning on reaching out already. That was the impression I got.
James is a talented and ambitious songwriter whose last album had the same title as his podcast. I get the sense he intended the podcast to promote his recording but along the way other impulses seem to have taken over.
Our conversation, recorded in June and released last Tuesday as his 24th episode, got into a lot of terrain I’ve never really delved into publicly before, like my early days in the LA coffeehouse scene with fellow songwriters Randy Kaplan, Danny Peck, Deb Pasternak, Steve Isaacs, Bill WhiteAcre, Liz Byrnes, Tracy Thielen, Dan Bern & Beck among many others, and how this related to my then flourishing film and TV career as an actor. We also got into the evolution of Radio8Ball, my work with Andy Shmushkin, and the days when I was organizing national tours for myself and others through a process I deemed “gigswapping”.
Having experienced, and enjoyed, James’s process I now realize that he is doing something far more subversively valuable than many of his guests may realize. First of all, what becomes obvious is that, throughout the years, James has been paying attention. This, in itself, is a revolutionary act. A lot of the people James is talking to are artists he has worked or performed with, many of whom have had a difficult decade or more following our youthful inspiration, and in some cases, success. I can’t speak for his other guests but when I had my downturn, I didn’t think anyone noticed. Realizing that James was not only tracking me, but doing so appreciatively, and that he was also tracking many of the folks I considered peers during those years, is a welcome revelation that a sense of community I thought was lost still remains.
I don’t find it easy to listen to all of James’s episodes. Some of them are with people who I have hurt feelings about. People with whom I have had profound and public disagreements and friends with whom I have had even more profound and private breakdowns. His great 2-part episode with Dan Bern begins with an NPR clip of Linda Werthheimer introducing his band, half of whom used to be The Previous, the year after our core broke up. That wasn’t easy listening. Nor should it be. James isn’t doing an entertainment show, even though you may find it entertaining. He is doing the work of a psychic surgeon, stitching back together that which was broken by social media, the fragmentation of the music business, and other capitalist forces that care not a whit for songs or the people who write and sing them. I suspect he knows this, but he hasn’t yet let onto me that All Your Days is attempting a massive healing for a community of which I have felt a part and apart, and I bet most of his guests have felt the same way. By revealing us to ourselves and each other as the brilliant, broken, human artists who James has managed to stay connected to and appreciative of he is making the case that we are still a community, and that there is hope of a reconciliation beyond our isolated grumblings and cancellations.
Am I saying that All Your Days is “so good it hurts”? Well, that’s the case for me. I don’t know how it will be for you, but I’ll tell you this. If I want to get someone up to speed on my life as an artist and what brought me to this moment in my fifth decade (including all those who, for good or ill, shaped my artistic life) I’ll be sharing my episode of All Your Days with them. Maybe if you didn’t live it, the listening will be a bit easier.
Thank you James, and I hope someday very soon somebody does for you what you are doing for so many. In fact, I hope I get to be the one to do it, maybe at some future high profile Radio8Ball show.