American singer-songwriter Jackson Browne began writing songs in the mid-60s, at the tender age of 16. Since then, he has released 14 studio albums as well as live performance collections and many single recordings. Downhill from Everywhere is his first new album in six years.
Here, in his Letter to My Younger Self, he reflects on his introduction to politics, music and the hippie movement. He was a naive and trusting teenager but he still believes that you can’t know everything from day one and that life is designed to give you lessons along the way.
At 16, music was already my main interest. That and girls.This was the point where I became more interested in music than surfing. When I got a licence to drive, at 16, I was allowed to take my car and just disappear with my friends for days. So I was hanging around at the beach with people older than me. Everybody was full of adventures, full of experimenting. I remember the first joint I ever smoked – I wound up watching the sun go down, listening to Ray Charles for an enormously long time! It changed everything. Time was changed, the music was changed, and I was changed. I was already into playing and writing songs, so that just intensified everything.
When I look back, I like my younger self – he had a lot to learn, but was on the right tracks. Getting a driving licence gave me freedom to go where I wanted to go and in some ways I’m still that person. I’m always looking for something new and wanting to uncover the world. I look back at my writing and think I was trying to describe the world as it was – but actually I was describing the world as I wanted it to be.
When I was growing up, listening to music was a very creative act. Before videos, the imagery in the songs was up to you. I remember my sister saying, “Don’t interpret Bob Dylan to me, I’ve got my own interpretation.” Dylan singing “He who is not busy being born, is busy dying” is a very powerful statement about how to live your life. It describes the most important part of life – what you discover and what you commit yourself to. It says so much in so few words. I grew up on songs like that or The Beatles singing Strawberry Fields Forever. They meant so much, and because they were so open to interpretation, you almost became the co-author of these songs.
My political education began when I was eight. I was mentored by a former LA Times Boys’ Club counsellor who had been expelled during the McCarthy era for having liberal leftist views, especially on Cuba. He dug Fidel Castro. He took us to the library and literally put the books in our hands about the true history of the United States, the wars of subjugation and the annihilation of American Indians. And my parents acquainted me with the concept of prejudice. When we were in the civil rights movement or marching against the Vietnam War, my understanding was from the books I read as a kid – about America’s broken treaties and relentless expansion. It is built into our country’s DNA that our promises will be broken.