Steve Martin and Edie Brickell Collaborate about music-making
Minneapolis — Steve Martin and Edie Brickell were merely dinner-party acquaintances before they decided to write a song together. By email. After all, Martin, 67, the comedian turned Grammy-winning banjo player, lives in Los Angeles, and Brickell, 47, the introspective singer-songwriter, lives in New York.
But they had some things in common. Well, they were both born in Texas. OK, that’s about it for the obvious things.
“We have incredibly similar sensitivity to our creative sense,” said Martin. “We generally 100 percent agree and understand what the other person is talking about and doing.”
C’mon, Steve, that sounds so serious. Aren’t you a comedian?
Whatever they have in common, Martin and Brickell have delivered a remarkable album, Love Has Come for You. A sweet, graceful collection of banjo-spiked folk tunes, it spins intimate tales about a woman who has a child with a married man from the bank, a baby thrown from a train (the child survives) and an elderly person asking a painter for an airbrushed portrait.
Their concerts are structured as a Martin-hosted variety show, backed by his usual touring band, the first-rate bluegrass ensemble Steep Canyon Rangers, with Brickell as special guest.
In other words, she won’t be onstage the entire evening, so if Martin wants to dust off his 1978 novelty hit King Tut, he can. He will tell jokes between songs. And Brickell can sing her best-known tune, 1989’s hippie anthem What I Am.
One of the stand-out numbers on the Martin/Brickell album is Siamese Cat, about a woman who leaves her boyfriend because she can’t stand his teenage daughter. What inspired Brickell’s lyrics?
“When I heard Steve’s music and heard that playfulness, it made me picture a kid. But I didn’t want to write about a nice kid; I thought it would be funny to write about a naughty kid,” she said. “I knew a lot of women who remarried. Teenagers can make lives really hard, especially if you’re not related and they hate your guts.”
Steve and Edie’s bicoastal collaboration has led to some surprises.
Martin was surprised by Brickell’s agility in crafting lyrics for characters. “There’s a creative depth there that amazes me,” he said.
Brickell was surprised by Martin’s heart. “Everyone knows how smart he is and how funny he is. But sometimes that kind of intelligence is associated with a callous or jealous person,” she said. “It’s been amazing to see he has equal heart to his intelligence.”
Their collaboration has caused both artists to change their perception of themselves.
“I developed confidence in my own style of banjo playing instead of living up to the bar of other people’s style,” Martin said.
Brickell was thrilled that Martin’s tunes “helped me realize how much my roots and my family in Texas meant to me and how I always wanted to express that side of me.”
They do sound serious, don’t they? Serious enough to extend and expand their collaboration into writing a musical. In fact, they were calling at the same time on separate phones recently from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where they were doing a workshop version of the musical, Bright Star.
“It takes place in Asheville, N.C., in 1945 and it jumps between 1922 and 1945 to tell the story of a woman and a certain mystery about her life,” Martin said. “We don’t quite know how to discuss it yet. It won’t be presented for at least a year. There are one or two songs from our musical in our show — except you won’t know what they are.”
This is getting too serious. How ‘bout talking about Twitter, where Martin has one of the most consistently funny accounts of any comedian (SteveMartinToGo). How many potential posts end up being rejected?
“I used to tweet every day. Now I tweet less. I’m careful about what I tweet. I kind of edit in my brain before I put it down there. I do take a hard look at it before I tweet to make sure the grammar and spelling are right — and that it’s written right. But Twitter is meant to be off the cuff. It’s not meant to be a novel.”
Oops, almost a joke. Maybe it’s time for a goofy question.
If Simon and Garfunkel would go on tour again, would Steve and Edie like to open for them?
“I’ve already toured with them,” said Brickell, who has been married to Paul Simon since 1992 (they have three kids together).
Said Martin: “We’ll tour with them as long as they open.”