Twice. From London.
First time I was in the shower. When I listened to the message toweling off, I thought she said "Erica". Listening again it was clear it was Ms. Swift, who sounded troubled, like there’d been a misunderstanding involving love. And maybe that’s the case. She felt I loved her, had I turned against her?
That’s what she said when we finally spoke. That she thought I got her. And it frustrated her to think that I believed she used auto-tune.
She denied it. Emphatically. As only as a nineteen year old can. I believed her. But it still didn’t address the underlying issue. Could she sing? Exactly how good a singer was she?
I told her I couldn’t talk right now. That I was rushing out to a doctor’s appointment. If she wanted, we could speak about two hours hence, when I came back. But there was the eight hour time difference, and the day was evaporating. Although she’d left me her cell phone number, unfortunately one digit eaten by the machine, I told her to e-mail me with her address, and as soon as I got home I’d let her know, we could talk.
But then doing the math, worried we’d be unable to connect, having to get up early to do interviews, Taylor got into it. How she didn’t even know how to use auto-tune, had never used it. Then again, she admitted to fixing some mistakes in the studio.
Then I asked her, what about those high-priced concert tickets online? What was going on there? I’d printed an e-mail saying in Philadelphia that tickets were going for far in excess of a hundred bucks and then, within minutes of my publishing said letter, the whole tour page disappeared online, replaced with dates that had already played as opposed to those coming up.
She told me she had no idea. She’d have to check into it. And I ran out of my house and got behind the wheel.
This was not the first contact I’d received from her camp. I’d gotten a long e-mail from her father. Not histrionic, not criticizing me, but also emphatically denying she’d been auto-tuned live. That was off the record, but now since his daughter has weighed in…
And maybe that was true. Because she was so horrible in the opening of the CMAs. Oh, that’s a strong word to use. It’s just that she was so far from perfect, anywhere but on the note, on pitch. She was definitely naked there.
As she was during the first song on SNL. Not the opening segment, wherein Taylor said, like many writers to me opined, that she was trying to imitate Phoebe from "Friends", but the full band number. She wasn’t quite as bad as she was on the CMAs, but she was not up to the level of a professional. The second song was better, but the backup vocals were covering up quite a bit.
So, like I said. Even if she didn’t use auto-tune, there was still the underlying issue, could she sing? She admitted fixing things on record…
Then, after my appointment, I got an e-mail from the guy who leases the audio equipment for her tour, one Everett Lybolt, GM of Sound Image. This was pushing me over the edge. They protesteth too much! Furthermore, Mr. Lybolt went on to criticize other performers on the CMAs for not being live.
Who the fuck knows.
Taylor said I could come to the gig, check all her equipment out.
Like I’m really going to do that. Like it would prove anything. And I never wanted to be a member of the CIA.
And then I get home to a hanging tag from FedEx. My new laptop has finally arrived from China. I missed the delivery by fifteen minutes. I call the delivery service, asking for a resend, and while I’m being transferred between operators, another person is looking for me. But they hang up, then ring again. It’s Taylor. Who I tell to hold.
This was unexpected. I figured she’d accomplished her mission.
But she wanted to get back to me with information on the tour dates. As a reader had informed me, the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia does not use Ticketmaster, Comcast sells the tickets. And isn’t it funny now that Comcast has joined the Ticketmaster/Live Nation clusterfuck, with Irving supposedly offloading assets to the Roberts-controlled venture so the merger can go through.
Taylor told me her site had been hacked. That the link should have been to comcasttix.com. But the hackers had redirected buyers to gotthetix.com. That’s why ducats for her show were priced far in excess of a hundred dollars. She implied that this had been discovered days ago, but in any event, she said it had now been fixed. Anyway, if you go back to her tour page now, the spring dates have reappeared. With Philadelphia and most other markets being shown as being sold out.
Who the fuck knows.
But there’s your story.
But what about our earlier conversation. About Taylor’s singing?
I told her she was quite good in the skits on SNL. And she was. Best non-actor guest host in recent times. But I told her, like that CMA opening, the first song…her voice was not good.
Taylor laughed. Said she could handle being criticized for having a bad voice, for missing notes. But she couldn’t live with being criticized for being inauthentic.
Those songs are written in real time. About real people. Her cowriters edit more than contribute. Her next album she’s not planning to write with anyone. Not now, anyway.
And speaking of collaboration, she said she’s got no manager. That she and her team have weekly meetings, where they go over career details. If she’s on the road, she’s conferenced in. The decisions are hers.
Like playing Gillette Stadium?
Absolutely. It’s something she always wanted to do. She figures she’ll do two or three stadium gigs next summer, that’s all. She’s salivating over building the show, deciding who will appear with her.
As for SNL, the call came through William Morris. They phoned and told her to hold for Lorne Michaels. Her heart was palpitating, she didn’t figure it was about hosting SNL, and when she got the word, she was flying.
Then we discussed her career. And music.
I felt I was getting some stock answers. As I listened, I put myself in her shoes, wondered what it must feel like to get asked the same damn thing again and again. But I wanted to know. Did she see herself as a singer, an actress or..?
Definitely a singer. With a body of work that delineated the various periods of her life. Her first album was about being 13-16. Her second…
So I asked her what her favorite album was. Not because I was making a list, but because I wanted to know where she was coming from.
She thought for a moment, then said Shania Twain’s "Come On Over".
I said Mutt Lange was the best living record producer, a true master. But had she ever listened to Joni Mitchell?
There was some hesitation. Then Taylor said no.
I told her to buy "Blue" tonight. Quoted her some lines from "A Case Of You".
And quoting that classic number, I went on to recite lines from Jackson Browne’s "The Late Show". Told her I didn’t want to overload her, but she should buy "Late For The Sky" too.
Taylor told me she’d seen Jackson live acoustic.
I guess I wanted to know if Taylor Swift wanted to be a star or an artist. That’s why I wanted to know her favorite album, I wanted to know her hopes and dreams. Did she need to be in the spotlight, or was it about the work, testing limits?
She’s the one who’s got to figure it out.
Right now, she’s the biggest star in America. Trumping U2, Springsteen, even Kenny Chesney and the Stones. And it’s all based on these songs. Straight from the heart. That’s why the little girls relate.
One day those girls will be women. A cusp where Taylor Swift is presently residing. Will she make the wrong choices?
I told her you can’t say yes to everything. You can make some mistakes, but too many wrong steps can crimp your career.
Then again, I’m fifty six and she’s nineteen. Growing up is about taking chances, making mistakes. But I didn’t want her to listen to oldsters, telling her what to do, telling her it didn’t make any difference as they skimmed from her pond.
We talked about Louis Messina and American Express. This was not some backwoods bimbo, an uneducated nitwit who was clueless when it came to business, but she knew only so much of the inner workings. But that which she did speak about she had a command of. When I broke new ground, she could follow. Taylor Swift is smart.
So where does that leave us?
Did Taylor Swift work me?
I’ve been worked before. I recognize it when I see it. Tommy Lee insisting I print his e-mail before he responds again. He was looking for publicity. Taylor seemed to need set the record straight. For herself.
Then again, there’s an entire career in the balance.
But songs trump singing all day long. Anybody can sing, especially in this auto-tune era. But being able to write a great song, one that grabs fans lyrically and melodically, that’s truly tough. And Taylor Swift has accomplished that.
So, I’m a huge fan of the albums.
And I’m convinced she’s vocally challenged. But the way Taylor handled that in our conversation, by not skipping a beat, by admitting she’s less than perfect, that she can handle the criticism, won me over.