I won’t tell you what Jason Mraz told me during our interview in early 2012. Realizing after the fact that a political remark could potentially shake up his love club, he graciously asked me to omit that bit from the story. I did.
Over two years later, I’m reminded once again of Mraz’s mindfulness. Evident both in the meditative nature of his sun-kissed ditties and his conversational style – ruminations preceded by long stretches of thought-processing silence – it’s a quality that continues to endear the self-proclaimed “geek in pink” to hopeless romantics around the world.
The do-gooder’s foundation for solidarity was set during the dawning of his big break just over a decade ago, when – with his 2002 major-label debut, “Waiting for My Rocket to Come” – he had the “Remedy” for you, but also for his soaring career. Now, and certainly with his latest release, “Yes!,” it’s not just the mission of the singer-songwriter’s music, which has long been part of a grander plan to bring the world into community. For Mraz, it’s a manifesto.
“Labels separate us,” the 37-year-old said outright on his blog after our last chat – a chat that inspired him to profess his post-interview thoughts in a 1,200-word essay on one point in particular: the boxes we put one another in. “In our short lives, we strive to find meaning here,” he wrote on March 23, 2012, “and we long to be loved and accepted while we’re at it. Therefore, anyone calling us anything other than brother, bro, friend or amigo, is literally cutting us down … .”
Fast-forward to a recent call: Mraz is in Japan, where it’s currently 4 a.m., and we’re picking up where we left off. Dead air lingers as I ask him exactly how labels neutralize our efforts to achieve what he’s long stood for: unification.
(Mraz divulged via his blog that answering “why” questions are a challenge for him; “how” inquiries turn out to be just as demanding).
He mulls it over and eventually recalls an NPR segment he heard that morning. The talk concerned digital etiquette and whether it’s ever appropriate to text at the dinner table, and it perfectly dovetails his take on labels. “There’s a time and place for it,” Mraz ultimately concludes, mirroring manners and labels. “So, I think it depends on how you use it (the label). By breaking down labels and barriers, it allows us to really see that we really are in this human struggle together every day – this struggle for survival.”
Mraz knows the struggle. He’s lived it. In high school, he was the victim of harsh ridicule. Jocks called him “fag” for being a cheerleader, and his fondness for musical theater only intensified those perpetual taunts. But, Mraz says, bullying – which he tells me is “a social pain in the ass” – exists because labels do.
“The more that we can break down labels and understand that all of us are gonna be insecure from time to time, I think that’s a plus for us all. Name-calling and all this – that’s labeling. It just comes down to manners. Manners are the best thing we can do – say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ before and after just about everything.
“Saying ‘I did it. I am victorious. I am the winner in this struggle, and I’m really proud of that and proud of who I am’ – there’s nothing wrong in being victors, but at the same time, do so in a way that doesn’t separate yourself from others. In fact, do it in a way that invites others to share in that glory.”
Mraz certainly has. From the get-go, he’s invited everyone into his winner’s circle. You could say, actually, that his whole career has been one big group hug. The “Lucky” musician’s prizewinning path, from ridiculed outcast to Grammy-winning pop star, is a victory in and of itself, but it’s a victory he shares with fans; with Raining Jane, the girl group who paints “Yes!” with their distinct harmonies and writing skills (he’s currently touring with them because, he says, they’re so integral to his latest music); and, especially, with the gay community.
Donating resources to LGBT organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund, Mraz continually fights on the front lines of equality. Having gone as far as vowing not to marry until everyone has that right, he’s been such a champion of gay issues that his own sexuality has been a constant subject of speculation. Mraz chalks it up to the times.
“We’re in a period of transition where the nation is coming out. Whether you as an individual are coming out literally and announcing what your sexuality is, or we as a nation are just finally embracing it.”
“Certainly in my younger years it wasn’t like this. I have a feeling in the next 10 years it’s gonna be even more revolutionary. So, during any period of transition we’re free to talk, we’re free to have those curiosities, and we want everyone to just come out. The more that we all just come out about it, the less interesting it’s gonna be and then the transition will be complete.”
Though he’s been pegged as “bisexual,” the freewheeling hipster has never made any definitive “coming out” statement regarding his own sexuality (remember, he doesn’t do labels), but he’s always indulged the public’s curiosity with respectable integrity and, to keep you guessing, an air of mystery.
Regarding the interest to know how he swings, Mraz laughs, saying, “I’m flattered when anyone is curious about my sexuality, because that makes me think that they assume I’m gettin’ some no matter what.”
In our 2012 interview, Mraz expressed his desire to live more fearlessly when it comes to his sexual endeavors, noting, “I’m keeping more of my options open.” He stopped short of explaining how, but he did go on to confess that, “I’ve been invited by couples to join them and I’m really turned on by that. I’ve never taken them up on it, though.”
He admits now, during this follow-up, that sexuality is “a very delicate thing to have a conversation about – and with anyone!” But he understands why it’s a conversation he continues to have. In fact, Mraz has the same curiosities about people. His own buddies, even. In particular, he mentions a lady friend who may or may not be a virgin. “I don’t know what her sexual interests are,” Mraz says, “and I actually feel kind of creepy that I’m curious! But she doesn’t kiss and tell, and I really admire that. I kind of wish I could be that way.”
Regarding who geeks his pink, it all goes back to manners – to time and place. “It depends on what the use is for,” he says about people wanting to know how he sexually identifies. “If it’s my mom and she wants to know, if it’s a friend of mine, I get it, but – no offense – if it’s just a magazine who wants to talk about me, then I don’t know what the true integrity is of that question.”
So then, of course, I ask if, in the two years since we last chatted, he’s been able to live more “fearlessly.” You know, can Jason Mraz check off that “threesome” box on his to-do list? He cracks a reluctant laugh.
“I wanna be politically correct and be honest with my answer at the same time …
“I’ll just say, in the years after we last spoke I had a great time exploring this and that and checking a lot of things off my curiosity list. As a result, I found myself in a really solid relationship with someone who loves me because I have been strong enough to pursue my career dreams, and to explore my curiosities, and to have many muses and to be who I am. So yeah, to answer your question, and without giving you any details, I had a lot of fun.” (Mraz, a farmer, is more forthcoming about the “fun” he’s had with avocados: “On more than one occasion I probably put them down my pants or up my shirt and pretended to have much larger erogenous zones.”)
Once a relatively open book to the media (in a 2008 Out interview, he recalled “random, quick gay club experiences” that were sexual, and his story about getting peed on by a guy is pretty great), he admits that, as a public figure, giving too much of yourself away is a “fine line.” He isn’t just minding his manners – Mraz is being mindful.
“I learn every year, because I open my mouth in some ways thinking I’m helping and I end up hurting someone’s feelings. I have to atone for my mistakes and learn from them and try to be a little more accurate and clearer with my intentions,” he reveals, before mentioning a career endeavor that we can, and should, thank him for: “I’ve spoken up for the things that are important to me, and I just hope that other people speak up for what’s important to them.”
In support of his latest album ‘Yes!,’ which is available now, Jason Mraz will perform in Detroit on Nov. 6 at the Fox Theatre.