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Patty Griffin sees sunshine now.
“No one’s getting out of here alive,” Griffin says. “But there must be something we’re doing here. I have no idea what it is. But I’d rather see beauty in things where beauty exists than constantly be doubting and questioning.”
A long stretch of rain drenched Austin, Texas – the folk chanteuse’s hometown. But now, on a Sunday afternoon, the sun’s peeking in. Not just flooding through her windows, but her music, too.
Despite down ditties spanning four studio albums, her latest, “Children Running Through” – in reference to a work by the 13th-century poet Rumi – parades Griffin’s personality through a handful of sassy and sweet songs. The humble New England native gave up dwelling on life’s hurricanes – too many to count, she says.
Genocide. War. Global warming.
“We all know it sucks. … (But) there’s more to life than just thinking about how hard it is and how impossible it is.”
Griffin’s mother was the most beautiful lady in the world. For the songstress, as a little girl sporting her spring shoes, she thought so. As she challenged herself to pen a blissful tune three years ago while touring for “Impossible Dream,” she recalled catching the bus with her mom as she applied her red lipstick. The cheery childhood snapshot became “Burgundy Shoes,” a soaring piano ballad.
“I just think that’s a really sweet moment,” Griffin says, as her pooch Bean barks.
Her black sidekick, a gargoyle-looking mutt, became the muse for the sweeping song “Heavenly Day,” a reminder to cherish the happy happenings. Griffin also mined deep wells for inspiration. Like an airport bathroom stall.
“(I was) relieving myself in between flights and hearing, ‘Today is an orange alert. Please report any suspicious activity to – ,’ and I just thought, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ It’s really completely bogus (and) meant to inspire fear.”
She was pissed.
To alleviate her stress, she funneled her fuming feelings into rattled rock tune “No Bad News,” which blames peace problems on a “sad boy.” Some may see the bashing as a Dixie Chicks-inspired moment. But Griffin won’t name names.
“Oh, that could be anybody,” she laughs.
Before recording in a makeshift studio set up across the street from her digs, Griffin took the virgin ditties on the road and tested them in front of fans. “(There’s) nothing better than writing something and going straight to the gig and playing it,” she vows.
When she threaded the album together in the rented crib – adorned with old bed spreads and a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. (“He was our guide”) – some fan faves, like “Free” and “Up or Down,” were axed. But the carefully crafted patchwork of “Children Running Through” still boasts blues, rock and folk.
Gospel-flavored “Up To The Mountain (MLK Song)” shows off her powerful pipes, which leap hurdles in comparison to her cleverly written but more subtly sung “Impossible Dream.” Forget Griffin’s tiny frame. On “Children Running Through” Griffin wails with the best of them. This time, her voice carried the weight, she says. Not the words.
“I’m trying to write things that feel great to sing rather than great to say,” she admits.
But much of what Griffin has said, from surrendering in “Let Him Fly” to love-looking in the midst of despair on “Love Throw Us A Line,” has propelled her to the forefront of folk. And then some.
Kelly Clarkson’s admitted to sinking into Griffin’s shoes on her upcoming third album. The Dixie Chicks have covered a handful of her tunes, including “Fly,” while country crooners Martina McBride and Reba McEntire have used her material, too. Oddly enough, the latest megastar to jump on the bandwagon: Jessica Simpson.
Griffin hasn’t heard Simpson’s studio cover of “Fly,” an ode to the pop star’s split with Nick Lachey, but caught her performance on “The View.” “I think it provides the performer some kind of relief that is similar to what it provided me,” she says, referring to her past divorce. “I have no problem with that at all.”
A gay young man from the Northwest also found solace in Griffin’s words. The 1998 tearful tune “Tony,” a true recollection of a studious gay classmate who killed himself, offered comfort to the fan as he came out.
Before meeting him, Griffin hadn’t considered the song’s anti-suicide significance for gay folks, who she calls some of the most enlightened people she’s known. Griffin simply wanted to convey her self-centered and introverted high school attitude.
“I thought I was the most miserable person,” she says. “But there’s always somebody nearby with a secret pain.”
Griffin heard about her former classmate’s suicide when she was 21. As she remembers, he blossomed from a plump boy into a lean young man. Finally, he got noticed.
She admits, “I was really surprised (he killed himself).”
Staying on the ride
Tony gave up. But Griffin won’t.
She’ll continue searching for answers – or, as one “Children” track suggests, “Stay on the Ride.” She’ll meander through life’s sometimes-dark alleys, chasing reasons to keep moving forward in an often backward-tumbling world.
Her motive: love.
“I think that’s where the answers lie,” she declares.
Though Griffin’s sorrowful songs often place a serious shroud over her, she insists she has a sense of humor.
She unleashes a squeaky giggle. “It’s just kind of really kicked in lately.”