You’ve played the Minnesota Zoo every year. What is it about the venue that keeps you coming back?
It’s one of my favorite places to play. It’s not just the venue.; it’s Minneapolis. Most of the shows I’ve played there are among my favorite. The warm embrace all of my music gets. When I was starting out, Cities 97 played everything from the first couple of records. People in Minneapolis really became familiar with my music as a whole. When the zoo thing started, It took a little while to warm up to it. Once you embrace it and accept it for what it is, I don’t have a place I like playing more. It’s the opposite of most places: Normally in the theater, the audience is below you; it starts when it’s still light out and then it changes to sunset. There’s bugs on the keyboard and bats flying overhead. And some of the warmest audiences I’ve played for. Getting that kind of love from a crowd? I’m not going turn it down.
Does it feel like 25 years since you’ve started out on your own?
In some ways it feels like yesterday and other days it feels like 50 years.
Why celebrate the self-titled album in this way?
As the kids have gotten older and bullet wounds healed, I’ve gotten more grateful for the gifts I have. I’ve never felt more gratitude. That coupled with the fact my voice hasn’t lost anything, and I love the musicians I record with. Nobody else is going to throw me a party; I may as well.
What’s the plan for the show?
We’ll play the “Marc Cohn” album in sequence. There will be pictures of the people that populate the songs. I wasn’t sure it was going to work. I had gotten some advice from Roseanne Cash. She plays her most recent album from start to finish in the first half of the show. It was mesmerizing and moving. She said: ‘Don’t be afraid to be dramatic. You’re trying to do something closer to theater.’ Because I have a visual component, it’s all the more true. With that in mind, I felt better about the possibility of what it can be. It also told me that I sequenced the first album really well. And I have stories that I tell about every song, as per Roseanne’s advice.
Does everything get compared to “Walking In Memphis?”
I don’t think it does. I think the record company used to. I don’t think the audience does that. The difficulty for me, and one of the motivating factors, is that it was so huge that it takes up all the oxygen in the repertoire. People are so focused that they don’t know anything else I’ve done. I tour not just to make a living, but to present my catalog. I’m trying to keep putting the focus on my body of work. Most has stood the test of time but it didn’t get played on the radio.
The people that come to the shows know my albums, and they’re bringing people that don’t. There’s nothing better that I can hear that a die-hard fan has brought friends who haven’t been. And they’re coming back. The vast majority have taken a lot of these songs into their lives. There’s a lot of tunes that the majority of the fanbase knows.
How much do you tour?
For the first time in 18 years just got back to Europe. Those audiences were incredible. I opened for Bonnie Raitt and did shows on my own. Now that my kids are getting older, I can spend time going back to places I haven’t been at in a while and keep going?
How does your Judaism play into your music?
Atlantic Records wanted me to change my name I said no. I feel proud of my heritage. I’m not religious but I’m proud to be a Jew. I’m very aware of it how I write and perform. My shows aren’t sad and introspective and I tend to be funny on stage to counter the sadness in the songs. To me that’s quintessentially Jewish.
“The Things We’ve Handed Down” is a very Jewish song to me. In my mind it’s pretty obvious. For me, it’s about the transformational power of music no matter religion. About being moved by music. I went to the Al Green‘s church crying at the music that was made.
Music saved my life. I lost mother at 2 and my dad at 12. Both were very religious abd I didn’t keep up a lot of the rituals they taught me, which I’m conflicted about. Relgion played a role, but it was music that saved me. That’s what a lot my songs are about. Walking into a sanctuary or temple or church. I can be moved or not in any of those places. [The song] “My Sanctuary,” I wrote it on Yom Kippur in the park watching people going to services.
I had this back and forth dialogue with myself about what I believe and feels true to me. I’m like a lot of Jews that I’m still on that journey. If look at my lyrics, there’s a lot about Judaism.
But your most famous line…
My most famous line is “Tell me are you a Christian, child?” And I said, “Ma’am, I am tonight!” That’s me saying every other night I’m a Jew. But something else was at work. Despite the fact that I’m Jewish, that’s the power of music. If you’re predisposed to being moved by something soulful, it doesn’t matter what religion you are.
TC Jewfolk is giving away two tickets to Marc Cohn’s July 30 show at the Weesner Family Amphitheater at the Minnesota Zoo. The show starts at 7 p.m. To win the tickets, email us at [email protected] by July 20, with “Marc Cohn Tickets” in the subject line. Winner will be chosen at random.