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Sparrow: I wanted to ask you if there's any similarity between jazz and baseball?
Frishberg: Well, no... Well, yes there is, as a matter of fact. They were both hopeless occupations to contemplate when I was a kid growing up. I mean, jazz and baseball, each of them represented a career in which you could expect no monetary reward, unless you were extremely lucky. In that respect, they were the same, in that they were populated, those were people who understood that they had chosen an occupation that there was not much financial future to it -- and yet they were still there! Strange that you should mention, is there a connection between jazz and baseball. And there is, in that backward way, right. You had to be dedicated to devote yourself to either endeavor, you know?
Sparrow: Did you consider becoming a baseball player?
Frishberg: Well, didn't everyone?
Sparrow: [Laughs.] I suppose I did, come to think of it.
Frishberg: But I also considered being a jazz musician.
Sparrow: How did you discover jazz?
Frishberg: Through my older brother's record collection. And I taught myself how to play the piano. I studied a little bit -- I shouldn't say "studied" -- I took lessons with somebody in St. Paul when I was about eight years old, but I couldn't stand it. It was really a turn off, and so I just forgot about that. And then I took up piano on my own when I turned maybe fifteen years old, I started getting really serious about playing.
Sparrow: Is there a way you usually write your songs?
Frishberg: Give me a clue what you mean.
Sparrow: Do you usually start with a word, or a tune?
Frishberg: Oh, no. You know what I do? I start with a title. I really try to find a title. And I got a bunch of titles lying around, that I've been trying to fulfill for years. And sometimes it works! Sometimes I grab one, and actually do it! But that's how I think. I want to make a title. The title gives me some idea of what the lyric is gonna say -- it's going to employ those words somehow, usually in a recurring way. It's just an aid to writing. And I try to shape the song around the title, and, of course, you have to make the title pay off in the end, in some way, too. But that's how I try to construct a song, and get an idea for what to do. A title is very important to me, yeah.
Sparrow: And you have a political song called "My Country Used to Be."
Frishberg: Well, I wrote it on assignment originally from Minnesota Public Radio back in the 1990s sometime. They were doing a series of radio shows about presidential choices, so they wanted a song about economics. So they actually assigned me to write that. But when I originally wrote it, the lyrics dealt with economic problems. And then, more recently, I took the same song and revamped it so that it talked about larger issues than just economics. So I consider that I've written that song twice. What I'm currently performing is the updated version.
Sparrow: Do you rewrite your songs often?
Frishberg: Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes I do. I'm kind of compulsive about that. Still, if I happen to be just browsing through, and I begin to look at them, I start to make changes... I feel so silly. I wrote them 25 years ago, you know? And nobody liked it then, anyway!
Sparrow: [Laughs.] But it's hard to tell how successful your songs are, I would think.
Frishberg: Well, I never thought "Van Lingle Mungo" would make me a dime. That was strictly a labor of love, you know? A very confidential song. But, of course, "I'm Just a Bill," I got paid for writing that, so I thought I'd already won a jackpot!