The Agnostic Gospel of Susan Werner (3 of 3)

[Originally posted January 23, 2008 at]

Concluding my interview with singer/songwriter Susan Werner, whose latest album The Gospel Truth is an unusual collection of songs that combine “the music of faith and the lyrics of doubt.”  In Part One (The Genesis of The Gospel Truth) she discusses what motivated her to launch this project. In Part Two (Reactions and Revelations) she talks about the fan response and what she learned about herself in the process. In this third and final installment, she looks to what she might say about the future of America in her upcoming work.

Learn more about her on the web at




Q: I know you’re still touring in support of The Gospel Truth, but what can we expect to see from you next?

Susan Werner: I’ve begun working on a blues project, but I want to do something that combines the traditional with the contemporary in a new way. There are plenty of blues songs about “my baby done me wrong,” but I think one thing the blues has talked about in the past that’s relevant today is being short on money, and just frustration. Life isn’t what it’s supposed to be; life just isn’t right; life comes up short in some horrible way, in some annoying way. I think the blues are good for midlife, when you start to hit your limits in a way that is really surprising. There’s something about it that you gotta accept, and the blues lets you sing it out. Maybe it’s the realization that you can’t stay here forever; that you are going to get older; that you are going to disappear from the planet – which is horrible news. [Laughs] It’s horrible, depressing news, and the blues lets you admit that this is bummin’ you out. Also, I have the sense that we’re going to go into some kind of recession here, and the blues are your friend, when you can’t make ends meet; when your saddled with debt; you just lost your job. People are always losing their jobs – then they just ship the jobs to China. It used to be the mill just shut down, but now the jobs go to China – but still, you’re losing your job, and it’s still the blues. So, I feel a blues project coming on.

Q: And don’t you think the blues has something of a sense of humor? It’s very, very dry, but it’s there.

SW: Yes, it does. The trick, for someone like me who has a master’s degree in classical voice, is how to do the blues and have it ring authentic, because it comes from people who lived hard lives and had little education. So, the trick is to do it in a way that makes it of-a-piece with tradition. I think as Americans’ lives get easier, the blues becomes harder and harder to access; harder and harder to represent; harder and harder to sing from your heart; harder and harder to sing in a believable way.

Q: Yeah, even the poorest people in American today have televisions and air conditioners.

SW: We are one of the richest nations in the history of the world. Did the Romans sing the blues? What would that have sounded like? Did the Greeks sing the blues? What would that have sounded like?

Q: There’s an idea for a song right there.

SW: [Laughs] That’s actually pretty good! I like that. We’re at the height of the empire, if this is an American empire. What is this ennui that people are feeling? What is this discontent made of? I think the blues might work. The blues might be there for us. We might find some comfort in the blues.

Q: I do think people have a sense – even if they don’t say it – that America is at its peak. We don’t have any more frontiers to expand into, and we’re starting to see the rise of powers that we used to consider laughable as players on the world scene. Where does America go twenty years from now, fifty years from now?

SW: I think we should go ahead and build the kind of society we’re capable of, which is to make life wonderful for all of our citizens. We can afford to do it. It’s a question of will, and a sense of fairness, a sense of justice. It’s interesting to me that there is a rise on the Left of religious iconography and terminology in the presidential race. To hear Hillary Clinton speak about her faith; to hear Barack Obama speak of faith; and John Edwards. The Left got religion and the Right’s losing theirs. It’s a fascinating time. I think that political shift may correspond to this desire in many of us to make American become more of the country that it ought to be for all its citizens. And maybe in this way The Gospel Truth is more timely than I’d ever foreseen.


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