GOING MAD AT HIS OWN SWEET PACE Willie Nile

From the streets of NYC to a
house of 1,000 guitars – all without succumbing to stardom.

 

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

 

Relying on one’s reputation is one thing, but sustaining a
meaningful legacy can be quite another. 
Take Springsteen… or Mellencamp… or Van Morrison.  Each has proven that he’s up to the task,
plowing forward with works that seem to enhance, expand and redefine their
seminal accomplishments.  Likewise, Willie
Nile has also earned his standing in that esteemed company, not because he’s
achieved superstar status – sadly he hasn’t — but rather due to the fact that
he still makes music that achieves the same standards etched with his earliest
efforts.

 

 

The evidence lies in his remarkable new album, House of a Thousand Guitars, the
riveting, follow-up to his comeback of sorts, the highly lauded Streets of New York.  If, in fact, there was any doubt about his
tenacity and perseverance, these two albums have affirmed his irrepressible
endurance and reminded admirers past and present that he’s not only a singular
talent, but also a tireless troubadour. 

 

 

“I just write
what comes to me,” Nile insists.  “There’s no grand design or
anything.  I like a variety of things and
try to mix it up a bit to keep it interesting. 
I just try to follow my instincts on a song and get it to where it feels
right to me.  I figure if I like it,
maybe someone else might like it as well.”

 

 

While critical kudos have been more prevalent than
commercial acclaim, that mantra has managed to serve him well for the better
part of the past three decades… ever since his 1980 self-titled debut and his
sensational sophomore release, Golden
Down
.  Surrounding himself with an
A-list assortment of musical contributors (Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III and Roger McGuinn among them early on), Niles
has explored the gritty undercurrents of everyday existence with a fiercely
uncompromising stance.  A relentless
rocker, he plied vibrant melodies and compelling choruses with a fury and
intensity that reflects both heroism and humanity. 

 

 

“The early adulation was interesting, but I never took it
too seriously,” he recalls nowadays.  “I
was just grateful that some of my music was getting out there and some people
were hearing it.  I never had a grand
plan for world domination or anything.”   

 

 

Maybe not, but the other epochs that followed – 1991’s Places I Have Never Been, the Hard Times in America EP released the
following year, his live Archive Alive in 1997, followed by the remarkable Beautiful
Wreck of the World
two years later – further bolstered his reputation as an
edgy, incisive artist whose message remains as compelling as his music.  “The joy for me is the writing of the songs,”
Nile replies when queried about the
combination.  “Its finding something
beautiful in a place where it might not be, combining words and melodies that
speak to a part of the soul that maybe has been in the shadows a bit too
long.” 

 

 

An early tour with the Who and a guest performance with
Bruce Springsteen further established his credence, but it would be another six
years before Streets of New York would
propel him back into the spotlight.  A
live CD and DVD, both of which were dubbed, appropriately, Live from the Streets of New York helped up the ante.  Not surprisingly then, House of a Thousand Guitars and its searing title track – an anthem
of sorts that imagines Jimi Hendrix, the Stones, Robert Johnson, Hank Williams,
John Lennon, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker united in a sort of spectral
celebration -finds Nile coming full circle.

 

 

“Success, or whatever people mean by that word can be a
double-edged sword,” Nile reflects.  “It has its good things and its bad
things.  Judging from some of the train
wrecks in our celebrity culture it clearly has its drawbacks, but who wouldn’t
like to be able to go into the garage and open up one of those suitcases full
of hundred dollar bills and gold doubloons and take care of what needs taking
care of.”

 

 

Whether or not the new album elevates him to the upper
reaches of mass acclaim seems to have little bearing on Nile’s
continuing quest to maintain his muse. “I think I’ve been fortunate in that
I’ve been able to continue working on my craft away from all the cameras and
fame.  I’ve been able to develop as a
person and a writer without the usual interference.  Hopefully that has made me a better writer and person.  It also allows me to go mad at my own sweet
pace.”

 

 

 

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