Thursday, September 20, 2007

This was a recent article in Chicago Sunday Times

A beautiful 'noise'
interview Michael McDermott cuts through all the pain the only way he knows how
September 2, 2007
BY MIRIAM DI NUNZIO Sunday Show Editor

When life gives you a bowl of lemons, you can make lemonade, or you can get rip-roaring drunk.
Singer Michael McDermott opted for the latter throughout much of his career, openly admitting he spent a lot of time with a bottle of Jack Daniel's and plenty of other "pleasures" that took him down a deep, dark path. Through it all, the singer-songwriter managed to keep the faith, both literally and in his music, which has always leaned toward the spiritual.

McDermott has just released "Noise From Words" (One Little Indian Records), a collection of intimate, introspective roots-rock that reflects the last few years of the Chicago singer's tumultuous life.

Never shy about answering any question, McDermott is so candid it's scary. If his songs lay bare his soul, his spoken words reveal a truth even more deep.

"I just got back from playing some small clubs in England and I'm not sure people knew what to make of me, with my level 5 honesty," McDermott says with a laugh. "I was just hanging out at the hotel lobby one night and I overheard some folks saying, 'We have to go see this McDermott guy because we hear he's a madman.' [Laughing.] Whatever. I've been called worse."

He may have been called worse in his 38 years, but his life probably couldn't get much worse than it did in 2004 when he spent a night in Cook County Jail for cocaine possession.

"Jakob Dylan is a good buddy of mine and he was playing House of Blues and I went to see him and they're searching everyone at the door and well, they searched me and I had [the stuff] in my pocket," McDermott says. "It got real ugly and I got arrested."

McDermott, who ultimately got probabtion and drug counseling for the Class 3 felony, spent one night in general lockup, in the very cell occupied by his father a couple of years earlier.

"[My dad] was in jail for a gun charge," he says. "If you knew him, you'd realize how insane that is. He's this Irish, Paul Newman-looking guy whose so easygoing."

Jail became the catalyst for the some of the songs on "Noise From Words." Being in jail can do things to a man's soul.

"Revolutionary moments come from something that dark," McDermott says. "It was not fun. [Laughs.] I spent a great deal of time against the glass [partition] blowing hot air onto it and writing 'Help Me' with my finger in the [misty] circle. I realized then and there this was not my life. And the music came out of all that."

Other lyrics on the album came from a painful emotional episode last New Year's Eve when McDermott, ring in hand, was ready to propose to his lady love. Turns out, she found out something about him that was, well, not the kind of thing you want your future fiancee to discover when you're going to pop the question, and she sent him packing. He wrote the hauntingly beautiful "Still Ain't Over You Yet," a song that, as far as he knows, still has not been listened to by the lady in question.

The songs on "Noise From Words" run the gamut from gorgeous ballads to gentle folk to grand storytelling to rollicking anthems. The arrangements are subtle and pure: plenty of guitar, bass and piano. Nothing too rock 'n' roll.

"There's something to be said for staying out of the way of things," McDermott says. "I've been trying to be a rock star for so long. Forget it. I'm a folk singer, I'm a drunken Irish storyteller. Why not stick with that?"

Ironically, in high school, McDermott was attending daily mass and contemplating the priesthood. "The problem was, I realized that if I was a priest I'd be a bad whiskey priest," he says laughing. "But I've been searching for Jesus all my life. I always wanted to be his poet, his singer, to represent him. People come up to me and say, 'I found Jesus through your music." Really? Well he stopped returning my calls long ago. So next time you hear from him, tell him to give me a call."

For a moment it's as if that "bad whiskey priest" is unleashed, cutting through the layers of "tough guy" the singer has built up over the past 20 years. In truth, he now speaks to Christian groups about his checkered past, about jail, about finding meaning in life no matter how hard you fall. He wrote "My Father's Son," a heartrending ballad about that oh-so-precious relationship shared by him and his father over the years. He says he remains devoutly close to his parents.
"The older you get, you realize how beautiful your parents are and how much like them you really are. One day you realize that's not such a bad thing."

The album's closing cut, "I Shall Be Healed," bookends the opener, "Mess of Things," quite nicely. The journey takes the listener from the really bad times to the redemption born of them.
"When I got out of jail on that Sunday morning, I just walked straight to a church, to the side chapel where I was all alone and just broke down," McDermott says. "There was a mass going on and you know those words you say right before communion, 'Say the word and I shall be healed'? That became my mantra. I went home and I was like, 'That would make a great song.' I truly believe that I shall be healed.

"And maybe one day Jesus will return my calls."

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