As a music lover in the 80’s, I sang along to, bopped along to, danced along to the iconic song with the memorable telephone number 867-5309 /Jenny (no area code..hmmmm) and only last week did I learn that it was written by Nashville based singer songwriter Alex Call. His newly released book is called, not surprisingly 867-5309 The Song That Saved Me. His talents extend far beyond the musical realm, as his values and spiritual focus shape his actions; this man walks the talk as you will discover when you read on.
This interview is timely in the face of the 10th anniversary of a date that changed world history, September 11th, since one of Alex’s songs, called When was written as a poignant reminder that it is important to treasure our relationships.
How do you live your bliss?
My bliss has not always been so blissful! I have struggled with self-doubt and the pressures of the commercial world for much of my life. It’s easier now that I’m older and have taken time to study myself and gauge the world with a greater perspective than I once had. I am an idealist who tried in vain to conform. My refuge has always been in creativity. I was a kid who drew cartoons who then took up music. I always told myself stories. Now I am writing them out. I love that world. Is it bliss or escape? Perhaps it’s both. My idealism has never been stronger, if Quixotic.
You rocked the world by writing 876-5309/Jenny way back when….all these years later, how does it feel to know that it is a tune people keep in their heads? Is it an autobiographical piece…was there a real ‘Jenny’ whose name and number were inscribed on a bathroom wall?
There never was a Jenny. I got the song the way I get all the good ones; it just came out of me while I was playing guitar and letting my mouth make sounds and words. That’s the way I write – everything I write –including novels. Go figure. Tommy Tutone, the band who had the hit, made up a few stories about a fictional Jenny because they needed to have a story for the press. But I think the story of the muse is a more interesting one.
Why was it such a hit? I haven’t a clue except that it’s hooky musically, like a kid’s song (children get it right away) and it did seem to sum up the zeitgeist of the early 80’s.
Please talk about Passion and Purpose and the Firestarters.
Passion & Purpose and the Firestarters happen because Lisa Carrie, my second son’s mom, who had been a high-level background singer with Wayne Newton and Eddy Arnold and others, had gone to work in health care. She came across the work of a man named Quint Studer, a patient satisfaction guru, who talked about passion & purpose in health care. Music and healthcare converge on this subject. She asked me to write a song for him, and the album grew out of that.
Any ideas for helping people ignite their own passions and purpose?
I am extremely fortunate in that I have known my music passion since I was eleven years old. The form of expression for me has only grown over the years to include novels and my memoir. I think some people are passionate about what they do; others, not so much. But the less passionate need the more passionate, if that makes sense. I see a group sitting around a cave thirty thousand years ago. Some worked, some fought, some told stories, some healed. Nothing has changed except the scope of the human community.
As far as recognizing your passion? That takes a leap of faith some courage at times. Take the Leap!
How did you discover yours?
I saw a band playing at a dance when I was eleven. They weren’t getting beaten up and girls liked them, That was enough for me! Seriously, I have been blessed with the gift-curse of creativity since childhood. I’ve known that since I was a tiny tyke.
Your wife Lisa is part of the group and I wonder what it is like to having a working/life partnership.
We did the Passion & Purpose project while she was going through the journey of breast cancer. That was tough, but it gave more meaning to the project. I almost exclusively work alone on creative projects. Certainly, the writing is a solo endeavor. But without her, the P&P project never would have happened, since she brought it to me, and her journey influenced the songs. She voiced the title “Time to Live” and I caught the spark and wrote the song in one pass.
As a creative soul, do you find that your music ‘writes you’? How do songs find their way to you?
We’re called musicians because the Muses have called us to be their temporary mouths and hands. Songs and stories come through me. There’s a definite spark. When I get it, I can sit down and write a song straight out without stopping. It comes through me. Same with my novels. I get the idea, “know” it and write a book. My viewpoints shape my works as well. I have strong views about the world. I have spent a fair amount of time studying history and spirituality and practicing meditation (and playing baseball and going fishing). My life experience and opinions help mold the form of my work. But without the spark that comes, there’s only make-work, which I’ve done a fair amount of. No spark, no good. I have learned to recognize that spark.
One particular song, called “When” came through you and your friend Jon Keller 10 years ago as a message, it seems, from somewhere beyond just the two of you. Please share why that piece was hauntingly significant.
“When” was written on 9-10-2001. We had no idea why wrote such a heart-wrenching song about loss. Until the next day, that is. Plainly, the Muse was speaking through us. I am open to such subjects as well. I always wanted a microphone to speak to the entire world with, to tell everyone to stop the hatred and killing. That’s my passion!
In the days that followed, can you express the myriad of emotions in which you swam? ANd now 10 years later?
My older son James, then twenty-two, was working for the Port Authority of NY & NJ in a building adjacent to the Towers. I was in Los Angeles. No cell phone in those days. James could not be found. I instantly started driving towards Nashville. We didn’t find out that James had overslept and missed the train which would have put him at Ground Zero at that very bad moment until I reached Flagstaff, AZ at the end of a long day of fear and stopping at dusty desert payphones at which I got no news of him. I felt the pain. All such acts by all combatants everywhere fire the same response in me. Some day humans will get it, but that day hasn’t yet arrived, has it?
No pun intended (given your name), but how did you hear the ‘call’ of service?
I was lucky; I heard it when I was a kid. By the time I was teenager, there was no question about the message I hope to bring in some limited way to the world. I was a fan of Superman Comics. Superman trying to save the world from his Fortress of Solitude.