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SIDEWALKING: Sweet Jane

Cleveland, November 3rd, 1970, by Cleveland Police Dept.

RELATED: The actress had just finished working on Klute – hence her distinctive haircut – when she was arrested at an airport in Cleveland on November 3, 1970. The customs officers wrongly accused Fonda of drug smuggling after finding vitamins labelled b, l and d (breakfast, lunch and dinner) in her bag. Known for her political activism, her arrest over something so innocent as vitamins was a sign of the paranoia of the time. At the time, the actress was on her way back from speaking at an anti-Vietnam war fundraiser in Canada. Writing about her false arrest on her blog earlier this year, she said: ‘They confiscated (my vitamins) as well as my address book (which was photocopied) and arrested me for drug smuggling. ‘I told them what they were but they said they were getting orders from the White House – that would be the Nixon White House. ‘I think they hoped this “scandal” would cause the college speeches to be cancelled and ruin my respectability. I was handcuffed and put in the Cleveland Jail, which is when the mugshot was taken.’I was released on bond and months later, after every pill had been tested in a lab (with taxpayers money!) the charges were dismissed and there were a few paragraphs hidden in the back of papers that they were vitamins, not drugs.’ MORE

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Something about the Cowboy Junkies just seems right lately. Maybe it’s the fact that they’ve been writing and recording music endlessly for the past 25 years. After a quarter of a century, the Junkies have perfected their oddly soothing take on folk-rock, contrasting the ethereal and the distorted. The masterfully focused energy of the just-released The Wilderness is remarkable, considering this is the Junkies’ fourth release in 18 months. The album’s opening track, “Unanswered Letter,” foreshadows everything that will be heard in the 42 and a half minutes to come. Singer Margo Timmins’ hauntingly angelic vocals waltz between a flurry of disorienting soundscapes. Strangely, the track is loosely held together by noteworthy lyricism – a wonderfully constructed illusion – until comfort sets in with an upbeat rhythm almost halfway through the track. “Idle Tales,” driven by Peter Timmins’ slow-marching snare and elevated by a buried angelic hum, belongs on a sleepy-time playlist or the background score of a movie scene where the tragic hero has a life-changing epiphany after a punishing bout of depression. “Fairytale” sounds like the band found the lyrics scribbled on some parchment, almost imperceptibly peeking out from a bookshelf in the remnants of a long-forgotten abbey. Michael Timmins’ guitar work brilliantly accompanies his sister Margo’s gentle lullaby vocals. “The Confessions of George E” is an entrancing narrative, with lyricism reminiscent of early 70s Dylan, one of the band’s favorite songwriters. The instrumentation however, is pure Junkies, while Margo’s delicate vocals gradually summon a sense of urgency. The Wilderness concludes with the upbeat rockin’ track, “Fuck, I Hate The Cold.” I can only imagine how glorious this song must sound live with Michael wailing on his axe and Margo entering powerhouse mode. Phawker got to speak with Margo on one of her free afternoons and it should be noted – she is just as kind, affable, and genuine as her vocals. She talks to us about her family, the band on the road, her favorite albums, and how the hell the Junkies managed to do in 18 months what takes other bands 10 years to do. – TONY ABRAHAM

PHAWKER: Where did you guys find the energy to pull off four new releases over the span of a year and half.

MARGO TIMMINS: Oh my God. You know, it’s so funny because it’s one of those things where you’re doing it and you’re just doing it and afterwards you go, “Oh my God, how did we do that?” It was very intense and certainly by the last one we were were, “Ok, we gotta get this done, this is crazy.” I think what happened was each album was so different than the other one that it was sort of fun, we’d look forward to starting it and doing it. Each project had it’s own separate and individual challenges different from the last. That kept us motivated and turned on. The hardest part was Mike’s job. His job was to do that final mixing and that is really tedious when you’re listening back again and again to tapes and bringing in this and that. I don’t know how he did it. The other thing is we had a lot of outside people coming in and bringing us different ideas and music and that always helps because again, it’s fun to hear what people are going to do. You can hand a song to a piano player and see what they’re doing, you like it or you don’t.

PHAWKER: What was the Timmins household like growing up with Michael and Peter?

MARGO TIMMINS: It depends on the day. Some days it could be very dangerous. Michael had a terrible temper, especially with me because we were the two middle of six. Our older sister loved to pick on Michael because he’d get to the point where he’d start raging. The first two older siblings would love to get Mike going and he’d have to take it out on somebody. Of course, that’d be me because of the pecking order. Many a night I would run to the bathroom and lock myself in to save myself from a raging crazy nutcase. My husband when he hears stories of our upbringing he says, “You’re all feral, you’re all a bunch of feral crazies.” I think he’s right.

PHAWKER: When did you guys know you were gonna form a band?

MARGO TIMMINS: I don’t think we knew even when we formed the band. At least I didn’t. Mike probably knew more than I did, when he asked me to sing for the Junkies the Junkies weren’t there, the boys were jamming in the garage. Michael and Alan Anton, the bass player, had been in bands prior to that so I definitely knew Mike was thinking in between bands what he was going to do next. When he asked me to sing, maybe I was just being naïve and not thinking he was asking me to sing for his new band – I don’t know what I was thinking. When we were kids we used to play band like all kids of the 60s and 70s did. You listen to your records, you pretend you’re playing guitar on your tennis racket or whatever. There were a lot of instruments in our house, nothing formal – my mom had six kids so she didn’t insist any of us play an instrument and take lessons, but there were a lot of instruments around. We did have guitars in the basement, my brother had a drum kit that eventually just got ruined. We would bang around and stuff. I think more than musicians, we were true music fans all six of us. We got that from our father. Our dad loved music and would come home from work and the first thing he did before he said hello was go to his reel-to-reel, put it on, then he’d come say hello. He believed that music will save your life. It doesn’t have to be hit music but you have to have your own music and love it and have it in your life. Like how people do with poetry or literature, for my dad it was music and that’s what he gave us. I don’t know if he intended us all to become musicians but it’s his fault.

PHAWKER: Can you tell me about the book that’s being written – is it with the Nomad Series or about the Nomad Series?

MARGO TIMMINS: It’s not written yet so what I think would be totally wrong. We’re in the process of putting it together and things obviously change as you’re putting it together. The idea is the journey of the Nomad Series. It will have Mike’s blogs and paintings that Enrique has been working on during that time. It will have pictures of us recording, you know just all sorts of things. Memorabilia of these past 18 months and how we went about things. I think there will be excerpts of interviews we’ve done. So people get a further insight into how we did it and what we were doing. The reason we haven’t done it so far is because we ourselves have been trying to figure out what we’ve done in the past 18 months. That’s coming together as we’re doing interviews, people are asking me questions and it gives me the moment to sort of think about it. “How did I approach that record?” When you’re doing it you’re just doing it, you’re not jotting it down or consciously even thinking about it, you just do it. Last night Mike and I were doing an interview and we were talking about Sing In My Meadow which was a really weird album to do. There were a couple of songs, in my brain I was struggling with all the songs and he goes “No, you got this one and this one right away.” I would come back every day with a new approach to these songs because I couldn’t get them. The reason I couldn’t get them was because I was trying to compete with the boys’ crazy jamming and weird music they were making and I couldn’t rise above them or even get into it, to their level. It was too nutty. What I did was say “Well why am I competing with you? I’m gonna go underneath, I’m going in my own direction.” It worked. But I had forgotten the process that had taken me from sort of screaming and shrieking and trying to sing as loud as they were playing to the place I eventually got which was to not compete and do my own thing. So those were the understandings of how we did it that are coming to light now, and those kind of things will be in the book.

PHAWKER: It’s been 25 years of the Cowboy Junkies existence, right? What are the highlights?

MARGO TIMMINS: There’s been a lot. I think all the highlights would have something to do with playing live. The Cowboy Junkies are a really live band, that’s what we do. That’s where our love is with music, to be onstage playing. It doesn’t have to be a big stage it can be anywhere, and we pretty much play anything. We play a lot of weird places around the world. Some beautiful churches in Europe, old train stations in Europe – Europeans tend to put us in these really weird places – as well as beautiful classic halls like Carnegie Hall and London’s Royal. When you’re standing on the old stages where these amazing shows have happened and have sometimes been recorded, you certainly feel a part of music history and those who stood on the stage. Bob Dylan did, Elvis was here. And you’re part of it, maybe not a big part but you’re still a part of it. There’s something really special about that because again growing up and even now I’m a fan of music and still get excited when I go to a show. So when I’m sitting in a dressing room I know Bob Dylan sat in I get really like – “Look at me! Look at me! I’m here!” It’s exciting! And those to me are the highlights.

PHAWKER: If you weren’t in the music industry, what do you think you would be doing?

MARGO TIMMINS: I’ve been married now for 25 years, so I married at 28 or whatever I was. I would have had more children for sure. I would have been somewhat of stay at home mom, I wouldn’t have had a big career because I would have been very involved in raising my kids and that would be important to me. Hopefully I would be lucky enough to be a stay at home mom, depends on who I married. If I married the man I’m married to now I would have been able to, he makes a good living. As far as work? I got my degree in social work, I don’t think I would have stayed in social work because it was too hard and I don’t think I have the armor to protect myself from my daily work. I think I might have gone to teaching college. I think I would have liked to have taught elementary school and I think I would have been good at it if I didn’t go insane.

PHAWKER: Your house bursts into flames and you can only save one album. Which is it and why?

MARGO TIMMINS: Geeze. Well, it would probably be Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline basically because it’s totally sitting right out because it’s never put away. And for the same reason probably Springsteen’s Nebraska. It’s never very far from my turntable so I would be able to get to it and obviously it never gets put away because those two are two of my favorite favorite records of all time and I never get bored of hearing them played.

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