Mimi Fariña Interview
By Patrick Morrow
This interview originally appeared in the journal, Popular Music and Society, vol. 2, no. 1, 1972, p. 62-79. It is reprinted here by kind permission of Patrick Morrow, Professor of English at Auburn University, and Pat Browne, director of Popular Press at Bowling Green State University.

Mimi Fariña--beautiful and artistic, but always in the shadows. She used to be a one-woman supporting cast not only for her late husband, Richard, the songwriter and novelist who became a folk legend in the sixties, but also for her famous older sister, Joan Baez. These days Mimi is making it on her own--sure of herself, warm, and open. For anyone who knows the tragedies she has overcome and the talent she possesses, the new Mimi is an exciting creature to behold.

She first encountered the charismatic and volatile Richard Fariña at a country picnic near Paris. At the time he was an aspiring writer and folk song artist, often performing on street corners as a blind harmonica player with a tin cup who miraculously recovered his sight around four o'clock in the morning. She learned guitar, he learned dulcimer, and they learned to sing a unique blend of sounds together. Celebrations for a Grey Day, their first album, won widespread praise for being, in one reviewer's words, "as fresh as newsprint but more poetic." From the beginning Richard composed, arranged, and played lead on most songs they recorded.

The Fariñas' songs were notable for their poignant statements phrased in memorable metaphors and set to imaginative musical arrangements. They stand out against injustice, violence, and mass conformity and for love, joy, and personal fulfillment. Their repertoire was astonishingly varied, including protest songs ("Bold Marauder," "Michael, Andrew and James"), blues ("House Un-American Blues Activity Dream," "Mainline Prosperity Blues"), ballads ("A Swallow Song," "Blood Red Roses"), love songs ("Reflections in a Crystal Wind," "Raven Girl"), comic numbers ("Hard-Lovin' Loser," "Morgan the Pirate"), and numerous instrumentals, usually a collage of melodies, including even a bona fide Italian Afro-Indian Pachanga called "Dopico."

Subsequent albums enhanced the Fariñas' popularity as did their memorable set in the rain at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. By the Spring of 1966, they had performed concerts at many college campuses, had signed with Vanguard for more albums, and were widely known in folk and popular music circles. Other artists--Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Judy Collins, for example--were starting to record Fariña songs. Richard's stories and articles were appearing in such magazines as Playboy, Esquire, The Atlantic, and Mademoiselle. His long-awaited novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, was published by Random House in April. Then, suddenly--totally unexpectedly--it all ended. On April 30th, Mimi's 21st birthday, in the bright, warm afternoon, Richard Fariña was thrown from the back of a speeding motorcycle and died instantly.

Until two years ago Mimi was submerged in disaster after a series of misfortunes--first, Richard's death, then the break-up of a second marriage, the suicide of a boyfriend, and an unsuccessful career as an actress. But with a lot of help and her own hard work toward self-realization, Mimi began to change. In her words:

I had a blind spot. I never stopped to see what was really going on. I looked at he ground; my vision was at the floor. Before the misfortunes I was always the smiling idiot going along with other people's trips. Then a miracle happened when I started to write songs--it was like learning how to walk. The whole thing was like an internal revolution.
She has now recorded (with Tom Jans) one album of their songs, entitled Take Heart (A&M). An outstanding cut from this album, a tribute to Janis Joplin called "In the Quiet Morning," has been recorded by sister Joan and is currently in the Top Forty.

The following interview is edited from a tape made in the Hancock Recording Studios at the University of Southern California for KUSC-FM, May 8, 1972. Don Hayes, who toward the end of the session joined me in asking Mimi some questions, made the technical arrangements. I would like to thank Virginia Spenceley, Peter Talson, Nicole and Michael Bezusko, and my wife, Judi, for invaluable assistance in transcribing and editing this tape. Incidentally, Mimi felt pleased that despite some stumbling around, he interview helped focus her own ideas and her relationship with Richard as well as record much material that had never before been made public.

Pat:
Mimi, tell us some of the things you've been doing lately.

Mimi:
After song writing, which started about two years ago, I have been singing on the road and traveling. That's been pretty solid and now I am trying to fit that into politics the best way I know how.

Pat:
O.K. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about how you and your new singing partner, Tom Jans, got together.

Mimi:
Well, two years ago, I decided, after I'd just begun to write songs, that I ought to get out and sing them. I didn't feel like singing alone, so I looked for musicians in my house and going out to hear people. Tom Jans was living near my sister [Joan] at that time and she told me about him. She said he was a good guitar player and wrote songs and we met and right away it was easy to play and sing together so we decided to try and make a go of it. We were playing for maybe a week, just trying it out, and I started calling local clubs in San Francisco and told them I wanted to start singing again and they were very receptive and so we started from the bottom and grew from there. The music on our Take Heart album is mostly personal politics that deals with people and their emotions. If it's a sad emotion, there's usually a chorus included that says the sadness can be changed and the situation can get better.

Pat:
Real good. Now let's go back to the past and talk about Richard Fariña. When you first met Richard was he very much into music at all?

Mimi:
Yes, he was singing with his previous wife, Carolyn Hester; actually not so much singing with her as playing the harmonica and dulcimer and accompanying her.

Pat:
Where did he learn the dulcimer?

Mimi:
I imagine he did most of his playing in Europe, but I think he learned it one winter when the two of them were living in Martha's Vineyard and there was a dulcimer on the wall and he could never sit still when there was something he didn't know how to do, so, I think he picked it up one day and just started trying it out.

Pat:
After a while you got together with him and started a group of your own. Could you tell us about that?

Mimi:
It was not really intentional. He [Richard] was very busy writing his novel [Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me] and I was married to him--at age 18--and we lived in a small cabin in the Carmel Highlands and we used to just play in the evening for pleasure. Then we started playing for friends and it got more and more together and he began writing his own songs at that point, and it was suggested by friends that we make a record. The record grew out of going to the first Big Sur Folk Festival and performing there. After that first performance we were offered some record contracts and after speaking to some record people we chose Vanguard; and a few weeks after that we were moving back east, so we stopped in New York and made our first album.

Pat:
Who would you say were some of the major musical influences on you and Richard?

Mimi:
I guess he had been influenced by people in his travels in Europe. I know that a lot of his modal sound came directly just from tuning the dulcimer. His melodies were often Irish in background, or Cuban, not directly Cuban, but South American sounding--Spanish, Mexican melodies.

Pat:
As a songwriter he began to progress fairly rapidly. Can you describe what it is like living with someone who is working constantly on books and writing songs?

Mimi:
It can give one a real inferiority complex if one isn't working on his own stuff. It is exciting in a way. I would know that every incident that would happen to us during a day, say, that was eventful, would sooner or later pop up in a song or a story and it was always interesting to see how that would happen.

Pat:
Do you remember a song like "House Un-American Blues Activity Dream"? Can you tell us anything about that?

Mimi:
That one I don't recollect so much about. I don't remember an incident that inspired that, but we used to listen to a record of Martin Luther King's speeches and Dick was at that time becoming interested in my sister's politics. Also just his own reading and contact with people…

Pat:
What about some of the other songs that Richard is particularly noted for, such as "Hard-Loving Loser." Do you remember anything about how that was composed?

Mimi:
I remember we were driving on the east coast to a job and he thought of a first line and a second line. He told me to get out a pad and paper and write it down. I didn't understand the first line and I wrote it down incorrectly and it happened to be my version of what he had said and I repeated it back and he laughed out loud and said, "No, that's not what I said, but it's great. Keep it." So, the first line of that song is mine and the rest of the song is his.

Pat:
As you began to get together were there other musicians like Bruce Langhorne and Russ Savakus that began to influence you in terms of electronics or anything?

Mimi:
In the studio, yes. Most of our playing time was spent in coffee houses and clubs, but when we went into the studio, it was very impressive to be around really good musicians and so, yes, they were a really good influence.

Pat:
Your first album was called Celebrations for a Grey Day. Tell us a little bit about a song from that album like the famous "Pack Up Your Sorrows."

Mimi:
That song was written by my oldest sister, Pauline. She wrote the chorus and then couldn't fill in the verses and came to Dick and said, "I think I have got a kind of nice melody here but I can't think of any verses. Can you?" So, he took it home that night and wrote the verses. He liked the song a lot.

Pat:
Was Richard particularly quick as a writer or did he really have to slave over things?

Mimi:
He was pretty quick. When he had an idea it fulfilled itself pretty fast--in a day or two. Sometimes longer, but a song could come out in a day or two.

Pat:
On this album, Celebrations for a Grey Day, there is a song called "V." which is, according to Richard's liner notes, "an east-west dream song, in the underground mode for Tom Pynchon." Did you know Pynchon at all?

Mimi:
Yes, I met him at our wedding. He was our best man. I didn't know him before that and I got to know him a little bit after that.

Pat:
Is there any particular song on this album that you remember that you would want to talk about?

Mimi:
"Michael, Andrew and James" I think is a good song. I heard somebody mentioning--oh, Harry Belafonte--I heard mentioning these three people who were killed in the South when he was working in the South, politically. He mentioned these names the other night. Dick had written a song about the three of them long ago. "Tommy Makem Fantasy"….The instrumentals were always hard to title because they had no concept except just music and we'd sit and think what does it remind us of, or what do you think when you hear that. "Dandelion River Run." I don't know where that came from. You know, the titles were odd.

Pat:
These songs, particularly the instrumentals--did you work them out in sessions in the recording studio mostly, or did you come in with an idea?

Mimi:
Sometimes they would work themselves out in the studio. Often, when there weren't enough vocal numbers to put on a record we'd just start something in the studio and continue it until it worked itself out into an instrumental to fill out a record.

Pat:
Did Richard ever show much interest in learning guitar or did he feel he wanted to stick with dulcimer and get as good on that as he could?

Mimi:
He was usually too busy to sit down and learn the guitar. He could have and he gave attempts every once in a while, but he had so many other things happening that he didn't get around to it.

Pat:
O.K. I'd like to hear you talk about Reflections in a Crystal Wind, which is the second album you did. This album has some social protest as the first one does, too. But, I wonder if you would talk a little bit about Richard's sort of emerging political consciousness, and perhaps your own, from, let's say, the later fifties and early sixties on to the middle sixties.

Mimi:
I think we were both influenced by my sister, Joan, when we moved to Carmel. She was fairly active politically at the time. Her school [Institute for the Study of Non-Violence] hadn't come into existence at that point, but the interest was there and so our sitting around and talking often included a lot of political thinking. Dick had been involved with a more violent kind of political action or feelings in Ireland, wanting to save the countries way back then, and feeling that he was protecting his aunts and uncles in Ireland. He went on an adventure out of college to go to Ireland and work for the IRA. So, he had a kind of political intention although a lot of it was just romantic, a kind of fling--an affair with politics in that sense, but it began to take on a semi-nonviolent feeling later on. A good deal of it was just anger. A lot of pent up anger at society.

Pat:
And you feel that he sort of outgrew some of that anger and began to take on nonviolent ideas towards politics and life?

Mimi:
I feel so. It was slight. It hadn't really gained momentum, but it was beginning.

Pat:
What ways in particular do you feel that you influenced him as a musician, and as a thinker?

Mimi:
Possibly, musically, when we would work out songs, I was often included in making up the melodies and not just in the accompanying. You can't do so much with a dulcimer. It doesn't have much variety as an instrument, so the guitar would lend itself to melodies more easily. And as a thinker, I don't know. I think a female in a man's life, at least in the past, has often lended an insightful or calm or a more serene outlook and he was an especially vivacious and adventurous guy. I don't feel that I held him back, but I feel that at times I could calm him to make him sit still and think.

Pat:
It seems to me the early Richard Fariña plays a lot of melodies that are borrowed from various sources, in fact, on one record album [Dick Fariña and Eric Von Schmidt] he even suggested that he borrows melodies and it's fine if people would like to borrow anything he has on the album. As he progressed as a musical artist, did he begin inventing his own melodies and coming up more with his own tunes or did he continue to be derivative, do you think?

Mimi:
I think he was generally derivative. Not altogether. He would hear a slight part of a melody and then add to it himself. Like I might invent a small part of a melody or begin to sing something and he was so fast to dash in there and pick up on it and use it.

Pat:
Let's talk a little bit about Memories, the posthumous album. On this album is a song called "Morgan the Pirate" which is about Bob Dylan. What about the relationship between Richard and Bob Dylan?

Mimi:
I think they had a general respect for each other as creative people and personally it was very hard on Dick to watch this young punk, almost, become a star in front of Dick's eyes and because of Joanie being involved with Dylan we were close and we were often meeting each other and doing things together. I think Dick was frustrated by seeing this younger person be so successful and so prolific.

Pat:
Yes, but Richard was also very prolific and even wrote articles about what Dylan was doing.

Mimi:
It's hard to feel great when you're not being acknowledged at the time.

Pat:
The Newport Folk Festival in 1965 was a memorable kind of event. Could you tell us how you saw it from the performers' standpoint?

Mimi:
It was really frightening because we started to play and something happened in the audience. I didn't know what, but people were getting up to leave. I thought we were really doing a crummy job and I thought, "Ah, here it goes, we've lost them. This is the end of the road. Here we've come to this big festival and it's all over." When actually it had just started to rain and they were getting up to take their clothes off to dance.

Pat:
Well, then apparently when you and Richard performed it brought them all together and there seemed to be a kind of spirit.

Mimi:
There was a good feeling. Everyone ended up having a great time that day.

Pat:
Are these festivals particularly hectic for the performers? Things like Woodstock seem to be really incredible.

Mimi:
They're hectic on everybody, especially the people who put them on.

Pat:
In the last album [Memories] it looks like Richard is moving in some new directions, talking about directing and producing. What were some of the things he was into, say the last six to nine months of his life?

Mimi:
He had written a play called The Shelter which was going to be put on in the east coast, but we moved away just before that took place. The play has never been produced and he was beginning to write a children's book and beginning to write more songs.

Pat:
Did Richard ever talk to you--let's move a minute to his literary writings--of the kinds of books he read which really influenced him?

Mimi:
No, not much. Because I was so illiterate it was hard to make any kind of conversation with me on the subject, but the house was always full of books, a lot of books from college, from college literature courses.

Pat:
In Richard's novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me did you help him rewrite, go over it and edit it according to what Random House wanted? Did you get a feeling as he was writing it that there was a tremendous amount of change? In other words, that this was a novel in process, being rewritten constantly when he was working it, like an organic thing...

Mimi:
Yes, definitely, because he had started it before he went to Europe and was continuing it in Europe when I met him and then had to put it aside as we traveled back to California and got married and did a bunch of things that took up time. So when he got back to finishing it and rewriting it, a lot of his life had changed already from, well, one marriage to another, and so one style to another.

Pat:
Characters like Gnossos and Motherball and some of the more wild, insane and memorable people that populate this novel are supposed to be real. Is that true? Were these based on real characters that you or he would know?

Mimi:
I think that all of them were people he knew. Occasionally I would meet an old college friend and say to Richard, "Hey was that so and so?" And he would say, "You guessed it, but don't tell anybody." And then they were often just combinations of people. Also stereotypes.

Pat:
Did Richard feel some kind of conflict between the role of being a musician and a writer? It is very unusual that anyone is both versatile enough to do albums and write novels.

Mimi:
I don't think he felt any conflict.

Pat:
He liked it.

Mimi:
Yes. He was a performer. Wherever there was a gathering of people he enjoyed being the center of attention. Would demand it, and was good at it, and was funny. And so singing fit into his personality very well.

Pat:
Let's talk about some of the things you've been doing recently. I know you were studying dancing in Paris when you met Richard. Have you done very much with dancing? Any professional dancing?

Mimi:
Not much professionally. I've done dancing all my life and when in Paris from age 16 to 18, I didn't go to school. I did my high school at home, but I did go out to dance classes. And that particular year I joined a troupe there that went to Germany and performed. And I haven't done that much performing. When I came back to the states I continued to study dance and was in those horrible small town recitals. Just for something to do. And I taught dance every once in a while. Two summers ago, before I started writing songs, before I decided to sing again, I joined a troupe in San Francisco and performed with them a little while.

Pat:
That reminds me. One of the things which has always intrigued me about Been Down So Long is that unlike a lot of contemporary novels, the idea of alienation seems to be outgrown in the novel. I think this is also true in many of his songs. Richard seems, from what I've read about him, to have been an unusually optimistic kind of person, for a writer, anyway, in the twentieth century. Would you characterize him as optimistic, or party-loving, or interested in celebrations?

Mimi:
Yes, definitely. He loved ceremonies. He loved celebrations. He loved to give presents and get presents. He loved parties.

Pat:
O.K. Now Richard starts out in writing music apparently from a fairly, what I would call, hard-line folk scene, considering the funky stuff on this first album he cut. What was his reaction when electronics started getting into folk music around '64 or '65?

Mimi:
I think he was eager to use it. Anything new to him seemed to be exciting if he could use it and understand it. And he could use and understand just about anything that crossed his path.

Pat:
Did he know [Pete] Seeger very well or was he particularly influenced by him at all?

Mimi:
I don't think so. I don't think he was particularly influenced, and Seeger's not that easy to know.

Pat:
On his album, Singer Songwriter Project, Fariña appears with three other people and it's curious that some of these performers have been revived lately. One of them is Patrick Sky. The others are Dave Cohen and Bruce Murdoch. Do these people ever get together as far as you know and perform or is this an album that puts four different guys together?

Mimi:
They were four different guys. And I know that Patrick Sky still sings and David Cohen, who is now David Blue, is still a performer. I don't know about Bruce Murdoch.

Pat:
Richard mentions some of these people as contributing to a new kind of folk scene so it seems possible anyway that he was searching for a kind of identity through folk music, through redoing it somewhat, through coming up with his own brand of folk music?

Mimi:
Uh-huh.

Pat:
Were you surprised in '65 when Dylan was booed off the Newport Folk Festival stage with electronic music?

Mimi:
I don't think I was that involved. I don't think I was watching that carefully even to be surprised. I know a lot of people were. A lot of people were hurt and they felt this was the end of the folk era, this is sad. But it was progress of a kind.

Pat:
Who are some of the people performing now that you particularly like and think are good talents?

Mimi:
A lot of the people who I like are writers and aren't that much into performing. One is Paul Siebal. I'm really nutty about his songs. And Randy Newman who writes crazy songs and I'd love to be able to write like him. I go on kicks of individuals. I like listening to Joni Mitchell. I like the songs my sister's been writing.

Pat:
Talking about Joni Mitchell, don't you feel that there are some differences between the kind of songs that you're doing now and the kind of work Joni Mitchell is into?

Mimi:
Yes, I feel so. I think she is an excellent songwriter, but her writing has no social consciousness as far as I'm concerned.

Pat:
Isn't it somewhat unusual though for a musician to be getting involved in social consciousness?

Mimi:
It may be. I don't think it should be.

Pat:
Good. What are some social issues you personally are into now?

Mimi:
I think that there are a lot of musicians who, when they come off the road from traveling, sit around and don't do much with their lives and are probably confused if they are not busy writing or practicing. Those hours in the day that are spend either hanging out or wondering what to do for the rest of the afternoon, I think could be well spent singing in places like hospitals, mental institutions and old peoples' homes, for free, where people really need to hear music, where it really does a lot of good.

Pat:
And you think you could get musicians that would really be interested in doing this?

Mimi:
I would like to organize and see if I could do that. I think it would be easy. I think that when people don't have something to do for an afternoon or for a week, that to supply them with an idea is an attractive thing to do for them. Right now it's a matter of organizing the musicians. So far I've spoken only to Graham Nash and he has indicated his interest.

Pat:
We talked before about loneliness that musicians or people on tours have. What about that?

Mimi:
I've been lucky in that I've had a partner these past two years and whenever there is a hotel room I don't have to sit by myself, alone, but I can see that it would be very lonely unless you're out to be with a lot of groupies and then you gather groupies in your room. But when you're not either singing or you're not doing an interview, when you're not working, the hours can get lonely in a strange town. And I think musicians who travel feel that a great deal.

Pat:
Don, you look like you've got some questions or comments.

Don:
I was wondering about the importance of the words in your songs. Like you said you're interested in Joni Mitchell's music. She says she likes the way the words sound rather than that they have some kind of meaning. What about your words? How much importance do you put on the words?

Mimi:
The importance, to me, of the words is what they say, not so much how they sound, although that is definitely important in poetry. But what needs to be said and what people need to feel in this day and age where technology has taken away, or we've let it take away is the importance of our feelings and our spirit for living. What needs to be said is a reminder that we all have a spirit for living. What needs to be said is a reminder that we all have a spirit and that there is a miracle that creates us and that that is magnificent and we should all acknowledge that and know that and live by it. I find that very exciting to think about. It's probably exciting to Joni Mitchell to hear words flow together and that is not as interesting to me; although it is beautiful, it is not as important.

Don:
I suppose you could do the same thing with an instrumental number as she does. It is more of a sound.

Mimi:
An emotional mood. And I guess that is what poetry is, portraying emotion, but it can be much deeper, too. Not to say that I think I'm very deep, but I think that the things I want to say have some relevance.

Don:
Pat?

Pat:
I want to ask you a couple of other questions about Richard as a composer and writer. Did he tend to write in a vacuum, or did he talk to other people or read you his short stories as he was half done with them or how did his creative scenario work?

Mimi:
Well, "a day in the life of" would begin with a shower at about seven in the morning and then a bit of something to eat. Meanwhile, I was still asleep and then he would settle himself down in a big chair and put the typewriter on his lap and maybe five minutes would go by before he'd start swearing, which meant that he had lost his eraser or his pencil and maybe he couldn't find the paper. There was maybe a ten minute sequence after that of putting the typewriter down, looking under the couch, looking where could the eraser be. Oh, damn it, where did this go, where did that go. And that meant it was time to have a cookie, or a little something in the kitchen, maybe a cup of coffee. So, that took up maybe a half an hour. It was a little performance that went on every morning. I usually kept my eyes closed because I could play no part in it. It wasn't my show. And then, finally, he would settle down and type for maybe four hours and then eat something and continue in the afternoon or take a break--go for a ride by the beach or go to the library and do some research, but he was always active. And he'd write until evening at which time he liked to cook dinner. You can see that I was pretty much out of the picture at the time.

Pat:
So then his problem as a writer essentially seemed to be to get started:

Mimi:
Uh huh. The morning performance. It was a real pattern and it was hysterical. If I told someone about it and said come over, you won't believe it, there it would be every morning. One morning he woke up and got in the shower and I thought, 'Oh, no, he couldn't have lost his pencil in there.' And it turned out that his right hand was paralyzed and he couldn't shave and he couldn't turn the shower knobs. And I said, 'What is it?' and he said, 'I can't move my right hand.' And he was prone to becoming very excited over things like this, so I thought he was just getting excited over nothing, and said, 'Oh, well'…but then he said, 'No, honestly, I can't move my hand!' We didn't have a telephone and he said go tell the Marcuses, our neighbors, go tell them to call a doctor, something is really wrong here. So I left the house and dragged myself to the Marcuses' and I said, 'Dick is complaining again. I don't know what. He says he can't move his hand,' and Mr. Marcus, who's a writer, felt some immediate sympathy and said we should look into this. And it turned out that he was 20 pages before finishing his novel and it was, I consider, a psychological event. The doctors--we saw three doctors because he was not satisfied with seeing one--told him that he should rest and take some tranquilizers and make himself sleep because he hadn't had enough rest and he was getting so excited to finish that novel that he freaked.

Pat:
You mentioned, I think in Long Time Coming and a Long Time Gone, that Richard would get sort of funny-cynical, that he had a side to him that was not particularly optimistic, but that was really related to rip offs or goofing, as people used to call it in the sixties. A kind of a prankster in him. Were you ever along on some of these prankster-type escapades?

Mimi:
He would occasionally try to drag me in on them. Sometimes it was fun on stage. He was pretty much of an actor and he could do a lot of accents. Every once in a while he would turn to me on stage with a British accent and say something. And I would turn back and say something with a British accent. That could be fun, but occasionally we'd be in an interview, say like this, in a studio, and he'd suddenly be playing President Johnson and I would have to play Lady Bird and I was, first of all, pretty much incapable and secondly, didn't like putting on the act for these poor interviewers, who didn't suspect this was going to happen. I felt this was kind of rude. So, in a sense, he was really a prankster and it was a drag to put people on like that.

Pat:
One of the things that has fascinated me about his methodology of working, as you suggested, is that he seems driven almost with a Puritan consciousness. He really has something to say and he must work this out. But didn't you also go on tours and have time when he would stop writing, when he would be working on other kinds of things? Vacations or trips or something?

Mimi:
I guess the most vacation or trip away from work that we ever had was an acid trip away from work that took three days or so, at the most three days of him not working, but other than that he was always either jotting down notes or picking up an instrument and getting a tune in mind. It never stopped. It was exhausting.

Pat:
I would imagine. There are a lot of what I would consider apocryphal, unless they are true, of course--romantic things, like Richard Fariña was born at sea and has been traveling ever since. Is this true or not?

Mimi:
I think it is not true. I don't think he was born at sea at all. I think he was probably born in Brooklyn. But I don't know for sure.

Pat:
Richard also liked to do the liner notes for record jackets, and, in fact, it has been suggested that some of his best writing is in the liner notes. So, apparently, he took this very seriously, like any other writing assignment.

Mimi:
He would do it for friends occasionally and he did take it seriously.

Don:
I have a question. We were talking about how in Been Down So Long his characters were pretty much stereotyped and based on people he knew. What about the characters you sing about in your songs? Do you find yourself drawing from people you know?

Mimi:
Definitely. They're either songs directly about people that I know, or knew, or else they'll start out to be with someone specific in mind and then blend into a song that is pretty general. Like the song "Madman." The first verse was about a friend that I have and it fell into being a general statement.

Don:
When you do something like that you're really opening yourself up very much. Do you find any kind of--I don't know if paranoia is the right word--feeling in yourself?

Mimi:
I don't feel that I have anything to hide and when I write things and don't realize what they are and find out later what I've written, I think, well, too bad, if it's something that I wouldn't want. Actually, so far that hasn't happened.

Don:
But if you write a song, do you get more out of it looking back at it?

Mimi:
Yes. Sometimes the meaning will come months later. That is the old unconscious working.

Pat:
There is a songbook that is put together of your songs [The Songs of Richard Fariña] and I wonder if you could comment on this or on how such books are put together. Do they differ a great deal from what's actually on the record?

Mimi:
I have no idea who put this songbook together, but I like it. These songs were recorded first and never written down and whoever put the songbook together knew what he was doing, because it is all appropriately done. Dick and I, neither of us, wrote music, so somebody had to listen to the music and then write it down after hearing it.

Pat:
But then, for instance, when you were, say, cutting a record, you didn't have music. This wasn't down on music. This was all in your head?

Mimi:
Yes. The lyrics might have been written out, but generally not even that because we'd learn the song and perform it enough before recording it to know what it was. And then musicians came in to help. There are two kinds of studio musicians, those who read music and those who just jam. Los Angeles is filled with excellent musicians who don't read and it's really a lot of fun to see a musician come into a studio and in four minutes figure out what the whole song is, the meaning of it, how it flows and add his part to it. I think that is a sensational thing. And then there are those who read. You just put it in front of them, they do it and leave. They don't become involved at all, but they do it well. I mean they're all good.

Don:
What about the instrumentation on it? Who did the instrumentation and how much?

Mimi:
On which? On the old records?

Don:
O.K. On the old records. I just wondered how much is planned out ahead of time for certain instruments to do this, or how much is just….

Mimi:
Usually the songs are written and practiced either with just guitar and dulcimer or now I play guitar and my partner plays guitar and it'll be worked out on two guitars and you take it into the studio and the producer says, "Well--gee, I think it needs a piano here and a drum there and a conga here," and either you agree or disagree and you have a meeting or a discussion, and then he calls up various musicians.

Don:
So it comes down to a little more committee work than actually you picking out the things.

Mimi:
I think so, yes. It's not that way with all record companies. I'm really lucky to have been with Vanguard and now A.&M. where you can do that. Some companies will take a tape or a demo and add whatever the hell they want and it comes out sounding--well, you could be Sinatra or James Taylor, whatever they happen to add to the background.

Don:
A hundred and one strings and there you are.

Mimi:
That is really tough on musicians. I think it is very unfair, but those are the large corporation companies.

Pat:
Where do you think protest music is at today?

Mimi:
Ah....Well, I think it needs a form. Protest music is like marching--it reaches a point and then it seems worthless. There's a place for protest in music but there has to be a new form and it has to be non-violent, peaceful. Today it's easier to be subtle and have people understand the meaning. People are much hipper now.


Home