Joe Henry —
The Mystery and Adventure of Life and Songwriting

In life as in song, Joe Henry says "we're really called not to dispel mystery but to abide it, to engage it." He brings an inward wisdom to the art and craft of making music. Cherished by fans and fellow musicians alike, he’s produced a dozen albums of his own and for an array of artists, including Ani DiFranco, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Allen Toussaint, and Billy Bragg. And he’s written songs together with Rosanne Cash and Madonna. With Joe Henry, we probe the mystery and adventure of discovering life through music.

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is a Grammy Award-winning producer and singer-songwriter. He's recorded 13 albums and produced dozens of other artists. He's the co-author of Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him. His albums include Invisible Hour and the forthcoming Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad — a collaboration with Billy Bragg.

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In the Room with Joe Henry

Joe Henry performed "Sparrow" from Invisible Hour at On Being on Loring Park. You can listen and download the song, and watch his full performance.

"It wasn’t peace I wanted
So it wasn’t peace I found,
I wouldn’t stand for reason
And it never would sit down."

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Writing for me is like breathing. I can't live if i can't sing 'cause singing is a call to the Mistery. This is stronger than any music business, it brakes any chains and every limit and it makes me fell FREE

Singing is like breathing. I couldn't live without singing. It goes beyond every limit and it's a direct call to the Mistery! It brakes every limit and any music business logic

Great show!

Joe's song "Good Fortune" lifted me out of a deep, dark hole.

Beautiful reflections. Thank you.

An absolutely inspiring discovery. My thanks to Krista and her team. Keep up the very fine work that you do!

I am a devoted fan of On Being and listened to Krista Tippett when her NPR show was Speaking of Faith. I've listened since my earliest days as a professor and ethnomusicologist +15 years ago. I am also a singer-songwriter.

Listening to this show with Joe Henry, I really admired the quote from John Cage (who I learned was quoting artist William De Kooning's dictum – "The art of the past doesn't influence me, I influence it"). The Cage quote was "The past doesn't influence me, I influence it." I truly loved what Joe shared about Harry Belafonte confronting rap artists in Berlin. A great usual.

What a rich conversation to listen to on a long drive home last night. Thank you!

Ah, dancing around the "G" word and, wrestling with angels, or G-- her/himself. Being an uncomfortable American or person from a Christian background...Thanks Joe and Krista. I am jealous of your relationship with David, Joe. Lucky you.

I very much enjoyed listening to this interview with Joe Henry and appreciate his willingness to articulately discuss his creative process and other anecdotes from his life. I had never heard of him before, but after hearing several of his songs I was struck with by their beautiful melodies and meaningful lyrics. I loved what he took away from reading Thomas Merton regarding writing for yourself versus writing for the love and betterment of humankind. "The Sparrow" is a gorgeous song. After listening to this interview, I feel as though I just turned over a rock and found a gold nugget that will make my life more enjoyable and thoughtful. Thank you Krista Tippett and the team at On Being for bringing Joe Henry to my attention. He's an artist with a lot to say, and he does it in a beautiful, thoughtful way.

Thank you for introducing me to Joe Henry. His poetry and music are a breath of fresh air and really give me something to chew on.

Joe speaks of how he came to know this show, of hearing Joanna Macy invoke Rilke and read his words, and of knowing that this kind of expression was something that he knew he belonged to, that this was his lineage in some way.

When I heard this discussion and Joe’s comment I found myself saying “yes” to something that I had not yet been able to articulate myself. This show is such a gift in bringing together these very different folks from so many disparate worlds who speak, nevertheless, a common gracious tongue.

My own Macy/Tippett moment came when Joanna read Rilke’s “Widening Circles”:

"I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?"

I thought of these lines again as Joe spoke of his parents’ faith that was not his own, and yet how the imagery of that faith is something that he draws from for art, yes, but also for life itself. As a Midwestern preacher’s kid just about the same age as Joe and Krista, and also following a different path, I feel like we are all still singing the old songs from the old hymnal, but that the songs are now our songs because we have lived them ourselves, true as possible to our own callings.

I also don’t have any idea what I am—bird or weather or music—but it seems enough to say that I am someone who has been circling, never knowing whether the next circle will be my last, still giving myself to it.

A wonderful conversation, Joe and Krista.
Thank you.

The Accompaniment of Hands

on a sunny day
amidst the shadows of a border town
continents of musicians play.

I recognize each one
at percussion, at keys, on brass and guitar.

Virtuosos, anchors in other bands,
disparate bodies gathering to jam.

This will be a conga from Brazil to New Orleans.
This will be known by every foot here:

no CDs for sale
not an audience but a migration of souls.

This is grandparents,
mothers and sons.

This is a spinning of dervishes
round their dads.

Tell me
What is this sabbath?!

What is this day
we are raised into?!

Thank you for this respectful reflection of Mr. Henry’s music and muse. That Ms. Tippett and Mr. Henry can hold differing spiritual aspirations, and still appreciate one another’s intentions and productions is wonderful to witness. I think Kyle Meredith hit it right when he said to you, Mr. Henry, you are like “The Great Rememberer.” So, keep on, keep on with the realizations: musical, lyrical, and humane.

Buckminster Fuller quotes? I am curious where the Buckminster Fuller quotes come from. I find them intriguing, but did a quick internet search and did not come up with anything. Does anyone know?

I believe he used to be on AM radio and it was an esoteric themes program as well as ...far out alien stuff?
Limitless possibility stuff. The third shift mechanic and all the truck drivers clued me in at work, before my graduate studies.

Anyway, I find I understand all this as an artist, yet when applied to the treachery of coworker conversations among women
I find, the dominant egomaniac archetype steps in and controls my life in human form, and all this stuff goes out the window. In other words, this is a personal working tool/situation, reflective.

Thank you for this. I was amazed and touched by how profound and articulate Joe Henry is, not always a quality of musicians.

I listened to the podcast of On Being with Joe Henry today as I was driving from Chicago to my home near Milwaukee. When you were both talking about the importance of being in the present moment as opposed to regretting the past or worrying about the future, I found myself taking very calm slow deep breaths. It's as if my body responded to what you were talking about before my brain could comprehend the information. I also realized that in the last few years as I went through some very very traumatic times(my sister and son, and mother died), being in the present moment was the only thing that kept me sane. I actually find that I have to choose many many times in the day to be there and it was easier than when things are not so stressful. That was a gift.
Thank you so much for On Being, I love it. I find it very nourishing.

".. all spirituality is ... how do we live fully in the constant conscious knowledge that we won't always." This may be true of Western Protestant spirituality, but not of all human spirituality. Coming from a Middle Eastern Jewish background, I find Protestants to be extremely preoccupied with the self. I want to tell all those preachers on the subway who say I need to accept Jesus to be saved that my own salvation is not a concept that concerns me. My spirituality arises from what Heschel called radical amazement -- the wonder of existing in a universe that, on a human scale, is infinite and eternal.

Yes, since going to a Protestant grad school I understand now why so many people are so crude and know it all, and out for #1. Our nation is founded in this...Even their mission trips to somewhere expensive glorify them mostly. I am glad to have grown up in another tradition and now, can see, explore and understand more about human history prior to Martin Luther, and since.........

It is too advanced for most, and to profitable to help them understand.

Well I didn't mean my comment as a condemnation of Western Protestantism; I just wanted to make the point that not all human spirituality is based on the individual's contemplation of his/her own mortality.

I didn't know Joe Henry until now. I am so happy to hear this "grownup" music with important lyrics, interesting tunes, and good guitar picking. I will seek out more.

I really liked John Henry's views on "marriage being a verb"and wish that more of us had the luck to find matches with such noble intent.
My heart has found a much needed respite with you and your guests Krista.thanks love :) *hugs*