This reminiscence of my first interview with Al Stewart, a 1998 piece that appeared in Maryland's Music Monthly and in Chronicles, the Al Stewart fan newsletter, predates the now-heady resurgence of the career of the veteran singer-songwriter-guitarist most known in the US for his 1976 mega hit "Year of the Cat." In this article, we get to meet Al at a self-critical moment and at the point where large numbers of people were taking new interest in his body of work. Since then, he has released numerous official and unofficial discs, among them 2000's Down in the Cellars and his stirring newest CD, 2005's A Beach Full of Shells. Stewart is now signed to Appleseed Records. More info on his music and concert appearances can be found at his official site and at NevilleJudd.com.
I was really looking forward to chatting with Al Stewart, long one of my musical heroes. Earlier in the week — Tuesday, the last day of June 1998 — I got to meet and chat with him at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. The thought of getting to talk with him again so soon was unbelievable to me, so I was pretty psyched after the first Bottom Line show when one of the owners of the beloved New York City venue came and told me Al was waiting for me backstage. I saw him instantly — he wasn't in the dressing room, but stood just backstage behind a bevy of curtains.
"Oh, hello, I know you!" he said, reaching out to shake my hand. Amazed that he would remember me from Tuesday, I shook his hand and said hello and how much I enjoyed the performance.
His baby blues flashed. "No, it was awful," he said angrily.
The co-owner demurred. "I thought it was a good show," he said.
"I'm usually much better than this," Al said, turning to me. "Wasn't I? You saw me in Virginia earlier this week."
"Yes, you were wonderful. In fact, it was orgasmic."
"I don't know about orgasmic," said the nightclub owner.
"Oh, orgasmic is the only word to describe it," I insisted. "But you were fine out there tonight."
"Be honest. I was better Tuesday." It must be noted that he didn't look or sound petulant — he wasn't seeking stroking or fishing for compliments. He was genuinely angry with himself — happens when an artist holds standards that exceed his or her admirers'. Al looked up from his dark thoughts and, remembering why we were there, gestured toward the dressing room. "Please come in. Have a seat."