“I’m writing about what I’ve always written about. How do we stand up to whatever life is asking us?”

Songwriter Joe Henry: Reaching toward light.

From a story, “Spurn the Facts, Unveil the Truth: More than ever, Joe Henry seeks the human in his music,” by Jon Pareles in the New York Times:

“The shoe dropped,” as the songwriter and producer Joe Henry dryly puts it, on Nov. 15, 2018. He had been suffering from incapacitating back pain that doctors insisted was temporary; he finally demanded an M.R.I. scan. The first doctor who read it recognized Stage 4 prostate cancer that had metastasized into his bones, and told him he had three to seven months to live. That doctor was wrong. Henry’s cancer is in remission, and he is vigorous and happily making music.

Exactly one year after his diagnosis, Henry has released his 15th solo album, “The Gospel According to Water.” The album is filled with songs that “came in a flood as I’ve never experienced,” Henry said in an interview at his home office and studio. . . .

“If I had dared to think, maybe this is my last record—because at the time I could have easily been convinced to be thinking in those terms—then it’s got to be everything, it’s got to be the ultimate,” he said. “For me, it was, I have to be committed to the absolute truth essence of what these songs mean. And they happened fast and they were alive to me because I gave myself over to them. That’s what I needed to do as a recording artist too, was to stand aside and be available, do my job. I’m not driving the wagon—it’s running away with us. As it always is.”

The new songs invoke time, silence, music, faith, love, death and remembrance—none of them new topics in Henry’s catalog. “I’m writing about what I’ve always written about. How do we stand up to whatever life is asking us? Anybody who’s writing anything, if it’s going to endure, is writing about our baseline humanity and how we hang on to it as long as we can,” he said. “I’m not writing about cancer. I wouldn’t and I wouldn’t know how. This is the black earth out of which these songs have grown. But like any living thing, they’re reaching toward light.”

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