Michigan’s favorite son is back, and is biding his time at home like the rest of us. Jeff Daniels, esteemed actor, playwright, and musician, released his new album late last year. It’s aptly titled “Alive and Well Enough,” which pretty much sums up how many of us are doing these days. He joined Stateside to talk about the album, politics, and his virtual concert at the Midland Center for the Arts on Friday, January 29.
A Michigan man
Daniels lives in Chelsea, Michigan and has been a long time political observer, which features heavily into the album. This past in politics was a tumultuous and featured Michigan prominently with the armed protests, Gov. Whitmer’s kidnapping plot, and status as a swing state. Daniels talked about Michigan’s past political history, bringing up a time when politics seemed more friendly.
“We’ve always been a swing state for a reason, we’re not one or the other, we’re both, and we live next to each other,” Daniels said. “But that was when we could talk to each other. That was when Tip O'Neill and Ron Reagan could sit in a room and work something out. That was when Boehner and Obama almost did. And that’s not the case anymore. I look at it more as the Republican Party having to decide whether it wants to continue as one thing or the other and deal with it. I think it’s an in-house, internal problem right now, inside the Republican party. You could see it coming as soon as Trump took over.”
A political album
“Alive and Well Enough” touches on a range of topics from Trumpism to the toxic wasteland that the internet can be. One of his songs, “Come A Little Closer” was started right after Trump won the election in 2016. Another track, “I am American” with Detroit blues singer Thornetta Davis, tackles the racial unrest from this past summer.
“It’s just a statement, as you know, we can be a new America, we really can,” Daniels said. "We have far less to fear from each other than some people think. We can be better by being inclusive. We can be smarter, we can truly be the greatest country in the world, as Will MacAvoy [Daniels’ character in "The Newsroom”] argued, if we deal with things like this and I am America gives value to everyone who is walking in this country. And so, that’s kind of where it came from, and then Thornetta took it over and turned it into like a prayer, it really becomes her prayer, of “'Please, all I ask of you is to give me my freedom. That’s all I ask.'”
Online concerts and virtual gatherings
On Friday, January 29, Daniels will host a virtual concert at the Midland Center of the Arts. While it’s still something to get used to, Daniels said it takes a specific mindset to get over the lack of a responsive crowd.
“I’ve done so many movies and TV, it’s like working in front of the camera. The difference is you’re looking right down the barrel of the lens, you’re talking to one person sitting on the other side of that lens, either on their couch, or you know, their living room or on their laptop, wherever. But you’re playing to one or two people on their couch, that’s the trick. And so you don’t have to shoot it as far, you don’t have to send it to the balcony of a performing arts center or even a 200, 300-seat club,” Daniels said. “I pretend that the person sitting on that couch is listening and interested, and that they think I’m funny. That’s all you need, a little positive push forward and then you can roll through the show and entertain them on their couch and that’s the trick.”
Getting inspiration while staying at home
It’s been hard for many to get inspired when daily life largely involves staying at home. Even movie stars like Daniels feel the drone too.
“It’s tricky, I’m not being very prolific right now, and I wonder if that’s part of it,” Daniels said. “We’re all dealing with the same thing, we’re all in the same boat. And maybe that would be inspiring, now you can write songs that everybody understands about this, all this thing that we’re going through. Or, there’s nothing there, you’re staring at a wall, you know, which is kind of what it feels like. It’s been tricky, I did write a little bit, and it was dealing with the pandemic, and then added some other songs that I thought fit the album, but yeah I’m not writing anything new, I’m not sure why I’m not.”
More information on Daniels’ concert at the Midland Center for the Arts can be found here.
This article was written by Stateside production assistant Olive Scott
Support for arts and culture coverage on Stateside comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.