Jackson Browne

“Songwriting is the process of self-revelation. You’re trying to reveal something to yourself that you only feel or sense, or maybe you’re trying to explain how you feel, but you don’t know you feel until you begin to try and describe it.”

Jackson Browne on songwriting

May 1997



“The Pretender”

Music and Lyrics: Jackson Browne

Producer: Jon Landau

“The Pretender” was only a minor hit single, reaching #58 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, it gained substantial progressive rock radio and album-oriented rock airplay and has since become a staple on many classic rock formats. It was featured in the 1995 film, Mr. Holland’s Opus.

On the VH1: Storytellers you did, I heard that on the song “The Pretender,” you fantasize about being a session player, Fred Tacket.

Yeah. Well, it seemed to me that he had a great life. I envied the work that he was doing because he was a very valuable player. He was somebody that thought of great parts, and he was reliable. One of his great strengths is tone and rhythm. He would just go in there and mix up work. I thought, ‘That’s really noble work.’ It’s also—it’s not self-important work. It’s not being the center of attention. It’s being the stuff. It’s the glue. It’s what makes everything work.

And I also just like the fantasy of just going to work every day and [that’s] actually what the song is about. It’s about [how] I want to just go to work every day and come home and live this simple everyday life. There’s a certain redemption in that. A certain kind of peace attainable by not placing too much importance on what you’re doing.

In the song, I also fantasize about [how] I don’t know what became of those dreams I had. But maybe what I’ll just do is rent a house and go to work and live simply. That person has not really given up on the expectations of those dreams. He’s sort of trying on a disguise in a way, you know, by the way, it’s being said, and the nuance is the language, and he’s turning these doubts back and forth in his mind.


In a way, Fred was like the embodiment of that fantasy for me. Maybe I could get a job doing that. Well, the thing is, I’m not really that kind of a player. It’s not what I was drawn to. I never really tried being a guitar player, but I come into contact with those guys all the time. Fred is also an amazing songwriter and wrote two of the best songs that anybody ever wrote: “Fool Yourself” and “I Want to Find A City Open All Night.”

He was much deeper than just a session player.

Yeah, that’s part of that fantasy; nobody knows what you got. You’re just going to work like everybody else, but in fact, you have this very rich inner life, and you’re capable of writing these songs, and to me, he’s embodied in that.

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