Summer Music Q&A

Linda Thompson's Tell-Tale 'Heart'

The singer talks candidly about her first CD in five years, ''Versatile Heart''; her nasty split from guitar legend Richard Thompson; and the fact that she never slept with Elvis

THOMPSON ''But sometimes people do show up [at my concerts] that quite shock me. The guy...Norm from Cheers [George Wendt]! That's my favorite, when he…
THOMPSON ''But sometimes people do show up [at my concerts] that quite shock me. The guy...Norm from Cheers [George Wendt]! That's my favorite, when he shows up''

One of folk music's greatest singers, Linda Thompson spent the 1970s recording a series of now hugely acclaimed — if, at the time, ''selectively'' purchased — albums with her then-husband, guitar legend Richard Thompson. Since their acrimonious personal and professional breakup around the time of the pair's classic 1982 album Shoot Out the Lights, her discography has been slim, thanks to a stress-related condition called hysterical dysphonia which can render her, literally, speechless.

But the 59-year-old Thompson's new CD, Versatile Heart (which will be released on Aug. 14), finds her tackling, with apparent ease, numbers written by herself, two of her children — including singer-songwriter-in-his-own-right Teddy Thompson — and longtime family friend Rufus Wainwright. EW talked to the Brit chanteuse about being admired by Mr. Spock, not going out with Elvis Presley, and why her ex-husband is lucky to be alive.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Versatile Heart comes just five years after your last release, Fashionably Late. That's a blink of an eye in Linda Thompson terms!
LINDA THOMPSON: Yeah, I don't like to flood the market, you know. I don't know why I'm being so leisurely — because God knows I haven't got time on my side! It's just the way I like to do it.

How much of a problem, day-to-day, is the hysterical dysphonia?
Well, it's wonderful that we're doing an interview face-to-face. Because sometimes I have a lot of trouble on the telephone. And, unfortunately, I just can't control when I'm going to have, like, a vice around my throat. It's so boring. Whenever I'm frightened or very stressed I lose my voice.

That's a horror movie, right there!
That is a good idea. Write it immediately!

Was it strange working with your kids?
It can be a little fraught. You know what it's like with families. Teddy's funny because he often just flounces out: ''I can't work like this!'' Then he comes back half an hour later. If you were paying a session musician they wouldn't do that. But it is fun.

Did Rufus Wainwright write the song ''Beauty'' specifically for you?
He did. He wrote it about my eldest daughter, who's not in the music business. I hung on to it for a couple of years and he kept saying to me, when are you going to record my song? I said, ''Rufus, I take a long time!''

Somewhat oddly, he name checks Michael Jackson on the track...
He does. [Laughs] ''The Hope Diamond's up for auction/And what about Michael Jackson?/And I'm smoking again.'' Just non sequiturs, really. But very now, as Rufus is.

You've known Rufus a long time.
Since he was a baby. He was always fabulous looking and very confident. You see confident people like that and you look for a deep well of insecurity. I don't think it's there with Rufus. [Laughs]

Is it true that you wrote a song about Pete Doherty that's not on the album?
Yeah, I did, a song called ''Babyshambles.'' I think it's going on some Japanese version of the album. I find him quite touching. He gets a rotten rap. I worked with him on a TV show and we hung out a bit. He's not terribly well. He's very talented. I think that talent is quickly being dissipated. It's not going to be there much longer, probably. But you never know. He did enough good stuff with the Libertines to give him a stab at being remembered. And he's very beautiful. He's a real quintessential rock 'n' roll tragedy case. I feel for him. Everyone keeps saying Kate Moss should get rid of him. I think he should get rid of her.

Video clip: See Linda Thompson performing ''Dear Mary,'' from her Fashionably Late CD in 2002:

NEXT PAGE: On ex-husband/bandmate Richard Thompson: ''Oh yeah, I was always trying to kick him, poison him, God knows what. Hit him on the head with a blunt object! Oh yeah, I was a nightmare''

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