NEW YORK (AP) — Stevie Wonder is fidgeting with his camera phone, embarrassed because he can’t get it to work right.
But wait, it’s not what you think.
Wonder is trying to show a reporter how the device helps him “see” written documents; moments later, the blind superstar reveals how the camera takes photos of text, converts it to audio and reads the words aloud, and instantly has wowed his audience of one.
But Wonder doesn’t need to rely on technology to amaze: Now on a nationwide tour, all he needs to do is open his mouth and start singing some of his classic hits: “Superstitious,” “I Wish,” “As,” “My Cherie Amour” — and he gets a crowd into a frenzy. Actually, just his appearance on stage is usually enough: His icon status is enough to leave an audience in awe.
In person, Wonder, 58, comes off more like your friendly uncle than a legendary musical figure: He cracks jokes, tells stories, and opines about politics and world peace. Here’s a sampling of what Wonder had to say when he spoke recently with The Associated Press.
AP: Before you started touring last fall, your last full-fledged tour was in 1996. Why did you decide to get back on the road?
Wonder: Just having a chance to say thank you to the fans. After I lost my mother in May of 2006 I had said that I wasn’t going to perform for a while. But I got the message (from my mother) to go and spread the message, celebrating some of the feats that we have such as coming together and fighting against apartheid. … We cannot forever think that we will have the blessings that we have without staying on point.
AP: You are a supporter of Barack Obama. One refrain from a lot of people is that they never thought they’d see a day where there was a tangible possibility of a black president. Did you feel that way, too, or did you think that it could happen some day in your lifetime?
Wonder: Of course I did. I always felt: Why not? What’s the big deal? Some day there will be a Latino president and an Asian president and a Jewish president. We can’t talk about those things and then not be. The Lord that I serve says the impossible is unacceptable. If we can fly to Mars and have many trips to the moon … we will find the cure to cancer. I just feel that we need to use more of our power for the goodness. … We are in a battle for good and evil. You’ve got to take a position. My focus is not just because he is an African-American … but his spirit is one of being kind of free.
AP: If Obama is elected president, are you angling to perform at the inauguration?
Wonder: I’m just excited. Obviously, if I’m invited to be there, it’s an honor, but I didn’t do all of that to get a pat on the back. … I’m just excited about it. It’s time for America and the world to grow up and grow into the right now and stop the B.S., and B.S. stands for breaking the spirit.
AP: You have been more than a singer but an activist for years. Do you wish that younger singers were as concerned about social issues as you have been?
Wonder: There are very conscious people … you’ve got various people doing their thing. There is a place of consciousness within. Someone has to stand out there and sometimes they have to stand alone. At the end of all that you are going to have people who take a position and move us forward. That doesn’t mean that every single artist has to write some conscious song.
AP: Can you appreciate some of the less conscious — perhaps even a bit ignorant — songs on the radio today?
Wonder: The good thing about satellite radio is … that there’s a freedom of expression that happens. I’m not going to let my kids listen to raw (stuff), but I might a little. (Sings a little bit of Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop”). I didn’t know so many people were licking and sucking … it’s all over the place (laughs)!
AP: You ever wish you had the freedom back in the day to get a little raw on record?
Wonder: I don’t think I would do a song that said can we (expletive) right now or anything like that. I don’t think I would do something like that, or a song that said certain things, whether it be 30 years ago or right now. I don’t see myself as doing that just because there are other things to saying what you wanna say without saying it like that. That’s private business… I’m not an advocate of giving everything up. (Laughs.)
AP: You mentioned you are a fan of Nas. What do you think of the whole controversy about him initially wanting to title his new album the N-word?
Wonder: I’m not with the word only in that we had buried the word and it should have been buried. People say, ‘Well, we use it for fun and whatever.’ I’m not really feeling it and I know sometimes it comes in conversation … For all the pain that has happened over the years, what that word brings up, it needs to go away.
AP: You have new projects coming out in the fall. Now veteran stars like the Eagles and Radiohead are finding new ways to put out music outside of traditional labels. What do you think of that?
Wonder: The world is changing. Things are just different. The world is evolving every day, so you have to stay with it or get left behind. If there was a deal that I felt good about, I would jump right on it!
Photo: Stevie Wonder