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Adam Richman has accomplished some incredible culinary feats across the country on his show Man vs. Food, but it’s his Brooklyn roots that inspire his musical choices, including the Beastie Boys and Jay Z. He also makes stops along the way to appreciate Irish culture, the soulful sounds of Sam Cooke and Southern rock. Man Vs. Food Nation premieres tonight on the Travel Channel.
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1. Beastie Boys - Rhymin and Stealin
2. U2 - Sunday Bloody Sunday (live)
3. Drive-By Truckers - Let there be Rock
4. Sam Cook - Nobody knows the trouble I've seen
5. Jay-Z & Alicia Keys - Empire State of mind
Eric J. Lawrence: Hi I’m Eric J. Lawrence and I am here with Travel Channel Host, Adam Richman. He has accomplished some incredible culinary feats on his show Man vs. Food and is about to launch a new series called Man vs. Food Nation, where fellow food lovers can get in on the action. Today, we’re going to play some songs he’s selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Adam, thanks for joining us.
Adam Richman: Thank you for having me!
EJL: What’s the first track you have for us?
AR: Alright, so the first track is the first Beastie Boys track I ever heard, which is “Rhymin’ and Stealin’” off of License to Ill.
SONG: Beastie Boys - Rhymin’ and Stealin’
AR: I think for me, growing up in Brooklyn, hip hop was an inexorable part of my youth and of the culture I grew up in, especially because my folks got divorced and my mom and I moved to the Steward City Projects, which was a largely African-American development, so hip hop was pretty ubiquitous.
To all of the sudden see a group where two of the guys were named Adam, they were all Jewish, one went to my rival high school – MCA, who happens to be my favorite Beastie Boy. I remember my Mom and I had gone away - I went to a religious Jewish school - and there was like a retreat at this Catskill hotel and I remember I snuck my walkman to bed and I’d just bought License to Ill. And I put my headphones on and my Mom was like, “You’re not listening to music now, it’s too late!” And of course I went under the blankets and stuff. And my babysitter and my cousin had listened to Led Zeppelin and I pressed play and I recognized this riff instantly as “When the Levee Breaks.” And then suddenly, voices that were not terribly unlike mine and experiences not terribly unlike my own were being spit out there.
AR: But I knew when I was under the covers sneaking this music away and feeling like it was something naughty and wonderful, I knew that it was something special and something unlike I had ever heard. And it felt like the beginning of a movement and not just, “Oooh I’ve locked into some great music.”
And so, yeah…I guess to some degree being that I am a Brooklyn kid made good and a Jewish kid named Adam, I don’t know, I think that perennially I think that I find myself rhyming and stealing like for every season of Man vs. Food.
EJL: That was Rhymin’ and Stealin’ from The Beastie Boys. What’s the next track you’ve got for us?
AR: So the next track I have is the live version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” from U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky album. I had played guitar in my youth, my late father played guitar and started teaching me when I was about 4 or 5. And it wasn’t until high school that, obviously, I saw that, well, girls dug musicians. So I wanted to pick my guitar up again. And so for Hanukkah I remember going to Sam Ash with my dad and getting a Stratocaster and I bought…U2 had a songbook called Three Chords and The Truth and I bought that and a U2 songbook.
I knew the “The Joshua Tree” like everyone else and a couple tracks from Unforgettable Fire - which is my favorite U2 album. But I remember one of my best friends, who plays bass to this day, had gotten me into this album and I remember hearing them live and I had never seen U2 live. And there was something so immediate and plaintive and defiant about Bono’s voice and the energy of the song. And then hearing “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” with jagged edges I guess, and hearing it live and hearing the crowd’s response, it just took my breath away. And I immediately learned the opening riff, which I can still play to this day. Which again, I found, it was also a great way to impress girls in high school.
AR: It let me know what live music could be. It made me passionate about wanting to play in a band, to play guitar. And then I honestly looked into what the song meant and I became enamored of Irish culture to such a degree that I ended up getting a research grant and living and studying in Ireland right after I graduated college. I really think that that impetus of loving Ireland and wanting an understanding of it beyond shamrocks and shillelaghs really began with this song and with Bono’s impassions rendition of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”
SONG: U2 - “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
EJL: That was U2 with the live version from Under a Blood Red Sky of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as selected by our guest Adam Richman. Well, what’s the next song you’ve got for us Adam.
AR: The next song I have is “Let There Be Rock” by the Drive-By Truckers and it was a song I kind of came to late. I went away to college in Atlanta, Georgia and I went to Emory University. It was so foreign to me from everything that I had grown up with as a kid from Brooklyn.
I heard this song and it wasn’t just southern rock and roll. To me, “Let There Be Rock” is the song for any kid that ever sang into a hairbrush, any kid that ever played a tennis racket like a guitar - which I did both. I think that there is a universality of not just the transportive power of rock and roll, whether you’re playing it or listening to it, but there is a kind of universal hope and a universal rebellion that’s inherent in this song and even in the experiences that the singer relates in the very, very beginning where he’s just talking about you know, “I’d like to say I’m sorry but we live to tell about it. And we’ve lived to do a whole bunch more crazy, stupid” isht, as they say.
But I think that, again, it reminds me both of going away to college and getting this sort of southern rock experience, but also the sort of yearning and the sort of larger than life aspect that being a rock fan has.
And so, without question, it’s sort of a golden age of that kind of custom van southern rock and roll. And just listening to it, it’s one of those songs that just the scope of it makes my chest swell and a guitar solo that I’m still trying to master.
SONG: Drive-By Truckers - “Let There Be Rock”
EJL: That was “Let There Be Rock” by Drive-By Truckers. What’s the next song you’ve got for us?
AR: The next song, little bit of a departure, it’s from the “Night Beat” album by Sam Cooke. The lead off track is “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” You know, the title alone…Lord knows everybody always thinks about it in terms of this sort of slow Etta James thing that’s sung behind jailhouse bars or something.
But I heard this for the first time, I believe it was in 1998, and I was an acting apprentice at Actor’s Studio of Louisville. And one of the directors had loaned me a copy of this album not too long after my father passed away. And it was so remarkable because here is Sam Cooke intoning about no one knowing the trouble he’s seen but it’s remarkably upbeat and it’s almost the sunshine through the clouds is more what he’s singing about.
SONG: Sam Cooke - “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”
AR: You know, Sam Cooke just had the voice of an angel and the almost caressing he does of these long melody lines…to have derived as much hope and salvation especially in the wake of my father’s passing by a song called “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” made me feel like, not only did this man and did this song get my experience of nobody knowing my sorrow, but it also - the shuffle beat and everything - not only assuaged that self-same sorro,w but let me believe that change is going to come and good things are on the way.
EJL: That was Sam Cooke’s take on the classic spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” What’s the final track you’ve got for us, Adam.
AR: The final track, and I know it’s an insanely popular one and it’s pretty polarizing because it’s as popular as it is. It’s “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys. And not only did I love the fact that there was this amazing anthem of being a New Yorker, but the first line is, “Yeah, I’m out that Brooklyn,” and I am as well.
And he has that line, “And since I made it here, I can make it anywhere.”
And I had this moment, and it actually like brought me to tears, going “my gosh,” because you know I was on food stamps and I road unemployment and I was on my grind for a long time and saw some very bleak financial, emotional, and professional times on my way to success of Man vs. Food. And then I made it. And I made it here. And there’s something about the way, when Alicia Keys sings the hook, you know it’s the truth.
When I’m away from New York, I don’t feel as much of myself. And I miss it so, to a degree that it actually pains me.
SONG: Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys - “Empire State of Mind”
AR: To this day, when I finally get home -- and I say this to you one day off the longest time since Man vs. Food began -- when I’m walking down the jetway, I’m almost always listening to this song. And I get home and it’s like, “You’re God damn right I’m home. And you’re damn right I’m a New Yorker.”
He locks into something very special and very ephemeral about being a New Yorker and making it as a New Yorker. I’m not only in awe of the New York legends, God willing I’m on my way to maybe becoming one myself. So, it’s a special song for a very special place.
EJL: Well, Adam I want to thank you so much for joining us on KCRW.com.
AR: Hey, listen I love this station and thank you. And to many, many more years of being on KCRW. And hopefully I get to be on once again during those years.
EJL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to kcrw.com/guestdjproject.