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Kristoffer Diaz was recently awarded the Outstanding Playwright Award by the New York Times for his play “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”, which is now playing at the Geffen Theater here in LA. He shares a Santana song that celebrate his Nuyorican upbringing and as well as a White Stripes track that perfectly sums up his place in the creative community and a hip hop song that keeps him pushing harder to achieve more.
1. Survivor - Eye of the Tiger
2. Santana - Oye Como Va
3. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Home
4. The White Stripes - Little Room
5. The Roots - Thought@Work
Anthony Valadez: Hi I'm Anthony Valadez. And I'm here with Kristoffer Diaz who won the 2011 New York Times outstanding playwright award for his play The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety which is now at the Geffen Theater in LA. Today we're going to play excerpts of songs he selected that have inspired him of the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Kristoffer, welcome.
Kristoffer Diaz: Thank you, thank you. It's great be here.
AV: What did you bring for us today?
KD: The first one…. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety is about professional wrestling so I was trying to think of a good wrestling-themed song and, without going too deep into the really esoteric songs that are JUST wrestling songs, I thought of just the first big one which was “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, from Rocky III I guess.
The first time we did a production of this play, we were doing a workshop production, and we used it as sort of a place holder and all of us, all the guys - we were all between you know, 25 and 40 years old - and as soon as the first opening cords of it come on, I don't know if it's a guitar or a bass whatever it is, right at the top of it everybody just gets pumped up and you start looking around and it feels like a football team all getting together. You can't sit down, you can't hold it in.
Song: "Eye Of The Tiger" by Survivor
AV: When it's Kristoffer Diaz alone with a pen and paper, and you're trying to create scenarios, situations, character development -- how essential is the music?
KD: It can be really essential.
I hit a point when I'm in a groove where music goes off. No, actually not when I'm in a groove but when I'm hashing something out, the music goes off. Otherwise the music goes on, usually something more instrumental, something in the background - whether it's flamenco or Afro-punk, or whatever it is. But I'll spend a lot of time when it's just me and the pen, before I get started figuring out exactly what the right song for the right play is.
If I'm listening to the wrong music while I'm trying to write the right play, it's going to end up in the wrong direction. It's been more than once where I've been like - this is bad, cross it out, change the music, try it again. I always figure it out - now we're in the right place.
AV: That was 'Eye Of The Tiger' by Survivor. Kristoffer, What's next?
KD: I was born in Manhattan, my family lived in The Bronx. I'm Puerto Rican so I think “'Oye Como Va" by Santana was kind of an anthem for my family and my parents, my aunts and uncles. Another one that I can't hear and not want to get out of my seat when it's on.
Song: "Oye Como Va" by Santana
KD: For me, I think I appreciated it a lot more as I got older and appreciated that it's really an old salsa song. It's a Tito Puente song originally. And Tito Puente has said 'It WAS my song until Carlos Santana came along and took it away.”
I think the fact that it's a mix between this really traditional Puerto Rican jazzy kind of sound, then mixed with Santana and that incredible guitar and sort of mysterious, rough 70's New York kind of feeling. It really speaks to me, where I come from, in terms of that Nuyorican kind of background.
AV: That was Santana 'Oye Como Va' selected by playwright Kristoffer Diaz as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. What's next for us?
KD: This is a song I believe I heard first on KCRW on Morning Becomes Eclectic, it "Home" by Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros
Song: "Home" by Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros
KD: A couple years ago I was living in Minneapolis on a writing fellowship and I had just started dating my now wife and I was travelling a bunch. I was living in another city - she was in New York, I was in Minneapolis. I was working on plays in Minneapolis, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York over the course of that year and I moved around a lot.
I was never in one place for more than three weeks and sometimes she would be with me, sometimes she wouldn't. We'd be on the phone, emailing back and forth and that idea when - it may be even cheesy to say it - but in the song one of the lines is ‘home is whenever I'm with you" and I think that's been the thing for me and a big thing for us in our relationship -- that no matter what's going on and no matter how much we're travelling, no matter where we are in the world, it's the two of us and we're sticking together. And we played it at our wedding when we cut our cake. So it has a special, personal place in my heart.
AV: That was Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros with the song 'Home'. Great tune. Great record. What's next?
KD: Next is 'Little Room' by The White Stripes. It's 30 seconds long. It's Meg White just going crazy on the drums. It's messy, it's awkward but it's so great and the lyrics are so right on with what I'm living right now.
Song: 'Little Room' by The White Stripes
KD: The song talks about starting out, you're starting out, you're making something. You're locked alone in your little room. It's just you and your guitar –and, in my case, me and my computer, my pen and my pencil.
You create something and you pour your heart into it. If you're lucky, you start to have a little success because of that and then you get to start to move on to larger projects and you get to move on with different collaborators. And I think that's exactly where I am right now in my career, starting to have a little success with this play, starting to think about doing television and film and more projects in the theater, and it's easy to get distracted by that - especially coming out here to Los Angeles and driving under the palm trees and everything.
Ultimately, I know that in order to keep doing the kind of work that's going to make me happy and keep doing work that's going to make me proud of what I'm doing, I have get back to that same kind of feeling when you don’t have anything except you and your tools and you go out and create something that you really care about, something that you're really passionate about. And hopefully it's going to work out in the end.
AV: Wow! That's so cool, Kristoffer was just referring to the White Stripes song "Little Room." Alright, what's your next song choice?
KD: Next, back to my hip hop roots! If I could have done this all with 5 hip hop songs … but this one is the one that gets me the most excited. It's "Thought at Work" by The Roots
Song: "Thought at Work" by The Roots
KD: There's something about this song where he just goes off. So many hip hop songs are 16 bars, hook, chorus - so traditional - and this is just one of those songs where Black Thought just rhymes! He just BEASTS on the track and he keeps going and going and going. He never takes a breath, it feels like. You listen to so many songs and you think the artist is not aiming particularly high, they're doing what they do and they know they can do it well. But then you have somebody like Black Thought, and The Roots in general, who just bite off these huge projects for themselves and this is one that's exhausting to listen to him speak, and listen to him think and the way the rhymes come from every angle and it's inspirational, it the kind of stuff I want to do as a writer and some way want to do in my life I guess. Just to attack the big goals and kill it.
AV: Kristoffer, thanks so much for joining us on KCRW.com
KD: Thank you it's been great, I'm a big KCRW fan and thanks for having me.
AV: For a complete tracklisting and to find out these songs online go to KCRW.com/guestdjproject