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Adam Shankman rose through the ranks as a choreographer before stepping behind the camera to direct high profile mainstream feature films. He shares five songs that mark milestones in his life as part of his Guest DJ set, including his first big concert, his move to New York to attend Juilliard, as well as the track that marks his “coming out”. His latest. Adam will be appearing as a judge on this season of “So You Think You Can Dance” and directed the film “Rock of Ages”, out this summer.
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1. Whitney Houston - Love Will Save the Day
2. George Michael - Cowboys & Angels
3. Heart - These Dreams
4. Elvis Costello - Alison
5. David Bowie - China Girl
EJL: Hi, I’m Eric J. Lawrence and I am here with Adam Shankman. He rose through the ranks as a music video dance choreographer before stepping behind the camera to direct high profile mainstream comedy films, as well as episodes of Glee and Modern Family. His latest project is the movie, Rock of Ages. Today we're going to talk about songs he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Adam, thanks for coming down.
AS: Thanks so much for having me.
EJL: What's the first song pick you have?
AS: You know, I was sorted guided to look at songs that were from my past that had some resonance from, you know, kind of the 80's, early ‘90’s and all of that, I guess as part of the whole Rock of Ages thing. But the first thing that I thought of was…because Whitney Houston's been on my mind a lot lately because of, obviously, the tragedy… I actually knew her.
I choreographed one of her videos, "I'm Your Baby Tonight". And so she was…that was actually probably the video that kind of propelled me into the next part of my career. So anyway, yes I've been thinking about her a lot. There's a song she sang called "Love Will Save The Day", which was always one of my favorites because it was very tied into my kind of "coming out" when I moved back to Los Angeles - which is where I'm from - but I went away, lived in Minneapolis for a couple years, and then was in New York and when I came back that song was really big and I remember that was playing in the clubs a lot.
Song: Whitney Houston – “Love Will Save The Day”
EJL: What was it like working with Whitney?
AS: Working with Whitney at the time was really incredible. She was kind of at a career peek at that time, although she hadn't done The Bodyguard yet. That was probably her zenith, but it was all very pre-Bobby Brown and being married. And we had an unbelievable time doing that. I remember going out with the director. The director was Julien Temple and we went out to her house in New Jersey, her compound as it were, and we went down to meet her and I was sort of stunned that it was all happening and I went down into what was ostensibly her game room, I guess, in her basement and she came down and she was all perky and happy and excited to get started and then we started to talk about clothing for all of the different characters in the thing and we walked over to this sort of door and opened the thing and there appeared to be what I thought was a dry cleaner inside her house because it had those electronic racks that go up to another level. And so, it wasn't her dry cleaner, it was just her dress closet.
EJL: And how has the move from choreographer to director been for you?
AS: Super easy because as a choreographer I felt it was a very natural thing. What I'm doing is actually creating visual images, moving people around and telling people kind of what to do and having to make those decisions and so it just was sort of a graduation. But for me, once again, choreography was always a sort of a storytelling feeling.
EJL: That was Whitney Houston with “Love Will Save The Day”. What's your next song choice?
AS: The next song sort of makes me laugh because when I first moved to New York and I was starting at Julliard. I got an apartment though the Juilliard offices and there was a studio apartment on 55th between 5th and 6th.
And I moved into a studio apartment with a roommate. So we shared one room, this stranger and I. He was doing ballet for an Opera Company at the time and like my side of the room -- and it was really gross, the floorboards were all torn up and I'm totally not kidding there was mold all over the walls. Let's put it this way, when my Mom came to visit me the first time and saw the apartment she started crying. But anyway, I had this kind of nice little set up with my little twin bed on one side of the apartment and then right, literally across from me 10 feet, was his bed and he had these crazy collages that he had done. Photo collages of him playing electric guitar, and his girlfriend naked. And I was like, I would tune out and I would put on my George Michael album. And just sit there and try to be in my own little private sane world. And I remember over and over listening to and this is kind of a sweet melancholy-ish song but it's a wonderful song, “Cowboys and Angels” by George Michael.
Song: George Michael – “Cowboys and Angels”
EJL: That was George Michael with Cowboys and Angels as selected by our guest Adam Shankman. What's the next track you got for us?
AS: I think that I wanted to spin Heart, “These Dreams”, because that was a huge song for me at the end of my high school years. And I always…you know that was one of those songs that like I was really young, and in like in my kinda youthful stoner phase and I would listen to lyrics and be like ‘Oh my god, this song is so true!’. Just all the lyrics they were so fragmented and weird, and I was like ‘God they so know what they're talking about. I'm so there with them.’ So it’s always sort of stayed with me I just love that song, I love the Wilson Sisters.
Song: Heart – “These Dreams”
EJL: That was Heart with “These Dreams”. Your next choice is by Elvis Costello, the track “Allison”.
AS: Oh my god, I love this song. I went and saw Elvis Costello in concert, also towards the end of high school and this was also the big… around one of the last times I had a girlfriend, this was like one of the big make out songs. And another one of those ‘Oh my god, these lyrics are just so true,’ songs. And I always thought Elvis Costello was such a genius and one of the greatest musicians that I have ever experienced and in concert it was surreal.
Song: Elvis Costello – “Allison”
EJL: Do you consider yourself a romantic in that sense?
AS: I think I am. I wish I could escape it, you know.
As I've gotten older, I listen to lyrics less and less to lyrics because my life is more full of music than it ever has been because it's work, and keeping sort of abreast of everything that's going on and in music world right now. Sometimes it's not always relaxing for me, sometimes it just feels like work, but back then it was all just sort of the soundtrack of my life.
EJL: That was the classic song “Allison” by Elvis Costello. What's the last track you have for us?
AS: The last track I picked was kind of significant because this was a big song at my first big concert at LA's fabulous forum, David Bowie and the song is China Girl. And I remember we got all the way to the forum and I was responsible for the tickets and realized that I had left them at home and so my friend's mom had to drive us all the way back to my house to get the tickets and we almost missed the show but the first song we walked in on was China Girl. And I will never forget that and it was fantastic. I just loved being there, but you know the other shows that I also saw at the forum were Cheap Trick, Foreigner. I went to so many of these things but Bowie was my first BIG concert.
Song: David Bowie – “China Girl”
EJL: Do you find yourself sort of attracted to performers that are more than just simply musicians that they're full on performers?
AS: Yes. The answer to that question, the short answer is yes. The people that I admire end up being kinda this more complete package and people who dig in a little bit deeper whether it be theatrically, emotionally, presentationally. And that's when I really came into my own was during that time when it really was about presentation and the whole package, you know. I mean it was really interesting making Rock of Ages and going back and looking at all those music videos because they are dreadful -- by the way, I mean dreadful in the best possible way-- but it was all about presentation.
EJL: Well, Adam thank you so much for coming down.
AS: Thanks so much for having me.
EJL: For a complete track listing, to find these songs online go to KCRW.com/GuestDJProject. And subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.