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Indie filmmaker Noah Baumbach makes very personal movies and music planted some early seeds of visual inspiration, from The Car’s black and white video for “Drive” to Bryan Ferry’s scary, sexy mystique. He also selects some lesser known songs from Paul McCartney and David Bowie that were ahead of their time. His latest film, “Frances Ha”, is out now.
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1. “Hide In Your Shell” -- Supertramp
2. “Slave To Love” -- Bryan Ferry
3. “Drive” -- The Cars
4. “Up The Hill Backwards” -- David Bowie
5. “Coming Up” -- Paul McCartney
Anne: Hi I’m Anne Litt and I’m here with filmmaker Noah Baumbach. He’s made a series of acclaimed indie films including his latest Frances Ha. Today we’re playing excerpts of songs he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Welcome.
Noah: Thank you.
Anne: Thanks so much for coming I can’t wait to hear what you’ve brought us. Where do you wanna start?
Noah: Shall we start with Supertramp – “Hide in Your Shell”.
Anne: That song is epic.
Noah: Yes, it is. It gives Meatloaf a run for his money.
Anne: How did you discover that song?
Noah: It was a summer I spent in London with my family, which I guess was in the late 70’s, and a girl who was a friend of the family’s daughter who I had a crush on but was much older than me -- much older probably at that time meant two years, but it seemed much older at the time -- she gave me the record, which is called Record of the Century. It was a kind of cool cover because it was a guy in prison but in space, kind of. It’s very Supertramp. She said, ‘Listen to ‘Hide In Your Shell’ it’s the best song ever.’
Song: “Hide In Your Shell” by Supertramp
Noah: It’s one of the songs that’s great to listen to on an airplane. They’re those songs that you might be slightly embarrassed about on the ground that when you’re in the air suddenly seems like you’re soaring and crying. Also, the whole thing of hide in your shell and it’s all about coming out of your shell.
Anne: Were you shy?
Noah: I had a shy side to me, yeah. I certainly never told this girl that I had such a big crush on her and she was really cool. Her name was Dino. I remember she introduced to me the concept of idols. She used to say, “Who’s your idol?” and I think I said Elton John was my idol at the time. And then I asked her who her idol was and she said her brother and then I felt like ‘Oh, yeah I meant of course my family’s my idol and then of course Elton John after that.’
Anne: Let’s take a listen to “Hide In Your Shell” by Supertramp.
Anne: That was “Hide In Your Shell” by Supertramp. It’s one of Noah Baumbach’s picks. He is our guest DJ today at KCRW. Where are we shifting gears to?
Noah: I thought maybe we’d go “Slave to Love” by Bryan Ferry. The cover, which I still have, was kind of like an orange cover with him with a cigarette, Bryan Ferry with a cigarette, and a woman in the smoke, the plume of the cigarette. I just thought, this is like my fantasy of what I could maybe be if I ever smoked or was British. It was like a fantasy of something I will never be, and I knew I would never be it, but I so wanted to pretend to be it.
Noah: I was totally susceptible to all the cover art on records and 45’s and how the 45 would maybe be a variation of the album art and then, it was true, when the ‘Boys and Girls’ record came out it was still a really cool picture of Bryan Ferry. It’s always sort of like hard to see him exactly. His 80’s records along with Peter Gabriel’s records you could never quite tell what he looked like exactly. This is probably the most handsome man in the world, but I can’t even quite see him with the smoke or maybe he’s through glass or maybe there’s a beast in there. (Laughs). There’s always some kind of scary, sexy thing going on with it and the song “Slave to Love” then hearing it, you know, it’s so romantic and lush and again, I just wish this was my life.
Song: “Slave to Love” by Bryan Ferry
Anne: That was Bryan Ferry with “Slave to Love”. It’s KCRW’s Guest DJ Project and what else did you bring.
Noah: The Cars were so of the time and I guess mid-80’s and I was probably at the height of my embarrassment as a person, listening to so much ‘70s music and really having a hard time embracing what was actually going on. “Slave to Love” in some ways was like safe, I soon discovered, because he’s really a man of the 70’s and so I was embarrassed by how much I liked “Drive”.
When I heard “Drive” for the first time I really thought this may be the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. I thought it was so moving. I lived in Brooklyn and we didn’t have cable so there was no MTV, but there was a UHF station that if you could get it in tune, and it would sort of have the wave in it, you know, but I could kind of see it. The video was in black and white and Paulina Porizkova was in it, I guess right when they were first getting together, and I remember she cries in it. The video was so romantic and the song was so sad and I guess it was really a question of who was going to drive her home, but that seemed like it meant a lot more than really just taking her home.
Anne: Does something like The Cars video inspire you or is that way too big a stretch?
Noah: I’m just thinking that now that I should say that when people say “Why black and white?” and I should say because this Cars video had such a huge impact on me.
I think of music all of the time in relation to when I’m writing and shooting and cutting. Sometimes though it’s different music, like if its stuff I’m thinking about while writing it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work, that it’s literally right. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. Like with Frances Ha I thought in a way I’m trying to make a movie that’s like a pop song, like something that you would play and then be like ‘that gave me such a happy sad feeling I wanna just do it again’. “
Drive” is that way too but in a more straight forward, melancholy way. Whatever they did in that song, it’s a sadness that feels right to feel, like you don’t feel like I don’t want to feel this, you feel like I DO want to feel this way. I really want to cry.
Song: “Drive” by The Cars
Anne: It’s KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. I want to hear about David Bowie “Up The Hill Backwards”.
Noah: Well I picked “Up The Hill Backwards” -- and the whole “Scary Monsters” record I think I’ve come to appreciate more recently. I think because “‘Scary Monsters’ falls between the classic Eno ones – “Low”, “Heroes” and “Lodger” -- and then “Let’s Dance” is after, which I love too. That I always sort of short changed ‘Scary Monsters’ as sort of like a transitional record, but I’ve come now to really love that record. And this song “Up The Hill Backwards” is so unusual it’s like a lot of people are singing you’re not even sure whose record it is, I feel like.
I was in Seattle with my father. My parents were splitting up and he sort of took a teaching job to get out of town and it was Spring Break and I was there with some friends of my fathers who were younger teachers at the school and I was saying I hear this “Let’s Dance” record is really good and the younger teacher said ‘Let’s go buy it’. And the whole concept of being that spontaneous. We got in a car and went to Tower Records in Seattle and bought it. I still remember this as like ‘I can’t believe people do that’. My parents would just be like well someday maybe you’ll hear it. (Laughs).
Song: “Up The Hill Backwards” by David Bowie.
Anne: That was David Bowie’s “Up The Hill Backwards” on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Noah Baumbach is here and what’s the last song you have for us today?
Noah: Like during summers my parents would maybe rent a house somewhere. This time I think we were in Sag Harbor and it was, again, friends of the family and it was an older kid named Roger. His name was Roger Greenberg and I used his name when Ben Stiller played a character in a movie I made Greenberg. He was very nice to donate his name and Roger had bought McCartney II”. I remember loving how McCartney looked on the record because he had a great hair style on it. I’ve always tried to get my hair to look like his hair looks on that, but somehow I can’t do it.
Noah: It’s sort of this notion of solo McCartney and I was trying to figure it all out and the whole sort of drama of The Beatles and everything. I maybe don’t feel totally confident saying this, but I do feel like it was ahead of its time, with all the sort of electronic stuff he did on this record.
Anne: I think you can say that.
Noah: Yeah, it’s almost like Talking Heads-ish almost in a way too. There’s a live version I guess he did with Wings which I guess is maybe a little more of like a rock version of it which is also good. There’s a sadness in his voice, it’s not that his voice is sad, but there’s such a sadness that even when he’s singing about coming up you feel that down too and I think then you don’t really need to listen to the lyrics, it’s kind of all there.
Song: “Coming Up” by Paul McCartney
Anne: Noah, thank you so much for joining us.
Noah: Yeah, thank you it was really fun.
Anne: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to kcrw.com/guestdjproject and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.