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Oscar winning screenwriter Jim Rash, who also stars in the NBC series Community, shares a song that can combat writer’s block, reflects on his youthful misadventures, and picks two timeless soul singers. Rash is currently hosting the Sundance series The Writers’ Room, taking an inside look at writing for some of television’s biggest shows.
Tuesday Heartbreak -- Stevie Wonder
Sweet Child 'O Mine - Guns and Roses
Ants Marching -- Dave Matthews Band
Testimony -- The Actual Tigers
Bones -- Michael Kiwanuka
Dan Wilcox: Hey this is Dan Wilcox from KCRW and I am here with Jim Rash. He won an Oscar for co-writing The Descendants screenplay, stars in Community, and just released The Way, Way Back which he co-wrote, directed, and stars in. Today we'll be talking to this man of many talents about songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Welcome, Jim.
Jim Rash: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
DW: What is the first thing you've got for us today?
JR: This first one is "'Tuesday Heartbreak”, Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder is my first memory of an album that I was exposed to. It was an album that I found, I think, in my sister's room and I probably shouldn't have been in there. There is one other choice, which is Shaun Cassidy, "Do Run Run", but I went with Stevie Wonder.
DW: You made the right choice.
JR: Thank you. Thank you. And, to me, since then, Stevie Wonder is like that one consistent artist that I always listen to. Like, you know, I'll kill stuff…you know, I'll listen to something to death and I'll destroy it. Or you go through those phases where you're like ‘I don't know what I was thinking, why did I like that?’ But this is that one, that has carried me from that first moment to now. "Tuesday Heartbreak" is one of my favorites.
Song: Stevie wonder – “Tuesday Heartbreak:
DW: "Tuesday Heartbreak" by Stevie Wonder. This was selected by Jim Rash as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. What are we getting into next?
JR: This is "Sweet Child O' Mine", Guns N' Roses. This pretty much is 1987. This is high school for me and, what I'd like to think when I look back at myself with this song, there's some kind of rebelliousness to it. This reminds me of making a very horrible choice when I was in high school, like many high schoolers do, to decide to try to have a party at your parent's house and, subsequently get caught, which I knew I would, and I was destined to. But I just remember this song as probably being that one that was quintessential playing during that time, so it was like this guy trying to make friends, probably.
DW: That's a good way to make friends.
JR: Well being, you know, a bad ass.
DW: And so you got caught.
JR: Easily, I mean I don't understand what people think, what goes through your mind that A) neighbors wouldn't call and say ‘why were there so many cars on our street’ or, make a comment.
No, I got caught from pretty much the minute they walked in. I had worked so hard to clean up and then my mom's first question to me was ‘where is the basketball backboard’?
Like, it had been ripped off the side of the house and thrown into a creek next door and I just didn't notice, probably because I had never used it. And then, so I came up with some kind of lame - and this is my rebellious story – ‘Oh, you know, some friends and I we were just, you know, dunking.’ Which she should have believed right away was a lie, that I or anyone could rip it down from sheer girth or expertise at basketball. So, I don't know, to me this song is just, whenever I hear it, because as a writer, I like to pull from stories of youth and stuff and these typed of things are fun to play when you are sort of trying to get in the mood, you know, it just takes you right back, it's sort of like a visceral feeling.
Song: Guns N' Roses - "Sweet Child O' Mine"
DW: That was "Sweet Child O' Mine," by Guns N' Roses as selected by Jim Rash. And this next one, I am very curious about the story that you have for us is, The Dave Matthews Band, "Ants Marching".
JR: It's "Ants Marching," Dave Matthews Band. You know, if "Sweet Child O' Mine" is high school, than this is college. I went to Chapel Hill, and they were often touring this time, right probably before they took off and this song to me is the one song that made me that guy at a concert that started screaming this song. Didn't matter what they were playing I just wanted them to get to "Ants Marching" so I was the drunk guy who kept yelling -- this is my "Free Bird" I guess -- where I was like ‘Ant's Marching, play Ants Marching’.
Song: Dave Matthews – “Ants Marching Plays:
JR: It takes me to that place of you know pegged khakis and probably a braided belt and some preppy shirt, I don't know maybe. And my feet aren't moving, I'm doing that dance where it's all shoulders. But there was just something that when I hear this song, it just makes me think of how independent that time was and that you were away from home and not embarrassed that I was just in pegged khakis.
DW: What is it like for you to listen to that song now? Do you still like it as much as you did?
JR: Yes. I think it's hard to separate yourself from music that made you feel that way, regardless of your evolution of your taste or if you're still into these certain bands, Dave Matthews, to me, that was before they even hit it, so I felt this is mine.
DW: Before the world owned him.
DW: Well let's check this out here, this is Dave Matthew's Band with the song "Ants Marching" here on KCRW's Guest DJ Project.
DW: Alright well let's get into this next song here what do you got for us?
JR: A song called "Testimony" by The Actual Tigers. I talked earlier about destroying music -- I didn't destroy this one, I still listen to it -- but I wore this thing out for a while because I listened to it constantly and the reason I sort of connected to this one, I think, because it was over the holidays and I drove from Los Angeles to New Mexico. My mom lived in Albuquerque, and this was a particular trip where after the holidays I had a period of time before I was going to meet a couple of friends for New Years Eve in Lake Tahoe and so I went into Utah and just hiked, which in retrospect maybe that was a bit dangerous to go to the national park by myself.
This was the perfect sort of travel music and it instantly connects me back to this sort of moment where nature and a lot of, I don't want to say "soul searching", but I've been out here for awhile and, as a writer, I found this became sort of a way to disconnect and I found a lot of inspiration in just sort of being out and hiking and I sort of use that still and so this is that sort of song, "Testimony" in particular, that sort of can replicate that when I can't… in other words, you get into writer’s block, you get into your head, you get into a place you can't figure something out and often now I will use this CD or the physical act of this CD plus a hike to sort of hopefully just relax the brain and come up with a solution.
DW: Well let's give it a listen this is the band The Actual Tigers the song is called "Testimony" as chosen by Jim Rash.
Song: Actual Tigers – “Testimony”
DW: Ok, we just heard from the Actual Tigers song, "Testimony". I'm sitting here with Jim Rash and what is the final song you got for us?
JR: “Bones”. It's by Michael Kiwanuka. There's very few CD's to me that, especially when writing, I can listen to and be able to have it in the background aside from something instrumental like jazz or whatever. This is one, I don't know why, it just sort of works like you can have it in earphones or out loud and I'll still be able to function and write. I sort of go back to what I was saying with Stevie Wonder, it seems timeless, and maybe it will be, and I think it's because I'm a big fan of nostalgia, both in movies and writing and everything, just sort of creating sort of a throwback in a way and something about that song, to me, feels like a nice throwback, it's inspired by a lot of things and I find that a great place to be.
DW: This is Michael Kiwanuka with the song "Bones" as selected by Jim Rash.
Song: Michael Kiwanuka – “Bones”
DW: Jim, thank you so much for joining us here on KCRW.com.
JR: Yes, thank you for having me.
DW: For a complete track listening and to find these songs online go to KCRW.com/guestdjproject and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.