New Yorker cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan, also know by his initials BEK, explores his childhood psyche, his aspirations and the creative process through five songs from the ‘70s in his Guest DJ set. His dark humor and unique insight into relationships served him well as a writer for “Seinfeld” and “Six Feet Under” and he shares it all here. He recently put together his first children’s picture book, “Monsters Eat Whiny Children,” which will be in stores August 31.
For more: http://www.amazon.com/Monsters-Whiny-Children-Bruce-Kaplan/dp/1416986898
1.) Silly Love Songs - Paul McCartney and Wings
2.) Love Will Keep Us Together - Captain and Tenille
3.) December, 1963 (Oh What a Night) - The Four Seasons
4.) Theme From Mahogany - Diana Ross
5.) Rhiannon - Fleetwood Mac
Dan Wilcox: This is Dan Wilcox for KCRW. I have the pleasure of sitting here with New Yorker cartoonist and Seinfeld scribe Bruce Eric Kaplan, who also goes by BEK. His newest collection of cartoons is called “I Love You, I Hate You, I’m Hungry,” and today we’re going to be playing excerpts of songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Welcome Bruce.
Bruce Eric Kaplan: Thanks for having me.
D: So, what do you have for us here today?
B: What I have for you are 5 songs from the 70’s, which is when I was a kid. These songs were imprinted on me at a very important time in my life. And, there’s sort of a double reason. A few years ago I was writing a screenplay about a couple that comes to Los Angeles during the 1970’s, and I inserted into the stage directions of the screenplay songs from the 70’s. All five of these were in it. The movie was called “Silly Love Songs.”
Song: Paul McCartney and Wings – Silly Love Songs
B: I loved Wings when I was a kid. I mean, I loved The Beatles first. I find Paul McCartney very inspiring in that he reinvented himself. He was a Beatle, which is like being God, and then stopped being a Beatle, and then moved forward, and did something else creative with it, which I think was probably a really hard thing to do. I think it’s really inspiring.
D: Paul McCartney and Wings with the track “Silly Love Songs.” And I’m sitting here with Bruce Eric Kaplan. Bruce, what’s next for us?
B: What’s next for us, you and I, is “Love Will Keep Us Together” by Captain & Tennille. I think Captain & Tennille were very important to me as a kid because they were a couple, they were married. They were a part of the explanation of what a couple was to me. I don’t know…I think my parents, they had a happy marriage, long marriage, but there was something unknowable about my parents.
When I was that age, people on TV -- like Captain & Tennille, and McMillan & Wife, and Bob Newhart & Wife -- I was always watching them, like “what is a marriage? What is a couple?” And in terms of creatively, I think it’s a huge part of what I tend to gravitate towards in cartoons, is “What is a couple?” I mean, I still don’t know.
Song: Captain & Tennille – Love Will Keep us Together
B: This song takes me back to my parent’s basement. I would go down there by myself, bring my transistor radio, and they would have songs like “Love Will Keep us Together” on. I would go down there, sit in this horrible - smelled so bad - horrible chair with a blanket on it. You know, this ancient chair and this ancient blanket, in this dank basement.
I stowed New Yorkers down there, New Yorker magazines, and I would just go in and disappear, and read them over and over again, especially the cartoons. Staring at cartoons, I loved them as a child. So I think later, when I was casting about in my 20’s, looking for what I was going to do with my life, one of the things I ended up doing was becoming a cartoonist. Its not like when I was reading them I thought “Oh yes, I can do that or I will do that” but its more like because of all that time I spent in the basement looking at them, I feel like it made it an option. It was in my consciousness, like “that’s a great form of expression” -- which it is.
D: Dan Wilcox here with you on KCRW.com, sitting in with Bruce Eric Kaplan, and what do we have next.
B: I was in like, I think, a Jewish youth group, I don’t know, something in my synagogue, and there was a guy who ran it. This song was on the jukebox, and when he would put it on, I think his name was Norman, he was probably like 10 years older than me, like in his mid-20s I guess or something, and he would just be like “this is the greatest song.” And I remember, I didn’t like it. I just never liked this song.
Then I rediscovered it somewhere along the way years later, and had the same reaction as him, “This is the greatest song!” I don’t know if it just it reminded me of that time, if I had gotten older. I mean, I actually think how you react to something one time isn’t how you’re going to react to it another time, which is something I often think about creatively.
Song: Frankie Valli – December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)
B: I remember his reaction, this guy whose name I don’t even remember. I remember his reaction, not his name, but I think it was Norman. It was so beautiful, the transformation, the sort of lift that he would get from this, and it’s a very visceral example of the effect that something artistic can have on someone. I don’t remember being aware of that before that moment.
D: All right, that was Frankie Valli with “Oh What a Night” Sitting in here with Bruce Eric Kaplan, and what do you have next for us here Bruce?
Song: Diana Ross -- Theme From Mahogany
D: The next one I have for you here is “Theme from Mahogany.” I still don’t know of another song that has such a bald statement. And I remember as a child, that was such a strong question from someone to be asking me out of the radio, like “I don’t know where I’m going to. Why, do I need to? Should I?”
B: In my early 20’s, I was so oppressed by this idea of “where am I going?” There must be a reason I’m here, what am I supposed to be doing? And for me, specifically, it was about that I wanted to say something, you know writing or drawing, but I didn’t know how to do it, or I didn’t know what would be best.
Even though I’m established in whatever it is that I do do, I still have this feeling of “where will this take me, and is it someplace I want to be.” I mean, that’s what I think is great about music -- you hear it and its like “Oh my god, she’s saying it! She’s saying what I want to think, or what I don’t want to think, or feel, now it’s out there.”
D: Theme From Mahogany from Diana Ross right here on KCRW.com. Bruce Eric Kaplan running down some song picks that he has provided for us here on KCRW.com. Bruce, what do we have next?
B: “Rhiannon.” The reason that I included this song is that I don’t know why I included this song, but let me explain.
I do have this association with this song, and it’s that I was a teenager, and I was driving on South Orange Avenue in probably Livingston, New Jersey, and I was very upset and I remember hearing this song, and it sort of provided a landscape for my upsetness. And was soothing. And a grandioseness for my upsetness, which is a great thing art can do, make your thing that you’re feeling feel more epic
Song: Fleetwood Mac – Rhiannon
I don’t know if it really inspired me, but, stepping back, I knew I had to include that song for “one of the 5 songs that inspired you,” but I don’t know exactly why, and I feel like that’s a really important thing in terms of being creative, like to listen to a higher voice, be true to one’s creative self, even if there’s no very strong, easily articulated reason.
There’s something connected to my unconscious with this song, and I just don’t have the key yet. Again, it’s like a big part of the creative process. Your job is to delve into it to figure out why you’re connecting with something.
D: And that was Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon,” sitting here with Bruce Eric Kaplan, part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Bruce, thank you so much for coming down here and sharing these songs with us today on KCRW.com.
D: And for a complete track listing and how to find these songs online, you can go to KCRW.com/guestdjproject.
Bruce Eric Kaplan