Actor Colin Firth is winning accolades for his role as King George the XI in “The King’s Speech” and spans many genres in his Guest DJ set, from the moody jazz of Miles Davis to his favorite live act, Massive Attack. He also lets us into his personal life, from the rebellious glam rock of his youth to the White Stripes track he rocks out to on school runs with his kids. Firth was previously nominated for an Oscar for his role in “A Single Man” and “The King’s Speech” arrives in theaters on November 26.
1. T Rex - Ride a white swan
2. Miles Davis - chez le photographe du motel
3. Abel Korzeniowski - And Just like that
4. Massive Attack - Paradise Circus
5. The White Stripes - Rag & Bone
Anne Litt: Hi I’m Anne Litt and I’m here with actor Colin Firth. He was nominated for an Oscar for his work in “A Single Man” and is already receiving critical acclaim for his role as King George the XI in “The King’s Speech.” Today, we’ll be playing excerpts of songs he selected that inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. First thing I want to do is welcome you to KCRW.
Colin Firth: Thanks it’s a real pleasure.
AL: Well, you’ve got an incredible list of songs and I want you to tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind each of these and why you brought them each to us. Where would you like to start?
CF: Well, I suppose chronologically, really. T-Rex -- I was probably about nine, and as soon as I heard this, I started to grow my hair. It just had to happen. I fell completely in love with Marc Bolan. This extraordinary, androgynous creature who seemed such a kind of paradoxical – it wasn’t just sexual ambivalence….and if you’re nine, you know, you’re not quite processing things in those terms. But it was a crush, definitely.
And he was also a blend of aggressive and dangerous and terribly fragile. So, I insisted on guitar lessons immediately. But when you’re nine years old, the people who have power over these things send you to the kind of guitar lessons where you learn Lord of the Dance and Kumbaya.
Song: T Rex – Ride a White Swan
CF: The lyrics are not high art, you know? But, I remember there was a track, “I Ain’t No Square With My Corkscrew Hair.” If you’re nine and you’re extremely square, that kind of beckoned you into something else. And, one of the things people found threatening about Marc Bolan -- my parents were disgusted by him – and I think it was partly the sexual androgyny, the sexual ambivalence of the character. It wasn’t just the fact they couldn’t bear the music -- it was repetitious, you can’t hear the words. All the things that parents say, were all things that appealed to me, you know? It was a step outside the very linear culture that I was in.
AL: That was music from T-Rex. It was “Ride a White Swan.” Now its time to get into some music from Miles Davis. What’s that all about?
CF: I’m not a jazz aficionado. It’s far too complex and deep and arcane and sophisticated for me. But Miles Davis, I think, has to reach everybody across whatever genre you like, in some form or another. What he produces is so diverse. I’m not a big be-bop fan, but this late night mode is irresistible.
I first heard this, this is “Chez le Photographe du Motel,” which is from the Louis Malle film, which I think in America called the “Elevator to the Gallows.” It’s a perfect piece of noir. And I just happened to hear it in the back of a cab on a rainy night in London. And was sold right there. Suddenly I was actually in Paris, you know? And it’s also about the loneliest sound I think an instrument can make, when doing this particular track, actually a lot of tracks off this album. I do think that Kind of Blue is one of the best things that has ever been recorded. So, I’m not picking this because I think it trumps any of that, its just that it hit me in a certain moment.
Song: Miles Davis - Chez le Photographe du Motel
CF: I had a condo in Malibu overlooking the ocean and I was told by the neighbors that Miles Davis lived nearby, and that he used to play out on the balcony at night. It’s not something the neighbors would have complained about the noise for, I wouldn’t have thought. And I used to go out and imagine him doing that. And it was such a poetic idea, this lonely sound coming out while you’re looking over the ocean at night. And this would be the piece that I would envision.
AL: That was music from Miles Davis, Chez le Photographe du Motel.
If you’re preparing… we were talking just when we started about this new role playing King George XI. Do you listen to music to prepare for a role, is that part of your process?
CF: It can be. I have to say, another piece I was sorely tempted to pick, was “A Single Man,” Abel Korzeniowski. He made such an impact on that film. And I think I got an awful lot of acting credit for what was in fact a music cue from him.
AL: That was your co-star.
CF: The cello. There all these sort of clichés about it being the sound of the soul, the voice of the soul. All those strings that he used. He uses them in such a versatile way that sometimes I’m not quite sure what’s a cello and what’s a viola.
But they ache. And I find it almost painful to listen to, actually, because that character has been someone who’s followed me around quite a bit. It might have been the piece where George dies, and Jim comes and gives him a kiss. And I think it’s called “And Just Like That.” And it’s such a gentle and humane sound.
Song: Abel Korzeniowski - And Just Like That
CF: When I met Abel, and I met him only very briefly, he echoed what I felt. Which was that, as far as he was concerned, it was a communication between us as well. He based it on what I was doing. I’ve never felt so completely that the music of the film conforms to what I felt or thought at the time.
It was perfect harmony between those two things. And his other work I’ve checked out, since “An Angel in a Krakow,” which is absolutely beautiful. So I think he really is one of the finest composers we have. And as Tom Ford says, he’ll never be able to afford him again.
AL: That was from Abel Korzeniowski, “And Just Like That” off the soundtrack of “A Single Man.” And we are with Colin Firth, its KCRW’s Guest DJ Project, I’m Anne Litt. And up next, we have music, taking a total left, its Massive Attack. It’s a song called “Paradise Circus” from Massive Attack’s most recent album, here getting remixed by Gui Boratto. Tell me why this selection showed up.
CF: I’ve always liked Massive Attack. My generation, living in the city in Britain, I think this music is very eloquent of that feel, of that vibe. It’s nocturnal, it is urban. I think some people would even call it cold, there’s a menace to it. But the guys themselves are very warm and very humane. I just really like them, I like their passion. They are fiercely politically committed and fearless. They will take on extremely unpopular issues. It’s very important to them when they do their gigs that messages come out. And they do that in a way that is not earnest, its not dull, its not preachy, it’s actually quite sexy. Its also one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen.
Song: Massive Attack - Paradise Circus
AL: That was Massive Attack with the song Paradise Circus. Up next it’s the White Stripes with “Rag and Bone.” Tell us about that one.
CF: The White Stripes are the most popularly requested song in the car. And the car is the battleground, because we don’t all have the same taste in music. But the song that gets everybody rocking on the school run is “Rag and Bone.” And the seven year old particularly. He’s just crazy about this stuff. The older one is a little bit more lyrical in his taste. The little one just wants maximum rock out. And so we rock out in the Prius on the school run to “Rag and Bone.”
Song: White Stripes – Rag and Bone
CF: Well it’s musically incredibly literate as well. It manages to be raw, edgy, completely unadorned. Its playful and very sort of -- its give the illusion of being quite undisciplined. But they really, really know what they’re doing. And that is put to the test when you see them up close. I quite like the rootsy stuff when it comes to American music and he’s obviously got a very clear sense of that in what he’s drawing from…in terms of tradition and being very progressive. I just think it ticks a lot of boxes for me.
AL: Colin, thanks so much for joining us on KCRW.com.
CF: It’s been a real pleasure, thank you.
AL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to KCRW.com slash guest DJ project.