In honor of Comic Con, we wanted to revisit our Guest DJ Project set with award-winning comic book writer and graphic novelist Ed Brubaker. He does not shy away from dark themes in his work - or his songs picks. He chooses a slate of songs about broken hearts, loneliness and survival for his Guest DJ set. Ed has worked on such notable titles as Batman and Captain America and the final collection of his critically-acclaimed crime comic, Criminal, was reissued this week.
1. Snoopy Come Home soundtrack - "It Changes"
Eric J. Lawrence: Hi. This is Eric J. Lawrence from KCRW and I am here with Eisner Award-winning comic book writer Ed Brubaker. He helped revive the crime comic genre as his work on such notable titles such as Batman and Captain America. We will be playing excerpts of songs he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Ed, thanks for coming down.
Ed Brubraker: Thanks for having me.
EJL: What's the first track you got for us?
EB: The first one is from the Snoopy Come Home soundtrack, "It Changes," which is the song Charlie Brown sings after Snoopy leaves. As an ex-cartoonist, I just like Charles Schulz better than Charles Dickens and this song was, I think, the first time I ever felt ennui as a child. It very much informs everything about Charlie Brown as a character and about, you know... the particular genius of Charles Schulz is that he taps into this loneliness that we all feel. And it's just a song that, every time I hear it, it just brings tears to my eyes.
Song: Charlie Brown – “It Changes”
EJL: When you write comics, is there a musical soundtrack that goes through your head for the characters?
EB: I listen to music most of the time when I write and lately it's been stuff without lyrics just because you get to a point somehow where, unless you heard the song a million times, you pay too much attention to it. So, lately, it's been a lot of jazz. But when I was struggling with Criminal, when I first began it, trying to find the right tone for it, I actually found that tone in old Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. That sort of seedy, depressing kind of music. I thought, if I could get that type of tone across, then I would be golden. So, yeah, that is something I think about sometimes -- what music do I want people to listen to when they read this type of comic?
EJL: That was "It Changes" from the Snoopy Come Home soundtrack. What's the next selection you got for us?
EB: The next one is "Sleepless Nights," the Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris version from The Flying Burrito Brothers record, which was posthumously released. I think this is, possibly, the saddest version of this song, ever. You really feel the longing in their voices and the way that they harmonize through it. I remember the first time I ever heard this song, it just brought tears to my eyes. You can just hear the love they have for each other and knowing that he had died not long after recording this... She wrote another song about him, which is another one that I was debating putting on the list, just because it was about how the hardest part is someone surviving, actually, and that is sort of a theme that goes on in a lot of my work.
Song: Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris -- “Sleepless Nights”
EB: This is one of those ones where, having suffered through some ugly breakups in my youth, this is one of those songs that if you ever hear it, you are immediately taken back to those nights after that awful break up, where the girl that you're super in love with is off somewhere else and you're sitting there, unable to sleep, going over every mistake that you might have made. It's just a heartbreaking song and I love their version of it. It might be the best thing they ever recorded together.
EJL: That was "Sleepless Nights" from Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, selected by our guest Ed Brubaker. What's the next track you got for us?
EB: It's "Caroline, No" from The Beach Boys from Pet Sounds and it's another one of those super, super sad songs. It's just possibly the saddest song about seeing someone that you used to be in love with. It sort of follows "Sleepless Nights" in that, imagine 10 years later you run into that person who you used to lie in bed and cry about, and they are no longer that person. And that sort of hurts even more in this weird way. There's a lyric in there - "could I ever find in you again/ things that made me love you so much then."
A lot of what I go for in songs, not only the music and the singing, but for me, also, my favorite songs tend to be the ones that have lyrics that, at the center of that, really is poetry of the simplest way to say something that just hits you right in the heart when you're listening to it.
Song: The Beach Boys -- “Caroline, No”
EB: This song and Brian Wilson's lyrics are so amazing, but that one really… you just listen to it and if you’re not paying attention to it, it's just a lovely little song. But if you really listen to it, it's just like, Jesus Christ, what a tragedy! You're in love with this person and you see them later and you’re even sadder that whatever you loved about them is gone, actually. It's just always been one of my favorite songs since the first time I heard it.
EJL: That was "Caroline, No" from The Beach Boys, a classic from the Pet Sounds album. What's the next track you got for us?
EB: The next one is "Ooh Child" by The Five Stairsteps and this is a song… it's probably one of my favorite songs as a child since the first time I heard it. It’s one of the few songs you like as a child, that you continue to think is a good song throughout your adult life too. There's just something about this song because it sounds so joyful and, at the same time, it's actually a really depressing song.
Song: The Five Stairsteps -- “Ooh Child”
EB: I remember when this song was coming on the radio, when I was in the car, was during the time when my parents were getting divorced, so you have a lot of that "some days, things will get easier." And even though it sounds like a joyful song, it's kind of a really, really sad song and I just love the way they all sing together, they pretty much have five different harmonies going on. It's pretty amazing. It's an instance where I love the song so much, but I don't think I've ever heard anything else by this group, but it's just that song that has always stuck with me.
EJL: That was "Ooh, Child" from The Five Stairsteps. What's the final selection you got for us?
EB: The final selection is a two-fer because I was having a really hard time trying to pick a song from either Leonard Cohen or Will Oldham. I couldn't decide on a song from either of them, so then I was like, ‘okay, I'll go with Will Oldham covering Leonard Cohen.’ And it is actually… I prefer this version of the song to the original, so it's a little bit, you know… I hope Leonard Cohen isn't listening.
Song: Will Oldham’s version of “Winter Lady"
EB: The first time I heard this version of "Winder Lady" was… it's on that Palace Music EP, and it just, it took me halfway through the song until I realized ‘oh, he's covering that Leonard Cohen song’ and his version of it just seemed so much more fragile and sad, whereas Leonard Cohen's version, his voice is so rich and heavy; Will Oldham's voice always feels like it's about to crack and fall apart. It's just always been one of my favorite Leonard Cohen songs in general. The visual aspect of it, the pictures you create in your head while you're listening to this song. His lyrics are just so amazing and to hear Will Oldham's sort of fragile tone and this light guitar taking you through it, I always thought it was one of his best songs that he has ever recorded even though he didn't write it himself.
EJL: Well, Ed, Thank you so much for coming down and joining us hear at KCRW.
EB: Thanks for having me, it was great.