Jim Heimann is a cultural anthropologist and author who created a love letter to Los Angeles in his Guest DJ set. The LA native veers from the Chinatown theme to the epitome of 60’s Southern California beach culture and - of course - includes his favorite highway driving song. Heimann is the executive editor of art book publisher Taschen America. He edited the recent photography book, Los Angeles: Portrait of a City.
Tom Schnabel: Hi, I’m Tom Schnabel from KCRW and I’m here with Jim Heimann, the executive editor of Taschen America. The eclectic imprint specializes in high-quality art books covering popular culture design and more. The latest is a photography book, Los Angeles: Portrait of a City. We’ll be playing excerpts of songs that have inspired Jim over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Jim Heimann, what did you bring for us today?
Jim Heimann: Oh, I brought five songs, that could have actually been twenty songs, but these are the ones that, you know, resonated with me over the years. And for some reason, there’s always a -- there’s an LA element to all of these songs, which is hard not to incorporate in my life and in the music.
TS: Let’s go to the first song, The Beach Boys. Tell us about how this song has inspired you over the years.
JH: Ahhhh, “Don’t Worry Baby.” The Beach Boys were very instrumental in my life because they were pretty much cross-town rivals when I was growing up. I was born and raised in Westchester, near the beach, and the guys who were in Hawthorne were these guys who were the Beach Boys. And even though their songs were, the first couple songs based on surfing, they really kind of segued into the whole idea of teenage angst and growing up and “In My Room.” At that time, being this Baby Boom generation, we were really the golden children of Southern California. The media had really focused on California and we were dead center of that whole phenomena. So the Beach Boys kind of personify that whole early ‘60s life in Los Angeles.
JH: It’s really kind of a love song in a lot of ways. Even though it was about a car race and he’s talking to his girlfriend and she’s placating him and saying, ‘don’t worry baby, everything will be alright’ – we all have a tendency to personalize songs and for this one, it’s always been really just a great… you know, when you’re stressed out and my wife will say to me, ‘don’t worry baby,’ and it’s carried on through the years.
TS: You’ve just heard an excerpt from “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys. Your next song, Jim, is – well, it moves to kind of a different era, maybe a less innocent era than the Beach Boys. Tell us why you chose Jefferson Airplane’s classic “White Rabbit.”
JH: Again, kind of a transitional song for me and for our generation, it was really the awareness that all of a sudden things weren’t middle class and normal and you started to question authority and your parents and so on. There was that Ravel Bolero start off to it and Grace Slick’s singing and, oh man, it was just dance concerts and peace and love. And that was, you know, all of a sudden from being this kid who was on Lloyd Thaxton and on dance contests then going up to Hollywood Blvd to Record Paradise and buying my first psychedelic poster. It just changed everything. Then I was going to be an artist and I was going to design psychedelic posters. You know, go down to Venice Beach and smoke a joint for the first time…that was it, man. That song did it.
JH: The lyrics were great, in terms of imagery. I mean, who had heard this kind of stuff before? You know, again, talking about the Beach Boys and teenage angst and stuff like that – all of a sudden we’re going down a hole and the Red Queen’s off with your head. I mean, “feed your head” was the best part of it all. I wanted to have my head fed.
TS: This is the Guest DJ Project. I’m Tom Schnabel. My guest today is Jim Heimann, who has put together this amazing photo history of Los Angeles, just published by Taschen Books. Jim, what’s your next track you’ve chosen for us today?
JH: Next one is “Everybody’s Talkin”’ by Nilsson. That’s my freeway song. That’s 5:30 in the morning, going to the swap meets on the Santa Monica Freeway, watching the sun rise behind the LA skyline. It’s getting frustrated and ‘just gotta get on the freeway and drive.’ You know, it does have the resonance of Midnight Cowboy, but I don’t necessarily relate to that aspect of it. It really is: everybody’s talking at me, I gotta get out of here, just get me on the freeway and let the Santa Ana winds blow through my hair and turn that radio up and just forget about the world.
JH: It’s this escape valve, it’s this tube that you go to that you can turn off the rest of the world, you don’t have to look at anybody around you, you can just get on that freeway and go. So that’s my highway song.
TS: The Harry Nilsson classic, “Everybody’s Talkin’.” Jim, your next piece is about an amazing movie by Roman Polanski – you’ve chosen the “Love Theme from Chinatown.”
JH: Ah, Chinatown. The classic film. I’ve seen that movie maybe 50 times. That Love Theme, the intro song for Chinatown, starts off with that harp that just shivers up your spine. It’s that Santa Ana winds, and it’s Raymond Chandler, you know, writing about a knife…it’s sitting at a bar – sitting at Moose on Frank’s at 3:00 in the afternoon with a Manhattan in front of you. it’s Stanley Rose’s bookstore…it’s all that stuff. It’s the midget selling newspapers on Hollywood and Vine, it’s the whole deal, man. It’s Emmy Lou’s restaurant in Chinatown where they shot the last scene of the movie – ‘forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.’
TS: That was the “Love Theme from Chinatown. And our last piece is a classic from Neil Young. Jim, why did you choose “Harvest Moon”?
JH: “Harvest Moon” represents a culmination of one’s life. It’s a reflection, kind of taking stock of things. The autumn of your years. For me, it’s 36 years of marriage, a once-in-a-lifetime wife, a great daughter, a great son-in-law, cool job, amazing friends – it’s that whole kind of thing. And even though he did it in ‘92, and I picked up on it a little bit later, it really kind of puts me in a place right now where it’s: ok, I’m at a certain age where I can look back on a life. And he’s kind of put the whole thing together. He wraps it up.
Song: Harvest Moon – Neil Young
JH: Oh, great. Thanks, Tom.
TS: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online, go to KCRW.com/GuestDJProject.