In his Guest DJ set, Daily Show contributor, humorist and best-selling author John Hodgman tells us about the musician that motivates him as a writer, one of the finest MCs he’s ever heard and shares a track from the leading purveyor of “geek rock”. John will be at appearing at the San Francisco Comedy Festival later this month and recently released a book called “That is All”.
1. Kill Screen- Jean Grae
2. For Charles Bronson- The Mountain Goats
3. Labrador- Aimee Mann
4. Horses to the Mountains- Cynthia Hopkins (aka Gloria Deluxe)
5. Glasses- Jonathan Coulton
Travis Holcombe: Hi, I’m Travis Holcombe and I’m here with best-selling author and humorist John Hodgman, a resident expert on The Daily Show, the PC to Justin Long’s MAC in the long-running Apple ads, and much more. Today we’re going to talk about songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Welcome to the basement, John.
John Hodgman: It is my pleasure to be here on the wheels of steel with you, Travis.
TH: So what is the first selection you brought for us?
JH: There usually are in my life five songs only, and they last about three years before I enter something new into the rotation. It’s sort of what finds me and then what resonates with me. Uh, When I am sitting in my office working, I generally just rock the public radio talk shows, and then, very occasionally, I would hear a public radio talk show in which they will introduce some music, and so then I will seek that music out and if I like it, it stays on my rotation forever until it is knocked off by something else that I hear.
So the first song is actually the newest song. It’s by Jean Grae, who is a rapper - one of the finest MCs that I have ever heard. I heard her interviewed on a public radio show that I do not recall where, I just remember feeling that she was really smart and funny, uh when she was being interviewed. I got to know her a little bit on Twitter and found this song through her Twitter account. It is, uh, a song called “Kill Screen.” It is from a forthcoming project that I believe is called Gotham Down, but I don’t know for sure, because as far as I know as of this moment it exists entirely as a YouTube video that she directed, shot, and starred in herself. And uh, while this song sounds terrifying, she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
Song: Jean Grae – “Kill Screen”
JH: Any rap song that references Billy Mitchell, the king of Donkey Kong, is for me. You know what I mean? Like, I am so grateful to Jean for helping me, a nerd, feel cool. Uh, so, that’s what I like about that song.
TH: That was “Kill Screen” by Jean Grae. What do you have for us next?
JH: John Darnielle, also known as Mountain Goats. John is one of the most “writerly” lyricists that I’ve ever heard. His songs are stories, and they are beginning, middle and ending type stories. And this long I love is literally about Charles Bronson. The song is called “For Charles Bronson,” it’s about nothing but Charles Bronson, and yet you hear, in the story of Charles Bronson, a universal story that you did not know. This is a story about a guy who finds a kind of international, but weird, kind of esoteric fame and learns to appreciate it. And uh and you can imagine that that speaks to me to some degree. You know, there’s a lyric in the song, I think it’s the first lyric in the song, “Catch a lucky break, try to make it last,” which for me, since I accidentally went on television with The Daily Show and Apple was a way that I live my life.
Song: John Darnielle – “For Charles Bronson”
JH: The thing about Mountain Goats, the thing about John Darnielle, is that he is incredibly prolific, and that delights me, but also makes me very angry that he can be so brilliant, so frequently, and he does it through hard work; he just sits down and writes a song, I think every hour. He inspires me to work harder and get down to writing more often.
TH: So that was “For Charles Bronson” by Mountain Goats as selected by our guest DJ John Hodgman. So what is the next selection you have for us?
JH: Well, we are in a basement in Los Angeles and Los Angeles is Aimee Mann town. Aimee Mann is an artist that I’ve known since I was a kid in Brookline, Massachusetts when she was in ‘Til Tuesday and that was a Boston-based band; that was the biggest thing that we had going. I remember the day that I stood behind her in line at Mass Army Navy buying socks and still thrills me to remember it. This is a song from her new album. The album is called Charmer, this song’s called “Labrador.” I love all the songs on this album, but this is the only one that has a video by Tom Scharpling that is a shot-by-shot remake of the video for “Voices Carry” by ‘Til Tuesday, which was her breakout song. And to me it epitomizes, not just her beauty as a songwriter and a singer, and someone who has stayed creative sort of indefatigably, despite changing music landscape, and music business landscape for 20 years, uh but also she has a tremendous sense of humor. And the fact that she was willing to lampoon herself in the video uh, was one of the many things that charms me about her.
Song – Aimee Mann – “Labrador”
TH: That was Labrador by Aimee Mann, as selected by our guest DJ John Hodgman. So what do you have next for us John?
JH: So the next song is “Horses to the Mountains” by Cynthia Hopkins. Cynthia performs with a band called Gloria Deluxe which is her band. And this is a technically a Gloria Deluxe song from their album Must Don’t Whip ‘Um. Cynthia is someone I discovered through children’s music. I am a parent of two human children and the former Boston rocker Dan Zanes now has an empire making amazing music for children. And working with amazing musicians, it’s one of the ways that I discovered a lot of the musicians I really love. So Cynthia and Dan duetted on a song that she had written called um, “Surrounded by Friendship” and I loved it so much that I looked into her work and suddenly I realized that she has this amazing body of work that began as alt country and then sort of moved into a neutral style all her own. She stages these amazing shows, these dramatic shows, these one woman musicals basically, in New York City and writes and performs all the music for these shows that are about identity, and murder, and electricity, and space travel, but at the heart of it are these songs and this voice which the moment I heard it, and I think it’s true for everyone that I’ve introduced her to, her voice is so beautiful and arresting, and her lyrics so honest and uncompromising. I listened to her music almost exclusively while writing my first book and lots and lots while writing my second and third books as well.
TH: Let’s hear “Horses to the Mountains” by Gloria Deluxe.
Song – Gloria Deluxe – “Horses to the Mountains”
TH: That was “Horses to the Mountains” by Gloria Deluxe. We have one more song and what song is that John?
JH: So this is a song by my best friend Jonathan Coulton, someone I’ve known since I was eighteen years old. He uh, is a internet superstar, in that like me, he spent most of the 90s working in an office in New York City, different offices, uh but nearby. We would have lunch everyday and talk about how creatively unsatisfied we were and how we had to quit our jobs so that we could be creative people. I was particularly frustrated that Jonathan would not quit his job because, A) he is one of the most brilliant people I know who needed and needs to be heard by all, and B) him quitting his job was a lot easier than me quitting my job so I was mad that he wouldn’t just go ahead and do it, so I wouldn’t have to. But he did eventually quit his job in 2004 and then started putting his music online where he challenged himself to write a song a week for a year and give them away for free, and developed an audience of rabid fans who now support him wholly as a completely independent musician. This song is called “Glasses” and it’s something that speaks to me dramatically, because it is a incredible rocking rock song about middle age.
Song – Jonathan Coulton – “Glasses”
TH: That was “Glasses” By Jonathan Coulton. John thanks so much for joining us in the basement on KCRW.com.
JH: Thank you I enjoy listening to my five favorite songs all the time.
TH: So for a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to KCRW.com/GuestDJProject and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.