Opera, movie theme music and Sinatra all make an appearance in acclaimed actor John Turturro’s Guest DJ set. Known for his roles in Do The Right Thing, The Big Lebowski, and many more, the Brooklyn native shares some family favorites and songs that made a big impression. He recently starred in and directed the film Fading Gigolo, out later this month.
For More: https://twitter.com/JohnMTurturro
1. Dusty Springfield - Piece of My Heart
2. Enrico Caruso - Di Quella Pira
3. Frank Sinatra - I Get Along Without You Very Well
4. Love Theme from Spartacus
5. James Brown - It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World
Dan Wilcox: Hey, this Dan Wilcox from KCRW and I am here with acclaimed actor and director John Turturro. The Brooklyn native is known for his roles in Do The Right Thing, Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski and recently starred in and directed the film Fading Gigolo, which also features Woody Allen. Today we are going to be talking about the songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Welcome John.
John Turturro: Thanks for having me.
DW: No problem. Let’s dive on into it, what’s the first song that you’re going to share with us today?
JT: The first song I selected was “Piece of My Heart.” There’s two different versions that I always love -- Janis Joplin and the Dusty Springfield version. And I did use both versions in the film that I directed and wrote, Romance and Cigarettes. And Susan Sarandon sort of sang along with the church choir behind her. But, it was a song that is about a woman and all the things that a woman did for a man -- she was going show the man how tough she was. And it reminded me of my mom in way, because a lot of the women from her generation had to go through this kind of story and it was sort of at the advent of women’s lib.
Song: Dusty Springfield – “Piece of My Heart”
DW: Did you write this song into the film? I mean, was that something that kind of came to mind…
JT: Yes. When I wrote that film I used music sort of as the character’s unconscious. The characters would sort of burst into song, singing along with their own private soundtrack as a way to articulate how they felt, or escape, or something that they would like to do or to get away from the world that they were in. And that’s what, you know, music, especially popular songs, does for people.
It’s a mode of emotional transportation for many people. Especially people who don’t get to go different places and go and have that kind of money to do those kinds of things. And music helps take you other places.
DW: Okay we just heard “Piece of my Heart” and I’m sitting here with John Turturro. John, what is the next song you’ve got for us?
JT: Well, this is a song from a famous opera, Verdi’s II Travatore.
It’s called “De Quella Pira”, and it was an album that we had, it was 40 tenors all singing the same song, and it’s a kind of wild song, this guy is trying to save his mother from being burned at the stake and meanwhile he’s sort of in love with this other woman, but he has to leave her and on this recoding there are these two high C’s. Caruso plays around with how long he can hold the high C. And I think it’s one of the longest high C’s ever recorded. I think the duration of 14 or 15 seconds.
And so it was something that I heard growing up, and all my uncles and my father would criticize all the various tenors who would crack, who couldn’t hold it. And it, you know, brought me a lot of laughter, and on top of all of it, I was in a film, I played an opera singer called The Man Who Cried in the late 90’s with Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett and Christina Ricci. And I actually got to sing this song with Salvatore Licitra, who has since passed away, on the Paris stage opera house. And it was really a thrill for me to do it because I was thinking about my family, you know, just go full circle with the whole song, and uh, the song is “De Quella Pira” from Verdi’s II Travatore.
Song: Enrico Caruso -- “De Quella Pira”
DW: Okay we heard from Verdi's Il Travatore, and next we’ve got a Frank Sinatra song. Why don’t you tell us about why you selected this one?
JT: Well, my mother was a giant Frank Sinatra fan and she would have all of his records, you know, in the old cases which were on the 78’s, which I still actually have many of -- you know, the original Columbia recordings.
But this particular album, I think, is one of the great albums that he ever made, maybe the best album, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. It’s really about a lost love and there’s something about it -- there’s a beautiful story, the lyrics are beautiful, the melody is beautiful, the sentiment of it, it just lands. There are many, many beautiful versions of it, but I picked this one because my mother was a gigantic Sinatra fan and it was a big part of our growing up, even though my father was very jealous of him.
Song: Frank Sinatra – “I Get Along Without You Very Well”
DW: That was Frank Sinatra with the song “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” I’m sitting here with John Turturro. And what have we got next?
JT: The next one I chose was the instrumental Alex North theme from Spartacus, which has been covered by a lot of great jazz musicians. But that’s a film that had a big impact on me as a little boy. The love theme of the film between Kirk Douglas and Jean Simmons, it’s one of my favorite love themes in a movie.
Me and my friends we would make swords and shields and act out the whole Spartacus story, then I read the book, and I think it was a movie that kind of turned me on to acting in a way. It just had a big emotional impact on me, and I think the music was part of that and it was used very well by Stanley Kubrick in the film. It reminds me of a real pure type of love between these two people, who have all of these obstacles between them because they’re slaves.
It definitely changes and there’s a lot of variation within it. But, a tremendous delicacy and it doesn’t tell you how to feel exactly. You don’t feel the manipulation like you do sometimes in movie music.
DW: Okay we just heard the Spartacus theme with the legendary John Turturro. John, I’m really liking this next selection for us, why don’t you tell us about it.
JT: Well, this is a song that lots of people know, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” by James Brown, I guess he’s one of the co-writers of it.
I like the lyrics, I like that he said “man made the car, to take us over the road. Man made the train to carry the heavy load." And it goes on about other things that man made, like Noah made the ark, but there wouldn’t be anything without a woman or a girl.
I like the sentiment of it, that you need somebody to share your accomplishments with, and I think he’s got a lot of influence until today. You hear his influence. I mean you hear some of his early songs and you realize he’s being rap before there was official rap. There wouldn’t probably be that without James Brown. The way he danced, the way he sang, his whole persona, and he’s just part of my musical unconscious.
Song: “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” - James Brown
DW: We just heard a song from James Brown, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” as selected by our guest John Turturro. John, thank you so much for joining us here on KCRW.com.
JT: Thank you! I’m always happy to be on a radio station that plays great music.