Lorenzo Pisoni grew up in the circus with a clown for a father. He takes us on his incredible journey, from traveling non-stop to getting to know the man behind the grease paint and now touring with his acclaimed one-man show, “Humor Abuse”. The play is running now at the Mark Taper Forum.
1. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2
2. Love And Affection - Joan Armatrading
3. Feeling Good - Nina Simone
4. That was Your Mother - Paul Simon
5. Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) - The Arcade Fire
Hi I'm Anthony Valadez, and I'm here with performer Lorenzo Pisoni, who has created a one man show about growing up in the family business, San Francisco's Pickle Family Circus. He's clearly had an interesting upbringing, but today we're here to talk about the songs that he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project.
AV: Lorenzo, So what did you bring for us today?
LP: I just brought a few songs that, I guess, when I think about these five songs they all bring these back to my childhood when I was a circus performer before I ran away from the circus to be an actor.
The first track is "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
LP: My parents stopped performing in the Pickle Family Circus in '88, and I went on tour without my parents when I was 11, that season. And I guess “Joshua Tree” came out the year before or whatever, and I was going on tour all by myself, as a kid.
My tourmate, this guy John Gilkey, who is now a clown here in LA actually, he was 21 and a huge U2 fan. So we got in his car, he pressed play, I said goodbye to my father through the passenger window, and we drove down this long hill away from the circus studio in San Francisco. And I just watched my dad get smaller and smaller in the side view mirror as, you know, the beginning of that song...
LP: ... you know, kicks in and I realize that it sounds like a movie, but that really what happened and so every time I hear that album, and that song in particular, I go back to being a kid.
AV: Do you always visualize that moment?
LP: Always. It's like instant, it's like a smell or whatever that can bring you right back. And no matter where I am, it doesn't even matter. You know, I could be cooking dinner or whatever, and I kind of have to stop for a second.
AV: Let's take a listen. This is U2 with "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For".
Song: U2 -- "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
AV: So what's next for us?
LP: Joan Armatrading, "Love and Affection"
LP: I have this memory of hearing this song - I'm watching my mom in our kitchen in San Francisco. And I don't have many memories of being in our house, because we were always on tour. Or at least that's how I remember it, right? What's really embarrassing about this song, you know, I didn't ever hear lyrics until I broke up with a girl when I was in my 20’s. So I just heard melody, right? So this song, the melody of the vocals, it just speaks to me somehow. And maybe the syncopation, or I'm not even sure, I don't even have the vocabulary to describe why it just hits me.
I made a mix tape that I had on my Sony Sport Walkman, you know those old yellow ones with the click.
So I would listen to that in the circus ring and warm up, and it would remind me of my mom. And as an adult I actually could hear the lyrics, and it's slightly embarrassing that I associate this song with my mother because it's…there's some oedipal stuff going on... if this is the song that gets me to my mom.
Song: Joan Armatrading -- "Love and Affection"
AV: Being on the road, I imagine being young, did you ever suffer from home sickness?
LP:I didn't miss home very much, only because we were always on tour for my entire life. Home was just another stop in between tours.
AV: Home was on the road?
LP: Home was on the road, yeah. When I started touring by myself without my parents, there were certainly nights of loneliness and not really knowing where to go, you know, because it's a little strange to be a kid and, you know, you don't really go out to a restaurant, or you can't really go to a bar. I mean you can't do all the things you can do as an adult.
AV: Is that when you would pull out the yellow Walkman?
LP: Yeah, yeah. And I'd sit there and I'd listen, and just kind of be in my own world.
AV: Well that was Joan Armatrading with "Love and Affection" selected by Lorenzo Pisoni. What's next for us man?
LP: Alright, Nina Simone "Feeling Good".
LP: I was trying to think also like what it is about this woman and her voice that that just gets me. There's something diametrically opposed between what she's singing about and the lyrics... and her voice, there's just something happening, that it's like somewhat melancholic, but it's positive. It's an amazing mixture.
To me, what I hear, is there's a struggle to feel good, but she's gonna do it anyway. That's what I get out of it. That everything is potentially wonderful.
And also that her voice, you know, I know that she's an extraordinary artist and has this amazing facility but it's something about where her voice sits that, I almost think I could sing like that.. but there's no way, I mean she's amazing. And I think that maybe that's what it is, it's like it's almost possible that I can really lock in to what she's talking about because I can imagine what it might have been like to sound like that.
AV: Let's take a listen this is Nina Simone with "Feeling Good".
Song: Nina Simon – “Feeling Good”
AV: I’m here with performer Lorenzo Pisoni as part KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this next song. It’s Paul Simon with “That Was Your Mother”, off the album “Graceland”.
LP: The first time I went to New York City, I was ten years old, and I went there with my father. He ran away from home when he was 15.
He came to New York City, and I remember starting to learn the story of his adolescence, or his teenage years that summer when I was ten. And this album Graceland was all over the radio, and kind of in every car. Like it just took over that summer for me. And I didn't know Simon and Garfunkel, at this point in my life. So who was this guy? And why did he have all these amazing African voices backing him up? I mean it was like an incredible album.
Now this song in particular is about leaning who your parents are in a lot of ways. So this song really kind of encapsulates that time with my dad in New York City, and also there's that lyric about standing on the corner of Lafayette across the street from the Public. And I've worked the Public Theater, that beautiful Astor Library that they have on Lafayette and East 4th. So when I walk there to go into that theater this is the song that plays over and over and over in my head. And that's a wonderful kind of then and now meeting at once and art and life.
I would hear about my parents as young circus performers in Central Park, you know busking. And then look at my parents that I know thinking "How did that happen?"
AV: Let's take a listen. This is Paul Simon with "That Was Your Mother".
Song: Paul Simon -- "That Was Your Mother"
AV: Your relationship with your parents STILL has a big impact on what you’re doing – tell us about the play you’ve been touring around, Humor Abuse.
LP: It's a solo play about growing up in the Pickle Family Circus with a clown for a father. The lessons I learned from him and how I had to search to understand the man behind the grease paint. Because I spent so much time in the ring with him, that I hardly got to know him outside of the ring. And I'm still trying to figure out who he is.
AV: So what's the last song for us?
LP: Arcade Fire "Neighborhood #1 Tunnels"
LP: I think Arcade Fire just has this amazing theatricality to their music. And honestly it just simply is one of those things that no matter what’s happened in my day, it puts me in a good mood. I now have a playlist that I keep that does get me in the mood to do performances, especially things like Humor Abuse that need a lot of energy.
AV: Where do you want to be – energetically – right before a show starts?
LP: I guess the best way to describe the mood, it's like the revving of an engine at a starting line. So you haven't really wasted very much gas but you know how much RPM's you need to get off the line fast enough, if that makes sense.
AV: It makes a lot of sense. Let's take a listen.
This is Arcade Fire with "Neighborhood #1 Tunnels"
Song: Arcade Fire -- "Neighborhood #1 Tunnels"
AV: That was Arcade Fire with "Neighborhood #1 Tunnels", man this has been lots of fun Lorenzo.
LP: Thanks so much for having me, it’s a total thrill to be here.
AV: For a complete track listing, and to find these songs go online to KCRW.com/guestdjproject and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.