Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has a theme for his Guest DJ set -- anthems about staying true to yourself, made by artists who followed that creed, from Big Star to Bing Crosby. He also lovingly devotes songs to the two cities that have shaped him creatively -- New York and LA. Season 4 of the AMC drama Mad Men is now available on DVD.
For More: http://www.amctv.com/originals/madmen/cast/mweiner
1. Bing Crosby - Brother, Can you spare a dime?
2. Jim Croce - New York's not my home
3. Big Star - The Ballad of El Goodo
4. Joni Mitchell - Rainy night house
5. The Decemberists - Los Angeles, I'm Yours
Dan Wilcox: Hey this is Dan Wilcox from KCRW and I have the extreme pleasure of sitting here with Matthew Weiner, Creator and Executive Producer of the AMC drama Mad Men. The critically-acclaimed show has spawned a dedicated cult following, which I am most definitely a part of. And today we’re going to be playing excerpts of songs that he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Welcome, Matthew!
Matthew Weiner: Well, hi Dan. How are you? I’m glad to be here.
DW: Alright! So what do you have for us?
MW: I pulled something - these are like anthems to me, if that makes sense. They’re not my fist-pumping music, but these are the things like, “Don’t forget, this is what life is about.”
DW: I would love to hear your fist-pumping music too! Could we do a second one?
MW: What do you mean? It’s “Back in Black” like everybody else’s! I mean come on, whenever we can’t find a song for the end of a show, you can put “Back in Black” at the end of any movie or show and it works.
DW: That’s a good point. So, where would you like to start?
MW: This is a song called “Brother Can You Spare a Dime”, which is a song from the great depression and tells a story in the first person through the voice of Bing Crosby.
And this song seems very dark for a pop song, but it has this story that I think is still very relevant to today which is, you come on hard times but I did something amazing and don’t - part of the show and my life’s work in a weird way is noticing that all these individuals you’re passing, whether they’re old people or whatever, they had lives. And there’s so much passion in this song. It’s a very melancholic song, but the idea that there’s this pride underneath this bum that you just passed by and also that we’re all a part of this and don’t forget that just because I’m having hard times that I’m still a human being.
MW: If you listen to the words, the story that’s being told, is so relevant today because it’s really about being a soldier, coming back, being forgotten. All of the great achievements, that I am this every man and then, of course, I’m asking you for a dime.
DW: That was Bing Crosby’s “Brother Can You Spare a Dime.” Matthew, what’s up next?
MW: This is a song called “New York’s Not My Home” by Jim Croce. And Jim Croce is a big part of the 70s. Jim Croce was folk music that became pop music so people like my parents who were too old to really be into rock and roll, who were from the 50’s, they loved folk music, they loved Bob Dylan, but they went into this sort of, this was like the pop thread of it. And Jim Croce’s very personal and he’s kind of a down and out character in his songs and it’s very working class, but it’s so personal and they’re always first person.
MW: I’m from Los Angeles, well I’ve lived here since I was 11. And when I first started watching The Sopranos, which I eventually got to work on, one of the things I loved about it was this opening sequence which is such a twist of someone leaving New York City, because New York is a focus.
Even in Los Angeles, we look towards it for everything and my parents are from New York and it’s sort of the motherland and I obviously write about it now and have this fantasy about what it was and I always wanted to live there.
And then I got to live there and I got to work there, and was making the pilot and we finished the pilot and we were in PJ Clark’s - which is a locale that I use a lot in the show because I had this magical experience there - and I don’t know what it was but I was in a great moment in my life watching all these people that I brought together for the pilot who were all not famous - none of us had any hopes that anything would happen for what we had just wrapped. And then I hear this song come on the jukebox and it was not like it was a leveling moment, it was this emotion that was beyond everything that I was feeling. It was this drop of sadness and reality in a moment of joy because I was going home - I had to go home. And I just thought about all of these things together.
DW: That was Jim Croce singing “New York’s Not My Home”. You’re listening to KCRW’s Guest DJ Project, I’m Dan Wilcox sitting here with Matthew Weiner Creator of the AMC Drama Mad Men. So Matthew, where are we going to go next?
MW: This song is called “The Ballad of El Goodo” and it’s by Big Star, which is a band that was big when I was in high school. I was working on a show and mentioned that I loved Alex Chilton and I loved the Box Tops or something and there was a huge musicophile named F.J. Pratt who I worked with, another writer.
He mentioned that they had had a reunion concert and gave me the CD. And Alex Chilton is this great song writer -- real rock and roll, great voice. Pop music, that’s all you can say.
But there’s something about this recording and knowing that whatever he had gone through in his life - and he just passed away last year, which was kind of upsetting to me because of this song in particular - it’s not a screw you song, it’s not an “I’ll do it my own way,” it is literally someone who has been through a hard time of various complexities. He talks about the people who are trying to undo you and what is the power that you have? It’s not the power to fight back or anything. It’s the power to say, “No.” To be true to yourself.
MW: The passion and the reality of this live version, it can always - if I really listen to the song, and I’ve heard it a lot obviously - but if I really listen to the song it brings me to a place - almost a religious place, of ‘This is you life, it’s your only life. All of the voices whether they’re made up or not in your head that tell you that things can’t happen, that’s their problem it’s not your problem. And just go on and stick to your course and don’t think about the reward or anything like that. Think about the pleasure of being you.’
And I defy anyone to listen to this song and not hear that. And the story’s important to it too because I so believe in the communication that happens between a really good singer - and I’m not talking about a great voice - I’m talking about someone who’s really - in the most primitive sense, we’re all sitting around the campfire in front of a cave who the song come through them and they’re giving you something of themselves.
DW: That was Big Star singing a live version of “The Ballad of El Goodo”. Matthew, where are we going to go next?
MW: I picked this song, it’s called “Rainy Night House,” and it’s a song that I listen to not only because it’s so - my wife actually turned me on to this song because like everyone else in the post album days, I will just listen to the songs that I already know. I will not just put it on and play through it. And my wife - I don’t know if it was on shuffle or what else it is or if she knew it already - but said, “You have to hear this song.” Because I was talking about something related to the emotions in this song.
And what I really got out of it besides the depth of the little stories that are being told - the story that’s being told is - Joni Mitchell, you know, writes lyric songs and they are presented as pop songs in a way. This song has no rules. It structurally has no rules. The voices change in it. It breaks into - there’s a part in it when she talks about the choir and the choir comes on in the middle of this acoustic song.
It’s just - wherever her imagination wants to go, she depicts it for you, she demonstrates it. And it’s so evocative to me of privacy and dealing with tragedy and also two people trying to be close to each other and, you know, like everything else you’ll see that the commonality is the human voice in this thing. Her expression of her voice is something that just I always feel it - and this song in particular it’s so...it’s peculiar, is really what it is. And I love things that are just unrelated to genre and where you just hear the artist saying like, “I know this doesn’t sound like the way a song sounds.” But this is - I have to play this song.
DW: That was Joni Mitchell’s “Rainy Night House.” And Matthew, what is our final song going to be today?
MW: I wanted to put some contemporary music in here. I listen to a lot of stuff and it’s determined that I listen to melodic stuff, I listen to non melodic stuff.
There is something about this band The Decembrists. I love the word play. I love the historical reference in the song. I love the irony. It is all with an incredible sense of humor.
But what I really love about this song – it’s called “Los Angeles I’m Yours” -- is that it is filled with surprises. I was born in Baltimore and I moved here when I was 11. I have a view of Los Angeles that is not really of a native.
There is something about this song and its kind of anthem-like quality and the way there’s a drone that comes up under it, like a Ravi Shankar song or something like that, there’s a hum that comes up under it. And It really feel likes a processional song about Los Angeles—like you’re having the experience of either coming in from a helicopter or walking down a long dark tunnel and it opens up into this big thing. The irony of the love-hate relationship we have with this place –and ‘ocean’s grabbled vomit on the shore’. Los Angeles is vomit? I guess so. But it is what it is. It is my city. Something about the confidence of teasing Los Angeles about what it is—of seeing all of Los Angeles -- that’s part of being here.
DW: That was Decemberists with their song “Los Angeles I’m Yours.” I have been chatting with Matthew Weiner, creator of AMC’s Mad Men. Matthew, thank you for coming down there.
MW: It was such a pleasure to be here. I hope I’ve given people a couple of avenues to go down. I hope that they feel something when they hear these songs. And I want to thank the artists for giving these songs to us because theyre very meaningful and inspirational.
DW: Definetely. If you want a complete track listing, you can find these songs online, you can go to KCRW.com/guestdjproject.