TV legend Normal Lear's heartfelt Guest DJ set covers love, war, family and friendship -- as well as the power of music and "how much it can work for good." Lear revolutionized television with comedy hits like All in the Family and The Jeffersons. Music is now his main focus as one of the owners of the Concord Music Group, which is behind the global phenomenon Playing for Change. The Playing for Change band will perform a benefit show on November 13 in LA at Club Nokia.
1. Barbara Cook: Ain't Love Easy
2. Danny Kaye: Anatole of Paris
3. Kate Smith: The White Cliffs of Dover
4. Frank Sinatra: I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now
5. Playing for Change: War/No More Trouble
Michael Barnes: Hi, I'm Michael Barnes and I'm here with TV legend Norman Lear, producer of the series All in the Family and many other influential shows. Norman is also a passionate music lover and one of the owners of The Concord Music Group, which is behind the global phenomenon, Playing for Change. Today we'll hear excerpts of songs that have inspired him throughout his life as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Norman, I see you've brought a love song to start with.
Norman Lear: I brought five songs, as I was instructed to do…one of them is called "Ain't Love Easy." I fell in love with the song as I heard my partner, Bud Yorkin, his wife, sing it at some event. And then I found the Barbara Cook version of "Ain't Love Easy" and from the moment I heard the first several lines of "Ain't Love Easy," I thought of it as…if a marriage could have an anthem, this is the anthem to my marriage to Lynn Lear. I would recite it if I could remember every word, but "ain't love easy when it's with you, dear" is the import of that title and it's the song itself and the meaning of the lyric.
Song: “Ain't Love Easy" by Barbara Cook
Micheal Barnes: What do you have for us next?
NL: Well, when I was a kid, 15, 16 years old -- which was a considerable amount of time ago -- Danny Kaye was at his height. It was the way he spit out the words written for him by Sylvia Fine. I guess, I kind of had some sense that I wanted to be a writer, so I was as interested in the words produced for him by his wife, Sylvia Fine. Little did I dream that one day I would produce a show with him. Bud Yorkin and I did a special, a Danny Kaye special many years later, and I had more fun…He was a great cook of Chinese food and in his kitchen one night I did "Anatole of Paris" for him -- to his total disbelief that anybody remembered all that. (Laughs. Sings) "I am Anatole of Paris, I sleep with sheik, my…”
Song: Danny Kaye’s "Anatole of Paris"
MB: He always had such a great, great sense of timing. It seems like that was one of the things I was kind of reflecting on when you said that he was a big influence just because it seems like in a lot of that comedic work that you've produced, that sense of timing also really comes through in what the writers have done and with what the actors have done as well.
NL: Every comic I ever loved growing up all contributed to all of that, including the comics in my family, who weren't really comics. But when you heard my mother and father at the top of their lungs and at the ends of their nerves… (Laughs) you knew you were hearing some great comedy. They didn't know it.
MB: It sounds like a perfect description of All in the Family right there.
NL: Yes, it lead to that.
MB: For our next selection, you've chosen Kate Smith's rendition of "The White Cliffs of Dover." Would you tell us a little bit about Kate Smith and why you chose this song?
NL: I served in World War II. I flew missions out of Italy, over Germany. On the way to Italy when we were flying over, we stopped at the Azores and shared guard duty. And I remember on a cold night in the Azores, walking wing tip to wing tip, I remember…I can feel it right now the cold and the wind and I was crying and singing. I remember trying to see how loud I could sing it, with only me to hear it. So the question rises, if there was only me to hear it, did it make a sound? (Laughs)
Song: “The White Cliffs of Dover” by Kate Smith
NL: I don't know that I thought of her as an artist -- I thought of her as a big voice, and a big person. But I have an indelible Kate Smith memory. I couldn't have been older than 12, 13. We lived in Brooklyn for a time and my mother -- leaning out of a four-, could be a five-story tenement and a bunch of us kids playing in the streets -- and I can hear her voice now yelling down to me "Norman, Norman, you've got to come up for dinner very soon. Kate Smith is singing “The Music Goes Round and Round” tonight.’ She was on, I think it was Chase & Sanborn or it might have been called The Kate Smith Hour. "The Music Goes Round and Round" was a huge conversation piece at the time and her voice screaming, Kate Smith is singing that, I'll never forget.
MB: You just heard an excerpt of the "White Cliffs of Dover" performed by Kate Smith, a song chosen by TV legend Norman Lear who is our current guest here at KCRW.com and our Guest DJ Project. Why don't we move to our next pick. This one is from Frank Sinatra. Would you tell me why you chose "I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now?"
NL: I was thinking about what song made me cry, you know, could bring me to tears and without even anybody in mind, maybe just with empathy for anybody who’s feeling it. I can hear a pleasant rendition of "I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now?" and weep. It will do that to me. I'm trying to think whether "I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now?" applied in my life to a person here and there, but it's generic. I will cry when I hear this song in any case.
MB: So, it had that effect before you could kind of relate to the lyrics in a way?
NL: Well there's never been a time when I couldn't relate to the lyrics. (both laugh)
Song: "I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now?" by Frank Sinatra
MB: The last track that we have here is from a project that I think is something that you're pretty intimately involved with. It's called "Playing for Change." Could you tell me about how you came to be involved with these players?
NL: It was brought to me by a young friend, Anthony Rich, who had seen a documentary, had seen an audience rise to its feet twice at a film festival in New York and then asked if he could represent it. I thought it was more than just a collection of songs. It was something that was riding the cusp of a worldwide movement or tide of people’s desire to connect across the globe.
Since coming into contact with it I have felt that many other ways, not the least of which was President Obama's ascendancy. He either is leading or reflecting -- and I tend to think reflecting -- a need across the world to recognize each other as one. In the song " War/No More Trouble" the camera is on Bono as he sings "until the color of man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes we'll have war," and it is for me the single most eloquent statement of a worldwide hunger to end that.
Song: “War/No More Trouble” by Playing for Change
NL: I have learned recently, as a result of the association with Playing for Change, how much more meaningful to the peoples of the world music is, and how much it can work for good.
I have 14-year-old twin daughters and I took one of them to Austin City Limits, and we were standing on the stage happily when T-Bone Burnett was singing a very quiet song and I'm looking out at 20-25,000 people, as still as a plant, you know, no movement while he sang that ballad. Now I've seen that phenomenon any number of times before but because of my current association with Playing for Change where we're actively thinking about what good it can do and does do, I view that day in Austin very differently, and I'll never be in that kind of a moment again when I won't be thinking about the power of music to heal.
MB: Norman Lear, this has been a really just distinct pleasure to sit here with you for a few moments and discuss these choices. I want to thank you so much for joining us at KCRW.com today.
NL: My very great pleasure.
MB: For a complete track listing and find these songs online go to KCRW.com/GuestDJProject.