Rachel Bloom is the Golden Globe-winning star and creator of Crazy Ex- Girlfriend, a musical comedy on The CW. She co-writes songs for the TV series and reveals her early influences in her Guest DJ set, as well as her favorite love song AND breakup song. (Hosted by Gary Calamar)
1. The Producers - Springtime for Hitler
2. The Dresden Dolls - The Jeep Song
3. Ben Folds - The Luckiest
4. Talking Heads - Heaven
5. Assassins (Musical) - Unworthy of Your Love
Gary Calamar: Hi I’m Gary Calamar and I’m here with Golden Globe award winning actress Rachel Bloom, star and creator of the series Crazy Ex- Girlfriend. She co-writes the songs for the musical comedy TV series so we’re very excited to dig into some of the tunes that have inspired her throughout her life as apart of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Welcome Rachel Bloom, we’re glad to have you!
Rachel Bloom: Thank you for having me. I’m very happy to be here.
GC: Why don’t we get started? What’s your first pick?
RB: So I’ve loved show tunes ever since I was 2 years old. My mom plays piano, my Grandpa was an amateur theatre director and stand-up comic. They were always playing show tunes for me. But, as I got older, it became clearer the show tunes that I loved -- cause most of them were like from the 50s or the 70s -- weren’t haha laugh out loud funny in a modern way, and often the showtunes that I loved and the comedy that I loved felt very different.
And then I remember watching TV and seeing a snippet of “The Producers” and “Springtime for Hitler,” and it was the first time I felt that this is really edgy comedy done in a musical comedy format. It was the first time I’d seen that.
And when the musical came out, the musical came out when I was 14, I just became obsessed with it. That musical is the foundation of why I write musical comedy. It made me fall in love with musical comedy, and it’s so Jewish. I think any little Jewish kid when they hear Mel Brooks there’s something that’s kind of in your soul that’s like, “I like this, and I don’t even know why.” And so when he released that musical, it was all of the things that I loved.
*Song: The Producers - Springtime for Hitler*
GC: Hilarious. That is “Springtime for Hitler” from The Producers from the musical version of the show. Next up, Dresden Dolls.
RB: Yeah, so part of the reason I loved show tunes was because I felt like they were an emotional outlet for me that I couldn’t find in a lot of pop/rock music.
A lot of rock music was a lot of people being cool in ways I couldn’t relate to. A lot of their enunciation was off. And then pop music, while fun to listen to, was all about dancing in the club…it’s just things that I don’t relate to.
And then a girl, my friend Emily, sang “The Jeep Song” in a musical theatre class and it was the first time… I had just never instantly related to a song so hard. I was going through a bad break up when I heard this song. There are a lot of breakup songs, but they kind of gloss over the real petty self- hatred that comes with going through a breakup.
They’re all just kind of like this beautiful sadness, or empowerment despite the sadness, and this song is about “I cannot forget you.” And there’s a line, “you’re a bully and a clown”. And so many of the guys I dated were comedians and could be mean-spirited comedians and I’ve never heard someone say, “you’re a bully and a clown.” And like “you made me cry and put me down.”
I instantly related to this song and felt that my feelings were a bit validated. The idea of every time I see a jeep that looks like yours my broken heart skips a beat. That’s what I love about them, they’re so specific. They come from a Berlin cabaret style, which makes sense why I gravitate to it. Because it has a lot of roots that musical theatre also does.
*Song: The Dresden Dolls - The Jeep Song*
GC: That was “The Jeep Song” by the Dresden Dolls. I’m Gary Calamar, I’m here with Rachel Bloom for the Guest DJ Project. What’s up next?
RB: “The Luckiest” by Ben Folds. I got into Ben Folds because a guy I was dating was into Ben Folds, and this song “The Luckiest” became a way for this guy and I to say how we felt about each other.
This was the first song-song that I had with someone. And then that relationship ended very badly. But, years later, my now husband and I both separately love Ben Folds. And we were at a Ben Folds concert, and he played “The Luckiest”, and I held my husband’s hand and was like, “okay, I think there’s been a transfer of power of the song to my relationshipnow.” So this song has always represented a love to me. More than I think almost any other song.
*Song: Ben Folds - The Luckiest*
RB: Love songs in general do two things: They allow me to kind of revel in the emotion I’m feeling. “The Luckiest” makes me feel more in love. They also make me feel like I’m not alone. And I think that’s what “The Jeep Song” made me realize, that “oh I’m not the only one to want to see this guy everywhere despite the fact that he wasn’t great to me.”
And I think realizing you’re not alone is the first step to becoming a better person and rising above the petty or angry emotions that you might be feeling. “The Luckiest,” despite I should be bitter towards that song because the root of it is a relationship that did not end well, but it’s such a beautiful song. And despite how specific it is, there is a universality to it which is what you want from a pop song.
GC: That’s Ben Folds with “The Luckiest.” What’s up next?
RB: “Heaven” by Talking Heads. I listened to mostly only show tunes before I was 18/19 years old and one of the first non-show tunes albums I got was Talking Heads. I got Talking Heads ’77 but then I got all of their albums because I became obsessed and because of course the dude that I had a massive crush on loved Talking Heads.
But then I myself got into Talking Heads. And this song, “Heaven…Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.” That kind of symbolizes contentment to me.
For the longest time I couldn’t be still alone with my thoughts - I had anxiety, I had all these problems and I always longed to get to the place that this song talks about. It’s a song just about comfort and contentment in sameness, and a pattern, and a rhythm, and a schedule. That’s something that I always knew I wanted, but never had. And I never really fully understood this song - even though I’ve loved it for so many years - until a couple years ago when I finally got the psychiatrist that I needed and I got into meditating and the idea of “I can now be still with myself and I’m okay with just nothing happening.” I don’t need to distract myself half as much as I did before.
*Song: Talking Heads - Heaven*
GC: That was “Heaven” by the Talking Heads. What’s your final song choice?
RB: I’ve had a very love-hate relationship with musical theatre. Because I love it, but at a certain point I felt like maybe it was too shallow, too emotionally shallow. And then I started getting into Stephen Sondheim in high school and Sondheim really elevated the art form. But then I heard the musical “Assassins,” and the subject matter itself is about something you never see in a musical which is all the people who have assassinated or tried to assassinate a president.
This song is, “Unworthy of Your Love” which is sung by Squeaky Fromme who tried to assassinate Gerald Ford and John Hinckley Jr who tried to assassinate Reagan. And what it says in using these pastiches about the American Dream and the dark subject of the musical itself…it really spoke to the darkness inside me and the ability of pastiches and the ability of taking a genre and flipping it on its head to make a new point, really inspired me as a writer.
*Song: Assassins (Musical) - Unworthy of Your Love*
GC: Rachel Bloom thanks so much for joining us for the KCRW Guest DJ Project. It is such a pleasure to hang out with you.
RB: Such a pleasure to be here, thank you for having me.
Photo by Dustin Downing