Scott Turow is a bestselling author who has had several of his books turned into feature films. His Guest DJ set is full of thoughtful and sentimental reflections on fatherhood, civil rights, and The Beatles most controversial song. He also tells us about his band, the Rock Bottom Remainders, which is a group of bestselling authors who play shows to raise money for charity, including a show to celebrate their 20th anniversary in LA on June 22 at the El Rey.
For More: http://www.rockbottomremainders.com/
1. We Shall Overcome - Pete Seeger
2. Can't Help Myself - The Four Tops
3. Runaway - Del Shannon
4. Free As A Bird - The Beatles
5. Rainbow Connection - The Muppet Movie
EJL: Hi, I am Eric J. Lawrence and I am here with bestselling author Scott Turow. He’s sold over 25 million books and several of them, including “Presumed Innocent”, have been made to feature films. Today, we’re going to talk about some of the songs he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Scott, thanks so much for joining us.
ST: Thank you, I’m glad to be here.
EJL: What’s the first song you got for us?
ST: Well, the first song is “We Shall Overcome” by Pete Seeger, which he had basically gleaned from…I think it was based on an old spiritual. But Seeger popularized it and it became the anthem for the civil rights movement in which I was active until white people were basically booted out after Dr. King was killed in 1968.
But it always raised the hair on the back of my neck and it still does. The promise was that we shall overcome and, looking at the White House today, there’s a pretty good argument that we did overcome and I’m one of those people who likes to give the United States credit where it deserves credit, and on this front we deserve an enormous amount of credit. We have made heroic changes that we all should be proud of. So, when I listen to this song I feel inspired and proud.
Song: Pete Seeger – “We Shall Overcome”
EJL: That was Pete Segeer with “We Shall Overcome” as selected by our Guest Scott Turow. What’s the next song you got for us?
ST: Well with that run-up, I then come to “I Can’t Help Myself” by The Four Tops, Which is probably my all time favorite soul tune and it brings back pure teenaged lust, and sense of movement -- everything that rock sort of captured for us, and still captures for adolescence.
Song: The Four Tops – “I Can’t Help Myself”
EJL: Are you much of a dancer? Is that one of the ways you react to music?
ST: I do like to dance, I always have. I can still really embarrass my kids at a moment’s notice by dancing. And one of the great things about dancing is you can be 85 and you still try to dance the way you danced when you were 17 years old. So that’s what I try to do.
EJL: And you’re a musician as well.
ST: I think that’s a dramatic overstatement but I appear on stage with a band and that’s about as far as I would go.
EJL: That was The Four Tops with “I Can’t Help Myself” as selected by our Guest Scott Turow. What’s the next track you got for us?
ST: This is one of the songs that I sing with the band, the Rock Bottom Remainders, which is a group of bestselling authors who, couple of times a year play music to raise money for charity and mostly literacy classes. “Runaway” by Del Shannon was the number one song when I was in eighth grade and just sort of getting into pop music as a, sort of, you know lingua franca of adolescence.
Song: Del Shannon -- Runaway
EJL: Now, talk about the Rock Bottom Remainders and some of the other people and how it all kinda came about and how you all sort of fit together.
ST: Well the band was brought together by; the late and greatly beloved, Kathi Goldmark, who was an author’s escort in San Francisco. Kathy, who is one of the most fun loving people that’s ever walked this planet, realized that she had a lot of authors she was squaring around who loved rock music and she put together a sort of cover band of writers and it all came together when Stephen King agreed that he would do it. But, uh, the band is: Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, Stephen, Greg Iles, Amy Tan, Ridley Pearson, James McBride, Roy Blunt. Some of those people are real musicians and they have me on stage just to prove that they don’t take themselves seriously.
EJL: That was “Runaway” by Del Shannon, selected by our Guest Scott Turow. What’s the next song you got for us?
ST: The Beatles, “Free As A Bird”, which some would argue it’s not really a Beatles song since it was concocted in 1995. John Lennon had sort of laid down a track at home in 1977. So the song is of his composition and then the three living Beatles after John’s death added background vocals, instrumentation, a lead guitar line by George Harrison. All with the permission of Yoko Ono.
Song: The Beatles – “Free As A Bird”
ST: What compels me to choose it -- although I always thought it got down talked in a way it didn’t deserve, I think it’s a great song -- but by the time it was released in 1995 with, you know, the full vocalization, I was a middle-aged father of three. And the anticipation of hearing this new Beatles song brought me back to 13 years old when they first appeared. And I hovered by the TV set and just waited and by the time the first guitar chords were struck I was just absolutely transported and moved by this song. I always liked to imagine that Lennon was singing about the Beatles, as a group, and that together they had felt free as bird. But it was a powerful lesson because I liked John Lennon’s music, the music he made as a solo artist, a great deal. But I’ll still take “Free as a Bird” over anything that he did by himself. The addition of the other three still brings it to a musical level that I don’t think anybody got to on their own.
EJL: That was The Beatles with “Free As A Bird” as selected by our guest Scott Turow. What’s the last song you got for us?
ST: The last song is “Rainbow Connection”. My son was born in 1982 and that summer there was a family tragedy and my oldest child, Rachel, was then approaching three. And she responded to all of this by relentlessly watching and listening to the Muppet Movie. And so, just a way to lift her spirits and everybody else’s, we took to singing the songs together. And then when Rachel’s brother was born in October somehow that was what I chose to sing him in the first instance that I held him. The lines about, you know, that there are dreams that come true, is the way I really felt about being a parent. And so when Gabe and Rachel’s younger sister, Eve was born four years later, I sang it to her too in the delivery room. So I have an immense sentimental connection to this song.
Song: Kermit The Frog – “Rainbow Connection”
EJL: Is the lyrical content of songs a point of entry for you is that particularly as a writer, do the words have that extra meaning to you?
ST: I always refer to my singing unconscious and, very often, during the course of the day, I will find myself singing a song. And when I listen to the lyrics, I realize that it has to do with something that’s on my mind, something that’s preoccupying me. Usually some point of personal vexation. So, I sometimes coach my companions to listen to what I’m singing because it’s not completely idle.
EJL: That was “Rainbow Connection” from the Muppet Movie as selected by our Guest Scott Turow. Scott, thanks so much for joining us here.
ST: You’re more than welcome. Thanks for having me on. This is a lot of fun.
EJL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to KCRW dot com slash guest DJ project and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.