Actor Tim Robbins has music in his blood. His father was part of a popular folk group and his song picks show how much music has defined his life. The Academy Award winner picks a song by a jazz legend that he can never hear enough of, a track about the realities of love and closes with a song about "infinite possibility." Tim is also the founder of one of LA's most accomplished theatrical institutions, The Actors' Gang. They are currently hosting a series of both free and fundraising events called the WTF Festival.
Anne Litt: I'm Anne Litt and I'm here with Academy Award winning-actor Tim Robbins, who is also the founder of one of LA's most accomplished theatrical institutions, The Actors' Gang. Today we will be playing excerpts of songs he's selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Tim, I'm so glad to have you here and I'm really excited to hear the songs you brought.
Tim Robbins: I'm excited to be here.
AL: Where are we starting?
TR: I thought we'd start with a song called, "Oh Mary Don't You Weep." It's an old folk song. My dad was a folk singer and he was in a group called "The Highway Men," so we would be around these kind of folk festivals and hoot-a-nannies. But it wasn't until Bruce Springsteen put out his Pete Seeger Sessions album, when I heard the "Mary Don't You Weep" … I had a memory of sitting on my mom's lap, must have been four years old, and she was singing this song.
Song: Bruce Springsteen's version of "Oh Mary Don't You Weep
TR: Pete Seeger used to do this song all the time, roll into town and go and do a radio show like this and he'd say, "I'm playing tonight at the university" -- because he'd been blacklisted at the time so he couldn't really work in a major tour, he couldn't work on television -- so he would just subversively go around the country, show up, do a show, and what he'd say is, "I don't have my band with me, I have my banjo, I'm gonna sing this song, and you're gonna hear the lyrics and I'd like very much for you to join in." So what these Pete Seeger concerts would be is 200, 300, 400 people singing together "Oh Mary Don't You Weep." Make the audience part of the show. How exciting to be able to hear 600 voices sing a song.
AL: Bruce Springsteen's version of "Oh Mary Don't You Weep," here on KCRW's Guest DJ Project. I'm Anne Litt here with Tim Robbins. And what's next?
TR: Another one that means a lot to me. My dad was in, as I said before, a group called The Highwaymen, and they toured all over the place, had a couple big hits, and I think it was around 1963 this recording was made. It was sent to me last year by Steve Butts, who used to play banjo in the group. It's The Highwaymen live at MIT University in 1963.
Song: The Highwaymen's "Universal Soldier"
TR: One of my first clear memories is seeing my dad up there being funny. They used to do these shaggy dog songs. I thought that was very funny. You know, if you know who The Highwaymen are, they weren't particularly political. They would do sea shanties, prison songs, the canon. But this is 1963 and it was kind of like a turning point for all of us, not only the group. But my father, who I think drove the group to do that song, to take a step away from their collegiate folk music thing and start thinking about the world a little bit more.
AL: The Highway Men recorded live at MIT on October 26, 1963, doing the song, "Universal Soldier." This is KCRW's Guest DJ Project. I'm Anne Litt, here with Tim Robbins. So Tim, tell us about this Nina Simone track.
TR: I can't hear it enough. That's why I put it in there. I always hear something new and it's one of those songs I'll never get tired of.
There joy in it, there's sorrow, there's fear, there's anger. You know, this is another testament -- this song -- to the beauty of having kids with good musical taste. As I remember, my son Jack had put a small snippet of this in this small film he was doing, must've been three, maybe four years ago, and I remember thinking, "Oh my god, he's really got great taste."
Song: Nina Simone's "Sinner Man"
AL: It's Nina Simone and "Sinner Man" as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project with Tim Robbins. Tell us about the next choice.
TR: This is a beautiful song by John Doe called "Golden State."
You know, you get to certain time in your life and you start seeing the cycle. As I'm coming to the time when my youngest is 17, about to go to college next year and the other two are already out of the house, I hear this song as a beautiful love song because it's an adult love song. It's not imagining stupid utopia, it's about two people who are real and love each other. But part of it is -- you're a pain in my neck. You're everything, but you can also drive me crazy. And I just love the maturity of that writing.
Song: John Doe's "Golden State"
TR: I went to school out here. I grew up in New York City, but I went to school out here at UCLA and after graduating started the Actors' Gang with a bunch of fellow students. I stayed out here for about nine years and then I moved back to New York. And one of the things that defined my period in Los Angeles besides the Actors' Gang was this band, X. I just thought they were incredible. I saw them live a lot. I loved their songwriting, I loved their sound and for me it kind of was my youth -- my reckless, fun, exciting, creative, 20's -- before I had a family. I also liked how it kinda spoke to what LA is, in a broader sense to me. That band X and John Doe are kind of iconographically for me what LA is, my LA.
AL: I'm Anne Litt, I'm here with Tim Robbins as part as KCRW's Guest DJ Project. We just heard a track from John Doe called "The Golden State" and now we're moving on to one from Richie Havens and I know you had a couple that you were deciding between -- what did you finally pick?
TR: I think we should go out with "Morning, Morning." It is the morning, despite what time it is where you are right now, for me it's a new period of life. It's one of those songs that is about infinite possibility, the sun rises.
"Morning, Morning," by Richie Havens
TR: This is an incredibly hopeful time, I believe. It's just a matter of finding and celebrating that and one of the ways to do that is to listen to radio stations like this and to get off the grid of what the corporate world wants you to buy and listen to, what they want culture to be. It's not good for you and the people that are able to live outside of that kind of culture and find their own entertainment, find something that doesn't have all the noise of selling and product placement and find the true art and the pure art, go out to a club and take a chance on a musician. Those are the kinds of people that drive the engine. They are the people that are the future and the excitement and the spirit and the life. That for me is a very exciting prospect.
AL: Now I think that's a beautiful place to end. Tim, thank you so much for coming in and being here with KCRW's Guest DJ Project.
AL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to KCRW.com/GuestDJPRoject.