In the spirit of Comic–Con, our guest this week is Dan Piraro, the cartoonist behind the award-winning, syndicated comic strip Bizarro. He shares the song he turns to in his time of need, a couple clever songwriters and more. This year he will have published his 10,000th cartoon and has a new book called “Bizarro Heroes”.
For More: http://www.bizarrocomics.com/
1. Five Years - David Bowie
2. Hit The Road Jack - Ray Charles
3. You Can't Be Too Strong - Grahm Parker
4. Watching The Detectives - Elvis Costello
5. Freakshow - The Tiger Lillies
Eric J. Lawrence: Hi I'm Eric J Lawrence and I'm here with Dan Piraro the cartoonist and stand-up comic best known for his award-winning, syndicated feature "Bizarro". Today we're going to talk about some songs he's selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Dan, thank you very much for coming down.
Dan Piraro: Thanks so much for inviting me.
EL: Our pleasure. What's the first song you've got for us?
DP: Well the first song is a David Bowie song, David Bowie's "Five Years"
DP: I don't know what the lyrics mean. I have no idea. Never have. But now it has this meaning to me because when I was 19 years old, I took one of these infamous backpacking trips through Europe by myself. It was my attempt to grow up, do something tough on my own.
So I went to Europe, and in my mind, here I was nineteen years old, I had already dropped out of college. I wanted to somehow get involved in the arts and be rich and famous. I had no idea how I was going to do that, but I figured I could probably achieve it in five years, with no plan whatsoever. So I sang this song in my head and I knew all the words and just walked through Europe by myself ogling the women, and the great art and the buildings, singing David Bowie's "Five Years" in my head over and over again.
EL: Well, here it is the song that inspires the five year plan from David Bowie, it's "Five Years"
Song: David Bowie – “Five Years”
EL: That was David Bowie with "Five Years" from the Ziggy Stardust album. Well, what's the next song you got for us?
DP: This is Ray Charles with "Hit the Road Jack". I put these in more or less chronological order. When I got back from Europe, I started a band and I was the singer. We decided to do - we did all original music and this would have been 1980 and so this was very much in the center of the new wave movement, we were all big Clash, Costello fans that sort of thing.
This was an idea of mine. We took this song, we slowed it way down so that it had this walking bass, doon-dunk doon-dunk dunk-doon-doon and the vocals were like 'hit the road Jack, don’t you come back no more no more no...’ and these punk rock new wave kids in all these clubs loved it! It became my favorite song to sing and my favorite song to play.
Song: Ray Charles – Hit the Road Jack
DP: It reminds me of the good part of being in a garage band. And there's so many bad parts to being in a garage band, that over the years it becomes more romanticized in your mind and you think back to all the wonderful times you had and the ‘oh this and oh that’. But if you really think about it, there was just an awful lot of travelling five hours by car to play some crappy little club in some small town that had six people, four of whom were over 50. But the fun times were great and you hear a lot of rock stars, big rock stars say that you live for that hour and a half on stage. The rest of the life, the rest of all that touring is just misery, it really is.
EL: That was Ray Charles with "Hit the Road Jack" as selected by our guest, Dan Piraro. What's the next track you got for us?
DP: Well this one's from Graham Parker. "You Can't Be Too Strong" is from Squeezin' Out Sparks, which was a hugely successful album at the time. But this is maybe a little less known song off of that album. It meant so much to me; it has this very powerful pathos to it. Some years later I went through a very painful divorce, and through that whole thing, I sang this song to myself. You know, inspiring myself to be strong and to hang in there and stick it out and things would get better.
I had done that a few other times with this song, this was like my go to song when I'm having a really down time in life and this isn’t just like a bad day, this is like death of a friend or a divorce…something big. This song tends to come back to me and inspire me and give me strength somehow, some inner-strength, and another one that I know all the words to and could sing at the drop of a hat.
EL: Here it is Graham Parker with "You Can't Be Too Strong".
Song: Graham Parker – “You Can’t Be Too Strong”
EL: That was Graham Parker with "You Can't Be Too Strong", as selected by our guest DJ, Dan Piraro. What's the next song you got for us?
DP: Ah, now we get to Elvis Costello, one of the greats. I guess I first discovered him when I was still in the garage band era. His lyrics are so clever and he's so articulate, clearly well-read, well-educated. He's also tremendously well-educated musically and in terms of music history.
Song: Elvis Costello – “Watching the Detectives”
DP: I was listening to, you know, The Clash, The Jam and I loved all that stuff, that was what I was into, but then you have this "Watching the Detectives". There is no category that it fell into really. It was a weird thematic song with a terrific oddball retro story behind it. The way these lyrics just tumble off your tongue as you sing it. If I'm ever at a party where there's karaoke and I'm drunk enough and there's nobody there I want to impress, I will pull up "Watching the Detectives" and perform a darn fine version of it.
EL: Choosing artists that are known for their wit, does that sort of coincide with the way you've approached cartooning and the comic strip requiring that kind of cleverness to it?
DP: Yeah, I'm a big fan. Cartoons that interest me have to be clever and funny. There's a lot of cartoons that are very popular and I noticed them and I can appreciate them and understand why people like them so much, but doesn't really do it for me because there isn't that cleverness. I love to think around corners. And I do that with my cartoon, I try to create cartoons that make people look at them and then think, ‘Wait a minute, how does this connect? Oh, I get it!’ And it makes you feel like you're in a club, like you're smarter than the guy sitting next to you who's reading, perhaps, "Garfield".
EL: That was Elvis Costello with "Watching the Detectives" as selected by our guest, cartoonist Dan Piraro. Well, what's the last track you got for us?
DP: Ah, now here I, here I pull out the stops. This band, this is Tiger Lillies. So people don't even know about them, they're one of these bands, not unlike my cartoon, they have a rabid cult following. It's not the first band name off the lips of the average American. It's a very unusual band.
I discovered them actually kind of recently like 10 years ago in New York City. They were doing a stage version of a thing called, "Shockheaded Peter". And I went to see the stage show just on the recommendation of a friend, who was a cartoonist and an actor. He said, ‘Dan, you've got to see this show.’ And it blew me away. The music was fantastic, the performance, the art direction, the set designs.
The kind of comedy shows I do -- these one-man stand-up comedy shows, which aren't traditional stand-up, I do these various little things, they're more there more of a kind of vaudevillian variety act in a way -- and that's very much what Tiger Lillies stage performance is like, kind of this old-fashioned, vaudeville variety act. And if you don't know Tiger Lillies, there are three guys in strange old-fashioned clothing and make-up. The guy in the front usually plays an accordion and sings entirely in falsetto. Then you have a stand up bass and then you have this other character on a child's, toy drum kit. And the music they produce is amazing. And the lyrics they produce are, once again, so clever, so strange and very dark. If I had the money to put into my show, "Shockheaded Peter" is what it would look like and be like.
EL: Well, here it is. If you don't know them, here's your chance. It's the Tiger Lillies with "Freakshow".
SONG: Tiger Lillies – Freak Show
EL: I want to thank you so much for coming down and sharing some of your music picks with us.
DP: Hey, thanks for having me. I had a ball.
EL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs on-line go to kcrw.com/guestdjproject and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.