Franklin Sirmans

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Franklin Sirmans is the head of Contemporary Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He chooses artists that “know how to make a party out of some politics”, including Public Enemy and The Clash, as well as sentimental picks from Stevie Wonder and Meshell Ndegeocello. He curated the new exhibit “Fútbol: The Beautiful Game”, which just opened at LACMA.

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Track List:

1. Stevie Wonder - Knocks Me Off My Feet
2. Public Enemy - Public Enemy #1
3. The Clash - This Is Radio Clash
4. Nuyorican Soul - I Am The Black Gold of the Sun
5. Meshell N'degeocello - Love Song #1


JS: This is Jeremy Sole and I'm here with Franklin Sirmans, the head of Contemporary Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Today we will be explaining excerpts of songs he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Let's just jump into it, if you don't mind, Franklin. Tell us a little bit about the song you brought.

FS: Oh, Stevie Wonder, "Knocks Me Off My Feet". In thinking about trying to, choose five songs -- it's amazingly difficult. And, I think the wording was "five songs that affected your life." Heavy, kind of.

This song, the Stevie Wonder song, is interesting to me in this context because it kind of has two important nodes in my life -- the first being mid-70s, being at home. That album, “Songs in the Key of Life”, my mom had that in full rotation all the time. I can remember looking at that album cover all the time growing up, and so there's that. It sort of harks back to there, but then it also is a song that my wife and I hold very dear and first song after we were married and something that we chose together. So, it really represents that, those dual moments, two very, very important points in time for me.

Song: Stevie Wonder -- "Knocks Me Off My Feet"

JS: That was the great Stevie Wonder with "Knocks Me Off My Feet" and let's jump into your next tune right away. What else did you bring for us?

FS: Public Enemy.

JS. “Public Enemy No. 1”

FS: “Public Enemy No. 1”. I can remember bringing this album home - and I do mean album -  and tearing off the wrapping and everything. I guess in a way, it's kind of one of those, probably one of the last albums I bought before, I think, I got a CD player, which is probably like '87, right?

JS: That's about right, yes.

FS: I just remember listening to them for the first time. It was like this coming together of a whole bunch of different sounds.

Song: Public Enemy -- "Public Enemy No. 1"

FS: I think Chuck D was kind of like the one who could take some of that original sort of poetry that was very politically inflected and very much about - as Chuck D would say, you know, rap being the CNN of the community - taking that aspect, and then, by sound, in particular, thinking about a music that was coming from another place, coming from a punk place, coming from, some of those elements that might have been in BDP (Boogie Down Productions), some of those elements that are in Eric B. & Rakim, which is a little more street-oriented. But mixing that together with the Bomb Squad as production, you get that, like --

JS: Urgency.

FS: Yeah, that crazy, raw droning sound. So, I think the sound element of that, I just can't get away from. I mean, I listen to that song periodically, all the time. It's amazing.

JS: So, once again, that was "Public Enemy No. 1". I'm here with Franklin Sirmans, the head of contemporary art at LACMA. I see you've brought something from The Clash.

FS: Ah, for me this is 8th grade, when I think about The Clash, "This is Radio Clash." That song, I guess I probably first heard it sitting around listening to WLIR in New York.

That song is, like, everything. It's, like, it's punk. It's dub. It's reggae. it's hip hop -- and it's hip hop coming from somewhere else. I mean, we're talking about the origins of hip hop at that time, but they were already tapped in, so it was a big song in that way.

It was also a big song for me just in terms of opening up a conversation around music. This, I think, was about a real, sort of, a period of thinking about other places in the world, other things that are happening in the world. And again, four guys who are really concerned about the world, but are also going to rock hard within it, and know how to make a party out of some politics at the same time. So, I guess, I chose that song because I have a memory of it in the past, but then I also think about it a lot now, and that dirge-type sound.

Song: The Clash -- "This is Radio Clash"

JS: People, people, people. That's that sense of urgency, right there from The Clash. The song is called "This is Radio Clash". So, if it's alright with you, Franklin, let's jump into the next tune. 

FS: Yeah, Nuyorican Soul, "I Am the Black Gold of the Sun". To me, I guess, the Nuyorican Soul in there, for me, that's the early '90s, late '80s, college, your town. House is coming into effect. The dance scene really hit me hard around that time and, again, opened up passageways to a whole other thing.

Of course, these guys are sound musicians, sample musicians, composers. It's incredible as production, as editing, as being able to hear things and know that this works together. 

Song: Nuyorican Soul -- "I Am the Black Gold of the Sun"

FS: So of course, they're mixing everybody - Madonna, Michael Jackson, all that kind of stuff, on a pop level - but then stretching their boundaries in different ways and constantly trying to trip themselves up. There's a heart and soul of it that's in disco, that's in soul, that's in dance. But then there are all these other offshoots that come off of it - house, garage, and all of that stuff comes later. 

For me, this song, this is, you're going to a different place. It's spiritual as hell. Like, you know this is in the club - you don't necessarily have to be on anything, this song takes you there. It's all about sweatin' away, a very sort of spiritual sound that comes from Jocelyn Brown and comes from their mixing of an older record.

JS: Nuyorican Soul with "I Am the Black Gold of the Sun", and, well, Franklin, tell us what your last song is. 

FS: Meshell Ndegeocello, "Love Song #1".

Another one that I share with my wife. A song that I played for her or talked about so much that it became one of those songs that is part of us together. It's also a song where - you guys, I'm pretty sure, have a live version of that song that is killer. I remember the first time listening to that as my introduction to KCRW, I think, around 2002 or so, was really a big song for me.

I love Meshell Ndegeocello, so I listen to all of her music pretty much all the time. This one still sticks out in that way. Coming first from “Plantation Lullabies” all the way through, now she's doing Nina Simone. I caught her doing Prince live a couple of years ago. She's just one of those, like, to me, who's so much a part of this moment and remains so vitally fresh. Like every song. It's crazy.

JS: She's the real deal.

FS: Oh, she's real.

JS: I thank you so much for taking the time and...

FS: Thank you. It's good talking with you.

JS: It is good talking with you.

JS: So, once again, I'm here with Franklin Sirmans, the head of contemporary art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Jeremy Sole with you here as KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Thank you again.

FS: Thanks, Jeremy.





Jeremy Sole