Artist, illustrator, animator, and toy designer Gary Baseman believes strongly that art isn’t precious, it’s magical. And life is just “beautifully absurd”. Music, however, is about the acceptance of love and loss and he demonstrates that in his song picks, from David Bowie to Leonard Cohen. Gary Baseman’s exhibit at the Skirball – “The Door is Always Open” – opens this weekend.
For More: http://www.skirball.org/exhibitions/gary-baseman
1. The Rivingtons - Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow
2. David Bowie - Quicksand
3. The Velvet Underground - Pale Blue Eyes
4. Elvis Costello - Get Yourself Another Fool
5. Leonard Cohen - The Partisan
Anthony Valadez: Hi, I'm Anthony Valadez and I'm here with artist, illustrator, animator, and toy designer Gary Baseman. Today we're going to talk about songs he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project.
Gary I'm excited about this, what did you bring for us today?
Gary Baseman: Ironically, the first song I picked happens to be a very upbeat song, compared to almost everything else that is really depressing. But the very first song I picked was my very first favorite song ever in my life and it was "Papa Oom Mow Mow" by The Rivingtons. This particular song I was 3 years old and somehow just the playfulness of it…which also kind of captured L.A. back in the early 60's, kind of also the beach culture.
Song: The Rivingtons - “Papa Oom Mow Mow”
Gary Baseman: One thing I do remember is that I love that song so much that when I would go through my older brother's and sister's 45 collection all I could remember is, and since I couldn't read, that it had this liberty label. So it had this statue of liberty on the 45 and so what I would do is I would just go through the albums trying to find it and if anything had the liberty label I would grab it and put it on the record player.
But that image of the statue of liberty also was implanted in my brain and it has been such an important logo or icon in my life. This idea of liberty, first amendment, and free speech, and this also plays off of my family being holocaust survivors and immigrants and coming to L.A. and I was the only one in my family born and raised in America.
Anthony Valadez: That was "Papa Oom Mow Mow" by The Rivingtons. What's next for us Gary?
Gary Baseman: The next song is a song that kind of, I feel like in some odd way, kind of establishes my life. It’s "Quicksand" by David Bowie.
The way that Bowie sings "Quicksand" and the lyrics kind of just celebrates the beauty of the bitter sweetness of life, which I try to capture in all of my art, instead of this perfection. I guess in a way that he's singing about the beauty of the futility of life. I remember when he would sing "Don't believe in yourself, don't believe with belief, knowledge comes with death release." And, pretty much for 20 years, I for some reason always thought he was singing "Knowledge comes with gas release." I don't know why I never really thought it through, because, you know, he's got the most beautiful voice he could sing anything and, for me, I created these elements in my arts called "Manifestations of Desire". Desire bubbles that linger and last through in my paintings.
In fact, for me the idea is as humans we have so much passion and so much desire we end up emoting out of ourselves into the atmosphere. So I had a whole exhibition called "Knowledge Comes With Gas Release" based on kind of the absurdity of it all, like it almost didn't matter that I got the lyrics right or wrong, life is just beautifully absurd. So I mixed a lot of my characters and figures, in a way, mixed with these abstractions of the "Manifestations of Desire".
Song: David Bowie – “Quicksand”
Anthony Valadez: That was "Quicksand" by David Bowie. I'm Anthony Valadez sitting here with Gary Baseman talking about music that has inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. So what's next for us Gary?
Gary Baseman: The next song is "Pale Blue Eyes" by Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Music is all about love and loss and the way I look at relationships where, again, everything has to be perfect and the idea of being married forever. My mom and dad was married for 63 years and so, for me, actually even going through a divorce was like "I failed", but it was the most important thing for me. In fact, I had to go through therapy to have the nerve up to ask my wife for a divorce. Just the idea of having love, love didn't have to be so black and white; you could have love with so many other people and you can have these moments in life that are just so sweet and so beautiful. And so with the lyrics in "Pale Blue Eyes", when Lou sings, in my mind I can just see that girl.
Song: Velvet Underground – “Pale Blue Eyes”
Anthony Valadez: You said music is about love and loss. What is art about?
Gary Baseman: For me, art is human expression. Maybe I didn't necessarily mean just love and loss it's the acceptance of love and loss. You accept the human frailty and accept that perfection is imperfection. That’s something that I think I try not to distinguish in everything I do that’s why I kind of try to work in a lot of different mediums. What I try to get across is that art isn't precious, but it's magical.
Anthony Valadez: That was "Pale Blue Eyes" By the Velvet Underground. Up next is a song by Elvis Costello called "Get Yourself Another Fool". So Gary, talk about this track a little more.
Gary Baseman: That song, for some reason, even though it kind of was a 50's ballad about a cheating heart so it kind of has a very traditional tone to it, it kind of hit me in a certain way -- of not really the idea of leaving your lover because you're a fool but, for me, it's because we're men we're going to do it over and over again. We're going to fall in love and we're going to get hurt and it's okay because this is life. So, for me, a lot of the characters I end up creating in my art, have to deal with accepting man as a simpleton and this fool that just is hungry for desire, longing, and lust.
Anthony Valadez: Would you say that these characters are an extension of you and your experiences?
Gary Baseman: Absolutely. Yes.
Anthony Valadez: Find yourself another fool.
Gary Baseman: Yes.
Song: Elvis Costello – “Find Yourself Another Fool”
Anthony Valadez: That was "Get Yourself Another Fool" by Elvis Costello. So Gary, lets talk about your final song.
Gary Baseman: I just had to pick something from Leonard Cohen, "The Partisan". Even though I was born and raised in L.A. my parents were Holocaust survivors and they came from eastern Poland. They endured one of the most horrific events in human history and I kind of knew a little bit that my grandparents died and my parents would say that their towns were no more, but when my parents got older and when my father finally pasted away, I discovered I was the keeper of this story and I really needed to understand things more. So last year I got a full ride fellowship, I went back to eastern Europe, I was teaching art, and I did that in a way because I was close to where my original towns of my parents and I was the first to travel to these original towns. In1941 and 1942, 2 different years, in a 2 day period, all 3,000 people were mass murdered. That was crazy and maybe 100 people were able to escape and my father was one of them, my mother was another. But my father was able to escape into the woods and he became a partisan and so I felt, when I started listening to "The Partisan" again, when I was in my 20's and listening to that song, I thought Leonard Cohen was talking about me and when I heard the song again just recently it was like, ‘this is my dad's song’. For me, it was like learning the new things about my father's life and what he had to do.
Song: Leonard Cohen -- The Partisan
Anthony Valadez: Gary thank you so much for joining us here at KCRW.com
Gary Baseman: Hey, thank you for having me I really appreciate the support and just allowing me to come in and tell my story.
Anthony Valadez: Beautiful. For a complete track listening and to find these songs online go to KCRW.com/guestdjproject and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.