Jonathan Adler

Designer Jonathan Adler got his start as a potter, working seven days a week in his studio listening to music. Now he reflects on the songs that opened up his world and inspired both his creativity and his philosophies on the creative process.   For more:



1. Pull Up To The Bumper - Grace Jones
2. In The Long Run - The Carrie Nations (Stu Phillips)
3. Don't Believe The Hype - Public Enemy
4. It Ain't Over 'til It's Over - Lenny Kravitz
5. Vogue - Madonna



 Anne Litt:  Hi, I’m Anne Litt, and I’m here with designer Jonathan Adler.  Today we’ll be playing excerpts of songs he’s selected that have inspired him over the years, as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project.  Jonathan, I’m so glad you are with us today and I can’t wait to hear what you’ve brought.  What do you want to start with today?
Jonathan Adler:  “Pull up to the Bumper”, by Grace Jones.  The important thing for this song to me is really context.  I guess this was the early ‘80’s.  I was a teen who felt alienated, like every teen, and certainly didn’t feel my burgeoning sensibility reflected in the pop songs or culture of the day.  And, when I heard “Pull up to the Bumper”, I felt as if I could sort of see and taste and feel Andy Warhol’s factory.
And I couldn’t quite put it into words at the time, but I could tell that there was an alternative sensibility that resonated with me and somehow represented my future.
Song: Grace Jones – Pull Up to the Bumper
JA:  Something about Grace Jones, seeing the images of her by Jean-Paul Goude that I thought were just extraordinary.  She’s such an extraordinary looking person, and it just meant a lot to me, both visually and the sound of it, and everything it represented.  And I think a lot of it also is about being a gay teen.  And I was really trying to figure all of that out.  I definitely knew what was up and I think that this was, in some way, sort of a beacon for me.
AL: It’s “Pull up to the Bumper”, by Grace Jones.  I’m here with Jonathan Adler on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project.  Such a thrill to have you on.  And next up, we have an amazing song called “In The Long Run”, by the Carrie Nations.  This is from the film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  You’re going to have to set this up for us.
JA:  Absolutely.  Anybody listening who as never seen Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, needs to go and see Beyond the Valley of the Dolls immediately, because it’s a seminal camp classic by the genius movie director, Russ Meyer.
Hearing this song when I was in college really made me understand what camp was.  Camp is actually a very hard concept to define.  I think that camp is about appreciating things sincerely and also ironically.  And Beyond the Valley of the Dolls perfectly captures the idea of camp to me, at least camp as an interpreter of art.
I think if you’re say - drag queen – if you’re Ru Paul and you’re doing something campily, you know you’re being ironic, you know you’re making fun of it.  As well as doing it with a sincere sense of homage as well, that’s how it can be effective.
On the other hand, I think camp as something to interpret and appreciate, has to be done un-ironically to be effective.  And I think that Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, was done sincerely.  And I think that “In The Long Run”, by the Carrie Nations, is a great song that was probably done sincerely and works sincerely, but is also drenched in irony and has multiple resonances, and I love it.
Song: Carrie Nations – In the Long Run
AL:  That was “In The Long Run”, by the Carrie Nations, from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  And this is a giant left turn from the Carrie Nations.  Talk to me about “Don’t Believe the Hype”, by Public Enemy.
JA:  It’s one of my favorite songs of all time.
The thing that’s remarkable about Public Enemy and “Don’t Believe the Hype”, is they take really ugly sounds, you know sounds that you’d just like run away from if you heard them on the street, and repeats them and turns them into the beat of the song. And it becomes incredibly compelling.
It’s sort of an acquired taste, but a taste that, like many acquired tastes I guess, becomes really deep.  Like a used to hate cilantro, I thought it tasted like Camay, and now it’s probably my favorite food.  And I think it’s that same thing with “Don’t Believe the Hype”.  They take something ugly and it grows on you and it gnaws at you and you know that somehow it’s good.
I think about that a lot in my work.  I think things don’t need to be pretty, but sometimes it’s the things that you don’t like that really stay with you.  And I also associate it with a time in my life when I was having sort of a real burst of creativity.  It was when I was in the pottery studio all the time at the end of college and I had just this incredible creative spurt that that song brings to mind.
Song: Public Enemy – “Don’t Believe the Hype”
AL:  That was “Don’t Believe the Hype”, by Public Enemy.  It’s one of Jonathan Adler’s Guest DJ picks here on KCRW.  Up next, another pop song.  It’s Lenny Kravitz this time with “It Ain’t Over ‘Till It’s Over”.  Tell us about this one.
JA:  I think I put this on the list because it represents an idea to me, which is that when something is good, it looks or it sounds like it’s just supposed to be that way.  And I think the very first time I heard this song, I heard it and I was like ‘oh that’s clever of Lenny Kravitz to remake that song’.  And then I realized he didn’t remake it, it just sounds like it’s always been there.
Song: Lenny Kravitz -- “It Ain’t Over ‘Till It’s Over”
JA: As it relates to this song, the creative process is most effective when there is sort of an economy of gesture to communicate exactly what you want to communicate.  And it’s just good, and you know it when you see it.
I remember I made a lamp that’s become my most successful lamp of all time, and it’s called the lantern lamp.  And when I made it, I was like, ‘oh I can’t do that, it just feels like I’ve seen it before’, which of course I hadn’t, it just was exactly what it should be.
And that’s exactly the same thing with this Lenny Kravitz song.
AL:  That’s “It Ain’t Over ‘Till It’s Over”, by Lenny Kravitz, one of Jonathan Adler’s song picks on KCRW Guest DJ Project.  What’s the last song you have for us?
JA:  The last song on my list is good old “Vogue”, by Madonna.
AL:  Do tell more
JA:  This song to me just represents a time in my life that was very exciting.  I had moved to New York. I was out disco dancing all the time.  This was the song that would come on and I’d be all ‘up in da club. (laughs) No, I’d be out disco dancing and it was really exciting and felt almost transcendental, a song to get lost in at the wee hours of then night.  And Madonna represents a lot of the concepts I’ve talked about before.
She sort of has the New York Warholian sense of Grace Jones, the inventiveness of Public Enemy, the perfection of Lenny Kravitz and the camp of the Carrie Nations, all wrapped into one song.
Song: Madonna -- Vogue
AL:  You call yourself a “busy potter” and you say you are a potter first.  Honestly, are you a potter first?  Is that where your whole creative design thing started?
JA:  I’m not a very spiritual person, I don’t really have any spiritual leanings, but the second I touched clay when I was a teenager I felt a spiritual connection to it.  And I’m a potter first and foremost and that’s what I studied and that’s how I started my business, quite by accident.  I was a production potter, just making pots, listening to music as well as NPR, seven days a week for about five years of my life.  So, yeah, pottery is still where I work through my creative ideas, and it’s possibly my only skill.
AL:  Jonathan, thank you so much for joining us on
JA:  Thank you.  It’s been a real pleasure.
AL:  For a complete track listing and to find these songs on line, go to djproject and subscribe to the podcast on itunes.