Mark Waid is probably the only comic writer who can claim their work inspired a comeback by one of hip hop’s biggest acts. For his Guest DJ set, he shares the music that has inspired him, including songs from a fellow “Southern boy” (who happens to be musical icon) and from two classic songwriters who helped him refine his own craft. Waid, who has written stories featuring such characters as Superman, Batman and the X-Men, says writing pop songs and comics have more in common than you might think. Mark is currently Editor-in-Chief at Boom! Studios.
1.) Elvis Presley - If I Can Dream
2.) Nat King Cole - Stardust
3.) Glen Campbell - Wichita Lineman
4.) Dar Williams - The Christians and the Pagans
5.) Jay-Z - Kingdom Come
Eric J. Lawrence: Hi this is Eric J. Lawrence from KCRW and I'm here with award-winning comic book writer and editor Mark Waid, who has worked on various titles from Marvel and DC including Superman, X-Men, Batman and The Fantastic Four. 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. Mark, thanks for coming down.
Mark Waid: My pleasure, Sir.
EJL: What's the first track you got for us?
M.W.: The first track I have is an Elvis track. I grew up in and around Tupelo, Mississippi when I was a kid. My very first memory in this world is the 1968 comeback special that Elvis did. He blew the roof of the joint after years of bad movies and stuff.
EJL: That's right. A legitimate comeback.
MW.: I mean, he does the black leather, the big unplugged songs and stuff. But the thing I remember the most is him coming out and doing his closing number in his big, white suit with this sort of evangelical passion. He belts out this song called "If I Can Dream." I'm looking at him going, ‘well, I'm a kid from the South too, maybe I don't have to grow up smelting pig iron or whatever your career would be. Maybe I can communicate through art.’ Ever since then, that was a life-changing moment for me.
Song: Elvis’ "If I Can Dream"
EJL: Speaking of Elvis, do you recall where you were when he passed?
MW: I do. I was actually just driving down the highway with my dad and the news came on the radio. My family was also a big group of Elvis fans. I was only 15 but it was really traumatic. I remember my father literally had to pull off to the side of the road and kind of gather himself. It was tough for us Southern boys.
EJL: That was Elvis Presley, "If I Can Dream," as selected by our guest Mark Waid. What's the next track you got for us?
MW: It's my favorite song, it's "Stardust." This rendition is by Nat King Cole and it speaks to me not just because it's lyrically beautiful and perfect, but because of the nature of what I do. I'm a collaborator. As a writer, I work with an artist and with a colorist and so forth. What you want is something that is creatively seamless. Music from "Stardust" was written by Hoagey Carmichael -- famous, famous “Heart & Soul” and so forth. And then two years later a guy named Mitchell Parrish, who wrote "Sleigh Ride" and "Moonlight Sonata," did the lyrics to it. I didn't know there was a time difference here, I just always grew up knowing this song as one of the most celebrated songs of the 20th century. The inspiration for me is that you don't have to carry the whole load yourself, you can reach out and find other collaborators and other artists and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
EJL: Who are some of your favorite comic collaborators?
MW: Oh. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby who created the bulk of Marvel comics. Chris Claremont and John Byrne who did X-Men and really put that property on the map. Siegel and Shuster who created Superman and, in doing so, created a whole industry behind them. I mean, that's just a few. That's part of the fun of being in comics, you don't have to work in a vacuum, you really get to collaborate and talk with your artists and talk with your writers and learn from each other, and it's a really collaborative experience. It's great.
Song: Nat King Cole’s “Stardust”
EJL: That was an excerpt from "Stardust" as performed by Nat King Cole, written in collaboration from Hoagey Carmichael and Mitchell Parrish. We're here with Mark Waid, comic book writer and editor. He's worked on projects from Marvel and DC and most recently with Boom! Studios. What's your next selection you've got for us?
MW: Well, my next song is by my favorite songwriter. He's a guy named Jimmy Webb who had this big career in the 1960's and 70's, writing songs like "Galveston" and "McArthur Park." He wrote this song for Glen Campbell called "Wichita Lineman," which is ostensibly about the most mundane thing in the world. It's about this guy who, like my uncle, had a truck route where he would go out working for the phone company repairing broken phone lines.
MW: You would think that that's the dullest thing in the world to write a song about, and in fact, Webb wrote this haunting orchestral love song with some of the best lyrics I've heard in my entire life.
Song: Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Linemen”
MW: What Webb taught me was when I put words down on paper, it's about finding raw emotion in the least obvious places, pulling the real moments out of anybody's life. When he talks about ‘I need you more than want you and I want you for all time’ -- that is an amazing lyric. Again, if words can make you feel something for this stoic telephone lineman, then ostensibly they can make you feel something for, I don't know, Superman.
EJL: That was an excerpt from “Wichita Lineman,” as performed by Glen Campbell and written by Jimmy Webb as selected by our guest Mark Waid, comic book writer and editor. What's the next track you got for us?
MW: When I was growing up in the 1970's, the story song was a staple of radio -- "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro or "Rocky" by Austin Roberts -- these kind of songs that were these goopy, sappy songs that are, by today's standards, completely aesthetically indefensible. But, it's not the content of those songs that taught me a lot about storytelling, it was the structure of those songs. While I would never inflict something like "Honey" on a modern audience, about 10 years ago I found this amazing folk singer named Dar Williams, almost the spiritual, technical heir to that sort of storytelling and song. She tells these beautiful stories in songs that seem bubbly and seem happy and yet there will always be, near the end, there'll be that lyrical twist that will hit you, that you're not expecting and it has some real impact to it. There's this song called "the Christians and the Pagans." Of all the songs on this list, this is the one I wish I had written.
Song: Dar Williams’ “The Christians and the Pagans”
MW: There's a lot of parallel between writing a pop song and writing a comic book. In a pop song, you've got three minutes to get somebody's attention in, out, tell your story. In a comic book you can hold a reader's attention for maybe about ten minutes; throw out your hooks, get them involved, tell them a story, take them on a journey, throw in a couple of twists and then wrap up -- beginning, middle and end. And there's a line near the end where she talks about how the guy in the song gets this sort of unexpected gift of being reminded how much he misses and is a part of his family, that just gets me every time.
EJL: That was a section from the "Christians and the Pagans" from Dar Williams from her 1996 album "Mortal City." Well, I believe this is a first, here is a song inspired by the work of our guest Mark Waid, it's a track from Jay Z entitled "Kingdom Come."
MW: In 1996, artist Alex Ross and I worked together on this graphic novel called "Kingdom Come" for DC Comics, which got a lot of attention. It's a story about what happens when Superman retires then is drawn back out of retirement by this next generation of superheroes who have gone awry because they don't have that North Star. They don't have that…he didn't realize what an inspiration he was to them and what a guiding force he was to them. He retires and then everything in the world just goes hilt, and he's got to come back. So, a couple years ago, Jay Z, he's been running Def Jam for a while, and he's thinking about coming back into the studio and doing something new, and his engineer gives him a copy of Kingdom Come and he sees such a parallel between himself and Superman in the sense of ‘I've been away, I'm not sure I like the way things have gone in my absence, I'm coming back’ that he based the comeback album on this graphic novel. The title song talks about Superman, Bruce Wayne, and comics in general and that's what I call a career highlight.
Song: Jay-Z’s Kingdom Come
EJL: That was an excerpt from Kingdom Come as performed by Jay Z from his 2006 comeback. Mark, I want to thank you for coming down and sharing some of the selections with us.
MW: It's an actual honor, I'm a big fan.
EJL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to our website kcrw.com/guestdjproject.
[PLAYLIST GOES HERE]
Eric J. Lawrence