Comedian Paul F Tompkins had a sheltered upbringing but he introduces us to the Billy Bragg song that prompted his emotional awakening, a Mama Cass track that marks his move from East Coaster to proud Californian as well as a sentimental song that captures his relationship with his wife. Paul’s stand up special “Laboring Under Delusions” airs on Comedy Central on April 21.
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1. Billy Bragg - The Milkman of Human Kindness
2. Cass Elliot - California Earthquake
3. The Killers - All These Things That I've Done
4. Ella Fitzgerald - Someone to Watch Over Me
5. Johnny Cash - The Man Comes Around
Anne: Hi, I'm Anne Litt and I am here with actor and comedian Paul F. Tompkins and today we will be playing excerpts of songs he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of the KCRW Guest DJ Project. So Paul, let's jump right in, what did you bring for us today?
Paul: Let us jump right in. The first song is "The Milkman of Human Kindness" by Billy Bragg. The first time I listened to it, I did not like it at all. I was intrigued by the solo electric guitar. I’d never heard anybody else do that before. You know, I've heard singers/songwriters with acoustic guitars but that opening riff to that song really grabbed me. But the guy's voice, it was like ‘Who is this guy with this thick cockney accent, this is terrible!’ but there was something about it that compelled me to listen to it over and over and over again and I eventually became like a huge fan.
Song: Billy Bragg - "The Milkman of Human Kindness"
Paul: I had come from a somewhat sheltered upbringing in suburban Philadelphia where I would [laughs], I was raised with that thing of anything you have not encountered before is suspect and you must fear it and it probably is not good. So it was one of those things that mirroring just my moving Downtown and entering the world of show business and then the world at large, you know…gradually I realized that these were the things that I liked, that I had kind of being waiting for, but was too afraid to pursue. And my starting stand up - going after that thing that was so terrifying to me but that I wanted so much - opened all kinds of doors in my emotional life. When I think of that song, it reminds me of how my sort of evolution as a person began, the person that I am today, you know, the road to maturity.
Anne: That song was "The Milkman of Human Kindness" by Billy Bragg. Now up next, you've chosen a classic from Mama Cass Elliot. Tell us about this song.
Paul: So after living in Los Angeles for about 10 years I heard this song for the first time, "California Earthquake". The Mamas and the Papas were that quintessential California rock group and that whole scene, that Southern California thing that, by this point, I had embraced… you know, because when you go from the East Coast to the West Coast, first you are very skeptical, very suspicious.
Growing up in Philadelphia, like every other city back East, you are raised with this disdain and hatred for California and Los Angeles, in particular, for no reason whatsoever. For no reason whatsoever!
And I remember moving to Los Angeles, like (sneers) ‘I'll go there because I have to’, and after a couple of years, realizing I love it here. The way of life here that is kind of slowed down and more relaxed is so much more suited to who I am in my personality and actually calms me down on occasion. So that song, to me, evokes a very specific love of Los Angeles and just what my personal journey has been like here in every sense, both career-wise and emotionally, and just everything.
Song: Mama Cass Elliot – California Earthquake
AL: I love it: Mama Cass Elliot with "California Earthquake". It's KCRW's Guest DJ Project. And, up next, you've chosen a track by The Killers that has one of my favorite lyrics in it -- "All these Things that I've Done". Tell us about this song.
PFT: I had moved to New York to host a TV show for VH1 and it was “Best Week Ever”. It was an existing show that had been on the air for about four and a half years. I was a panelist on the show, and it was a multi-panelist show, and then they decided they wanted to mix it up a little bit so they changed the format and they made me the host. And then, very quickly, every aspect of it became enormously stressful.
Eventually the show got cancelled and I was really saddened by the idea that I never really made it feel like my show and having that rejected on such a grand scale and feeling like no one really cared -- like it didn’t make any impact at all, like I was never there. So I was packing up my office and I was listening to this song - because it's so dramatic - and I was listening to it in both an ironic was and a very sincere way. It made me laugh. The scope of this song made me laugh. But also there was something in there that did feel like ‘man, I really tried’, you know. I gave everything I had to this. I gave everything I had to this. I left it all in the field and in the end it doesn't matter.
AL: You got soul but you're not a soldier.
PFT: That's right. That's right [laughs]
AL: Am I saying it right?
PFT: Yeah you are, absolutely.
Song: The Killers -- "All These Things that I've Done"
AL: That was the Killers with "All These Things that I've Done". Next up is Ella Fitzgerald "Someone to Watch Over Me". Paul, you mentioned that this is a dedication to your mom. Tell us about this song.
PFT: I lost my mother in 2007. I flew home because I knew that she was dying. I got a call from my sister saying ‘this is it’. I went and I visited her in the hospital and my then girlfriend, soon to be fiancé, came with me. I visited with my mom in the hospital a little bit and my girlfriend was with me and I went to the bathroom or something. I left the room for whatever reason and my wife told me this much later that they had a conversation and my mother had said to her “You gotta look out for him, you have to watch over him, you know…like the song” and she mentioned that song. So when my wife and I got married, this was our first dance.
So, it means everything to me. It's all those feelings together.
Song: Ella Fitzgerald – “Someone to Watch Over Me”
AL: And that was "Someone to Watch Over Me" by Ella Fitzgerald. So what's your last song, Paul?
PFT: The last one is "The Man Comes Around" by Johnny Cash
PFT: I grew up religious. I grew up Catholic, and so religious imagery is still a big touchstone for me. I have always loved…had this simultaneous thrill and terror at all the apocalyptic imagery in the Bible. The idea of, as the song outlines, the process of it. Like here's the order of events: first this is going to happen, then this and then this. I did a show on the day of the predicted rapture, on May 21, at Largo at the Coronet, this theater in West Hollywood. It’s a show that I've been doing for almost 10 years, this variety show. There's music and comedy and so I do some music in the show as well and I open the show with this song cause it seemed appropriate. There's not a ton of great, fun songs about the rapture.
Song: Johnny Cash – “The Man Comes Around”
PFT: So that day. I guess as much as I love this song as a bit of poetry and as a great story and just as a really awesome song that's really fun to sing and fun to listen to, there was a part of me, a tiny still small part of me, somewhere back in my lizard brain that was thinking ‘what if it actually does happen today?’
AL: That was "The Man Comes Around" by Johnny Cash. It's one of Paul F. Tompkin's picks on KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Paul, thanks so much for joining us on KCRW.COM.
PFT: Thank you, Anne
AL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to KCRW.COM/GUESTDJPROJECT