Val Kilmer

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For his Guest DJ set, actor Val Kilmer picked five songs that awakened his “artistic expression” early in his life, from his favorite Beatles song to Elton John’s “Levon”. He also tells an incredible Bob Dylan story. Val has played iconic characters like Jim Morrison and Doc Holliday and will inhabit the spirit of another legendary figure, Mark Twain, in his solo show Citizen Twain, opening at the Kirk Douglas Theatre on June 28.

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Track List:

1. Eleanor Rigby- The Beatles
2. Levon- Elton John
3. It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)- Bob Dylan
4. Manic Depression- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
5. Stairway To Heaven- Led Zeppelin


Anne Litt: Hi, I'm Anne Litt and I'm here with Actor, Val Kilmer today. We'll be playing songs and excerpts that he has selected and that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. So Welcome Val.

Val Kilmer: Thank you. 

AL: You're welcome. Thank you for coming. 

VK: Hi Anne.

AL: I'm dying to hear what you've brought for us today. 

VK: I don't know why, but I just went back to youth as soon as I heard five very influential songs 'cause I thought, its, I don't know, its just, what happened to me. And the first one's “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles.

Song: Eleanor Rigby -- The Beatles 

VK:  That song, it's two minutes. And the way it starts, it’s this attack. There's something about the energy which is rock n' roll and then this subject grabbed me when I was a kid. 

AL: Do you remember the moment you heard it?

VK: I was born the last day of the 50's so the seminal years of rock history they were all crucial years in my life, like “Eleanor Rigby”, it kind of goes like most of my songs that I picked in my development and just awakening into artistic expression.

AL: Well, let's listen to “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles.

AL: That was "Eleanor Rigby" by The Beatles. It's one of Val Kilmer's picks. He's KCRW's Guest DJ today. What's your next song?

VK: My next song is "Levon" by Elton John. Again, like "Eleanor Rigby," it's a story, but it's non-linear in the way that Bernie Taupin writes these lyrics. It's just one line and you're -- like rock n' roll does -- you're just, you're just into the world.

As an example, "the low spark of high-heeled boys" came into my mind. I don't know what that means, but we all know what that means. My folks bought a guest ranch in Arizona and then my mom settled there when they divorced and there were these gas stations on the side of the road so the story of Levon, who  keeps his money in a garage on the side of the road, made me think of all these lives going on and the, I don't know, just the genius of their collaboration was really impressive to me. 

You could feel it -- like, Stevie Wonder did it all the time, the Beatles did it all the time -- the first time you heard it, it's a classic and it never changes. It's, you know, it's just banged out granite somehow. It's perfect and it sounds the same, it takes you to the same place.

"Levon" is great because it sort of proves that rock n' roll is like pure emotion because it doesn't make that much sense. "Alvin Tostig has a son today…" and this heroic kind of anthem "and he shall be Levon." It's something about the family line.

Song: “Levon” by Elton John

AL: That was "Levon" by Elton John. I'm here with Val Kilmer, it's KCRW's Guest DJ Project. So, what's next?

VK: "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" by Bob Dylan

What it did to me is it sort of broke the mold, like Bob Dylan did with lots and lots of kinds of songs. A friend of mine, who was into first recordings, when Bob did his first record, was sitting in between him and Hammond and Paul Rothchild, who did the Doors records, and he said he never ever picked the best recorded song, never. It's just not how he hears music. You know what we're thinking of when I say "best".

AL: Yeah

VK: It's just not his interest and "It's Alright Ma…" feels like that. It's always live and it feels like it's probably stream of conscious and it kind of represents a beat generation so it kind of represents art to me and poets. 

Can I tell a Bob Dylan story?

AL: I'd love to hear a Bob Dylan story. 

VK: So Bob Dylan loves “Tombstone”, It turns out. I found out he was in New York so I called my friend and I said you know, I'd love to meet him, is there any chance and he says, "I don't know, I'll find out." And the next call I got I thought was going to be my friend, but it wasn't, it was Bob.

I was real excited, like a crazy fan, like a child; it was so great. Basically it was like nothing. It was like we were old friends, it was like "you want to come over?" and he was like, "yeah." So, hangs up the phone, I was newly married and we had a baby and I went in and said "I think Bob Dylan's coming over…I'm not sure, it could be a hoax…" 

He shows up and sits down and he wants to talk about “Tombstone”, but I just can't, you know, nor can I talk about any of his stuff. Eventually he says, ‘ain't you going to say anything about that movie?’ and I said, "do some 'Blowing in the Wind' and I'll…" 

That's what I said to him, basically I said no. I get like that sometimes. So I turned him down and, I thought, no one turns this guy down. Anyway, I felt like an idiot afterwards, well, yeah I could have said a few lines. They're fun lines too, like people still ask me to say lines and now I’ll tell any schmo in the airport, I'll say "I'm your huckleberry", but I wouldn't say it Bob Dylan! 

I felt so bad about it. I was like how could I make it up to him? So what I did was, I recorded "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" but as Doc Holiday and I put in all of the big lines from the movie into the song and made him a little tape

Song: "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" – Bob Dylan

AL: That was "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" by Bob Dylan. It's a song pick from Val Kilmer, who's here as our Guest DJ here today on KCRW. And, next up…you introduce it.

VK: Next up, in my best "FM" voice, is "Manic Depression" by Jimi Hendrix.

Song: “Manic Depression” – Jimi Hendrix

VK: "Manic Depression," I don't think I'm a depressed guy, but I think I have melancholy in me. Maybe that's a romantic notion. But the idea of a song with such joy, the lyrics are, of course, about suicide: "I just can't get out, I just can't get out." He's at the bottom of the ocean but has such energy, such hope in it and I just find stories like that, characters like that, poetry like that, so hopeful. 

That's what's so great about music. You can't do it with acting. You can't be in a "blues mood" as an actor and just act the dark, depressed guy and just come right out of it. ‘I was walking on the beach this morning dude and I did all my Hamlet monologues and I feel great…’ You know, it just doesn't happen. You're just in a mood or you find out what's really going on by just picking up an instrument and it just comes out through it. So many, I would even say every great recording artist I've ever known, any great writer, they all say the exact same thing. They didn't really write the song, they all say some version of, ‘I was a stenographer, I just wrote it down.’

AL: It's Val Kilmer here on the Guest DJ Project. Val, what's your last song?

VK: “Stairway To Heaven”, a little known British rock quartet, called Led Zeppelin. That was 9th grade, you know, the slow dance. There were slow dances back then. Yeah, that was romance and it still is. It's so romantic. There's such genius minstrels, they have -- well I would say Jimmy Page first -- that he had this sound in his head, he made up before he played it or he heard a new kind of rock 'n roll. 

You know, they're minstrels, it feels like something from long ago it's not just the strange lyrics of fantasy, just a brilliant moment of inspiration. And the changes in it, it's so great. I mean how many bands, when the drummer goes, do they stop? Because he was so sensitive, that's what makes their stuff so amazing, the big sounds just bigger just didn't exist before but it's got in it all that sensitivity of everything that rock 'n roll can do; so great. 

AL: Led Zeppelin with "Stairway To Heaven". 

Song: “Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin

AL: I want to thank you so much, Val, for coming to KCRW and doing the Guest DJ Project. 

VK: Thanks Anne. That was fun.

AL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs on-line go to KCRW.COM/GUESTDJPROJECT. And subscribe to the podcast through Itunes.









Anne Litt