Wil Wheaton

From his role on Star Trek: The Next Generation to hosting the popular gaming web series Tabletop, it's safe to say that Wil Wheaton is a geek icon. In his Guest DJ set, he talks about the mythology of  Iron Maiden, how Public Enemy opened up his world, and why “Crazy on You” by Heart triggers flashbacks to his childhood. Hosted by Eric J Lawrence.

Photo: Dustin Downing

1. Crazy on You -- Heart
2. The Number of the Beast -- Iron Maiden
3. Pigs (Three Different Ones) -- Pink Floyd 
4. Bring The Noise -- Public Enemy
5. Side Two of Abbey Road – The Beatles


Eric J. Lawrence: Hi, I'm Eric J. Lawrence and I am here with actor Wil Wheaton. Between his role on Star Trek: The Next Generation to playing fictionalized versions of himself in The Big Bang Theory, and hosting the popular gaming web series Tabletop, it's safe to say that he's a geek icon. He is here today to talk about some of the songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Wil, thank you for joining us.

Wil Wheaton: It's a real pleasure and an honor to be here.

EJL: So, what's the first track you've got for us?

WW: I turn 44 at the end of July this year and I reached back in my brain to figure out, what is my earliest memory of music?

What I can remember, my parents and I lived in the Valley when it was still farms. We lived behind my great grandparents in a converted chicken coup that they had converted into a home for us. I very clearly remember sitting on the gold shag carpeted rug, leaning up against the couch, which was this black and white checkered couch, with the giant black can headphones on with a super long cord -- probably about ten or fifteen foot long cord --like you had back in the early 70s.

And I clearly remember sitting down and on the turntable was "Crazy On You" by Heart from the Dreamboat Annie album. I asked my parents about that song in particular and my mom said, "Oh you love that song. You used to walk around singing that song when you were like 3 years old."

That is the song that clearly stands out for me. I can see the wood paneling on the walls. I can see my parent's great dane lying down on the carpet across from me. I can see how the turntable was set up on pieces of plywood that were separated by bricks. I will never hear that song and not have that extraordinarily clear memory. It's like looking at a photograph in my mind.

Song: Heart – “Crazy on You”

EJL: That was Heart with "Crazy On You" as selected by our guest Wil Wheaton. So what's the next track you've got for us?

WW: This is "The Number of the Beast," the title track from Iron Maiden's album The Number of the Beast.

I grew up loving rock and roll. I first came into heavy metal through Maiden and Judas Priest and then some more kind of forgettable one hit bands of that time. But I was in parochial school when this record came out and I was really into Dungeons and Dragons, which the school was like satanic panic about. It was like expulsion if you were caught with any of that stuff at school. But this song, and this record in particular, was the source of such panic and hysteria, I felt like I was engaged in this act of rebellion, particularly listening to this song.

It tells this amazing story. It starts out with this really great piece of spoken dialogue that kind of lets you know what you're coming into. Then the muted guitar that starts the song off eases you into it and it bridges you into this incredibly powerful heavy metal song.

A big take away from Maiden in general was that their music was intelligent. Maiden was about mythology and history and I felt like I knew something that normal boring people didn't know. And when I was eleven, that was a very big deal to me.

EJL: Well, get ready to rock folks. It's Iron Maiden with "The Number of the Beast."

Song: Iron Maiden – “The Number of the Beast”

EJL: That was Iron Maiden with "The Number of the Beast," as selected by our guest Wil Wheaton. What's the next track you got for us?

WW: From the Animals record, this is "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" by Pink Floyd.

My introduction to Pink Floyd -- in the early 80s, I was being driven to an acting job, a commercial, and my mom said I want you to hear Rick Dees, who was a morning drive DJ then on KISS FM.

They were playing "Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2" and I didn't know that was Pink Floyd from The Wall, I just thought, oh that's the Rick Dees band!

This was the tipping point for me with Pink Floyd. This was a really different kind of Pink Floyd than what I was used to. It didn't have the cynicism of The Wall. It wasn't as melodic and symphonic as Dark Side of the Moon was.

When "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" started, from that very first note that's, like, the grunting of the pig and that keyboard phrase that starts. I was completely hooked.

I was on the cusp of becoming an adult. It said to me, like, you know, there is more to life than money and fame, and that thing that's really important is love and family.  

Song: Pink Floyd -  "Pigs (Three Different Ones)"

EJL: That was Pink Floyd with "Pigs (Three Different Ones)," as selected by our guest Wil Wheaton. What's the next track you've got for us?

WW: This is "Bring the Noise" by Public Enemy. None of the punk music I love made it onto this playlist, but what I always liked about punk and rap, especially in the early to mid-80s, was it felt like protest music to me.

It protested kind of, like, the status quo and it was kind of like a bottom up music rather than like a top down over-produced kind of music. I felt like Public Enemy just had this incredible conscience. "Bring the Noise" and "911 is a Joke," and then later on with NWA and "Fuck the Police," I just felt like this music is talking about a reality that I don't know.

This is talking about a reality that I have never experienced, and it was the beginning of me starting to understand that as an upper middle class white guy, I lived in a totally different world than the world that these rap artists I loved lived in.

Public Enemy was the rap group that showed me that rap was a socially conscious style of music and culture that was really challenging the status quo and speaking for a community that no one would listen to.

 EJL: Well here it is, the legendary Public Enemy with "Bring the Noise."

 Song: Public Enemy – “Bring the Noise”

EJL: That was Public Enemy with "Bring the Noise," as selected by our guest Wil Wheaton. Now, Wil, for this final track you are sort of bending the rules a little bit.

WW: I am not bending the rules, this is one song!

 EJL: You have selected side two of Abbey Road. Alright, explain.

WW: If you were to take anything after "Because" off of side two of Abbey Road, it just doesn't work. You can't pull out "Golden Slumbers." It doesn't work, right? It is this incredible symphonic journey and the tempo of it changes, and it works you up and then it brings you down.

You have all these discrete pieces that I guess technically could be considered their own songs. But if you break them up, if you put the second side of Abbey Road on shuffle, it's gonna be really unsatisfying. It's just not going to work. So that's why I wrote - I mean I have the email in front of me that I sent where "my last song I've chosen is side two of Abbey Road, which is so totally a single song and I will fight you I swear to god."

Song: The Beatles -- Abbey Road (Side Two)

This side of this record is also very important to me because as I was becoming a writer, you know, I became a writer because I was frustrated as an actor. I needed to be creative, and I wanted to tell stories. I started writing a book, which is called "Just a Geek," which sort of tells the story about all of that. And as I was in, like, the last five miles of the marathon of writing that book, I had a couple of things just sort of on repeat. It was U2's Rattle and Hum and side two of Abbey Road, and when I hear that, I will remember the summer that I was finishing that book. And every now and then I would get up from my desk, and I would walk through the house, and I would just sing along with this record. And it pulled this emotion out of me, because "Just a Geek" is a memoir, it reconnected me to the emotional truth of what I was writing.

EJL: When you’ve almost convince me with this Abbey Road thing. Let’s check it out.

Wil, I want to thank you so much for joining us here at kcrw.com. 

WW: This was wonderful, and thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about music.