tv Talk to Al Jazeera Al Jazeera January 6, 2016 2:30pm-3:01pm EST
air ballooning will be a sustainable sport in the future. al jazeera, spain. >> i promise there is not much hot air on our website. you can go to www.aljazeera.com. that is www.aljazeera.com for your latest news and sport. >> i'm stephanie sy, and this is a special edition of talk to al jazeera, we're lookingback at 2015. >> to push as hard as i can to make it as far as i can in the ballet world so that they will have an easier path. >> in the last year, we've spoken to best-selling authors and global leaders. you've heard from actors, composers& ♪ i am a man who will fight for your honor ♪ >> &and musicians including one of the most recognizable singers of a generation& ♪ hey mr. sister
you've got the world on your shoulders ♪ >> &kate pierson of the b52s. >> you know the greatest legacy of the band, i realized later is like that people are allowed to have fun, to let their freak flag fly. >> &and great stand-up comedians. >> inspired at the age of ten by bill cosby. >> i was, to be a comedian, to be a comedian obviously a comedian. >> so, when i hear "ladies and gentlemen, richard lewis," and my goal is to make people laugh. first of all, i'm not entirely, not depressed a lot of the time, either, by the w, lemme just, i don't wanna paint this rosy picture. >> we'vebrought you those whose achievements have inspired others- and peopleat the front-lines of change. >> and we're remembering julian bond, a civil rights movement leader whose life was dedicated to its cause. >> we begin this week's show with thoughts from a musical composer who's been nicknamed the "hit man" - for the many awards he's won collaborating with the biggest names in the business.
>> did you really start playing at five? >> i did which i don't think is unusual if you show talent. you know, i had parents that were, you know, nurturing and not too pushy and that was perfect for me. >> i haven't heard you talk much about your parents. what kind of a start did they give you? >> my father was an amateur piano player. and he sorta taught me a little bit. but i, they, they allowed me to have classic lessons. we didn't have any money but we weren't poor. it's that old story, right? and it was just right. i had a great upbringing. i had six sisters. and my mother was a homemaker and my father worked hard. and i got a great work ethic from both of them. i had, like, a perfect upbringing. >> yeah. first song you learned on the piano. first song. now i'm taking you back. >> well, the first jazz chord i learned was, >> oh okay. okay. >> (music) and i thought i was so cool when i learned that. oh this was great. >> the man just jumped up, went
to the, (laughter) right, now what chord is that? >> ah, like a c six-nine. >> yeah. >> first song probably was maybe, pat boone's wonderful world up there. >> really? >> yeah. and, we've talked about that too. i told him what an influence he was on me. >> when you think about your forming, did you form your first band or did you join a band? >> we formed it. and, you know, i alway, i was the guy that was always, you know, 12, 13 years old, making money on the weekends, organizing the band, making the phone calls, calling the wedding person or getting the gig and, like, knockin' on the door. but i would knock on the door and say, "hi, i'm here to talk about, your daughter's wedding." and they'd go like, "are, i thought you were the paper boy." you know, it was, like, but i was always, i was always like that. >> but that's a big leap to creating your own music. when did you know maybe at what age, at what moment, that you had that particular gift? >> it was actually quite late. there was a school teacher in the fifth grade that kept giving me a b in music. and i said, "what do i need to do to get an a? and she said, "you need to write your own school and
performing it for the whole school." so i did that. and she still gave me a b. >> and i don't know why. maybe to push me or whatever. a little whiplash, in there. (laughter) so it turned me off. and so i really didn't write, start, start writing songs 'till i was maybe 23 or 24. so, which is very late, you know. and then, >> what was your first song? >> well, the first hit that i, the first hit that i wrote was a co-write with, a friend of mine named david page called "got to be real". so that was 1978, so. >> cheryl lynn? >> cheryl lynn. whoa. >> wow. >> the man knows his stuff. >> "what you find." (laughter) right? >> yeah. >> wow. >> but, so mid-'70s i guess i started writing seriously but didn't get on the hit train until '78. >> the b-52s been around since 1976? >> yes, that was our sort of, our first show, it was at a house party in 1977, valentine's day. >> what was that like? >> amazing. we um, we brought the, literally
brought the house down. it was in this little house that's still there in athens, known as "opposite the taco stand". um, and we had borrowed this equipment and we had some uh little speakers and stuff, and i remember they were on bookshelves, and they were shaking and people had to hold them against the walls and we had um, cindy and i had these fake fur pocketbooks that i found at the diana shop. and they were white, and so we turned them upside down and teased them out a little bit and so they were like white fros. and we hung a couple of barbie dolls and we you know made it look all punky and funny and uh, so but the house shook. and our friends danced like crazy. so we knew wow this is, we had no idea how people would react, but that first you know house party, our friends went wild, so we knew something was good. >> did you have any idea at the time that years later rolling stone magazine would
call the b-52s "america's favorite party band"? >> well we're self-proclaimed, uh tacky little dance band from athens, georgia. and sometimes america's greatest party band. um, but... >> is there a tacky element to the b-52s? >> oh yeah and at first it seemed to overshadow the band, it seemed to be like the wigs, you know the, the outfits and the hairdos and you know our lyrics we felt were misunderstood. and we felt like everyone just calling us whacky, whacky, whacky, and they didn't understand the incredible seriousness of the band. >> there is a seriousness to some b-52's songs you're saying. >> yes, but i think you know the greatest legacy of the band, i realized later is like that people are allowed to have fun, to let their freak flag fly, people can like bust loose, it gives people joy and it actually helped a lot of people get through life which is something i never, you said, you know did i expect this to happen. no, never did i expect people to say like, "you helped me through
high school. you got me through this hard time, you know i was a young gay boy or a girl," whatever, or it just having you know hard times or being bullied and it was okay to be different i think the b-52s message is definitely just by example. it's okay to be different. >> do you always have that sense that you're moving through as an outsider, and that you have something to prove with your music? >> i don't need to prove something in the music. and i think it's a really it's kind of a good push. because your life - in our life, in everybody's life, nothing is guaranteed. you know? nothing is just come naturally. you really need to have some, maybe sometimes you work harder to get. sometimes you don't need to work so hard to get it. but you need to do something, (laughs) in order to, to get where you want, right?
if i want to achieve my dreams i need to go through some, turbulence. >> because there was turbulence, to bring you to where you are today. and for people who have not followed your story, you lay it all out in journey of a thousand miles, in your memoir. >> right. >> there were some very difficult periods. you and your father left your mother at home in your home city to move to beijing. >> yeah. >> under very difficult circumstances, to try to bring your career forward, to make it into conservatory. your father, by the accounts you give, i think in the west that would be interpreted as the tiger dad. >> absolutely. yeah. >> the story that you tell, that your father told you had nothing to live for. he thought you had failed at a particular point. he suggested you commit suicide. what did you learn from that, looking back now? >> it's, i mean, it's kind of hard thing.
you know, to even think about it. it's something that i think the love become too extreme, what you call? you know? and also, you know, every one of my family members, like my parents, and myself, we were under a lot of pressure. it's not completely, i mean, it's not completely my father's fault, or my fault, or my family fault, or the teacher's fault. it just, somehow when you have, such a high hope, you know, you really believe you can do it, and you really want to do it, you know, you become very aggressive. and sometimes you make mistakes. so, that's why, you know, even though he was - brutal time, but i already forget, almost forget about it, you know? it's just - because we all changed. and-it's become much more relaxed. that's including myself, my parents, and people
who have a very high expectation, you know, in me, you know. so, that's why, you know, when i, when i see some, critical moment today. or when i see something, you know, kind of, challenging, i really f, just, you know, i'm not under such a pressure anymore. because i know, you know, let's, you know, let's find a solution. there's everything, there must be a solution. >> you're watching "talk to al jazeera". when we come back, a ballerina who danced her way to the top and set a new standard on the way, misty copeland.
>> did you ever envision that this is what your life could be? >> no. no. it's still hard to, accept that it's a reality. i don't know, it's, again i'm just, so, like, humbled and grateful for (sniff) the background that i have and the situations i've been through, and to still be standing and that i want to forever be able to give back to ballet what it's done for me, and that's this constant battle i have within myself and proving myself to the ballet world. and, and getting all of the exposure that i've been getting that it's not about something as simple as someone wanting to be famous, 'cause i've never wanted that. i want the ballet world to be given the respect that it
deserves. and to be seen by more people for so many to experience the beauty that i've received from the ballet world. and with every opportunity and every incredible thing that happens it's still just such a shock. >> it's overwhelming. >> it's overwhelming and i never, like, step outside of myself and think, that's me. it's like, that's a proud woman. that's the little girl i mentor. that's her. that's ballet, and it makes me so proud to be a part of it. >> that is a constant refrain in your book, as it's, "for the brown girls. for the little brown girls. " >> yes. >> that is, it's constant and it's clear that that's what motivates you. that's what drives you, and i'm sure there are little brown girls who meet you who probably
get pretty emotional, >> yeah. yeah. >> . . . when they see you. i can't imagine the pressure, but i would imagine it's, it's gotta be kind of an honor, too, isn't it? >> i don't feel any pressure from that at all. it's the same way i, i look at raven wilkinson and how emotional i got the first time i met her just hearing her story being the first african american ballerina to dance in a major ballet company. to experience what she went through in the '50s, i saw myself in her and, and i know that's what they're seeing in me. and it pushes me to keep going, to keep setting an example for them to push as hard as i can to make it as far as i can in the ballet world so that they will have an easier path. >> you've got 400 years worth of history that you have to put
into this building? how do you how do you do that? how do you decide what story it is that you're going tell? >> well, i think that you look for important flashpoints in the story, that have a very powerful resonance. so, for instance, just looking back at the history, thinking about the great artistic periods of west africa. the yoruba were one of the great kingdoms of that time. and looking at what would have been iconographic to people of that time, or what would have been special, or the magical thing, the temples of that time. so, we try to imagine that. we looked at the agrarian past of slavery, and the architecture of slavery. and the architecture of slave houses. but we also looked at the work of slaves that were freed just after the emancipation. some of the kinda first industries that slaves went into was the army, of course. cause that was part of lincoln's agenda but it was the army, it was carpentry, and it was metal work. because they were actually trained to be part
of the infrastructure. i wanted to look at that. because in a way i wanted to also talk about a history of building within the african american community. that was important that they weren't just, you know, crop sharers, or crop pickers. they were also people that were building and making america. and i wanted to speak to that. >> i was actually down walking around the property yesterday, and it's almost an inversion of a typical building. >> exactly. it sort of opens itself up. and it reveals itself. but it also kind of moves upward. but what it's doing is that it's referring to a few things. it's referring to washington's monument. the sort of obelisk in the center of the monumental sort of master plan of the core of washington. the pyramid at the top. it's an inversion of that pyramid. and it's exactly the same angel as that pyramid. so, visually they come into alignment, almost like two sort of planetary bodies. but also it's referring to a yoruba sculpture, which was about the column, the capitol columns of shrine houses. in a way i'm sort of speaking about
an ancestral memory of something, and a contemporary memory of something. >> you've been dubbed the "prince of pain," and you, a, and in the book, you know, you, you describe yourself as "the best sparring partner, i can have." so does beating yourself up defuse the anxiety, or does it actually make it better? >> that's a great question. god, i haven't seen my therapist in quite a while, >> (laugh) just reminded me. i am not as unhappy as, people think i am. but my sweet spot, and there's, and one of the lines is that, "desperation is my sweet spot. " that's a craft that i honed. and even though i got so, i got, even though i got sober, i got more grateful, i got more spiritual, in my old, in my later years. still, when i hear, "ladies and gentlemen, richard lewis," and my goal is to make people laugh. first of all, i'm not entirely,
not depressed a lot of the time, either, by the w, lemme just, i don't wanna paint this rosy picture. but it's much rosier than being near death on crystal meth, let's put it that way. >> but you write in the book, you've got one that says, "happiness is overrated. there's nothing to fear but life itself. " >> well, because life has dealt me a lotta bad blows. nothing close to, majority of the world. and what bugs me is that when people say, "hey, hey, you hang out with the stones. "or, "yeah you were," you know, i used to work for the clintons a lot when he was running, and, and gore, and, "you're in the white house, and how can you be..." " i go, "hey, hey, hey, time out, man. you know, i suffer from depression. i have obsessive-compulsive disorder. " i work my butt off, you know, for the, i, i have no children, so it's all th, my art, until i met my wife. and then it was takin' care of her. and my sister has four kids, ten grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and i try to be some kinda role model. >> (laugh) sort of frightening, i understand. >> does she let them watch you? >> huh? well, not until they're 30.
>> (laughter) >> you know, talkin' about your family, your, your, your good friend larry david, he says that you use "shrink", as much as teenagers, use, "like" and- yeah, i know. >> so pardon me for acting like a shrink, but let's talk about your family. i mean, you really go after your parents in this book, especially your mom. >> you write, "the worst audience i ever had were my parents. "my mother tried to switch me at birth. " >> yeah. "after i was born, my mother asked her friends to breastfeed (laugh) me. "how much of a role did your mom play in, in your dark years? >> well, what do you think? >> (laugh) >> listen, i, here's the deal. i made amends with my mother when she, my mother was very ill, she had a lot of emotional problems in her late 30s on, and until she got old. and, i tried my best to, understand it. but again, realize, back, you know, when she was having her problems, i was an active addict.
so, you know, i couldn't have been easy either. so, i mean, when she really lost it at the end. my sister made, my older, i have an older sister and an older brother. she was with her and made sure she would get the best care, and so did i. and, all of us tried, to do what we could do. and, i remember something when she was in the hospital, and she was near death. and she really f, didn't know who she was at that point. i, and i grabbed onto her. and i said, "look, i was far from perfect. neither one of us were. but, i love you, and, and, and please forgive anything i did. and if you, and if you can, 'cause i forgive you for everything. "i mean, i did, and i do. what's the p, i didn't ho, i don't hold onto it. and i said, "just squeeze me. " and you have to understand, this is at a point where she was insane basically. and she grabbed my hand and squeezed it, and i'll, you know, i'll always remember that. but that doesn't mean that i can't mine those feelings, because we did have a
pretty tough relationship. and i, and i'm no comic if i'm not tellin' the truth. comedian, rather. i prefer that word. >> when we come back, nobel peace prize winner, president ellen johnson sirleaf shares what this award has meant for her and the legacy she wants to leave for liberian women. the only way to get better is to challenge yourself,
we are challenging ourselves to improve every aspect of your experience. and this includes our commitment to being on time. every time. that's why if we're ever late for an appointment, we'll credit your account $20. it's our promise to you. we're doing everything we can to give you the best experience possible. because we should fit into your life. not the other way around. >> this is talk to al jazeera, this week we're remembering some of our favorite interviews from the past year. we'll close the show with a charismatic civil-rights great who passed away, but first with a nobel peace prize winner, ellen johnson sirleaf. >> how much did it mean to you to win the noble peace prize?
>> quite a lot because i didn't expect it. it's one of those postive suprises in life. true that my life story of fighting of getting up of being beaten and rising again. fighting for the things i believe in. and if anybody looks they'll see consistency from the time i took a position, in prison i took a certain position - there is a consistency in that says i earned it. those of us who went to jail in those particular days. you know when jail was jail. you don't know whether you are going to live until the next day. so i went through that. and i went to jail twice. my first time i went to jail. it took the us congress to take
a strong position because liberia is such a prime country for them. and i went to jail again and i took political positions. so in a way i know that in selecting me they went through the life history. i am pleased that today i can use that when i work with other women and young girls and i say there is a lot you can be. if you stay with your dreams. >> i've heard you in other interviews even talk about how it was a good time, the civil rights movement. talk about that a little bit. >> it was a wonderful time. it was the best time of my life to be in the civil rights movement, to be doing this thing, this thing, and this thing with this group of people. my colleagues, people who worked for the student nonviolent coordinating committee with me. people who marched down the street with me, who walked across the bridge
with me. these people were just the best people, and i loved being with 'em and i can only hope i get to be with 'em again and again and again. >> and as you get to together with some of those people, as i'm sure you do from time to time, do you shake your head sometimes that can you believe what's still going on? >> i say, "not only can you believe what's still going on," but, "can you believe we're still going on?" that's the thing that's hard to believe. >> i mean, you're taking tours through the south teaching people about what you did then. you're teaching at university. do you feel moved to do that? >> oh, very much so. i feel compelled to do it because, i think it's one of those things, "if i don't do it, who's gonna do it?" >> i'm going back to the vacuum of leadership, is do you see people and inspire a spark and then know that, "okay, one day i'm gonna be able to hand this stuff off to them?" >> sure. i see that. and, you know, it may be tomorrow
morning. it may be next week. it may be next year or something. but sure, i see that happening. >> i wanna call your attention to a letter that you wrote also 50 years ago. julian bond, democratic candidate for the georgia house of representatives. in it, you say that you wanna talk about housing, getting better jobs, getting better pay, and improving schools. 50 years ago. and that was for the georgia state senate. has that gotten better? >> yes, the georgia legislature and the state of georgia is a better place than it was when i wrote that letter. it's not a perfect place, far and from it, but it's a better place now than it was then. >> so we're not post-racial in this country, >> no, we're not post-racial. we're better, we're better. >> what would define post-racial, and is it possible? >> i think it is possible, but i think it's something, you know, you're just, some dreamer, some dream, dreaming you're having. and if you're, understand this
dreaming, then you understand it's a dream. >> can you recount for me any interaction you had with dr. king that, kind of inspired you to keep doing this? >> i can't say we were best friends or buddies. but i had, some association with him this time, this time, someplace else. i remember one time he and i were walking across the morehouse college campus, and i said to him, "doc, how you doin'?" his friends called him, "doc." he said, "julian, i'm not doin' well." he said, "unemployment is high. racism's everywhere. segregation's immovable." he said, "i feel awful. i have a nightmare." i said, "doc, turn that around. try, 'i have a dream.' >> so really, it came from you. you were the "i have a dream" guy. >> i wouldn't say that. >> i wouldn't say that. >> meet the unsung hero of social change. >> i feel like i'm suppose to do something, >> breaking down barriers. >> sometimes i have to speak when other people say be quiet. >> shaping our future. >> i actually am committed to a different, better, stronger,