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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  December 24, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PST

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good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. tonight we continue with part two of our conversation with four-time grammy winner annie lenox about her c.d. titled "nostalgia" which mimes the great american song book with "god bless the child" and "strange fruit." it honors the humanity in all of us. thank you for joining us for part two of our conversation with annie lenox coming up right now. ♪
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and by contributions to your pbs station by viewers like you. thank you. welcome back to night two of our conversation with the incomparable -- bam, there she is -- annie lenox and her project "nostalgia." we were supposed to talk last night for one show because she has so much to be doing. i begged her to stay in the chair. the conversation last night was so rich. if you didn't see it, go to, and find last night's conversation. you will not want to miss what we talked about last night. i think a good jumping off point from last night's conversation, annie, is this notion of
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nostalgia why as the title of this project? >> it's interesting because i've been exploring songs. mostly they're from the '30s, you see, and they're american. and i realized one day this word came into my head -- nostalgia. it's like time travel. you're going back. all of us have our own personal and collective nostalgia. and these songs being written so many years ago in that time frame, so many things are different nowadays than they were before. in the times of the '30s when carmichael was writing "memphis" and "june," this of pre-civil rights movement. there was a very different social class, economical divide that was going on in this country. and i started to compare and contrast and was thinking, wow, imagine that. there was still -- black people could not get on the same place on the bus. i thought in some ways it's
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encouraging because you think you know what, with the civil rights movement, things changed. there's definitely some improvement. i don't know how much, i don't live here so i can't comment on that. but you see, in the work that i've been doing over the last decade, where i've been going to countries where people have nothing. they're living in poverty. they have all these challenges. and i think of the distinction that's made between the western countries and the countries where they're continuously facing these challenges. i started to realize that the themes in some of the songs haven't gone away. it's just the same as it ever was. >> two things -- one, last night on this program, you mentioned cole porter want tonight you mentioned hoagie carmichael. you should know that i'm smiling on the inside as are my fellow hoosiers because both cole porter and hoagie carmichael are from indiana. i grew up in indiana. so anyone's smiling now. hoagie carmichael and cole porter. go, hoosiers! had to ease that in since you
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mentioned their names. >> yeah. >> you mentioned also, annie, that you obviously weren't born in this country, weren't raised here. scotland is your home. and you've interpreted so many songs in the "american songbook" that were put out -- how do i nut put this as charitably as i can -- put out when america was introducing its dark side, night side especially for people of color. a long way of asking how it is that a white girl growing up in scotland ends up being so connected -- >> yeah -- >> -- to the struggle of people of color in this country, of people of color in south africa and around the globe. how does that happen for you? what was the answer to that? >> you know, even when i was a child -- i have to tell you, i come from the northeast of scotland. i was dancing to motown and stacks of music that came through our dan halls. you see -- dance halls. you see, this is the beauty of music, it travels, it journeys.
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all the teenagers were dancing to the music, and it was infectious. in the same way that the beatles and the rolling stones -- there was this wonderful wave, exchanging cultural wave of music. the beatles in the british movement came to america. we also had the benefit of american music. and -- and i'm thinking to myself when i'm a kid and sort of seeing that -- there is something like racism. it always hurt me. it always hurt me. and there could be this segregation and separation. when i heard about apartheid as a teenager, i couldn't believe it. when i heard about fascism and nazi germany and how people were marched off to concentration camps, and i saw the film that proved this happened, i couldn't believe it. i saw how cruel humanity can be toward each other both on a personal level and on a sort of global level. and how the same thing travels on through. for me this journey of
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nostalgia, you could say, sentimental, and there is sentiment and sweetness. like if life. you have? butte -- like life. you have this beauty and kindness. at the same time, co-existing, you have the shadow side, the darkness. and everybody on the planet here and now is going to witness. what side you fall on. to this day when i think about the penal system and how many african-americans -- must be politically correct, you see -- in prison, why is this? i ask these questions, you know, because it affects me. >> have you always been -- were you curious as a child? have you always been a curious person? >> always, always. led me into trouble. >> yeah. it usually does. >> but it led to interesting experiences, as well. yeah. i'm very passionate about things. >> i couldn't tell. >> yeah, no.
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i guess. >> nice that you came out of your shell. yeah. >> sometimes people are distant sometimes and immersed -- we get immersed in our own bubble, of course. i have my own bubble, a safe place. i can't turn away from human rights violations and injustice. i can't. >> we talked last night -- you referenced a couple of times your babies, your precious -- >> my daughters. >> your precious children. >> yes. >> you have concerns for raising them in this world? >> my daughters now are in their early 20s. and of course every parent, you know, has a concern for the babies, toddlers, young children, adolescents. and the concerns change from, oh, my goodness, are they going to fall out the window to are they going to get on to some heavy, you know, drug or whatever. kind of different sorts of concerns. >> sure. >> so far my sdraurts tudaughte turned out beautifully. i still always have the concern. here's the deal -- becoming a parent is the greatest level of
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all. and you know how precious a human life is. and then as a mother, you say, oh, i'd like all mothers to have the opportunity to raise the children safely, well, with opportunity, with education. all things that they tend to take for granted. you see all children -- your heart opens up. you say, i want that child there with the bare feet and the no ragged clothes and all of -- you know, no food to eat. and danger -- they want that child to be well. they strive to want things to be better. what do they do with the energy? that's the question. am i talking about it or am i going to be able to make a difference in some way. >> you said you were always curious even as a child. was there always interest in being an artist? and if not, how did that journey happen? >> yes, but i didn't know it. i was a creative kid. i was a dreamy kid. so all my report cards when they came out, every one consistently
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said, ann could do better if she just stopped daydreaming. but it -- did you ever -- >> every day. every day. >> i think it reflects what was happening in the classroom. maybe i had attention deficit disorder. these days they have terminology for those things. it's the dreams that are part of the krafb procecreative process. nowadays i think we have more insight. >> and all children don't learn the same. >> yeah. >> and i think -- if there is an indictment on my part, not that you asked, but if i have an indictment of my educational system, there are many, but one is that we think that all children learn the same, and they don't. >> absolutely not. also, if i remember rightly, i'm left handed. i was lucky because i didn't -- >> that means you're really creative. >> they say. right brain, left handed. in any case, i was fortunate that i wasn't reprimanded as so
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many of my generation of kids coming up and our parents and grandparents before them, they had the ruler on the -- like going, you must learn how to write -- we were taught with a very kind of somewhat abusive, you know, kind of hard core style that really now that we know better, we know that kids don't have to be reprimanded. they don't flourish when they are being punished. there are great alternatives. >> there's a great societal debate. i could cite the incidents on the front pages of sports pages and news pages about whether or not there is a better way to discipline children. >> are you talking about corporal punishment as opposed to non-corporal punishment? >> one aspects of it. >> that's right. that's right. >> i want to get back to "nostalgia" in a second. before i do, that i'd be remiss for all of your fans -- i mentioned last night that you sold some 83 million-plus
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records around the world, solo records, and your eurythmics stuff. when you look back as a solo artist on the eurythmics days, what do you think? >> well, i think we were extraordinary survivors. i do. what people see are the results of creative work. they see videos, they hear the music. maybe if -- if they're still into buying some ancient vinyl or whatever, they might still -- c.d.s. that's what they see. they see the results. what they don't know are the back stories and what it took in terms of our survival to make those things happen. they don't need to know those stories, but i know them. i lived them. and it didn't just come overnight. dave and i and the tourists -- the previous group that we created with pete cooms, we made three albums, we toured the world. it's not like it came overnight. when dave and i came out of the ashes of that band because we
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broke up, we made another record for eurythmics. our first as eurythmics was called "in the garden." and nothing happened with that in terms of commercial success. to be frank, you kind of need that if -- it's gasoline in the tank. then we created "sweet dreams." at that point, we were on our fifth album that we ahe'd made. i was ready to go to scotland with my tail between my legs and take on a teaching profession or something. i thought time to give up. and with perseverance, things started to happen. and it goes on from there. it was hard, hard work and challenging, and it is. it has its own momentum. and it was a decade of creativity like it. it -- it is extraordinary. i'm amazed myself that we lasted the course so well, we came out of it sane. that we're still alive and
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kicking and both doing our special thing. >> yeah, not just alive and kicking but still creative. still innovative which is tough to do in this business. >> certainly. it's getting harder and harder. when i hear record company executives talking about, you know, the background of like what it is to have a young artist these days or the artists themselves or anybody in management, anybody within the music industry talking about what does it take to break a young artist -- okay, we know some of those ingredients, the real diesel how dye sustao you the artist? and how do they stay sane and seasoner? that's an issue. how -- sober? that's an issue. how did they stay healthy in psychological terms apart from everything else. young artists come up like this. i can almost guarantee you will see them going down on a tailspin. that's not healthy for that person. >> so your saurm if i were to
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use -- argument is that if i were to use, it's better to take off like a jet plane than a rocket? >> it's better to take off on a smoother gradient than rapid acceleration and explosion and burnout to nothing. i think that must be so, so hard. when they say star, there it is, and they're all aspiring to be a star. they have no concept of what that entails. and it's like a team of people put that celebrity person together. then you have flat-out burnout. and that person is discarded. there's nothing worse than thinking of yourself as a has been. i am valueless. >> at 24. >> at 24. >> yeah, yeah. to what do you attribute your sustainability across decades? >> ooh. i think it's -- good question to ask other people because they would have their comment about
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that. i will say that because i come from my background where we didn't have much and my values in my value were socially conscious, politically conscious, too, i think that has stood me in good stead. the other thing is that i didn't get hooked into drugs or alcohol abuse. i have to say that. it's not because i'm whiter than white. i'm a person with many, many flaws. i was fortunate not to go down that route because it would have destroyed me. and then also this word celebrity that i mentioned before. that one? have you heard that one? it seem to be the currency nowadays. but it's about superficial thing that has no substance, no value whatsoever. and everybody gets tagged with the same brush, celebrity. it's meaningless, useless. you know, like you're just tossed out like yesterday's garbage. that is disconcerting for me. and i'm -- i always said, i'm a
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human being. i'm a creative personment a musician. many things. celebrity is just anomaly for me. i try to avoid the places where people are pumped up to be red carpet. opening of a plastic bag, as you might same. we're all there. this side of this music industry i've never been comfortable with ever. i love to talk about my work. if i've done work -- yes, i'll talk about it. i will avoid all of that lifestyle. it's not for me. >> i was in a conversation with a friend the other night. he was making the distinction between celebrities and stars. and the point was that anybody these days can be a celebrity. you can be famous for being famous. you haven't really done anything. you're famous for being famous. there's celebrities all around us. bona fide stars, you know, is a different sort of thing. i see you beyond -- not just a
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celebrity. >> i don't even go for the word "star." in a weird way, i think i'm always -- maybe for some people. but that's a projection. >> you don't have to accept it. i'm putting it on you. >> you're putting it on me. >> my show. yeah. >> it's not an insult. >> not at all. it is not an insult. speaking of insults, have you been insulted in this business over the years? are there things that have you taken as ininsults. >> yeah, yeah. >> from the industry or public? >> yeah, many, many, many -- how many times can i say many? many times. >> movi >> mucho. mucho. >> here's the deal, you get put on a pedestal. people see you, you're on the pedestal. the best thing since sliced bread. amazing. the flip side is that you're a piece of something that can i -- i will not say on your program,
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under your shoe. >> gum. >> gum. you're a piece of gum, and there you are. and people like it hammer you. so it's a schizophrenic experience that people put you up on this thing so you're holier than thou and down there. when i -- it's tough. when i hear nice compliments and i like them -- uobviously, peope like to be complimented -- i take it groish us on aciously, let it go to my head. i let it go. the other is hard to process, you're hurt, angry, and you want to kind of punch back, baugh do that. you have to do that. what i think about that is that it makes you more grounded. you have to see it for what it is and understand the game. then know your strengths, know your weakness and know that you're a human being like everybody else. that's the great leveler.
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>> i want to ask a question, and i'll tell you why i'm asking before i take your answer. did you have to fight, did you have to work hard to do this project "nostalgia," which is your reinterpretation of many of the classics in the "american songbook"? or did it come easily? i ask it because oftentimes artists get boxed in by the industry, by their fans. and this by your own admission is something you've never done before. does the question make sense? >> absolutely. totally makes sense to me. for years, eurythmics and myself, solo artists, had to try to keep the influence of record companies and record company decisions, you know, keep it controlled because obviously the record companies want whatever the record companies wanted. i have been fortunate. once i may "nostalgia," i said, i want to be signed to blue note records, the classic jazz label. it's been going for 75 years. and the new head of blue note is
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don worth. and i happened to meet don worth in february in los angeles. and i played him my album. he loved it. i said, i want to be on blue note. is that possible? hey is, yeah, come on board -- he said, yeah, come on board with us. i'm on blue note. and blue note are a subsidiary of capital records. they have a new head, steve barnett. he has been -- the music industry really, we don't even know whoer wee. we are like the polar bear on the sort of dissolving ice -- what do you call though things? >> ice caps. >> ice caps. yeah. so here you have sort of a dissolving music industry, people trying to understand where is the sustainability. i've been very, very fortunatement here in america, i'm signed to blue note under capital records' label. and everybody has been incredible. it's the first time that i feel personally that i've really worked collaboratively.
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why? because they understand what i'm trying to do. and they've given me the freedom -- we've had to sometimes have our kind of go-to. >> that's natural. >> that's understandable. but they have facilitated making this vinyl album so beautiful with the artwork -- >> i was about to go there. can you get this? i love -- can i just say i love? good lord. that is a gorgeous photo. >> well, the idea is that there's a timelessness in all of it. the sky is the one thing that accompanies all of us from the dinosaur times up to now. that is the one continuum we have. the element of the planet and the sky. and that is the nostalgia. the deeper meaning of nostalgia. and the sky -- don't you think -- the sky is such an amazing thing. from an artistic point of view. i'm always looking at the changing mood of the sky. and music is -- again, another
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evoktive thing that brings out feelings in people. >> sky is amazing. one more time, jonathan. so is that dress, though. look at that dress. can we -- yeah. >> i didn't make it mize myseys. >> did you feel good in it? >> as a performer, you want to wear something that is appropriate for your performance, you know. so i've had the opportunity wear things on stage to emphasize the performance in some way. this is a slightly surrealistic dress. >> talking about silly stuff locker fashion is -- although fashion is -- >> not about fashion. the costume is the tool of your trade. if you think about somebody like james brown and the godfather of soul, he was psychedelic and those incredibly interesting
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innovative ways people dress and caught attention. it was the costuming of music that was interesting, too. >> speaking of costumes, there is silly, but i want to say it anyway. one of the things aside from your powerful and brilliant and lovely voice, when i got turned on to you, what turned me on is who is this woman with this cool, sexy, short haircut. in all of these years, you rocked the look. >> it's easily maintained. >> is that by choice? >> very economical, easy to do. it's just easy. -- that's the way it goes. you sport a short haircut yourself. >> mine is not so much by choice. it gets thinner as you get older. i raise that only because your fans, you know, know you by your voice and look. and that look is -- it's worked
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for you for all of these years. >> we're all born with what nature gives us. we try to make the best of it, face it. >> you've done that. you have done that. this is a wonderful other wonderful project. and i have so much enjoyed this conversation. i'm glad you could stick around for two nights. >> fantastic. thank you. >> an opportunity. i enjoyed it. the new project from the one and only annie lenox is called "nostalg "nostalgia." a wonderful project where she reinterprets in her own way, of course, these wonderful classic songs in the "american songbook." we're talking "georgia on my mind," "i put a spell you on," and "summertime," and "strange fruit" and "nearless of indigo." thanks to blue note. we get to hear annie do something she's not done on record. there's a vinyl version of it, bam. c.d. version, bam. and the real version of it -- >> bam. here i am. >> annie, loved to have you here. thanks for being here. i've enjoyed having you.
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that's our show for tonight. thanks for watching. and as always, keep the faith. ♪ georgia georgia ♪ ♪ sweet georgia on my mind for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at hi, i'm tavis smiley. joining me next time for a conversation with musician dave koz with his new holiday c.d., "the 25th of december," plus a performance. we'll see you then.
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and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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