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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  June 23, 2012 1:00am-1:30am EDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, part two of our conversation with legendary songwriters alan and marilyn bergman. they have written iconic songs, earning them three academy awards along the way. more on their longtime collaboration with barbra streisand. we are glad you joined us. some legends alan and marilyn bergman now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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>> we're back with night two of a conversation with alan and marilyn bergman. barbra streisand was given a lto lot to work with. i asked perhaps an impossible question. i wanted to give you some time to think about it but alan made the point that the toughest part of their job is trying to find a new way to talk about love. a new way to define love. i want -- over the course of the years, give me a few lines that
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speak to that condition that you are proud of. >> one i can think of because it is recent. over the years, people have asked me and marilyn, "how do you do it? you spend all your time together, you write together, you live together, you'll love together, 24 hours a day. what is the secret?" i said four words, one washes, one dries. >> not very romantic but it is true. tavis: i love it. >> after a while of saying that a few years, we looked at each other and said we have to write a love song, one washes, one tries and we just finished it. -- dries and we have finished it. that is kind of an original. >> i think that when you asked
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the question, i was thinking and i think how to -- [inaudible] tavis: i was going to say that. nice response. how do you get the music playing? >> how do you lose yourself to someone and never lose your way? it is a very lucky idea to have hit upon. >> that, too, goes back to what marylarilyn said. movie, andom a the same wonderful director, norman suisjewison. >> it was triggered by the
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movie, certainly. tavis: how do you get the music playing from beginning to end? quincy. >> quincy came to the house and i forget what it was about. we had just finished the song and he saw it sitting on the piano and said, what is that? eagle eyed quincy. that is a poem. can i hear it? we played it for him and he said, that is mine. what is this from, what is it for? we told him. he said who was going to sing it and we said we do not know and he said, i know. i am producing the record and i am doing it and that is it. he left. and he did. >> we hear it years later it was patti austin and james ingraham.
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>> there's a lot of love involved in that song. q, marilyn, and i went to brazil in 1966. there was an international song festival and she sang the song that we wrote. we go back a long time. now, frank sinatra went to see the movie and he came out of the movie and he called tony bennett and he said, i do not have a date coming up, a recording date but i just heard a song from a movie and he praised it very nicely. he said you had better go in and record it. tony went in and recorded it and he closed his show with that song for the last 20 some odd years. >> i have seen his show many
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times. >> a lot of love in that song. tavis: is a great piece of work. speaking of great songs and great compositions for movies and television shows. my assistant, danny davis, could not believe me. he had never met you until today. he sees the two of you walk in the studio and i have heard -- told him so much about the brand's -- bergmans. he could not believe that you had written the theme from "good times." every negro knows the song. this is the song we sing all the time. which is a strange thing. you look at the stuff you have done and "good times" was in the
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middle of there. >> dave wrote a great melody. >> he said i have this television pilot. i would like you to look at it and do the theme song. >> it did not have a title. >> not to sound too self-serving but the title came -- >> it did. >> [inaudible] no, it is interesting. we have been talking in the lounge before, and he said, he mentioned "good times," and we said what is interesting about that song is the website, with people translating the they think one of the lines in a particular of the song is. he said, yeah. i spent a lot of times try to
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figure out that song. i figured out the line had to bribe with surviving -- rhyme with surviving, hanging in and surviving. people thought it was hanging in the chow line. the camera guy just said, that is it. he just figured it out. what do they know about that kind of experience? >> wyck folk from brooklyn -- white folk from brooklyn maalot about the kind of experience. >> q sang it. we can't find it. tavis: he sang the demo.
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>> we had a fire. tavis: he is from chicago as you know. >> was it donnie hathaway? >> that was "maude." tavis: "maude," "alice," "in the heat of the night." singing. of searin lyrically. you are writing this stuff all this year -- these years. you decide you want to sing now. >> i did not decide. what happened, we gave -- we did a concert in new york. a fellow from germany came -- one of the record companies came to me and said i would like to
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talk to. i love the way you sing, i would like to make an album with you. i said, you do not want to do that. he said, what you mean? -- do you mean? my singing, i do not know how commercial that is for you to make some money. he kept asking me for three years and finally said ok. he flew us to berlin and he had an orchestra and he brought in these pieces, some wonderful people from here. a great drama and chris mcbride, a fantastic bass player. he said we do not have a good rhythm section in germany. >> they never had. [laughter] >> they had a wonderful piano
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player there. we made this cd. what i feel wonderful about is i hear from jazz musicians all over the country. they just love it and tell me how much they enjoy it. tavis: think it's cool that at your age you decided to take this up. >> we got nominated for the best new artist. a few years ago. but nobody cared. i am going to make another one. >> i wanted to do one with a small jazz trio. tavis: how do the two of you stay on? you are a tennis player. are you still hitting every day? >> every day. >> he plays with three guys, their ages put together -- >> is great. the camera 3 -- it is great.
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the camaraderie. tavis: he is in great shape. speaking of singing your own stuff, how did it feel to have this project come out? ms. streisand, that is your muse, when she produces this project, what matters most? the entire project of nothing but your stuff. it had to be. what a tribute. >> i still, looking at the cd in your hand, i still get a thrill every time i look at it. she -- it is funny. we were doing something at the motion picture academy. we were there with barbra, is
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a, probably. in the course of the final conversation, she said to quincy or to the audience, my next project will be of alan and marilyn's songs. tavis: she had not told you yet. >> no. what a surprise. >> it is thrilling. >> to have to great, great artist, probably one of the greatest singers of songs ever. tavis: when you get asked questions by butting songwriters or vice -- budding songwriters, would you say? >> it is a similar answer to the
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questions that elicited reading. i think listening and studying the great songs that came in the past, came before you. why the last, why they still touch people or mews people -- amuse people or touch people -- excite people, what songs can do. a song 30 years old can still speak to people and sometimes can say something better than any s.a., better than any speech -- essay, better than any speech can rally people to causes, can speak love songs. i think you have to know the literature before you write a novel. one sits down and reads novels that came before. it should be the same thing with
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song literature. i think aspirign song -- aspiring songwriter had better know what came before them. first also they do not regret what has been written already -- rewrite what has been written already, or they know what the challenges are to find new ways to say some things, to explore musical areas which they're doing. i think the hip-hop generation has really opened up again with the next wave of creative writing is. it is absolutely stunning. tavis: marilyn bergman gives a thumbs-up to hip-hop. >> i do not think that is new
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to me. tavis: it would be to a lot of people. >> talk about storytelling, talk about love of words, talk about experimentation with sounds. i do not know of anything else that is being written in popular music. tavis: that is that creative and innovative. >> i think there are two books that have been written recently. steven sondheim, he is the best areas. he is the best. in the creative process, in the riding of -- writing of, even though he is talking about the theater. his methods are so wonderfully instructive, so important for young songwriters. >> or any writers or actors,
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even. >> look where he comes from. >> it is the new and the old testament, those old -- those two volumes. >> that is true. she is right about pop. the thing that we have to get back to is that you mention it, is melody. melody is not where we should have it, you know, it is gone for the most part. and we have to have that back. tavis: whenever i am in town anywhere, or here and i see that i will run past everyone else to get to them, i cannot wait to give them a hug and tell them how much i appreciate them. part of that is not just your gift but it is so rare in this town to meet people who are
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still so in touch with humanity and exude such humility. i do not know people, a whole bunch of folks, who have been nominated for all the academy awards and won them, who are firmly ensconced in the american songbook. your humility is so profound. how you hold on to that kind of humility in a town like this or an industry like yours were you have achieved just about everything? not just about my think you have achieved everything. >> i do not know if it is humility. you. -- you talk about times. can we talk for the remaining minutes about the times we're in? i am frightened. election coming up.
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i have to talk about this. there is an election coming up in five months. it is scary. i think maybe i have had a long life. maybe the most important election of my life. i am afraid what could happen if the voices of division and hate drown out the voices of everything that we really have been talking about tonight. of humanity, of literacy, of society, everything we care about. i just am terrified. i think people do not read. we go back to reading. i do not know where they get
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their news from, if they really do not need a -- read a broad spectrum of what is out there. if you just watch one television station -- tavis: that tells you what you want to hear. >> that reinforces whatever bad stuff there is to be reinforced. i do not know how we move off this place that we seem to be stuck on right now. i think it consumes more than anything else right now. tavis: i love the fact that artists at their best, lyrics at their best, tap into our humanity and that is why i still love what you to do that other great writers do. i cannot say it as beautifully as you said it. sometimes it takes a song to speak to us in ways that a
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speech or some other presentation will not. does that make sense? >> of course. that is why i love music. that we areu feel on kind of a shaky place right now? tavis: i go further than that. i came off a book tour. we wrote a book, dr. cornell west, a book called "the rich and the rest of us." i kept making this point everywhere. i got a call by the u.s. senate specifically about the senate finance committee. they decided to finally hold hearings on poverty in america which is a beautiful thing. >> it is about time. tavis: they were asking me if i was available to come back and testify. i am on the phone with the leading ranking democratic committee person and the
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republican committee person. there were both asking me what i would say if i would come to washington. and your question, i was saying that more than just being a little scared. we're on the press this of losing -- press is of losing our democracy. -- precipice of losing our democracy. literature literacy and everythu talked about. this is threatening to our democracy. it is a matter of national security. we think of national security as some terrace. it is not against a terrorist threat as in internal rot. the lack of quality education, lack of jobs, health care. this is a national security threat and poverty are no longer
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color-coded. to many americans are struggling. i am not just scared. my read of history says there's no empire in the history of world that did not falter or fail. we do not want to acknowledge that. every empire has its day and we do not want to wrestle with how dangerously close we are to the edge because it is -- it scares us to think about that. >> there is the supreme court decision. >> a glut of money. tavis: it is older. money in our politics. >> the supreme court decision that says corporations are people. i do not know a person who writes a song -- a corporation that right to song. tavis: if they did, i would not want to hear it. >> it terrifies me. it terrifies me. we sit and write checks every
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day to people if they do not find their way into the senate, i know that it does not mean anything, what i am doing. we're talking about such a glut of money, it has nothing to do with democracy. tavis: when we get terrified and we get frightened and anxious, there is nothing like a good alan and marilyn bergman song to bring you back to center, to bring you back to the north star. to remind you of what matters. it was a pleasure. "lyrically" is the project by alan bergman.
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barbra streisand, her project is "what matters most." seeing the lyrics of alan and marilyn bergman. i'm glad you made it here. not for one night, but two. you can download our app. good night from l.a. and as always, keep the faith. [applause] >> what in the world is that? you got to keep up the image. ♪ >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with jeff daniels on "the
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newsroom." that is next time. we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. >> be more.
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