BackTalk: John Lithgow Page 2
Many people probably don't know that you've done a series of children's books and are going to release your third children's CD, The Sunny Side of the Street [Razor & Tie], this fall. Is this something you planned, or did you kind of stumble into it? That's a pretty good way of describing it. I did stumble into it. I've performed for children ever since my own kids were little. I started out just being a helping dad entertaining in classrooms, playing guitar and telling stories. But I got really good at it and enjoyed doing it. So even when my kids outgrew me, I kept on doing it - much to their mortification. Halfway through 3rd Rock from the Sun, I decided to make a bigger deal out of it, and that's when I did my first CD, which in turn led to concerts with major orchestras.
The concerts then led to the children's books. I wrote The Remarkable Farkle McBride [Simon & Schuster] as the narration for an orchestral suite that taught kids about the four sections of the orchestra. Before I even found a composer to work with me, it just hit me like a thunderbolt that I'd written a children's book without even realizing it.
How do you put together one of these CDs? The first album, Singin' in the Bathtub [Sony Wonder], was all songs I loved when I was a kid. I really enjoyed introducing people to these great old songs that Danny Kaye, Flanders and Swann, Allan Sherman, and Cab Calloway used to sing. But for the new CD, I went on an archaeological expedition. I was working in New York with all these terrific music-theater people, and I mined them for great Tin Pan Alley songs - novelty songs that kids would love. Three-quarters of the songs on Sunny Side of the Street are long since forgotten and yet they were hugely popular in the '20s, '30s, and '40s.
What is one of your favorite songs on the new CD? The record company wanted me to pick one to use as a promotional bonus cut, and I couldn't stand it. It was like Sophie's Choice, trying to choose among my children. But I would say my favorite is a wonderful old Dorothy Fields song called "Baby." I also love doing "The Laughing Policeman," with the refrain that's nothing but laughter. It's my guilty pleasure to listen to my own album over and over again in my car.
What kind of music do you like? I listen almost entirely to classical music. I certainly like jazz, and there's lots of pop I like. It's just that classical is my go-to music. Mozart, Bach, Beethoven - basically all the fuddy-duddies.
Since you're on the go a lot, do you have an iPod? I recently got one, but I haven't quite mastered it yet. Technological stuff can turn me into a petulant 3-year-old child.
Before you go, can you sing me a few bars of a song you love? Let me pick a good one ... [sings] "I don't like your peaches, they are full of stones / I like bananas because they have no bones / Don't give me tomatoes - can't stand ice cream cones / I like bananas because they have no bones."