TRANSCRIPT Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Bullseye’s 2021 Holiday Spectacular: Ronnie Spector, Sy Smith and Jane Lynch

The Bullseye Holiday Spectacular is here! We are revisiting some of our favorite Holiday interviews with different guests from over the years. First, we kick things off with Ronnie Spector. She talks with us about her work with The Ronnets and her fond love for Christmas music. We are then joined by singer/songwriter Sy Smith, who shares which classic holiday tune changed her life. We close things out by revisiting our interview with the one and only Jane Lynch. In 2016, she talked with us about her holiday album A Swingin’ Little Christmas and some of her holiday traditions growing up. Happy Holidays!

Transcript

jesse thorn

I’m Jesse Thorn. Ronnie Spector loved Christmas as a little girl. When she wasn’t going on sleigh rides through the snow, she was a city kid, and she had a question that pretty much every Christmas-celebrating city kid has.

ronnie spector

So, I asked my father, I said, “We don’t have a chimney! Where’s Santa—how is he gonna get here?” I was so upset and frustrated. And he said, “Ronnie. Santa is coming down the fire escape.” I was so happy, Jesse! I ran to my room. I put the covers over my head [laughing] and I fell fast asleep!

jesse

From MaximumFun.org and NPR, it’s Bullseye.

music

“Huddle Formation” from the album Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team. A fast, upbeat, peppy song. Music plays as Jesse speaks.

jesse

This week, Ronnie Spector, Jane Lynch, and singer-songwriter Sy Smith. It’s a cavalcade of holiday musical talent. That’s all coming up on the Bullseye Holiday Spectacular! [Music ends in a chorus of cheers.]

music

Thumpy rock music interspersed with seasonal jingle bells.

jesse

It’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. First up on this year’s Bullseye Holiday Spectacular, the legendary Ronnie Spector. Ronnie and her girl group, the Ronettes, were the centerpiece of the Phil Spector wall of sound of the 1960s. Their huge hit, “Be My Baby”, still gets airplay on oldies stations. Ronnie was a teenager when she started recording. And the only thing bigger than her ambition was her hair. The Ronettes recorded some of the most iconic Christmas music ever made in 1963. The album was A Christmas Gift to You from Phil Spector.

music

“Sleigh Ride” from the album A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector by The Ronettes. Just hear those sleigh bells jingling ring tingle tingling too (Ring-a-ling-a ding-dong-ding!) Come on, it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you (Ring-a-ling-a ding-dong-ding!) [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

jesse

It’s been a few decades, but Ronnie’s love for Christmas hasn’t faded one bit. When I spoke to her in 2010, she’d just recorded a new album of Christmas songs. That album is called Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever.

music

[Volume increases.] (Ring-a-ling-a ding-dong-ding!) (Ring-a-ling-a ding-dong-ding!) [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

Ronnie Spector, welcome to Bullseye.

ronnie

Hi, Jesse! It’s great being here. [Jesse chuckles.] And I love Christmas!

jesse

What were things that you did special at Christmas, growing up in Manhattan?

ronnie

Oh, gosh. Well, first of all, I always went to Radio City to watch the ice-skating rink. And my father would always take me and my sister to see them put up the tree when they lit it. You know? At Radio City. [Jesse affirms.] So, we did so many things like that. And just getting Christmas ready at the house. I remember my father—‘cause we lived in an apartment, and he used to take the tree and draaag it down the hall. That’s when I knew it was really Christmas.

jesse

Now, you had—you just had one sister in the house, who later joined you in the Ronettes. [Ronnie confirms.] But I know you had a very large extended family, like dozens of cousins.

ronnie

[Laughing.] Yeah! 23 like first cousins! It was amazing. Well, my—you know why, Jesse? My mom had six sisters and seven brothers.

jesse

Wow!

ronnie

So, that’s why I had so many first cousins and stuff. And they were my first audience! My seven uncles and my six aunts. These were my audience and they applauded me every Sunday at my grandmother’s house. And that’s when I said, “I can do this!” And I’m only like seven years old!

jesse

Was singing part of your Christmases as a kid?

ronnie

Of course! That was how it all started. I was like six years old, and I remember my mother taking—well, my mother was a waitress. You know? And she stood up on her feet all day and I just had to go sit on Santa’s lap. So, my mother took me to Macy’s, and I felt so bad as I grew older to remember, “Wow! My mother stood up on her feet all day as a waitress and then she took me to see Santa Claus at Macy’s.” And we had to stand in line for like two hours. And I said, “Mom, I can’t go!” And she would say, “Honey, I’m so tired.” I said, “But Mom, if I don’t sit on Santa’s lap, I’m gonna be crazy this Christmas!” She said, “Okay, Ronnie. Okay.” Or Veronica is what they called me back then. And I sat on Santa’s lap and that was when I fell in love with Christmas, with Santa, with frosting, with the tree. Everything. I mean, that’s when it started: sitting on Santa’s lap in Macy’s.

jesse

Why don’t we hear a little bit of your classic Christmas recording of “Frosty the Snowman”? Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes. [Ronnie agrees.]

music

“Frosty the Snowman” from the album A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector by the Ronettes. Frosty the snowman Was a jolly happy soul With a corncob pipe and a button nose And two eyes made out of coal Frosty the snowman is a fairy tale they say He was made of snow But the children know How he came to life one day There must have been some magic in that Old silk hat they found For when they placed it on his head He began to dance around O, Frosty the snowman Was alive as he could be [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

So, how old were you when you first went up onstage at amateur night at The Apollo?

ronnie

Oh, I was like 11. [Jesse chuckles.] 12. Something like way in that age.

jesse

Tell me about that first time that you performed at The Apollo. Do you remember it?

ronnie

Oh, god. Like it was yesterday. It was my first show, ever. You know, professional show. And I remember it was Nedra, myself, Estelle, and two—another cousin, and my cousin Ira, which is a boy cousin, because back then they had Frankie Lymon, the Students, Frankie Valli. You know. All these guy singers. So, I said to my cousin Ira, I said, “Maybe you should sing lead!” So, we go out there to amateur night—I will never, ever forget. My cousin, Ira, has the microphone in his hand and nothing comes out. [Jesse laughs.] I was petrified! So, I grabbed the mic from him, and I started singing, “Why do birds siiing!” You know, the Frankie Lymon song. So, I started—and the audience went nuts for me. So, for me—you know, it was like I was passing, because they didn’t know what we were, but they loved me. And I said, “Oh my god, if I can pass at The Apollo, they’ll love me all over the world!” And I was very young, you know, to have all these kind of feelings about touring all over the world. And my mother would always say, “Don’t get too excited. This is showbusiness we’re talking about. You don’t know if you’re gonna make a hit record. You don’t know anything.” But I did know I loved the stage and I got it from a very early age.

jesse

You and your sister and cousin had this outrageous look. [Ronnie chuckles.] In the—in that beginning of your career. I wonder how long it took for you to—and what you had to do to get your hair as high as it was when you were onstage. [Ronnie “oh!”s loudly.] I was watching some film clips and I was very impressed at the sheer—the sheer height of what was on top of your head.

ronnie

Well, I’ll tell you what we had to do. First of all, you had to tease it a lot and use a lot of Aquanet hairspray. That’s what we used in the ‘60s. Aquanet. Then you wind it around your hair, then you twirled it again and then you tease it again. We had a lot of hair. I guess it was for—you know, because of our background and stuff. [They chuckle.] That’s what I said about me and Keith Richards. [Laughs.] If we had married and had kids, we would have great—our kids would have great hair. [Jesse laughs.] I always say that to Keith.

music

“Best Christmas Ever” from the album Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever by Ronnie Spector. [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

jesse

I’m Jesse Thorn. This is Bullseye. I’m talking with singer Ronnie Spector. When we spoke in 2010, she had just released an album called Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever.

music

[Volume increases.] Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas time I hope you’ve been thinking of me I’m right where I wanna be What’d you say? Hey, hey, hey Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas time Throw another log on the fire Satisfy your heart’s desire Take it high, high, high They’ll ring bells and spend this time together Underneath the mistletoe… [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

So, the height of your career was this really transitional time in popular music. It was this time when doo-wop and that kind of thing was on the way out and really harder rock and roll was on the way in. [Ronnie confirms several times as Jesse speaks.] And you and your contemporaries were sort of bridging that gap between those two things. And one of the ways that you bridged that gap was by having these like actual, personal relationships with the Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

ronnie

[Laughing brightly.] Yes, we did!

jesse

Tell me about how you first met the Beatles.

ronnie

Okay. Well, first of all, the Beatles hadn’t come to America, yet. So, they weren’t even known in America. And when we were over in England, we were like on front pages of every paper there. So, the Beatles wanted to see—Decca Records gave us a party, ‘cause that’s what was our label over there. So, Decca Records gave us a party and guess who showed up? The Beatles! [Laughs.] And John Lennon was really cockeye over me, and he took me in this back room at Decca Records and I almost had to use a whip to get that guy out of the room. [Jesse chuckles.] But, uh, you know, I met all of them. I love them all. I love The Rolling—The Rolling Stones were my opening act in England, so I knew they’re real good! [Chuckles.] We used to travel on the tour bus together and Keith and I would go—and when it’d get too foggy and stuff in London, we would pull over—the bus would pull over and Keith and I would get out and knock on doors. And they were so nice! They would open the door and I would say, “Hi, I’m Ronnie of the Ronettes.” And Keith would say, “I’m Keith of The Rolling Stones.” They let us in. They’d give us scones and tea and everything. And we’d take it out to the bus and give Mick some and the other guys. You know, Brian. I mean, everything—I knew those guys better than I knew the American groups.

jesse

Were your folks still onboard for the whole rock and roll star thing—

crosstalk

Ronnie: Oooh, yes— Jesse: —when they saw that slit in the side of your skirt?

ronnie

Oh, yes! As a matter of fact, my mother toured with us everywhere we went—even The Apollo theater, overseas in England. She was with us every step of the way. ‘Cause she told me once, she said, “If you sit on a guy’s lap and you feel something hard, get up and run!” [They cackle.] So, I did! I sat—I was sitting on John Lennon’s lap at the plaza and I felt something getting hard and I got up and ran. [Chuckling.] And that’s a true story! And he called me the next day. He was so embarrassed like by it. He said, “We wanna get out of here. We’re like prisoners in this plaza. You’ve gotta get us out of here, Ronnie.” I said, “I can take you up to Harlem to get some ribs and chicken.” They said, “We’d love it!” So, I got them out of there, took them up to Harlem. We had a blast! Nobody recognized them and it was great. They loved it because nobody recognized them.

jesse

When did you become aware of what a sort of holiday icon that Phil Spector Christmas record made you and your contemporaries? When did you start to feel that these songs were gonna be more than just—more than just what a Christmas record usually is? Which is, you know, just a way to sell a couple hundred thousand records for a hit band. You know what I mean?

ronnie

Well, I’ll tell you one thing. Phil Spector was Jewish. He didn’t know anything about Christmas. [Jesse chuckles.] So, he’d come to my house and tell—ask me what—that’s why I sang “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. He’d say, “What did your mother and father do when you were a little girl?” And so, all my songs—and “Frosty the Snowman” and “Sleigh Ride”. I loved sleighing. So, my—everything that’s on that album of my stuff was actually done from my own words to Phil. And that’s how he got—he didn’t even think about Christmas, because like I said, he was Jewish. So, I got him really into Christmas. That’s how we made that—it’s A Christmas Gift for You!

jesse

Let’s hear Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes singing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”.

ronnie

Okay. Mwah!

music

“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” from the album A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector by ARTIST. I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus Underneath the mistletoe last night She didn’t see me creep Down the stairs to have a peep She thought that I was tucked up in my bedroom, fast asleep Then I saw Mommy tickle Santa Claus Underneath the mistletoe… [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

My wife has, like you, dozens of cousins. [Ronnie chuckles.] And they have this Christmas Eve party every year at her grandparent’s house with literally like 40 [chuckles] direct relations, all celebrating Christmas together. [Ronnie laughs.] And I wonder if you—if you had any Christmas traditions like that with your huge extended family.

ronnie

Oh, of course! I mean, I remember my grandmother and all her kids—you know, which were my aunts and uncles. They lived on 140th Street in New York and I lived 151st Street in New York. So, every Christmas, we used to go to my grandmother’s house and all my aunts—I remember one aunt loved cigarettes. So, I’d buy her cigarettes. Of course, my mother would buy them. [Jesse laughs.] I was only like seven or eight. My mother would buy the cigarettes and put them in a Christmas pack—you know, ‘cause they were square. So, you—it was easy to wrap. And another aunt loved Sherman’s Barbeque on 151st Street. So, I did the same thing. They’d wrap it up in tin foil and then I’d put Christmas wrappings on it. I did things like that for all my aunts and uncles and cousins, and I was the star of the whole family. [Laughs.]

jesse

I like the idea of the traditional Christmas gifts being a pack of cigarettes for one aunt and some barbeque. [Laughs.]

ronnie

Right! [Chuckles.] Sherman’s Barbeque. Isn’t that something? But they wrapped it good and stuff. So, it wasn’t like—when I say barbeque to other people, they say, “What!? What kind of present is that?!” I say, “Well, that’s what they wanted.” And we didn’t grow up in a very—you know, rich family or even middle class. You know, we lived in Spanish Harlem. So, all those things were very necessary, and my aunts and uncles loved everything I did!

jesse

We’ll finish up with Ronnie Spector in just a minute. When we return from the break, I’ll talk with her about what it was like working with Joey Ramone, one of her biggest fans. It’s Bullseye, from MaximumFun.org and NPR.

music

Cheerful, relaxed keyboard.

jesse

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music

Keyboard accented with jingle bells.

jesse

Welcome back to the Bullseye Holiday Spectacular. I’m Jesse Thorn. If you’re just joining us, my guest is Ronnie Spector. She fronted the Ronettes, one of the biggest girl groups in history. She’s also a lover of Christmas music. When we talked in 2010, she’d just released an album: Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever. [Music fades in.] Before we get back into our conversation, let’s hear Ronnie’s latest Christmas song—a collaboration with Elle King, called “Under the Mistletoe”.

music

“Under the Mistletoe!” from the album Under the Mistletoe! by Elle King and Ronnie Spector. Everyone has gathered, celebrating Christmas cheer They're so glad to be together but I wanna get out of here So, when the party's over, everyone has to go So, we can be alone under the mistletoe [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

I went really deep into your catalogue when I was preparing for this interview, and I really loved listening to a couple of—a couple of songs that you recorded in the ‘70s. One of them was this song called “Try Some Buy Some” that you recorded for Apple Records.

ronnie

Yes. With George Harrison.

jesse

Tell me how you ended up not just being pals with the Beatles but recording with them.

ronnie

Well, it was very simple. They said, “We want Ronnie Spector’s voice on Apple Records.” And my ex-husband took me over to England. We got over there, and I get into the studio—there’s one person in there! And his hair was long, so I couldn’t really see who it was. And I got up—and he was sitting at the piano, and he looked up and it was George Harrison. And we hugged and kiss—well, not that kind of kissing, but you know. [Jesse laughs.] Hugged and kissed and everything and it was so great, and he wrote “Try Some Buy Some” for me, right there on the spot. And we did that song and then I went back to California to be with my adopted children.

jesse

Let’s hear “Try Some Buy Some” from the early ‘70s. A song written—

ronnie

Yeah, I loved it.

jesse

Written by George Harrison, performed by Ronnie Spector.

music

“Try Some Buy Some” from the album Try Some, Buy Some by Ronnie Spector. Way back in time Someone said try some I tried some Now, buy some I bought some Oh, oh, oh After a while When I had tried them Denied them I opened my eyes And I saw you Not a thing did I have Not a thing did I see [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

You also recorded, in the 1990s, with Joey Ramone of The Ramones.

ronnie

Oh, yes. Loved Joey.

jesse

How did you—how did you first meet him?

ronnie

Well, I had met Joey like a few years before we recorded and stuff. We’d always meet at this place called The Continental, down on 8th Street. And then we got to talking one night. So, he said, “Ronnie, I would love to record—you have—you’re my favorite female singer.” So, he said, “We gotta make a record together.” And at the time, I didn’t know Joey was sick. You know, I didn’t have any clue. And then we would go over to Daniel Ray’s house—his best friend which lived a block from him—and that’s when he would bring us lunch. We did like—a EP and everything. And I had no idea. There’s this one song called “Memory”, you know, and it was like telling me he will only be a memory in the near future. And I had no idea that he was dying and stuff. And it devastated me when I couldn’t go and see him in the hospital that very last time. He said, “I don’t want Ronnie to see me like this.” So, I didn’t see him the very last time. And it broke my heart. [Music fades in.] He broke—he was the nicest guy, and he was so—[becoming emotional] sorry—genuine. You know. He loved rock and roll.

music

“Bye Bye Baby” from the album She Talks to Rainbows by Ronnie Spector. Woke up thinking about you today Why does it have to be this way? We drove each other crazy Bye bye, babe Bye bye, baby Well I guess it's over and it's done We had some good times and we had fun We drove each other crazy I'll always love you Bye bye, baby Babe, bye bye Bye bye, baby Don't you cry Bye bye, baby [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

Had you heard his records when you first met him?

ronnie

Oh, yes. Of course.

jesse

What did you think of them? I mean it’s something that—they’re sooo deeply rooted in the music that you made, but they’re also so completely different.

ronnie

Well, that’s what I liked about them: the fact that they were like me, and they liked my music, but they were different from me. That’s—just like the Beatles and The Stones. We were all so different. It’s little Ronnie sitting in the middle of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. And then I’d come to New York, and I’ve got Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and Joey Ramone and The Ramones. So, I’ve been surrounded by people that love my voice, thank god. [Chuckles.]

jesse

What do you enjoy most about being a music performer?

ronnie

I love being in the recording studio, because it brings me to the stage with new material and of course, I sing all my old songs, but there’s nothing like doing something new and fresh and, you know, like the new CD. It has—all my songs on there are originals. And you know, “Sleigh Ride” and “Frosty”, all those records were like Irving Berlin and stuff. But my stuff that I did now is like stuff that is original, and I love that.

music

“It’s Christmas Once Again” from the album Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever by Ronnie Spector. Merry voices raised and singing Carols through the streets are ringing Oh, because it’s Christmas once again [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

jesse

Ronnie Spector from 2010, just after the release of her album, Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever. What a legend.

music

[Volume increases.] Mistletoe was hung there [inaudible] All because it’s Christmas once again Little kiddie’s noses flatten on the windowpane Peeking at the dollies and the shiny choo-choo trains Santa’s setting up his reindeer, got his bag packed tight Everything is ready for the sleigh ride through the night Christmas trees with lights are a-twinkling Glasses filled with snowflakes crinkling All because it’s Christmas once again [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

Even more of the Bullseye Holiday Special still to come. We’ve got Sy Smith and Jane Lynch on the docket. It’s Bullseye, from MaximumFun.org and NPR.

music

Relaxed, thumpy synth.

jesse

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music

Chiming synth overlayed with jingle bells.

jesse

It’s the Bullseye Holiday Spectacular. I’m Jesse Thorn. Time now for a special holiday edition of our segment The Song That Changed My Life. [Music fades in.] It’s a chance for musicians, artists, and other creators to tell us about the music that made them who they are. Next up is Sy Smith.

music

“Perspective” from the album Sometime a Rose Will Grow in Concrete by Sy Smith. Yeah Your love takes me higher I don’t wanna zoom out I wanna keep it in perspective Your love feels like fire I don’t wanna burn out I’ll keep it calm, cool, collected [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

Sy Smith is a singer, songwriter, and producer who lives out here in Los Angeles. She’s been recording soul records for over a decade, and she’s collaborated with folks like Kamasi Washington and Thundercat. She’s also an incredibly talented backup singer. Name a great and she’s sung with them, from Sheila E to Chaka Khan, Usher, and Whitney Houston. [Music fades in.] When Sy Smith and I talked in 2019, she’d just dropped a fun, seasonal EP called Christmas in Syberspace.

music

“Christmas Time is Here” from the album Christmas in Syberspace by Sy Smith. Christmas time is here Happiness and cheer Fun for all The children call their favorite time of year Snowflakes in the air Carols everywhere Olden times and ancient rhymes Of love and dreams to share Sleighbells everywhere… [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

That’s “Syberspace” with an “S”, by the way—as in Sy Smith. When she and I talked about this album and about whether any of the songs on it had a good story, she brought up “My Favorite Things”. And boy, did she not let us down! So, let’s not waste any more time before we get into it. Here’s Sy Smith.

sy smith

The first time I heard “My Favorite Things” was in the movie The Sound of Music, of course.

music

“My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. Maria: Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. [Music cues in.] Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens Brown paper packages tied up with strings These are a few of my favorite things [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

sy

I think the first time I saw The Sound of Music, I was about six or seven years old. I was in my mother’s bedroom, watching it on TV in our apartment, in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland.

clip

[Volume increases.] Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings These are a few of my favorite things [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

sy

You know, that melody caught my ear because it was such a distinct melody. As a child, that melody just sounded like a dance, to me. It just sounded like—[singing along with the tune] la dada, dada—it just sounded like a dance. [Laughs.] If a dance could sing, that’s what it would sound like.

clip

[Volume increases.] These are a few of my favorite things When the dog bites when the bee stings when I’m feeling sad I simply remember my favorite things, And then I don’t feel so bad [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

sy

Even on paper, when you look at it, it looks like a dance. You know? And the things that she was singing about were quite abstract, to me. You know? Cream colored ponies and, you know, like—I didn’t know anything that she was talking about. I didn’t know what a schnitzel was. But that melody made me wanna know, you know? [Laughs.]

clip

[Volume increases.] And then I don’t feel so bad [Music swells to a conclusion.]

sy

So, the next time that I heard “My Favorite Things” and it really, sort of, changed my life was when—I might have been about eight or nine. I had an aunt—my aunt Bobbi in Teaneck, New Jersey. She had a little radio in the kitchen and the Coltrane version came on the radio.

music

“My Favorite Things” by John Coltrane. [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

sy

I didn’t recognize it as “My Favorite Things”, but she began singing it on top of the Coltrane version. And that’s when it, sort of, resonated with me. That’s when I went, “Wait! That’s that song from the movie.” I hadn’t seen the movie repeatedly, so I didn’t walk around singing the soundtrack of—you know, The Sound of Music. But when she sang it, it just reminded me of that song and all of the sudden—I don’t know, like, it made sense to me. You know what I mean? Like all of a sudden, all of those, sort of, abstract concepts made sense. Like, “Oh, wow, I can just think of something that I really like and anything that’s frightening me will go away.” [A long beat as the music swells.] I wasn’t listening to jazz, at all, when I was kid. And that was the thing—when she started singing this—on top of this? It made, all of a sudden, jazz accessible to me. I think, at that point, jazz was just, sort of, you know. Music that—that older people listened to. It wasn’t something that I would go and put on the record player, you know? But when she started singing it, I was like, “Oh! Jazz is something that you can sing along to. Jazz is something that, you know, you can sort of interpret songs that you already know. Jazz is a—can be a template.” That was, sort of, a new understanding, for me. Like, it was also—it was a discovery. [A beat as the music plays.] Everything about that song made me curious. The melody made me curious. When I started listening to really what those words were? That made me want to sort of embrace my own writing a little more. And so often I would replace those lyrics with my own, long before I did this. You know. My current project. I would always just, sort of, make up my own lyrics in that same pattern. Because I thought it would be cool to sing something that really resonated with me. Things that really were my favorite things, you know? [Singing] Jumping on something, swinging on playgrounds, la-dada, dadada, hanging a-around. [Speaking again.] Like, it was probably really silly [laughing] like that. There was always something like that. Things that I really liked to do. [Laughs.] [The Coltrane version fades out to be replaced by Sy Smith’s version.]

music

“My Favorite Things” from the album Christmas in Syberspace by Sy Smith. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

sy

So yeah, when I decided to do a Christmas project, I knew I wanted to record “My Favorite Things”. It had been on my mind for 20 years. [Laughs.]

music

[Volume increases.] These are a few of my favorite things (la, la, la-la, ba-ba-baba) [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

sy

To finally sit down and record this song—it was the easiest thing to me, because I felt like I’ve been thinking about this for so long. So, it didn’t take me long to, sort of—even rewriting the lyrics, that was, like—I did it in the car on the way to the [laughs] studio.

music

[Volume increases.] Shoes with flat laces and oversized glasses Watching my people rise up from the ashes Sharing a smile with that guy on the train These are a few of my… [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

sy

And I didn’t have to think too hard, because I think those items had been, sort of, running around my head on and off for the last 20 years.

music

[Volume increases.] Sun shining down on my sisters and brothers [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

sy

It—you know, whenever I sing this melody, I just immediately am transported back to my childhood. That—just because the melody, you know, Rodgers and Hammerstein, they just created something so beautiful, with that lilting melody. It just lilts, like a—like, I don’t know, what lilts in nature. [Laughing.] You know? It just [singing] dadada, ba-da-la—it sounds like a stick figure just sort of becoming curvy, all of the sudden. You know what I mean? It just sounds like air all of the sudden becoming a form. You know? It sounds like magic. And I—and so when you sit at the piano and sing this, it’s just liberating. It’s just a lot of fun. I can’t describe it any other way. [Laughs.]

music

[Volume increases.] These are a few of my favorite things Knowing you can’t keep a good woman down These are a few of my favorite things Catching a breeze on that old porch thing These are a few of my favorite things Double-dutch jumping like we’re still 15 These are a few of my favorite things Hearing my music blasting from your cars These are a few of my favorite things Don’t you front on me, you know I got bars These are a few of my favorite things [Song ends.]

jesse

Sy Smith on the song that changed her life, “My Favorite Things”. Sy’s Christmas record is called Christmas in Syberspace. You can buy it or stream it, now. If you live in New York, you can see Sy Smith live. She’s performing at the Blue Note with the trumpeter, Chris Botti, now through December 19th and again December 30th and 31st.

music

Thumpy synth with light vocalizations and festive jingle bells.

jesse

It’s the Bullseye Holiday Spectacular. I’m Jesse Thorn. When you watch Jane Lynch, you know you’re in for something funny. She’s great in every single Christopher Guest movie, of course—hilarious in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. She was the breakout star of Glee. More recently, her cameo on Only Murders in the Building was brilliant. But you might not know that she can sing, too. For years now, Jane has sung original swing tunes and standards all over the country with a full band and everything. When I talked with Jane Lynch in 2016, she and her band had just recorded their first Christmas record. It’s called A Swingin’ Little Christmas. Here’s the title track.

music

“A Swingin’ Little Christmas Time” from the album A Swingin’ Little Christmas by Jane Lynch. Jing-a-ding-ding! Jing-a-ding-ding! Jing-a-ding-ding! Jing-a-ding-ding! We’re having a swinging little party here with all of our friends We’re hoping you'll dig the invitation, make a plan to attend We’re gonna be singing Jingle Bells until the holidays end A swinging little Christmas time We’re gonna be wrapping up your present with a big shiny bow You won’t want to miss a single minute, don’t be late for the show There’s gonna be gingerbread and toddies and the band’s gonna blow A swinging little Christmas time [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

Jane Lynch, welcome to the Bullseye Holiday Special! It’s great to see you.

jane lynch

Thank you! Oh, it’s so great to see you too. Thanks.

jesse

You’re really singing your butt off on this record!

jane

Yeah, and as I’m listening to it going, “Where did we breathe?” ‘Cause we’re performing that live now going like this: [gasps and babbles frantically along to the tune.] [Laughs.]

jesse

I like that you took your celebrity from _Glee—_and I think the last time we spoke, the celebrity from Glee had just—was just blossoming.

jane

Just—yes, indeed. It had just pierced through the ground.

jesse

You had just gone from like 20 years as a working actor to famous person completely by surprise.

jane

Mm-hm. Angry, exact—yes, exactly.

jesse

And I’m glad—I’m glad that you took your fame and financial security and decided to launch a cabaret act.

jane

[Laughing.] Yeah, there you go. Yeah.

jesse

Like, it’s clear that the whole time you were just like, “If I can just get onstage and sing.”

jane

[Laughing.] Yeah, that’s exactly the reason for the whole trajectory. [Grandly.] Now, I will do a cabaret show!

jesse

[Giggles.] Was it precipitated by all the volume of singing that was going on on Glee or from being on Broadway? That was like one of the first things you did.

jane

Yeah, probably. It was probably the Broadway thing. I mean, and the Glee thing, too, probably started it. But I’ve always loved singing. I’ve done—been in sketch comedy shows since, you know, my late 20s and we always do a silly little musical number. And then we were usually quite musically good, but it was funny. And then of course, Annie as well, doing Annie on Broadway.

jesse

I don’t always enjoy watching musical theatre, particularly. I have to admit it.

jane

Mm-hm. [Playfully.] Mmm. One of those. Okay. Whatever.

jesse

I’m not against it! I’m not against it, I just don’t—it has to—it has to really work for it to work for me, as an audience member.

jane

I get you, yeah. Mm-hm.

jesse

But! If you said to me right now, “Here’s a part in a musical,” I’d be like, “Yeah.”

jane

[Laughing.] All over it.

jesse

I can’t sing. I can’t dance, but it is fun!

jane

It’s so much fun. Doing Annie was like I got bitten by the theatre bug again. I hadn’t been onstage in a very, very long time. And I was up there with all these people, and we all loved each other, and we all had little, you know, inside jokes and we’d look at each other and hahaha. And we all hated the children. [Jesse laughs.] And it was really fun. We didn’t hate the children; they were great kids. That’s kind of led directly to 54 Below, which is a cabaret space in New York, asking me if I wanted four nights to do my act—which I didn’t have. Most Broadway people have an act. So, I grabbed Kate Flannery, who was Meredith the drunk on The Office, and said, “Let’s do a show.” And it led to this thing—that record you just played!

jesse

Kate Flannery does have an act. Kate Flannery’s a great—

jane

Yes, the Lampshades. Mm-hm.

jesse

A great singer. [Jane emphatically agrees.] Sings with a comedy group called the Lampshades. When you agreed to have a cabaret act, was it a daunting prospect?

jane

Oh, yeah. It was like, “What—what am I doing? I don’t know how to do this.” And knew it was something I wanted to do. There was something stronger inside of me screaming “yes” than the pretty loud voice saying “nooooo”. So, I said yes and of course I called Kate right away. We’d been singing on and off together for a long time. And so, we knew—you know, she’s a legit singer. She’s legit. She’s a throwback.

jesse

Yeah, she can really blow, yeah.

jane

Yeah, and she’s a throwback. She can sing like the—you know, the ‘40s, ‘50s, and early ‘60s. Which this Christmas album is basically a retro album of that period and it’s one of my favorites, too. So, I brought Kate along and she [laughing]—and all—and then I hear people like cracking up as I’m singing this song and I look back and she is—the shenanigans. [Jesse chuckles.] Just—and so, thus was born kind of—kind of a heighten and explore of what was already our dynamic, which was kind of an Eve Arden, Kaye Ballard kind of thing where Eve Arden is the tall like disapproving one and Kaye Ballard’s the loud—you know—wacky, Italian. Even though Kate is Irish.

jesse

I mean, one of the things about singing onstage and singing in general is that it requires shamelessness in a way that even comedy doesn’t, necessarily. Like, you have to—

jane

Yes, I see what you mean. It’s very raw.

jesse

You can’t sing onstage without putting all of yourself into it. There’s no holding back when you’re singing.

jane

And if you are, they can tell. [Jesse agrees.] Anybody can tell. You can feel it. Yeah, you know, I remember I saw a picture of myself, and I was holding the mic and my eyes were closed and I was—my head was back, and I was like, [sucks in a breath] “Wow, you really think you’re a singer.” It’s really exposing. It’s almost like dancing in a way, too. It’s almost like you take all of your clothes off and you say, “Check this out.” [Chuckles.] It’s a nude kind of a thing.

jesse

Do you like Christmas music?

jane

I do. Yeah. I haven’t for a while, though, I will be perfectly honest.

jesse

You like took a break from liking it?

jane

Yeah. But as an adult. I used to love it, as a kid. I had this thing about wanting to get the Christmas spirit, when I was a kid. And I used to dim the lights and turn on the Christmas tree and turn on the music and sit there and wait for it to come. And then, you know, it wouldn’t come. And so, I kind of got turned off by it. And I think Christmas goes on far too long—says the woman who started pushing her album November 1st. [Chuckles.]

jesse

[Laughing.] I like—I’m still—I’m still impressed by this Christmas séance that you’re holding. [Jane laughs.] Like, it sounds like you’re like—you’re like Lenny Kravitz’s producer and you’re like trying to get the studio ready for Lenny. [Jane laughs and agrees.] Like, turn down the lights. Let’s burn some incense.

jane

I know. I was trying to get the Christmas spirit.

jesse

Put some scarves on the lamps.

jane

[Laughs.] Exactly. Yeah.

jesse

What did you think Christmas was supposed to be that you weren’t getting as a kid?

jane

This magical thing where you’re filled with joy. It’s what we chase when we have a beer. When I get my coffee in the morning, we’re chasing that thing. You know, that place of bliss.

jesse

You grew—you grew up in the Midwest, right?

jane

I did. Yeah, Chicago.

jesse

So, it was—it was like a snowy— [Jane affirms.] Like, Chicago is sort of a Christmas place to me.

jane

It is. No one does Christmas like Chicago. I’ve been saying that in all the interviews, lately. But it’s true.

jesse

It might just be—it might just be because I watched Home Alone a lot as a kid that I believe that, but—

jane

[Laughs.] It is. It’s a beautiful—the city really does it up. And I’m from the suburbs and we did it up, too.

jesse

What did you think Christmas could be? Like what was the thing that you imagined that you were trying to achieve?

jane

Oh, it’s—it’s the whole—it’s the thing when the Grinch’s heart gets bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger and then almost explodes. Or does it explode? I’m trying to remember. And it’s what happens to Ebenezer Scrooge. [With an aged English accent.] “Merry Christmas!” You know, it’s that thing where your heart just fills with joy and there’s nothing worse than December 26th, when all the lights are still up. It didn’t happen. The joy didn’t happen. And as an adult, I just didn’t even bother putting the stuff up. I was like, “Oh, this is crazy.” So, this is kind of my reentry, as a sane adult individual, into the beauty of this music and the beauty of what this season—which we should have, you know, 24/7.

jesse

We’ll finish up with Jane Lynch in just a minute. It’s Bullseye, from MaximumFun.org and NPR.

promo

Speaker: Support for NPR and the following message come from Better Help, offering online counseling. Better Help therapist, Haesue Jo, knows that lockdown has been hard on us as humans. Haesue Jo: We, as people, are hardwired to connect with others, which is why this whole time is so difficult. The connection that happens between people can be very powerful, and how healing it can be to have a healthy relationship with someone. Speaker: To get matched with a counselor within 48 hours and save 10%, go to BetterHelp.com/bullseye.

promo

[A restless crowd chatters indistinctly.] Music: Upbeat rock music. Jordan Crucchiola: You’re in the theatre. The lights go down. You’re about to get swept up by the characters and all their little details and interpersonal dramas. You look at them and think, “That person is so obviously in love with their best friend. Wait, am I in love with my best friend?! That character’s mom is so overbearing. Why doesn’t she stand up to her? Oh, good god, do I need to stand up to my own mother?!” We never know when we’ll see ourselves in a movie, but that search for recognition is exactly what we’re going to talk about on the podcast Feeling Seen, with me! Jordan Crucchiola. Each episode, we’ll bring in a guest to talk about the films that they see themselves in and also the ways that movies have fallen short. So, join me every Thursday for the Feeling Seen podcast, here on Maximum Fun or wherever you find your podcasts! [Music fades out.]

music

“Jingle Bells” from the album A Swingin’ Little Christmas by Jane Lynch. Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh Jingle bells… [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]

jesse

You’re listening to Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. My guest is actor and singer Jane Lynch. You know, you were—you were on the show, years and years ago—like, I don’t—something like six years ago or something like that. And at the time, you had just become both a famous person and a famous gay person. [Jane chuckles knowingly.] We talked about your coming out, which involved basically people noticing that you had never been in the closet. [They laugh and Jane confirms.] Essentially. And I’ve just been curious, like how do you feel about this—five years of being a Famous Gay Person, with capital letters at the beginning of each word. You know what I mean? [Jane agrees.] It’s interesting because I feel like your celebrity, in a way, was part of a real turning point in the way that public culture—

jane

I agree, yeah.

jesse

—addresses homosexuality—LGBTQ issues, generally. You were one of the first people to become a legit famous person who wasn’t required to have—

jane

The press conference? [Chuckles.]

jesse

Yeah. Exactly!

jane

Yeah, like you know, Ellen really took one for the team. You know, she—it became a big deal. America loved her and then found out she was gay. And so, she was—she was obliged to. I don’t know if she wanted—I know she didn’t—I mean, I don’t know this for a fact, but I can’t imagine she would’ve wanted to have that Ellen episode where, “I’m coming out!” The TV show. So, I was the beneficiary, for sure. ‘Cause I don’t—I don’t know that I would’ve had the courage. I had a lot of shame about my sexuality when I was younger. And if I thought that I was going to have to like say, “Yeah, I’m an actress, but I’m gay.” Oh, I—I would—that would’ve scared the hell out of me. So, you know, this path was kind of paved—people like Rosie that came through with a machete, and I just walked through the jungle unmolested. [Chuckles.]

jesse

Did—how much younger are we talking about did you have a lot of shame? I guess I’m wondering like—I guess I’m wondering if partly like the surprise that happened when you became like a public person rather than just a working entertainer—it was like, “Well. I gotta be the person I am, ‘cause there’s not another choice, now.” [Chuckles.]

jane

Yeah. Yeah, that was kind of it. And also, I felt safe. I felt safe in my own self about it, and I felt—you know, safe in the world. So, I wasn’t—I wasn’t concerned about hiding anything or, you know, standing up and—you know, having a press conference that probably no one would attend.

jesse

Let’s talk a little bit more about Christmas. Do you have fond Christmas memories or are all your Christmas memories about failing to achieve the state of Christmas that—?

jane

There are a lot of them about failing to achieve. Let’s see. As I got older, you know, when I was living as an adult in Chicago, and I would have to go back to—it just wasn’t anything. It was a non-event. You know, I’d have to go back to the suburbs to have—and it was—and I certainly didn’t decorate my house or anything like that. I still don’t. I leave that to my sister, who like creates a Christmas village in her home. [They chuckle.] So, yeah. I don’t—I don’t have that. But I must say, I enjoy it but just for those four or five days. And then, like I said, December 26th, it—I’m home and it’s over and it’s behind me. And I don’t wanna hear the music—and this is terrible, a person who just released a Christmas album. I don’t wanna hear it for more than like a week. [Jesse affirms.] But maybe now it’ll be different, that I love this album so much.

jesse

What was the composition of your family when you were a kid? Were your folks together? [Jane confirms.] Was your extended family around? [Jane confirms.] Like, was Christmas a time when everybody was there?

jane

Yes. I’ll give you some great memories. When I was in high school—I have an older sister, a younger brother, and we were all in high school at the same time and my parents loved to sing. My dad was a harmonizer, and my mom would do the melody and we loved Christmas carols and we used to have—for about four years there, we had an open house Christmas Eve party where all of my friends, my sister’s friends, and my brother’s—my brother had like two friends. He was a bit of a stoner. [They laugh.] Would come and—to the house, and my parents—all of my parent’s friends. Andrea Klimasch would play the piano. We had a piano at our house. And we would sing carols and we would drink and, oh, it was so much fun! My father’s family would come. My mother’s family would come, and it would be just a huge open house. Those things—those nights were a blast.

jesse

Well, Jane Lynch, thank you so much for—thank you so much for taking the time and coming on the show.

jane

My pleasure.

jesse

I just so love your work and it’s such a lovely album.

jane

Thank you. Oh, thank you. I appreciate it.

music

“Winter’s Never Cold (When You’re Around)” from the album A Swingin’ Little Christmas by Jane Lynch. The air is cold, it’s ten below The driveway’s buried under snow But winter’s never cold when you’re around [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

jesse

Jane Lynch. Her holiday record, which features Kate Flannery and Tim Davis, is called A Swingin’ Little Christmas. Here’s one more song. This is “Winter’s Never Cold (When You’re Around)”.

music

[Volume increases.] But winter’s never cold when you’re around No need to bother with my mittens when you’re near ‘Cause when I have you close, you’re all I need I’ll never freeze, no I don’t mind the chilly air Comes a blizzard, I won’t care! There’s a cozy cure that I have found Winter’s never cold when you’re around [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

jesse

That’s the end of another episode of Bullseye. Our show is created from the homes of me and the staff of Maximum Fun, in and around greater Los Angeles, California—where, not to brag, but my rangehood was delivered. Hasn’t been installed yet, but it was sitting on a boat in Long Beach for three months or something. So, uh, thanks, rangehood. I look forward to you clearing the smoke out of my kitchen. Our show is produced by speaking into microphones. Our senior producer is Kevin Ferguson. Our producer is Jesus Ambrosio. Production fellows at Maximum Fun are Richard Robey and Valerie Moffat. We get help from Casey O’Brien. Our interstitial music is by Dan Wally, also known as DJW. Our theme song is “Huddle Formation”, recorded by the group The Go! Team. Thanks to them and to their label, Memphis Industries, for sharing it with us. You can also keep up with our show on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. We post our interviews there as well. And I think that’s about it. Just remember: all great radio hosts have a signature signoff.

music

[Volume increases.] As long as I can hold you Winter’s never cold… [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue.]

promo

Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of MaximumFun.org and is distributed by NPR. [Music ends.]

About the show

Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

Bullseye has been featured in Time, The New York Times, GQ and McSweeney’s, which called it “the kind of show people listen to in a more perfect world.” Since April 2013, the show has been distributed by NPR.

If you would like to pitch a guest for Bullseye, please CLICK HERE. You can also follow Bullseye on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. For more about Bullseye and to see a list of stations that carry it, please click here.

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