Bill: There is another song on Southern Stories, 'Alfred the Hog', where you play a flute solo that knocks me out as
much as any electric guitar solo. At one point, it sounds like you are playing two flutes at the same time.
David: Thank you, thanks a lot. That instrument is actually an Irish penny-whistle, and yes, on part of the solo, I’m
playing two penny-whistles at the same time.
Bill: How did you learn to do that?
David: It just came naturally.
Bill: That figures.
David: The penny-whistle is a versatile instrument. Just as a violin can be used for either classical or bluegrass, the
penny-whistle can be used different ways. Audiences in Kenya enjoyed it when I went there for the World Council of
Churches and played African music in 1976. Dizzy Gillespie dug how I used the penny-whistle as a jazz instrument when
I played with him in Havana in 1977.
Bill: You composed the soundtrack for the original
version of The Manchurian Candidate in 1962. I read
that Frank Sinatra, the star of the movie, was very
pleased with the score you created for that movie. Did
you meet Sinatra?
David: I met him in New York a few years after making
the film. He said he liked the fact that I’m a jazz
musician as well as a classical composer, and he was
impressed that I write my own music, orchestrate every
note myself, and don’t use ghost writers.
Bill: Frank Sinatra, Jr. said that the Manchurian
Candidate score was an "ingenious combination of
polytonality and jazz." Can you explain what
David: Polytonal means using more than one harmonic
pattern, or two separate tonal bases at the same time.
Bill: Yeah, Google says, "Using more than one key or
tonality simultaneously," but I still don't quite
understand it. I play guitar and I thought you could only
play in one key at a time.
David: Well, for example, you can play a G7 chord and play a D flat against it.
Bill: No doubt, you can. I'll have to work it. Moving on, I have to ask you this,
because there's a debate going on among some friends of mine. You know
that famous black & white photo of Gregory Corso, Larry Rivers, Jack Kerouac,
you, and Allen Ginsberg, all sitting in the diner? Is that a spoon or a toothpick
you are chomping on?
David: I think it was a spoon, as I used to eat yogurt there, but I really have no
We didn't know that the picture was being taken and it certainly never occurred
to us that 48 years later, it would be on the cover of books, in articles,
museums, and so on.
We were all smiling and having a good time, laughing and enjoying each
others company, NOT a bunch of surly hating "Beatniks" as the Beats are
Bill: It looks like a fun group.
David: None of us had on the "costumes" that Beat people were supposed to
wear. There was no such thing as a "Beat movement." We were all a group of
friends hanging out. Especially Kerouac!
Bill: Who was the little kid in Pull My Daisy that played music with you?
David: The kid was Pablo Frank, Robert Frank's son. A great little guy. All this is in my book Offbeat: Collaborating With
Bill: Did you ever meet William S. Burroughs?
David: Yes, many times.
Bill: I wondered why Burroughs was not in Pull My Daisy.
David: He was not what you would call a gregarious, fun guy. He was fun to listen to when he was talking but he was a
very private person.
Bill: I saw you on MySpace recently. What are your thoughts on the internet?
David: My kids got me onto MySpace. Thanks to the internet, the generation of my kids have access for the first time in
history to all that magnificent music from all around the world as well as the United States. A gifted army of people, who
never get played on the radio and whose CDs you can never buy in record stores, now have a level playing field.
You know, the huge record companies are merging in a last desperate attempt to control the listening habits of people all
over the world. But with the web and new means of broadcasting, we are now all pardoned from the solitary confinement
of the penitentiary of the globalized entertainment industry. My own kids actually draw audiences for their music on the
internet without being part of the music industry. Conversely, a lot of the more obscure stuff I've done downloaded. Right
now, you can go to YouTube and find Pull My Daisy with Italian subtitles!
As artists, we want to share what we do with others. Of course, we have to pay our rent, buy clothes, take our kids to the
dentist, so we have to pay bills. That doesn't mean you have to ruin your art by trying to become a millionaire in two years.
Now, in baseball, a batter won't run out an infield grounder. A basketball player won't make an assist and only want to
score points. These players have been forced, by bad advice, to represent what is wrong in their world rather than what's
That's why I like playing Farm Aid. Willie Nelson and everyone else at Farm Aid share certain traits: Love of music, caring
about other people, inspiring others, and a genuine love and respect for the audience. As a result, all of them are fun to
Bill: Man, you really do play all kinds of music with all kinds of people.
David: Anybody can learn to play any style on whatever instrument they play. You just need to be patient, humble
yourself to be with those who know more, and learn the basics. It's a lifetime job. It's like learning different dialects. Second
generation Cubans, for example, have a different kind of Cuban accent than their parents. In the same way, music
changes from generation to generation.
Bill: Do you ever compose in your head without score paper?
David: Oh, yeah. Sure.
Bill: Do you ever think something will sound good until you hear it played, and then decide you need to change it?
David: Not really. By the time I get it on paper, it's pretty much right as far as the combination of notes. I may decide to
change the tempo or things of balance, like soft or loud, to make it work the best.
Bill: Do you ever see musical sounds as geometric shapes?
David: No, I just hear it very clearly.