As you may have heard, Questlove has a memoir out. In such, he’s been going around doing publicity for the book — he was on the Daily Show on Tuesday night — and earlier this week he was Terry Gross’ guest on NPR’s Fresh Air.
I downloaded the Fresh Air podcast and listened to the full interview last night while on a long walk, and while the whole thing is worth investing 45 minutes of your life to listen to — seriously, dude is just flat-out interesting — I most enjoyed Questlove discussing his borderline unhealthy obsession with Soul Train.
I suppose part of this is because I’m also someone a bit obsessed with Soul Train — I grew up watching it every Saturday morning and in recent years I’ve spent many idle hours digging around on YouTube for old clips. I think future cultural anthropologists will learn a lot from the show, as it’s a time capsule that expresses so much about our culture in the latter years of the 20th century.
Still, I don’t hold a candle to Questlove (nor does anyone, I imagine), who for years has traveled with a bag that contains every episode of Soul Train ever made on a collection of drives. As he put it on Fresh Air, he’s a “walking Soul Train Smithsonian” with “encyclopedic knowledge” of the show and he’s using that knowledge to make a Soul Train coffee table book that will be published in October, a labor of love Questlove told Gross was his “dream project.”
Here’s what he said on Fresh Air about how his obsession took root…
My favorite, my all time favorite part of “Soul Train” is, without a doubt, the first 60 seconds. People ask like what are you looking for? And well, let’s establish, first of all, “Soul Train” was the only show that my parents – was one of the few shows that my parents – allowed me to watch when I was a kid. I could watch music programs and I could watch PBS. But, you know, I wasn’t big on sitcoms and cartoons and those things. So “Soul Train” starts, always starts with a 30 second animation of a train dancing in outer space behind the shape of the earth. And then at the 10 second mark, Joe Cobb, a deejay from Chicago, yells at the highest volume – the soul train. I don’t have my voice now, but most people know that iconic scream.
So there’s already like a scary element that attracts you. Like, you’re attracted to things that are frightening. People go see horror films, people riding roller coasters. I watched the first 30 seconds of “Soul Train.”
I love the “Soul Train” line. The fashion was cool. Everything is great. But for me, the animation was great. Joe Cobb yelling, “Soul Train” was awesome. But this 30 seconds that Sid McCoy has to announce who the guest stars are, and them showing that five second action shot of the guest on the show today – that to me was the highlight of my life.
In case you don’t remember it, here’s the intro to the show…
Questlove also talked about meeting Soul Train host Don Cornelius — specifically how Cornelius was kind of a dick to him.
…when I did “Soul Train,” I’ll probably say that was probably one of the experiences that like told me like oh, OK, everything that glitters isn’t golden. The grass is always greener on the other side. Like, you know, it was nice but it wasn’t what it was in my dreams. Like Don Cornelius’ first words to me was like, you can’t stand there, son…Go move over there, you know. And I’m like dude, I’m a walking “Soul Train” Smithsonian. Like, I’m the future of your show.
You can listen to the interview in its entirety here.
(BTW, if you’re in New Orleans, Questlove is DJing at Tipitina’s tonight.)