PAUL LESLIE can consider himself a very lucky man: he recently celebrated 10 years of pursuing his dream, doing interviews with some of the most fascinating people in the world. Musicians, actors and other kinds of artists, as well as „ordinary” people with unordinary life stories have all joined Paul in profound, unique interviews. Soon you will be able to listen to all of them online, when thepaulleslie.com is relaunched. Until then, we invited Paul to share with us his top 5 favorite interviews.
Paul Leslie, host of The Paul Leslie Hour, exclusively for LaRevista.ro
On the 13th of October I celebrated 10 years of interviewing people. Through that time I have had a chance to speak with people from every walk of life literally from all over the world. The people who have taken a moment to speak to me range in age from a virtuoso of the violin named Maggie Estes who was still in her teens, to Walter Breuning, a man just shy of 114 who at the time was the oldest man on earth. When I reflect on all of these fascinating people, ranging from Woody Allen, Maya Angelou, Don McLean, Nana Mouskoui, David Lee Roth, Willie Nelson and Larry King, it is very difficult to narrow it down to five favorite conversations, but that is what I am going to attempt to do. Some of these people you may know, and some you may not, but it is my prayer that these interviews may touch people as much as they did me.
Favorites are tough. Whether you’re talking about a favorite song or a favorite dessert, the question usually doesn’t qualify the mood, the company, what season it is, etc. However, if you ask me who my favorite actor is, there is not much hesitation. Gene Wilder is someone I knew from an early age as “Willy Wonka” and as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in “Young Frankenstein.” His performances are so good that I have noticed people have a tendency to reenact various scenes from his films. One of the truly great things about being me is that most of the people I have admired most, I have had a chance to speak with and truly gain an understanding of who they are.
My love for the Gene Wilder of movie fame expanded into my love for Gene Wilder the man after Kyle Prater, one of my dearest and most beloved friends, suggested I read Wilder’s memoir Kiss Me Like a Stranger. Not only did I come to appreciate Gene Wilder the writer, but I sensed through his choice of words that he is a very loving man. Certain people go through life with a certain goal. They want to affect the heart with their art, and in the bigger picture – the world. Gene Wilder today is an author and it was his books that gave me the courage to reach out to him. I was somewhat surprised with how quickly he responded. His response left me wondering whether or not he would agree to speak. I followed up and tried to convey how much I wanted to talk to him. He responded and let me know our conversation was “possible.”
When we eventually got to speak, his voice seemed to come from a place of complete benevolence. I had sent Mr. Wilder a list of questions I had planned to ask. He told me he did not look at them because he liked to go in fresh. As he talked, he thought very carefully about every word. He is everything I look for in an interviewee – a love for one another, an ability to express the creative process in which you work, and a feeling that the work we do has the ability to change someone else. What must it be like to enrich the lives of so many that for the most part you will never meet? Without speaking for Gene Wilder, I believe he knows what a blessing that is. He cherishes it. I realized through Gene Wilder that to be an artist, you are giving a lot of yourself to people you do not know. In a sense, the artist’s creations belong to everyone who identifies with them.
My mother has a real love for music. I may not be a typical Barry Manilow fan, but thanks largely to my mom, my love for the man’s vast and expansive discography is bountiful. I have a great love for the great American Songbook – those songs from the early part of the last century that were usually written by a gifted composer writing with a gifted lyricist to craft songs of the highest quality musically and lyrically. In keeping with this tradition, Manilow typically composes the music while a lyricist writes the words. The lyricist Manilow has collaborated with the most, a man named Marty Panzer would enter my life, and in many ways change it. The songs Panzer wrote were in my blood. I knew his Manilow co-writes: “It’s a Miracle,” “This One’s for You,” and “Even Now,” just to name a few. My mother was also fond of Kenny Rogers and I knew “Through the Years,” which he wrotes with Steve Dorff, all too well.
Marty Panzer and I talked for a very long time. His energy was infectious and his passion for songs seemed to only match his passion for life. As he talked and told the story of how he got to be a successful songwriter, I felt we were really connecting. I wondered if those who heard it when it would be broadcast would connect with Panzer too. I had no idea of what would happen next. Marty Panzer became the guest I’ve received more correspondence over to date. Literally hundreds of people have written in and I believe many more will into the future. As I mentioned, Marty has passion, but I think one of the things he spoke about resonated with so many of us out there… being about things that last. We live in a disposable culture. Songs seem to be here today – gone later today. Marty Panzer has never been one to write songs with a shelf life. His lyrics are heard again and again because they remind us of the people in our lives who will always be there. Marty Panzer made me think about all of the songwriters out there who write the words and music that find a home in our hearts. Many of them never get a chance to tell their story. I wanted to be the guy to do it. There are songs so many people know and love who are written by people we don’t necessarily know. To me, those people are equal to the stars who sing them. I wanted to help those people tell their stories.
Marty encouraged me very strongly in my pursuit. He vowed one day we would meet, and last year we finally did. When he recognized either my voice or face, he unintentionally knocked a guy’s coffee cup out of his hand as he went to hug me. Whenever I hear one of Panzer’s songs on the radio or performed live, I think about how special the man is who wrote them and how fortunate I was to have been able to help share his light, in some way, with the world. Anyone who speaks to Marty Panzer will never forget the man behind the songs.
When one of my sisters was getting married, she asked I suggest the song for her to dance with my father to. I didn’t hesitate… “Through the Years.” Sadly, I didn’t get to go to her wedding, but I am told there was not a dry eye in the place while that song played.
I’m a guy who is extremely affected by art – books, movies, plays, and even paintings. However, to me the greatest and most intoxicating art is music. Songwriters in many senses are the gatekeepers to some of the deepest thoughts and feelings we have. It is for this reason I want to get the story of so many great songwriters out there. It was Marty Panzer who helped me see how worthwhile and to use his word, “important” sharing those stories really is.
Captain Tony Tarracino
Down in the Southernmost point in America, and I’m talking about Key West, Florida, I first encountered a man named Tony Tarracino. Captain Tony passed away in 2008 at the ripe age of 92. He was very young at heart. Most people called him Captain Tony. Tony did a lot of things with his life. He was a saloonkeeper, boat captain, gambler and former mayor of Key West. If you’ve ever been to Key West, you know it is a place unlike any other on earth. It’s beautiful and the people there are as free-spirited as can be. One of the most important things Captain Tony did was tell stories. It was his abilities as a storyteller and in making everyone who encountered him to feel good that made him the most beloved resident of Key West.
The first time I met Captain Tony was in his lawyer’s office – a very loveable man named Al Kelley. Al told me that Tony may or may not want to do an interview because so much of his life is his stories. He may require compensation. When Captain Tony entered the room, I swear there was a certain “presence.” He is commonly called “the legendary Captain Tony,” and I could see why. My old friend Frank Reddy and I both stood up as he walked in. He was warm and got us laughing very early on. When we got down to brass tax, he asked how much I was going to pay him for his story. I told him I really couldn’t pay. He said that if there was going to be no compensation, that we should “forget it.” I’ll admit it. I was let down. I knew his story would be a great one to record, but I looked in his eyes and I saw nothing, but kindness. He smiled at me. He said, “You want a story. I’ll give you the best story you’ve ever gotten.” I was a bit confused, but then I became very happy knowing I was going to get his story.
We made arrangements to do the interview the next time I was in Key West. As it turns out, it was about a year later. I wondered why he had tried to get me to pay for the interview. Was he trying to trick me? I can respect that, but I wondered if in large part it was because he was testing me. He was seeing what kind of person I was.
We did the interview at Al Kelley’s law office and by then Captain Tony was 88 years old. With me was Jeff Pike and Koney Ferrell who engineered the sound recording and set up the microphones. My dearly departed friend Zach Saunders was with us also. Zach set down a digital recorder of his own because he wanted a copy for himself.
Captain Tony told us a lot of great exciting stories, he made us laugh hysterically. He told us to respect the women, because that’s where the babies come from. He knew something about that; he had 13 children, some of whom I still stay in touch with. The entire room was so enthralled in his story. We were entertained, touched and enjoying his presence. I asked him to share with the world what his outlook was. He recited some of the lyrics to the song “Try a Little Tenderness,”which was recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby to Percy Sledge and Otis Redding. He told us he tried to apply that with everyone. It may sound like a cliché, but everyone who was in that room was a different person than the one who walked in.
I would see Captain Tony hanging out at Captain Tony’s Saloon. It would always take him a minute, but he would remember me and ask “Where’s the crew?” and inevitably say or do something to make me laugh. Captain Tony loved the girls and although he liked to joke around a lot and was a self-professed “dirty old man,” I believe he loved women in altruistic ways too. Nonetheless, I liked watching him in action. I remember on one occasion he told this woman she had very beautiful hair. She was very flattered and then he added that it it would be even more beautiful laying on his pillow. Only Captain Tony could get away with something like that. A few times Captain Tony told me he would like to do an interview with me only about women. I am sad to say it never became a reality, but everyone who met him knows how great that would have been.
I was on my way down to Key West, Florida one fall and had received a phone call from Jeff Pike that Captain Tony had died. It was a very sad day for the entire Island and many around the country. I thought about him and the few moments we had spent together. It was some time later that Jeff performed a medley of two songs in Tony’s memory. The performance and my memories of Tony caused my eyes to tear up a little and then I recalled four little words Tony had said to me – “Make every heartbeat count.” I dried my eye and smiled.
Captain Tony was unlike any person I have ever met. Now that he is gone, it helps me understand how important it is to have someone preserve our stories. For a one in a million man like Tony Tarracino, we can save his voice for generations. It is my hope and prayer that someone, someday somewhere will hear the conversation that took place on that day. If they get a fraction of the inspiration my friends and I got, then it would have all been worth it. We do it for the stories we can tell…
The thing that was a constant in all of the radio programs I hosted was the ending. As a somewhat sentimental guy, I decided that I would always send everyone on their way with some meaningful words and a slow song. Although I love all kinds of songs, it’s always the ballads that get me. When it’s a slow dance, it’s meaningful.
I felt like I wanted to make it a tradition to play something perhaps a little sad, or maybe romantic or wistful as the last song to “send people on their way.” At the end of the very first radio show, I ended with “Over the Rainbow” as recorded by Michael McCloud, who is a very gifted singer-songwriter in Key West, Florida. The lyrics written by E. Y. Harburg and the melody composed by Harold Arlen form the verified most recognizable song on earth. The show was broadcast first on October 13, 2003 and I listened in and realized how much I loved that song. To me, it is a song for everyone. My interviews are about what we all have in common. Every year on the anniversary of the show, I play a different version of “Over the Rainbow.”
Last year, I played a version by Nana Mouskouri. Ironically and perhaps symbolically, Nana Mouskouri was born on October 13th. I became exposed to her by way of a very gifted composer named Ralph MacDonald, who is no longer with us. Mr. MacDonald wrote songs like “Just the Two of Us” and “Where is the Love?” among others and played on countless albums. I asked him about the favorite albums he played congas on, and he told me about the album “An Evening with Belafonte / Mouskouri.” As a big Belafonte buff, I became very interested and found a copy on vinyl record. What beautiful singing! From there I learned that Nana Mouskouri had recorded songs not only in her native Greek, but also English, French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and more. I had a chance to listen to her many recordings and believed her to be one of the greatest female vocalists in the world.
When I heard her version of “Over the Rainbow,” I knew I had to interview this woman, but getting in contact with a woman who has been called the biggest selling female recording artist in the entire world, who has sold between 200-250 million copies of her albums is not easy. I made a lot of attempts and got a lot of letters sent back marked “return to sender.” I’m a persistent guy and finally I was successful.
It was interesting that asking Nana Mouskouri about “Over the Rainbow” got her to discuss communication. She explained that her singing on stage was how she expressed herself, and that what many people are missing in this world is an opportunity to express themselves. You can make a cake, cook, write, paint, garden, or design clothing.
The interview took place at a time when I was probing deeper into who I was and who I wanted to be. More than anything I want to be a good communicator, whether expressing myself or serving as a conduit so others may express themselves. The late existential psychologist Rollo May said, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” I suppose that was what I wanted – to form a small community of people who are interested in communicating about the creative process. Sort of like LaRevista is doing with the Romanian language, I hope to do with the English language. I want to interview more and more international musicians. Nana Mouskouri shows us that languages and national borders are only an obstacle. What a thrill and honor to communicate with someone who has communicated with millions all over the world and for decades.
Someone who influenced me a lot as an interviewer is Elliot Mintz. He hosted “The Lost Lennon Tapes,” a show which featured rare recordings of the late, great John Lennon as well as many radio and television programs throughout the years.
Elliot lives in Southern California and we corresponded for years before finally asking him if I could interview him. I was a little nervous to ask, but he said “of course.” He was always someone who seemed like a man of and for the public and I didn’t know how open of a guy he was until we met. There is never an obstacle between Elliot Mintz and someone who really wants to communicate. That’s not what Elliot Mintz is about. He’s about communicating with people, has interviewed thousands, and if you ever hear one of his interviews – he is always listening VERY carefully to the person he spoke with. Furthermore, he was not afraid to ask atypical questions. There are not many people out there who have communicated with so many people who continue to make an effect on the world. Elliot Mintz has interviewed everyone from John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Salvador Dalí, Jack Nicholson and you could go on and on.
It was in early 2010 that I flew out by myself from Atlanta to Los Angeles. I got there and was very enamored with this place called California. I drove around in my rental car and knew the time would come where I would speak with Elliot Mintz in his home. Meanwhile, I could not get in touch with the person who had arranged for my lodging accommodations. Oh well, it would all work out in the end, right?
At last the time arrived when I would meet one of my biggest influences. I drove to his home and he greeted me dressed almost entirely in red. For some reason, I felt I was supposed to wear all white the first time I would meet him. I cannot tell you why, but I did. Elliot is a man who appreciates wine and so he asked me what I would like to drink while we had our interview. I picked a red and he drank his usual, which is chardonnay. I pointed out during our interview how it was kind of funny that he was dressed all in red and was drinking a white wine and I was dressed all in white and was drinking a red wine.
Elliot told me the story of his life and it was the kind of story that almost seemed made up. I had a lot of questions I didn’t ask because I hoped and continue to hope there would be a next time. After the interview was completed we talked for a long time and asked one another a lot of questions and frankly I had drunk a lot of wine. I never heard from the person who had arranged for a place for me to sleep so it’s not like I really had a place to go, so why not talk? Elliot left me in his kitchen and disappeared for a long period of time. He left me with a very special video he had taped which I am sure everyone will be seeing very soon. It was great.
I didn’t want to tell him I did not have a place to sleep. As our conversation died down, I started to say my farewell. After making sure I was okay to drive I patted his shoulder, but wanted to hug him. He had meant a lot to me and had given me so much great advice. He told me we would see each other, adding “in person” many times in the years to come. It’s taken me two years, but now I realize Elliot Mintz knew something I did not. That’s all I can say about that.
He had paid me a great compliment at the conclusion of our interview, telling me my communication skills were a divine gift. I’m a guy with an interviewing style that doesn’t necessarily fit into today’s radio where interviews can be about increasingly superficial topics. As I drove off in my rental car I reeled with excitement from all of the stories he had told me. So many people, from those in show business to the paparazzi had told me that Elliot Mintz was one of the truly great people of “Hollywood”. Now I had met him.
I had no place to go and went to an all-night breakfast place. As I dined and drank coffee I didn’t mind realizing I was going to be sleeping in my car and picked the California city of Rancho Cucamonga to do so. It would not be the first time I had slept in an unusual place in the name of a story, but that’s a tale for another time.
On the last full day in California I made a second trip to the Getty Center. I spent hours and hours in that place and was deeply affected by so much of the art, photographs, sculptures and artifacts. In particular, I stared endlessly at a statue of a blind man who was carrying a wounded man. I became very emotional and thought about what it is inside of us that makes us want to share what we have seen, lived or imagined. It made me think of Elliot Mintz and how I had traveled all the way to California, not only to get his story, but also in a way to add to the memories I would have in my own life. Perhaps this is a simple thought, but it had never occurred to me until then. I don’t consider myself a very intelligent man, just inquisitive. Animals, fish and fowl do not know what it is to have a story. The story does not matter to them, but it matters to us. Novels, films, poems, paintings, two dancers in the midst of a tango, singing, a jazz band playing an instrumental song – these are all stories. These are what make us human. It may seem simple, but it took me going to California to understand it.
What do you give a man who has influenced you and shared so much knowledge? Jeff Pike is my longtime radio engineer, music expert and a dear friend. Jeff knew who Elliot Mintz was back when I was a child – long before I had heard Elliot’s name. Together we worked on using the interview I recorded with Elliot Mintz in a 4-part radio special of one-hour each. I heard from people who tuned into each episode. I mailed the radio specials on CD and as it turned out Elliot received them on his birthday, which thrilled me a lot. I wanted him to understand how much people, myself included appreciated him.
Elliot Mintz called me and told me how much he enjoyed the music used in his specials and he expressed a great deal of belief in my future as a communicator. Although I was confident before, Elliot encouraged me so much more. I know who I am and I know what my purpose is. To put it simply, I help people tell their story. I consider it a calling and call me crazy, but I think it is the highest calling there is. After all, what I do is capture the human experience.
I’m glad to be here and for anyone who has sat down with me and shared all of your thoughts and the details of how you got to be where you are, and for those who have listened to one interview or all of them – I’ve got nothing, but love.
I have to thank Corina Stoica for asking me who my five favorite interviews have been. It was fun to think about and it made me feel very fortunate to have these experiences. Hopefully my mind remains healthy for my entire life, because these are experiences I’d love to remember until my time on this earth is at an end.Semnat de Corina Stoica