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Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!
Fri February 22, 2013
Singer-Songwriter Bonnie Raitt Plays Not My Job
Originally published on Sat February 23, 2013 11:28 am
This segment was originally broadcast on Sept. 6, 2012.
Back in the early 1970s, a young woman at Radcliffe College faced a choice: Stay in school and get her degree, or drop out and become a legendary blues singer and guitarist. It's pretty clear Bonnie Raitt made the right choice.
We've invited Raitt to play a game called, "I'm sorry, did you say BONNIE Raitt?" Bonnie Raitt is a multiple award-winning, legendary musician. Change one little letter in her name and you get Donnie Raitt, who worked at the Des Moines, Iowa, Metro Waste Authority for 31 years. (It's amazing what you find sometimes just by mistyping your search terms into Google.) We'll ask Bonnie Raitt three questions about Donnie Raitt.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Bonnie Raitt is one of those very rare women in music. She's had a long and acclaimed career. She's lasted decades, and she's never had to appear with a skimpy dress and a python draped around her neck.
CARL KASELL: At least not in public.
SAGAL: The great blues woman appeared on our show last year, along with Tom Bodett, Paula Poundstone and Jessi Klein, as well as guest scorekeeper Bill Kurtis. And we asked her what it was like being on the road after so many years.
BONNIE RAITT: It's really fun. It's as close to running away with the circus as you can get. And, you know, you don't have to do as many chores as you do when you're at home.
SAGAL: That's true.
SAGAL: Has the lifestyle on tour changed? Has the quality of groupies improved, for example?
RAITT: Oh, that's so funny.
RAITT: You know, I'll tell you what's changed is the internet has made maintaining those relationships at home much more fun and compassionate because, you know, you can do Skype calls. It's cheaper. You can be in whatever clothes or no clothes you want.
RAITT: It makes those calls a lot more - those calls to home a lot more fun. And that's a big change, you know, from the first.
RAITT: It's fun partying when you're young but as you get older, it takes its toll.
SAGAL: So, in the 70s, partying with groupies, now, naked skyping.
SAGAL: And you feel this is an improvement.
RAITT: Yes, with groupies.
SAGAL: With groupies, of course.
RAITT: The ones you're monogamous with.
SAGAL: Yeah, I understand. We were really curious and interested in your upbringing because you became - some people say you're the greatest female blues guitarist ever. But you did not grow up in that environment. You grew up a Quaker of all things. Is that right?
RAITT: Well, yeah, but that brought me into the counterculture. Early on, I went to the summer camps when my dad would be touring in his Broadway shows.
SAGAL: I should say that your father, of course, for those who don't know, was the amazing and immortal John Raitt, who created...
RAITT: Oh, thank you very much. He's the star of "Oklahoma" and "Carousel." But, you know, I'm a kid of my times and the folk music craze was taking over when I was 9 or 10, and Joan Baez was on the cover of Time magazine and Peter, Paul and Mary, and Bob Dylan.
They all - you know, I was ripe as a pre-teen for idolizing my counselors at camp, all of whom were exactly imitating every folkie in Greenwich Village. And I was trying so hard to get that sallow hollow-cheek look and it just wasn't working on my little round freckled face.
RAITT: So, yeah, I mean I came in through it through folk music. It was just a hobby, never expected to do it. You know, I was a cheap opening act. I didn't need a band. I could play - opened for James Taylor. I did a little ballads; I did a little modern stuff.
And I thought it was a cool way to make some extra money during college. But the last thing I was expecting was to be offered a record deal at 20. I told the college people I'd be back in a year and I guess that didn't work out.
SAGAL: You know, I was just there. They're still hurt.
RAITT: You know they gave me the Harvard Arts Medal a few years ago, even though I only went two years. It was great.
PAULA POUNDSTONE: Wow.
SAGAL: It is generally true that the coolest people dropped out.
SAGAL: You, Peter Seger, Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, Mark Zuckerberg. That's the thing to do.
RAITT: There you go. I'm going to go do it again. They said I could come back and audit classes and finish whenever this wasn't working out.
SAGAL: You see. When you were going back and forth from Radcliffe to Harvard to blues clubs, was that weird to make the transition? Did you have to stop outside before you went into the blues club and muss up your hair?
RAITT: No, you know we all had that soulful beatnik kind of long hair thing going on in the late 60s and early 70s. And that end of the business that's more rootsy in America - they call it Americana music.
RAITT: We're the kind of artists that get a chance to age gracefully in this business. We don't sell as many records but here I am at 62, still with a career. And if I was dancing around in my underwear when I was in my 20s, I don't know if it'd still be doing that.
POUNDSTONE: Boy, apparently I made the right choice as well.
RAITT: Paula, we have found...
SAGAL: I know. If you'll forgive me, thinking about these young singers, particularly these female singers and performers are so carefully packaged these days. And I'm wondering when you started out, when you were signed to that record deal, did the record company execs say OK, we want you to do this, we want you to dress like this?
RAITT: Oh, I told them - well, first of all, Warner Brothers was a small label. They had Randy Newman and Ry Cooder and they said, fine, you know, we'll pay for your records and the other kind of non-commercial artists we have like Randy and Ry, we'll pay for them with Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. And that was the philosophy was the big money makers would pay for the more artsy projects.
But those days of not paying attention to how your image - with all the social media I think - I just want to say on behalf of Lady Gaga and Taylor, and, you know, even Norah Jones doing so well, and Adele, they're incredibly poised and mature in the way that they're approaching their career.
I'm really, really impressed with this crop of - especially with the crop of women singers I just mentioned, but there's a lot of guys. Even if they're being managed, they seem to be very self-aware. There's a lot more sophistication.
TOM BODETT: If I can back up, Bonnie. You said that Black Sabbath and Deep Purple helped basically pay for Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor. So we can thank "Smoke on the Water," for like "Love me like a Man," is that what you're saying?
BODETT: Oh man.
RAITT: You know, Katy Perry helps pay of all those Americana acts that don't shave, men and women.
SAGAL: Is that a genre, the non-shaving music?
RAITT: Yeah, I think hairiness is making a big comeback.
SAGAL: Oh, I like to listen to adult hairy contemporary. You know that's my taste.
RAITT: That is so great.
SAGAL: Well, Bonnie Raitt, we are delighted to have you with us. We've asked you here to play a game that this time we're calling?
BILL KURTIS: I'm sorry, did you say Bonnie Raitt?
SAGAL: You, Bonnie Raitt, are a multiple award winning legendary musician. Change one little letter and you get Donnie Raitt, who worked at the Des Moines Iowa Metro Waste Authority for many years.
RAITT: Oh my god.
SAGAL: It's amazing.
RAITT: I should have looked him up. We were just close to there.
SAGAL: I know. It's amazing what you will find when you do a typo when you Google search.
SAGAL: So we actually called up the Des Moines Iowa Metro Waste Authority and found out a little bit about Donnie Raitt, and we're going to as you, Bonnie Raitt, about him, Donnie Raitt.
RAITT: That is so fantastic.
RAITT: I was trying to figure out what you might ask me.
SAGAL: That's what we're going to do. So, if you get two right you win a prize for one of our listeners. Bill Kurtis, who is Bonnie Raitt playing for?
KURTIS: Peter Jacoby from Woodbury, Connecticut.
SAGAL: Here we go, first question. Donnie Raitt worked for the Metro Waste Authority for 31 years, a long and fulfilling career. What's the MWA's stated policy on disposing of old medication? It is A: Quote, "mix with items such as kitty litter or coffee grounds and double bag them"? B: Quote, "dispose of them immediately on their expiration date, unless you have Vicodin, which, trust us, is always fun"?
SAGAL: Or C: Quote, "pour them out into a big bowl and create a fun party grab-bag game"?
RAITT: Oh, I love that third one. But my 20s are over, so I'm going with number one.
SAGAL: The kitty litter. Yes, you're right, yes, kitty litter.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
RAITT: And what if you don't have a cat or you don't drink coffee?
SAGAL: Well, buy a cat who drinks coffee.
SAGAL: The next question, Donnie Raitt retired from the Metro Waste Authority in 2008. Until then, what was his specialty? A: Waste tasting?
SAGAL: B: Shaming of people who don't recycle? Or C: Composting?
RAITT: Oh boy, I'd have to say the third one.
SAGAL: The composting. You would be right, yes.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: He was the working foreman.
SAGAL: Donnie Raitt was, at the composting center.
RAITT: I'm a big composter. I'm so glad to hear somebody in my family, there's not that many Raitts around. I'm very proud. Maybe I'll call him up.
SAGAL: You should.
RAITT: We'll talk about kitty litter and composting, coffee grounds.
BODETT: Skype him, you know.
SAGAL: It could be after 31 years of working in the waste that could be the biggest thrill of his life. Last question...
RAITT: Exactly, especially if I'm wearing what I'm wearing - well almost wearing right now.
JESSI KLEIN: Bonnie.
BODETT: You tease.
SAGAL: Last question. Donnie Raitt used to joke with his coworkers that he was really what? A: A killer robot from the future? B: Elvis? Or C: Bonnie Raitt's cousin?
RAITT: Oh, I think C, but I might be sounding too puffed up.
SAGAL: No, it is in fact true.
POUNDSTONE: All right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: That he, being one letter away from you, used to claim that he was your...
RAITT: I bet you we have DNA strands that are connected. There's not that many Raitts.
SAGAL: It's possible. It's possible. But he apparently is not related to you. By the way, we were told - we wanted to talk to Donnie, but were told he doesn't use the phone much.
RAITT: Oh boy.
SAGAL: So we talked to his former colleagues about him.
SAGAL: By the way, but we did find out from them that he is a fan. So there you are.
RAITT: Oh, I'm so glad that you told me about him. That's fantastic.
SAGAL: Isn't it exciting? Bill, how did Bonnie Raitt do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Bonnie's perfect. Three in a row.
POUNDSTONE: All right.
RAITT: You are so sweet.
KURTIS: And Peter Jacoby will love you for it.
RAITT: I love you, Bill.
SAGAL: Bonnie Raitt's newest album is "Slipstream." It's terrific. Pick it up now. Bonnie Raitt, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.