Julia Gets Wise with Darlene Love
This week on Wiser Than Me, Julia is joined by 81-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer Darlene Love. From her early days singing gospel music in her father’s church to backing up icons like Elvis Presley to finally going solo at age 40, Darlene is a case study in never giving up on your dreams. She tells Julia about raising her sons while building her career, how to balance being strong and kind, and what motivates her to give her best performances. And Julia shares a story with her mom Judith about getting the wrong kind of laugh on the set of Hannah and Her Sisters.
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Darlene Love, Judith Bowles, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 00:00
I love singing. I took singing lessons, voice lessons, all through middle and upper school. I was in the Glee Club. I was a really good mezzo soprano. And I always love singing in a group I still do. When I was pretty little junior high, I think we had a big voice recital with a sizable audience, you know, and I was meant to sing two songs, two solos in the recital. The first one was one of those awful, Victorian parlor songs called bendemeer stream. I had spent many months rehearsing it. And on opening night, I got on stage and I started to sing. […] and the next line goes, […]. But I never got to that second line, okay, because my mind went totally blank. And I couldn’t remember anything. So I just kept repeating that line. There’s a bower of roses on bendemeer stream, there’s a bower of roses by bendemeer stream, over and over for the rest of the song. I am telling you, it was so awful. I’m making myself sick telling the story. It was the first time I’d ever experienced anything like that a real truly botched performance. And I mean, I’d love to perform, but I just froze, man, it was devastating. But here’s the deal. Say I still had to sing my other song, which was far from the home I love from Fiddler on the Roof. And I’m going to tell you something. It was the most magnificent performance I have ever given. Because I was so upset about fucking up bendemeer stream. I was bawling the entire time. I was singing my second song far from the home I love how can I hope to make you understand why I do what I do. And I’m weeping and I’m weeping. I’m far from the home I love and tears are just like running down my cheeks. I could barely get words out. But the tune was coming. And I mean, I’m telling you, everybody was cheering. They think I’m a musical theater genius who can on command summon the emotions needed for Fiddler on the Roof. So that’s what happens to me singing in front of people, I go blank. I don’t get it. Okay, I’d love singing. I love music. I have a pretty decent voice. I really do. But this has happened to me now a number of times, only in front of people, okay, I’m fine in a studio or in a group. But when there are a lot of people, God damn it. So I work with the NRDC, which is the Natural Resources Defense Council. And recently there was this big NRDC event. And Carole King was performing an I was hosting or something. And Carole King had the idea that I should come out with jewel, actually. And we would all sing a couple of stances of this land is your land together. Okay, so I’m standing offstage, I’m holding the microphone ready to come out and sing with the glorious Carole King, which is a dream come true, of course. And right before I went out, I got so frightened. I suddenly developed a fever, easily 102. And I remember thinking, wow, oh, my God, I have a proper fever. You know, I’m sweating. I’m shaking. I had this horrible high fever. And out, I go with jewel. And I swear to you, I don’t remember a goddamn thing. Nothing. I blacked out. My husband tells me it went great. But I mean, seriously, I’ve absolutely no reason to believe him. So I tell all of these stories on myself not just to scare away musical producers. And I do want to say that I think with a little rehearsal, you guys and perhaps some medication, I would absolutely figure this out. But I bring it up because it’s ironic. Because to me, there’s nothing more joyful in the world than singing than music. And I wish there were a way I could be a part of a Glee Club again. I mean, that’ll never happen. I often thought maybe I should join a church so I could sing in the choir, but I really honestly I don’t want to join a church or a choir. But I would like to be able to sing. I think it’s just the most human primal, wonderful thing. And when you hear a great singer, oh my god, you can’t believe what you’re hearing. It’s just transcendent. to any kind of singer or an opera singer or a jazz singer, rock and roll singer, when it’s good, it’s magic. And for me what really tops it all is gospel and soul. There is nothing like it. And that’s why today I’m talking to Darlene Love.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 05:27
Hi, I’m Julia Louis Dreyfus. And this is WISER THAN ME. A show where each week I get schooled by women who are wiser than me. Can you imagine being in the studio singing with Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke and Dionne Warwick, The Beach Boys and Aretha Franklin, sharing the stage with Tom Jones, and the boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, and being the singer that even Mariah Carey calls the real queen of Christmas, about being one of Rolling Stones 100 Greatest Singers. That’s Darlene Love. When I saw the documentary 20 feet from stardom, which so beautifully captures the triumphs and hardships of some of the most important yet most unknown voices in pop music. I made it a bucket list item to meet and talk to the one and only Darlene Love. I’ve stalked her on Instagram ever since and she can rock the hell out of a red jumpsuit. She spent six decades being an artist in the roughest of all of the arts, popular music, she’s made spectacular art in an industry that is exceptionally brutal and has always undervalued women of color. She’s a mother, an author, and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, she’s been through it all and she’s still standing and still singing. She’s Darlene Love, and she is so much wiser than me. Welcome. Wonderful. Darlene.
Darlene Love 07:12
Hi there. How are you?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 07:14
I’m so good. I’m so glad to see you. Hey, are you comfortable if I say your real age?
Darlene Love 07:19
Oh, everybody else does. Go right ahead.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 07:24
Tell me what is it?
Darlene Love 07:25
I will be 82 in a few months. July, I’ll be 82
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 07:31
Well, happy birthday in advance. How old do you feel? Do you feel your age?
Darlene Love 07:36
You know what I feel younger than my children and my oldest son is 62.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 07:41
I’m looking at you have to say what deal have you made with the devil? You look so incredible?
Darlene Love 07:48
Not with him. That’s who I don’t do make no deals with? No.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 07:55
So do you love being your age?
Darlene Love 07:57
I really do. I didn’t feel my age until my son turned 60. I would like when did you turn 60? How did that happen? But I don’t feel my age. And I don’t think I ever have because I’ve never had a problem with age. I feel as good or if not better than I did when I was like in my 20s and 30s.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 08:20
No kidding. Why is that?
Darlene Love 08:22
I think it’s because I have so much energy. But I was always like my father. My father was a minister. And he was always on time and always come on you guys. I’m waiting on you. I’m ready to go. When I wake up in the morning, I do everything in a hurry. And I’ve always been like that. And I think that’s what it is. And I still have that same get up and go. Everybody has trouble keeping up with me. Even my husband, he says, Let’s go for a walk. But when I say let’s go for a walk, I don’t mean a little truck. You know? Let’s walk.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 08:59
Yeah, so you’re physically active?
Darlene Love 09:01
Yes, I still get up at 5:30 in the morning and do a kickboxing class, four days a week/
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 09:08
Darlene Love 09:10
Really. And I’m the oldest one in the class of like class, our adult ladies who are physically in pretty good shape. And I think I’m at least 20 years older than everybody in the class. But as of now everybody’s just trying to keep up with me.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 09:32
You know what I think I think Marvel should put you in the Marvel Universe. I think you should be a superhero. I do. That would be fun. It’d be incredible. So who is a gospel superhero for you? I mean, you started in gospel when you were basically a kid, right?
Darlene Love 09:50
I knew everything there was about gospel because we grew up gospel. I was with Aretha Franklin when she was 16 years old. Traveling with her father, we went to the church Just to hear her saying, you know what I’m saying with when her dad was there. So we knew about Aretha Franklin, I never thought she’d be a successful secular singer. Why? I just didn’t think she wanted to be I was something about her that she and her head wanted to stay in Gospel. Because how we were all grew up, you know, I’m saying use your voice for the Lord. Right. That’s what you should be singing for. And all of those kind of make you not want to jump over. But I have two of my greatest people that I love what gospel singers? Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke. I mean, you don’t get no better than that.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 10:41
No, you certainly do not.
Darlene Love 10:43
He came straight out of gospel and went into secular music. Uh huh. You know, I’m saying I’ll read the didn’t, she’d slowly got into secular music. Because she was with her father, that was probably a heavier cross than she knew she was gonna have to bear. Because church, people just have this thing in them about who you should work for. But I knew I was not going to be a gospel singer. I knew I was going to be a secular singer, when nobody else knew it. Plus, I came from a background of what we call Pentecostal where they did not listen to that kind of music. They call that the devil’s music. And my father was a bishop in the organization. We had so much respect for our parents back in those days, yes, I wouldn’t. I didn’t really want to go against what he said. I didn’t want to go against what he believed. But he also believed that it was nothing really wrong with what I was doing. But the organization, yes, just like any kind of organizations that you would you have to go along with what they say and what they do and how they do it. Well, my father was the same way. So he could not just openly saying, you can sing rock and roll music if you want to, just go ahead on out there and do it. But he would say that privately. Go ahead, sweetheart, you can do it.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 12:04
And what about your mom? Was she a little more hesitant for you to do this?
Darlene Love 12:08
Yes, because my mother was a missionary in church. She was the first lady, you know, so she had to be more reserved than my father. Let me tell you something, I really believe this. God help me. But the man is gonna always do what he wants to do. Yeah, whether he’s the preacher, whether he’s the pastor, whether whatever he is, but the woman always have to be in her place. In second position, yes, it’s gotten 100 times better today than it ever was. But back in the day, they were like, looked on as somebody that just sit in church with their hand gloves on with their little head on in their person, just sit there and be cute and not say anything.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 12:48
I know that you had two marriages that ended in divorce. And given the fact that you came from this community, was that particularly difficult?
Darlene Love 12:58
Oh, I was going straight to hell. Oh, really. If your husband is still alive, you cannot remarry.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 13:05
And we’re your parents supportive.
Darlene Love 13:07
My father used to say to me, and I said, Well, I guess I’m going hell because I’m getting remarried. Is it? Don’t you ever say that again, you’re not going to go to hell because you remarry. So once he said that, whether he said it to me in confidence, or when we were just having a personal conversation that stuck with me. I’m not going to hell because I’m remarried. Oh, we had a pastor. One time that we say, Well, what I should have did was kill the old girl and because they’ll forgive you that and then marry somebody else afterwards, when they’ll forgive you for murder, but they won’t forgive you for remarrying. That’s crazy.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 13:45
Crazy. Boy, we have your daddy to thank for a lot. What a great man.
Darlene Love 13:53
Yes, yes, yes. When I was working with Tom Jones as a backup singer and with Dionne Warwick as a backup singer in Las Vegas, my mother and father would come to those shows. They wouldn’t tell anybody. They were there. But they came to those shows to see their daughter. They were very proud of me the things that I would do in and let’s see the thing about back that I loved singing background. That was so breathtaking for me to be a background singer for Elvis. And for you know, Tom Jones, and Dion, I worked for Dion Warwick for 10 years.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 14:28
Darlene Love 14:30
So, being around her was like, great for me to see a superstar work. And what her habits were, you know, I’m saying so, but I saw all that and I admired her from, you know, from a distance because when I got with her, she was still climbing. She had reached her goal, but she was still, you know, still think she wanted to do you know, she was a champion of doing what a woman she thought it was. All men should be able to do you know, beyond where they think you should go, because a lot of times in our career they think, okay, you’re gonna have a little success. But wait a minute now you can get ahead of us.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 15:12
Darlene Love 15:13
The men, men in our business? Uh huh. You know, they controlled everything. Yeah, you know, they made you who you they were the producers and the directors and all of those people in our business. Well, most of them still are.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 15:28
I know. Did she give you advice? Specific career advice? Dion?
Darlene Love 15:34
The one thing she told me one time, don’t let people stop you from being who you are. And I always remembered that, you know, because there were a lot of people that, you know, well, your background singer, but you could never be a solo artist. You know, and why not? I still have the solo voices in me. I just enjoyed doing background. It was wonderful. Because I got to see what happens. Like in the movie 20 feet from stardom, you see everything.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 16:07
And you see, you know, it’s something that I want to talk to about because in the movie I’m so struck. Well, let me tell you a couple things. I’m struck by first of all the scene in the movie when you sing lean on me. And the camera catches you because you’re a very a brilliant, cheerful. I mean, when I’m picking up you emanate positivity, you have a smile on your face. But when you’re seeing that song, I see you pulling from a deep place. And that’s why your performance is so gut wrenchingly wonderful. That’s so true. Because you’re not afraid to go there as a performer. And it’s breathtaking, to me, breathtaking. And the messaging of that song is sort of, in a lot of ways, the messaging of the movie lean on me when you’re not strong and talking about all these background singers who have big dreams. And some of them fall shy of those dreams. And have to reconcile that. And I think that’s really because we both know, I certainly know in my career, plenty of people who didn’t quite get what they want. And maybe they got some of what they want, but maybe not the whole thing. And it’s so wonderful how life has worked out for you. And that you came to stardom at the age of 40. And you’ve just been going ever since. But we know these people, both of us that haven’t had that kind of success. And I wonder what do you say to them? I’m curious, like, can you talk about that a little bit for people who, I don’t know they have to adapt?
Darlene Love 17:55
You have to be so strong? But also, you have to be kind? I don’t know about everybody else. But I felt I had to be strong and let people know. I am strong in what I do on who I am and what I feel. But I also have to be kind to I don’t want to Yes, strangle them. Now to make them know this. I want them to see the kindness you have to have to our business is so hard. I said so hard. Being an entertainer being a preacher or being the president are three things you better be ready for. Because there’s nothing easy about any of those. You know, you got through people telling you you’ve gotten to Oh, man, you got kids now you need probably believe to be home now with your family. Well, but I said I haven’t gotten to where I want to be yet. I still have time. I’m still alive. I want what I want because I have it in me to do it.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 18:54
Do you like to sing harmony?
Darlene Love 18:55
Oh, I love it. Yes. I love it.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 18:58
You have a total ear for it. Do you not? I mean, you can harmonize without batting an eye.
Darlene Love 19:05
Honey, we used to laugh at Sonny Bono who was one of my greatest friends, one of my greatest champions. Man, you are tone deaf, but I can harmonize with you. And we had so much fun at sessions. Like when I was working with Elvis, it was just fun to be around him because he wanted to be one of you. Yeah, he didn’t want to be Elvis. He just wanted to be like a background singer with you guys, you know, and most of the time it was with gospel songs. And Elvis liked what we call the hymns of the church. You know, the old songs, you know, less precious Lord, take my hand, me, me. Oh, let me stay in and he loved all those songs. So he will go, do you know this one? He couldn’t play it on the piano or the guitar but he’d get one of his dad’s played his song you know? We would stay up all night, half the night singing all these wonderful songs.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 20:05
By the way, you know I was watching that special the comeback special that you’re on. Blossoms. And I have to say the way you the three of you, women negotiated those stairs. Do you remember this? On the set coming down behind him. And you did not look down. You had heels on, heels on. And that was that was like an Olympic athlete move going down those stairs singing not falling. I was nervous thinking, Oh, please don’t trip. Please don’t tread.
Darlene Love 20:38
It’s amazing. We did that about 10 to 15 times. So you know, by the time I do it, and you do look at first you know, but after wildcard you could feel that where the next step was going to be because it was with the beat. And we weren’t supposed to be seen in that special just seen and not be, you know, not seen. Because it was a choir also along with us when we were doing the bags, right. But Elvis went to the producer. Oh, no, no, no, no, no, I want the girls in this scene with me. He asked for us to be in that scene. So I thought that was great, too. It was a lot of things that we did with stars that no other background singers did. Or I got a chance to do. You know, we I mean, working with Sam Cooke was wonderful. He came by my high school and picked me up and took me to a set recording session with him that we were doing that day. Me and my girlfriend is only one of us to still alive. Just two of us. And we talked about that the other day on my birthday. We went by your school and picked you up from school. And I was telling everybody at school guess who’s picking me up after school? Once they didn’t believe it till they saw it.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 21:55
He was already see he was already Sam Cooke at that point?
Darlene Love 21:58
Oh, yeah, he had already. You send me because we recorded we’re on Everybody Likes the Cha Cha Cha, right. Everybody likes the Cha Cha Cha. Yeah. So we didn’t we weren’t, you know, he had already had you send me, you know. So, you know, just the whole idea was Sam Cooke is you gotta be kidding. You know. So we had a lot of wonderful times with the stars that we were working with and became friends with them. Even today. Dionne and I are still very close. Because our children were the same age. That’s what made it really great because she could bring her kids on the road. So mine could come along to.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 22:36
Of course, you’re close, because you guys were similarly driven. And also mothers and on the road. I mean, that kind of overlap doesn’t happen frequently in life. That’s amazing. And how lucky for you.
Darlene Love 22:53
No, you don’t actually being successful does not happen when you start off that way. Because it’s hard. It’s really hard. You have to really believe you can do it and it is going to happen with you. I knew it was going to happen. I didn’t know I tell the Lord lot of time. I didn’t think you’re gonna wait till I got 45 to get this career moving. But here we are. And I’m still really enjoying it really am.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 23:22
It’s time for a quick break. But don’t worry. There’s more with Darlene Love in just a bit. Talk about raising boys and having your career. And I heard this story when you had to take other jobs when you’re working in California. This before you moved to New York, and you were a housekeeper and you had your boys then right you had all three boys at that point?
Darlene Love 23:54
I had all three boys. Yes. I loved my boys. They were beautiful. My last baby boy. He was the biggest one I had. He was 10 pounds.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 24:06
Okay, pull over. What are you saying?
Darlene Love 24:13
Hey, we can house yes. And he was the biggest but I had big babies. My first child was 7 pounds, 14 ounces. Yes. And then my middle one was 6 pounds, eight ounces. So I had big boys and you know your doctor will tell you no, you’re gonna have a big child or you’re gonna and then I didn’t know it was gonna be 10 pounds. That’s a two month old baby.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 24:36
You definitely need to go into the Marvel universe. You are a superhero. You do.
Darlene Love 24:41
Well you know what and I loved my boys. They never they didn’t give me trouble until they got older and would find it out about drugs and you know hanging out and it got a little loose. That one thing almost made me stop singing because I felt that I should be Home, you know, trying to help them get through this. But I always say God didn’t let me because I needed to do that for me. You can only help your kids so much. When you have taught them like I feel they were brought up the right way, whatever the right way is for every parent. That’s what I thought I did. All I know to do to keep them on the right track.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 25:25
Who supporting you. Did you have your mom? Was anybody helping you with them?
Darlene Love 25:29
My mom and my dad for a long time. That’s an event I had to have people that came in to live with me a housekeeper who came to help me with the boys. And then the father’s left because I got a divorce. And there was just me the housekeeper and the boys. Yes. You know, I still had my mother and father too. They were big champions for me for taking care of my boys. And then I had to go through my son’s go into prison. Oh, I didn’t know that. Oh, yeah. One of my sons went to prison for 12 years. They were on that three strike rule in California. No matter what you did. And most the times it was about a weed. Marijuana. You know, it wasn’t like they killed somebody or they murdered somebody. It was weed.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 26:22
And this is while you’re having your career?
Darlene Love 26:24
Yes, exactly. Wow. Only people that really knew that would those were close to me like Dionne Warwick knew, Tom Jones. Aha. So we were all together as a family because everybody was having trouble with their children.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 26:39
So they offered support. They were emotionally supportive to you?
Darlene Love 26:43
Very. You know, it’s going to be okay. Do you need time off? You know, you want to go home? I did go home for a little while. But that didn’t help. You know, it’d be us made me more. What’s the word anxious? Can’t do anything. I can’t get through with this.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 26:58
Tell me Is he okay, now?
Darlene Love 27:00
All of them are. They’re great right now. That’s what I mean, you know, like they strayed, but they also came back, you know, they can present and get in them. And that’s the most important thing, because if they don’t have a life to come to, after they come out, they usually go back in. But they had support from me, their fathers, even though we were divorced, they still have their father, you know, he took care of them too. And my mother and father, thank God, they the last time they came out, they never went back in. So they’re great guys, you know, both of my sons have their own business. You know, my baby son was a school teacher. You know, and you know, life has, now life is paying me off. Because I’m very comfortable about everything that’s going on with my children. Matter of fact, they come and help me in my business, my son comes and drives. With the flight every especially now with a fly. I’m not so crazy about flying because of the pandemic and everything. He comes here, because my work is usually at Christmas time. Of course, when I work, non-stop, but that’s the only thing I’ve slowed down doing and started doing five shows without a day off. I have a day off before and the day off after. So you know, you still have to try to use a little sense about this. You know, I want to do it, but I want to do it. 100% so I definitely have to take care of myself physically.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 28:25
But you did. You did have a heart attack. Can you tell us about that? And what adjustments you’ve made in your life if you have since having had the heart attack?
Darlene Love 28:34
I make junk eater. I’m a chocoholic. Snickers, any of the worst candy you can think of. I remember which each of my children I ate a different candy. Like, yeah, it was crazy. When I was pregnant. Yes. And I would eat Snickers I don’t mean I had one snicker and then I didn’t have any for three or four days. I mean, I had three and four Snickers a day. Oh, my. I bought them by the box, like 24 box. I get to know everybody in my grocery store. And I started. I think what really did it is when I started drinking Caramel Macchiatos. I was doing hairspray on Broadway. And yeah, the place was right down the street where you could go get them, right. Yeah. So every day I would go and get one every day. and on Wednesdays and Saturdays I had to because he had two shows. So for almost three years, I had that every day I worked. Wow. And I think that’s what gave me the heart attack. And finally over the years of eating all the candy and all the sweets, and all of that sugar. And I’m the thing about it when I had the heart attack. I didn’t know I was having it. I was on my way to work.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 29:50
And you continue to perform while having it. Am I right?
Darlene Love 29:54
Yes. That night. Yeah. My husband. Thank God. He was in touch with this holy Spirit. I told him to stop and get an aspirin. He gave me the aspirin. I chewed it. The pain went away. I went to work, did the show stayed at the show signed autographs, the pictures the whole bit. And that night? I say yeah, me and my husband was talking about the pain because I’d never had that kind of pain before.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 30:26
Wait a minute. What kind of pain was it that you were feeling?
Darlene Love 30:28
A stabbing pain. Were right smack dab exactly where your bra if you have on a wire bra where it yes, that’s exactly where it was. And I was sick all day I had a stomachache. They’re telling you years ago, if you have a heart attack issue arm or whatever.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 30:50
By the way, I just want to point something out. Those are symptoms for men who are having a heart attack. Yeah, women having a heart attack their symptoms present differently. And I love that that was, you know, the push. Everybody understood. Well, I’m not having pain in my arm. So I’m fine. I’m fine. It’s just a stomach ache or it’s a cramp?
Darlene Love 31:08
Yes. Right. It was an uncomfortable feeling like you wanted to do whatever you had. You wanted to come out. And that’s what I was having all day. Anything I would eat even water would want to come back up. Wow. went to the doctor. The next day. I still didn’t have any pain. But when he hooked me up to everything, he knew I was having a heart attack. He said you sure you’re not feeling anything? I say I feel no pain. I don’t feel anything. So when he sent me to the specialist, which was literally right across the hall, he said, Did you come by yourself? I said no, my husband brought me. He said, Go home, get a bag. I will meet you at the hospital at 10. We will be operating on you at 12. And I’m going what? Wait a minute what’s going on? Now, I’m really want to have a hard time because when are you? What are you talking about here? This is not how you have a heart attack. I mean, I gotta call my sister my children. I gotta call my pastor. I got a, you know, to let them know I’m going into the hospital because I’m having a hard day. That quick.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 32:14
You know, I think your husband might have saved your life without aspirin.
Darlene Love 32:17
No, he did. No, no, the doctor said your husband saved your life.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 32:20
But now you’ve been married for many decades.
Darlene Love 32:24
Yes, 38 years.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 32:26
Well done you.
Darlene Love 32:27
Well, I told […], I told I said listen, I had to do three times to get it right.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 32:36
So what you get right, give us some tips. Tell me how you’ve done it. What’s right about this? Really?
Darlene Love 32:42
You know what happened? I met him on the cruise ship. This is when my life was in one of them struggling things. You know what? Okay, I’m really tired. When is this gonna happen? I know it’s gonna happen for me. But I’m still struggling. And I met my third husband. He was the chief steward on board the Carnival Cruise Line. Was it love at first sight? No, I liked him. He has beautiful brown eyes. Anyway, what made us really get together he ignored me. And I said, I’m not having this.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 33:22
So you did you make the first move?
Darlene Love 33:24
Yes. He asked me to tell this story because he doesn’t want anybody to think he didn’t make the first move. I said no, I made the first move. I said What’s wrong with you? Don’t you like me? But then you’re old enough so you don’t really care? You know, I wasn’t looking for no man I wasn’t looking for it was my career was on now. It’s a good job. The kids are grown now. Y’all got your life. It’s all about mom now. And I’m going to get it. So I really wasn’t interested in finding anybody. And he just snuck right in.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 33:54
And then how soon after that, like how long did you court? And then what happened?
Darlene Love 33:59
A year and a half. We started dating in 83. We got married in 84 moved to New York and my career took off.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 34:10
So the stars aligned for you, right then?
Darlene Love 34:13
Both ways for my husband for my married personal life. Yes. And for my career because this husband that I’m married to now understood what I was doing. And he was interested in me getting my career where he knew where I was. I was having a hard time getting my career going. And with him he wanted to help me build. He wanted to help me build my career.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 34:46
It’s Julia jumping in here. Okay, so at this point, we realized that Darlene’s microphone was actually moving around a lot. Which is kind of ironic because of all the amazing guests we’ve had on this show Darlene Love is by far are the best with a microphone, obviously. So please bear with this shitty audio for the next couple of minutes. Thanks. I think we have to pause because there’s an issue with your mic.
Darlene Love 35:10
I think that’s what’s going on. And I don’t know what it is. If we can be like, three minutes here.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 35:22
Where are you though?
Darlene Love 35:23
I’m in Rockland County, New York, and where are you?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 35:29
I’m in Santa Barbara, California.
Darlene Love 35:31
Oh, I know exactly where that is. Yes, I was born and raised in Los Angeles.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 35:36
I know you were. Do you miss it?
Darlene Love 35:40
Not at all. I did it first. Because I never liked to New York. I never liked back east, I loved working here, but I never thought I would live here.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 35:55
What made you make that change?
Darlene Love 35:58
I tell this story to Stevie Van Zandt, every time I see him, You are the reason I live in New York. He saw me at a show in California. And he said, I want you to come to New York. I want to record you. Him and Bruce had just finished doing something. And they saw my show. And he said, Well, if I get you a job, would you come? And I’m not sure give me a job. How come? He got me two jobs, actually. And I came here and I found out I had a life here a career here. Because I’d never worked here is Darling love. I mainly just worked here as a backup singer. You know, for all the people that I’ve worked with mostly the beginning of my career. I didn’t start my solo career till I turned 40. So I say I tell these people don’t even worry about age if you got it.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 36:50
Yeah. Yeah. I hope that we, I don’t know if, are we recording all of this still, even though? Wait a minute.
Darlene Love 37:00
Yep, we’re recording.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 37:03
I want to make sure because.
Darlene Love 37:05
Nobody believes what we go through. You know, thank you. Let’s turn a button.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 37:12
Then it’s done. And you have all these geniuses working behind the scenes. Thank you so much for your help. So, you were talking about how the reason you live in New York is because of Stevie Van Zandt. And could you mind telling that story and how it is, you’re in New York, and how this happened to you and your career, and then we’ll go back. So I’m coming, I’m coming at your career, sort of.
Darlene Love 37:42
Through the back door, and then coming back to the front, literally, you know, I tell my husband all the time, you know, literally my career started here in New York, because I’d never worked in New York before as Darlene Love. And I worked at this club called the bottom line. This where Stevie Van Zandt got me my first job, which I loved. So I got to know the manager and everybody that works there. So it was wonderful.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 38:10
And how old are you?
Darlene Love 38:12
That’s why I say listen, it’s never too late. Don’t let people talk to you about age. If you still got it, if you can still sing. If you still have that energy. Don’t worry about it. They’ll come along with you eventually. Because that’s actually what happened in New York. Allen Pepper, who owned the club started putting newspaper articles in Darlene Love is working tonight. She’ll be here through Wednesday or Thursday, whatever. So the press started coming to my shows. And that’s literally how it happened. Now you figure for 30, almost 40 years ago. The Press wasn’t anything like they are today.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 38:55
This is pre-Twitter pre everything. Pre social media
Darlene Love 38:59
might so there was a lady you might know her. Love her. Her name was Sue Simmons. She used to do what we call live at five.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 39:09
Live at Five. I know it well, because I was working at 30 rock at the time.
Darlene Love 39:15
Chuck Scarborough. He’s still on. Matter of fact. Can you imagine?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 39:23
He hasn’t changed. In fact, I remembered I was in New York and I saw him and I on television. I was like, wow, he’s like, this is like a time machine or something.
Darlene Love 39:31
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 39:32
Yeah. I remember Sue Simmons.
Darlene Love 39:33
Well, she actually retired but during this time, she would always have me on her show. Like I was her next door neighbor come on down and be on the show. Or I’d be I was doing the David Letterman show then. So we were like next door to one another. So whenever I’d go to do David Shaw, I just passed by Sue and just say hey, what’s going on? And she started sending people down to the show to see me. She said you got to see this lady. It’s just crazy. It’s unbelievable at her age what she’s doing. I was doing two shows a night when you worked at the bottom line back then you did at eight o’clock and a midnight show. She started sending people down then the press started coming to see me. So they started talking about Darlene Love. And the more I work there, the more people you know, the first couple of shows I did were like, kind of spacey. You know, it wasn’t a whole lot of people there. I think that room was like 300 people. Yeah, but by the time I finished working, you couldn’t get into the show. It’s this amazing how my career took off when I got to New York.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 40:43
We’ll be back with Darlene Love right after this quick break. Your big break when you were younger, younger, was with Phil Spector. But that was a double edged sword. Was it not?
Darlene Love 41:08
If you could make the sword bigger? Yes.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 41:11
That was a big, big double edged sword. Yes. Right. And then he changed your name from Darlene Wright to Darlene Love, right? @And in 1962, you recorded he’s a rebel, but your name wasn’t on the record. And you knew that he had removed your name. And he did this many times. How did you process the I assume anger that you had towards Phil, and come out the other side of it.
Darlene Love 41:38
I never tried to carry eight. Now there is a big difference in hating somebody and just didn’t like what they’re doing to you. I think if you don’t let it get in for me, if you don’t let it get into hating somebody because hating somebody makes it only worse. Right? But I disliked what he was doing to me.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 42:00
But didn’t you get angry?
Darlene Love 42:02
Yes, I got very angry, but it never turned into hate. I disliked him. I despise him for using me. You know, and I was always that wonderful. Tell him I said you just use in me what the hell? No, I don’t get this. I’ve done nothing wrong. I just want to be a singer. I want my career. And you can give me that. I think that’s what I really disliked about him. He could have given me a gigantic career.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 42:29
And he withheld that from you all or that
Darlene Love 42:33
every time I would succeed, he would be there to put his foot in the way. When I was doing television show. The producers of the TV show man, this is the biggest show on television. It’s about singers. Why don’t you record Darlene This is nuts. This doesn’t make sense. I don’t want to be bothered right now with her. He would not record me the whole time I was under the contract to him while I was on Shindig. He was that foot that was always in the way. You know, like knowing something like an annoying fly. I think everybody has been annoyed by the fly. You could almost just but I wouldn’t let myself go to his level to hate him. I see.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 43:14
That’s your superpower right there. That’s your strength.
Darlene Love 43:18
But I disliked me because I wasn’t. I was able, now that I really wanted a career. Now I was able to get one all you got to do is put the records out under my name and then make them a kit. That’s what you did for the runouts. You did that for the crystals. But you did it for the righteous brothers.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 43:36
When did you decide to sue him because you did sue him.
Darlene Love 43:40
I finally did sue him because it had not been for these there. There is a gentleman. His name is Ruben that he takes care of getting royalties for singers. He passed not too long ago, but he lives here. And he said I can do this for you. I can get your royalties. But by then I just think I never want to really sue, feels bad. Nobody wanted to take him on. Yeah, he was a snake in the grass. People were scared of him. Yeah, I said little shrift. Why are you scared again? What can he do to you? You can do a lot, but I just figured what you know. And I said, okay, let’s sue him. And we sued him and he was so shocked that I won. Because nobody has ever sued Phil Spector and won.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 44:28
I love that you are the one who did it.
Darlene Love 44:30
At that point it didn’t even matter about the money. Because the law would only let me sue for certain things. Not just for royalty, because my songs are in movies. You know, that I couldn’t get paid for.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 44:49
I’ll tell you against all odds. And here you are. I mean, I feel like I’m totally in awe of you.
Darlene Love 44:57
You know what, it’s I’m this big. is a great business too. It can alleviate a lot of stress. When I’m on the stage, it’s impossible to Yeah. Oh, definitely possible.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 45:08
When you’re on stage. Everything else falls away. Am I right, Darlene?
Darlene Love 45:13
Exactly right. I can go on stage mad and mad about something that something happened. That’s why the people around me are really great. Because they won’t say anything negative to me before I go on stage. But the thrill when I do a show my greatest shows of when I’m angry. And when I get out, yeah. And when I get off the stage, the band is like, wow, who is you mad at. And it’s so much fun. I want my audience to feel what I’m feeling every time I’m on stage. And they come to me after the show is over and things that I get on Facebook what they say, but I felt like I was in your living room when you were just singing just to me. And then I go, I was.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 46:00
Oh, god bless you.
Darlene Love 46:01
such a joy, to be able to use the gift that God’s has given you. And believe you me, he gives it to you, and He wants you to use it. Yes, he really does. I told my girlfriend the other day, I said he shows you the beginning and he shows you the end. But he don’t show you all the crap you got to go through to get to the end.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 46:25
So we’ve been talking for such a long time. I’ve loved every second of talking to you. I just I really I am so honored to talk to you. Let me ask you a couple other really little quick questions. Is there anything that you would tell yourself at 21? Anything that you from this vantage point now here you are 81 years old? Is there something you wish your 21 year old self had known?
Darlene Love 46:52
You know, I really do wish I you know, you always say you wish, you know, back then what you know now? Yeah, but I don’t think it would have happened. Because those are wishes and dreams. We want to be in our dream. We want to dream. We want to have wishes. I think if you don’t have them, you won’t appreciate life the way life is supposed to be. Right? Right? Oh, so I try not to think hard about what happened. Because they weren’t great years for me. You know, from the age of knowing, say 10-15 years of age. Along the way, those weren’t great years for me, because they were trying years for me. They were trying to get over trying to prove you know, and not just family, you know, and then you have the family. I’m not talking about my children. I’m talking about my brothers, my sisters, you know, the church, if I would have paid attention to all of that I would have never been who I am today. Right? Because they taught us not to be that type of person. Right? Which to me was always like good, why? What’s wrong with it? We don’t all have to be nuts to be in this business. We don’t have to fall in the traps. Right? And you didn’t you know, I’ve been I’ve been taught and I thank God for all those learnings that I learned back that we didn’t because the traps was there. I mean, forget Las Vegas. I mean, there was so many opportunities to be a bad girl. And do all the things to really where you think this is what I really want. I want to have money, man, I want power. I want fine houses and all that. No. Those are trappings.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 48:35
What’s the best business advice that you ever received?
Darlene Love 48:41
I can always go back to Dion. Tell me the best advice she ever gave me is like, you know, she called me doll. My nickname was Dolly. Whatever it is you want to do you just have to you have to find a way to do it. Just do it. There is no miracle. There is no special something, you know what I mean? You just believe you can do it and you do it. And I it’s that’s proven over time. Because whenever I got stuck, I would always say I can do this. It’s not too hard for me to do this. I can get over this. I can do.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 49:23
This has been the most joyful conversation and you are an inspiration to me and to everybody in the world. I can confidently say that. Thank you for being here and I give you my love and thank you.
Darlene Love 49:39
Thank you so much, Julia. It has been a wonderful time with you. God bless.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 49:45
God bless you. Bye, Baba. Well, how much fun was that? There’s so much to tell my mom. I’m going to zoom her right now.
Judith Bowles 50:00
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 50:02
There you are. Up. You went away. Come back. There you are. Now you’re muted. No, now I can hear you. Now, can you? So Hi, Mommy. So I just ended a conversation with Darlene Love. And she is the very remarkable person.
Judith Bowles 50:22
I saw her in the know the backup singer.
Judith Bowles 50:24
Yes, 20 feet from stardom.
Judith Bowles 50:24
I can’t remember how many feet, but they’re the backup singers. He just struck me as being so remarkable.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 50:36
Absolutely remarkable. She said, when she’s on stage, everything just falls away. I kind of got that. You know what I mean? For me, that’s exactly the same to you know, when the engine is really firing, everything definitely falls away. But I have to tell a story about myself. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually told you this. So back in the 80s, I was in this Woody Allen movie, Hannah and Her Sisters had a very small role. I played a production assistant on Woody Allen’s show. This is within the film. And he was like the director or the showrunner or something, and I was a production assistant. And we’re shooting a scene in which Woody Allen thinks that he has a brain tumor. And he thinks he’s hearing things. But he’s also the director of the film, by the way. And so we roll camera, I’m supposed to across the camera, which means walk across the set. And then what he says, wait a minute. Does anybody hear that? That was the line who was supposed to say, and so we did it. And they roll camera, and I go action. I start to walk across and woody goes, Wait a minute, and I stopped my tracks. And I go yeah, what? And he goes, No, no, no, that’s the line and I go, Oh, my God, you can imagine. I mean, Mom, I was like 23 years old and this happened. I was like, so humiliated. And everybody laughed. And so we go back to one row camera, action, I start to cross. Woody goes, Wait a minute, and I stopped in my tracks again. I did it again a second time. I did. So talk about things falling away. I mean, that was an experience where I was just completely out of my mind being in this movie. I gotta laugh. It wasn’t a good one, though. Mom. It wasn’t a good one.
Judith Bowles 52:28
No, no, it wasn’t. But let me tell you when you were four, and you were in your dance class, and everybody was now I got to look through the little window, the little circular window on the door. Because we couldn’t go in the moms couldn’t go in, we took turns looking. So when I was looking, you’re going run classic, run, run, run, run leap, run, run, run deep. And so you get your turn came in you went run, leap. Everybody started to laugh.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 52:57
Yeah, I will tell you Woody Allen made a joke at my expense after that. I can’t remember what he did. But he said some comment about how I kept screwing it up. And every now and then he got a laugh. So it wasn’t quite the happiest ending ever. But anyway, this woman has had a remarkable one.
Judith Bowles 53:15
So happy that you’re so happy that you had a chance to talk to her and that she was at that you got that sort of arc of her life. Yeah. such remarkable women that you have been in touch with. And each of these is goes in like a pep pill.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 53:33
A what pill?
Judith Bowles 53:36
You don’t I mean, in other words, and when I feel old and tired, and so forth, then you know, but then you get a sense of other people’s lives being so adventuresome, and energetic, and it’s like, oh, yeah, come on. Yeah, that’s what I mean by a pep pill. I mean, we can we can do that for each other. But I think that these women must have inner strength that is practiced.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 54:00
Yeah, she’s squeezing every ounce out of life that she can.
Judith Bowles 54:00
I’m so glad. I’m so glad. It’s good news and just the right way.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 54:01
Yeah, I know. So go listen to some Darlene Love music.
Judith Bowles 54:07
I’m going to do that. So okay. Anyway, thank you for doing this. I’m so happy that you’re garnering all this wisdom. And I hope you’re keeping notes.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus 54:26
I’m trying to keep notes so that we have transcripts, so we can just read the transcripts. Okay, Mommy, I’m gonna jump off. Okay. I love you so much.
There’s more WISER THAN ME with Lemonada Premium, subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts. WISER THAN ME is a production of Lemonada Media created and hosted by me Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The show is produced by Kryssy Pease , Alex McOwen and Hoja Lopez. Brad Hall as a consulting producer. Our senior editor is Tracy Clayton. Rachel Neil is our senior director of new content and our VP of weekly production is Steve Nelson. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, Paula Kaplan and me. The show is mixed by Kat Yore and Johnny Vince Evans and music by Henry Hall. Special thanks to Charlotte Chrisman Cohen, Ivan Kuraev, and Kegan Zema. And, of course, my mother Judith Bowles. Follow wiser than me wherever you get your podcasts and hey, if there’s an old lady in your life, listen up.