On Barbra Streisand's Latest, The Walls Do Talk — To The President

Nov 3, 2018
Originally published on November 3, 2018 8:46 am

Barbra Streisand has two Oscars, eight Grammys and millions of album sales. She could probably read and record the stops along the route of the D train through the Bronx and get a No. 1. But with her latest release, she's done something different: Her new album, Walls, addresses songs — including some of her own originals — to the president of the United States. Hear her conversation with NPR's Scott Simon at the audio link, and read an edited transcript below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Scott Simon: Why was it important to you to do this album?

Barbra Streisand: Because I could express my thoughts and feelings at a time when I was feeling sad and heartbroken about what's happening to our country. And I'm so grateful that I have music in my life that gives me the chance to express my feelings through my work.

I gather the song "Don't Lie to Me" is not about a busted love affair.

No. I started off trying to create that so that more people could relate to it in a way — lovers who go through this all the time. But it's like that joke: A woman walks in and her husband is in bed with another woman. She gasps, and he says, "Well, who are you going to believe: me or your lying eyes?" I guess it's about lies: The lies that are coming out of this administration are very unpleasing, unsettling. Maybe that means so much to me because I was lied to as a child. I've based my whole career on telling the truth.

Do you have any concern that people who love your singing might not like the message of this album?

That's true, and they're entitled to do that. I made this album to express my heartbreak after this last election. I am for discussion, for agreeing to disagree, but in a civil discourse.

You said you felt especially strongly about the truth because somebody lied to you when you were a child. What happened?

One summer, I was sent away to a religious camp. I had left a home in Williamsburg, where we lived in an apartment with my mother's parents; I slept in the bed with my mother in another bedroom and my brother had a folding cot that came out at night. When my mother came to pick me up from that camp, she didn't tell me that this man in the car turned out to be my new stepfather — which I was never introduced to or told about — and we were taken to a different apartment, a project in Flatbush. That's the kind of story. I just think that the truth is so powerful — truth between people, truth in government. Tell us the truth.

This album has a beautiful version of John Lennon's "Imagine" that works its way into Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," that song written by George Douglas and George David Weiss. Why did you include these songs?

Because I believe in hope. I believe in goodness, I believe in kindness. I believe that we can even manifest what we imagine. I did that as a young child: I imagined what life could be for myself, and it came true. I think imagination is so powerful, and this is one of the most beautiful songs. It's a great peace anthem.

This has been an especially tough week and a half for the United States, with pipe bomb explosives in the mail, U.S. troops being sent to the border and then, of course, the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Oh gosh. That's why I'm so ... He gave my depression a depression. It's been a horrible week.

Haven't a lot of American Jews believed that anti-Semitic attacks were only in the past for America?

No, no. Anti-semitism is rising. It's so sad for our world to have to demonize a certain group of people. It's immigrants as well.

Jews, every Friday night, believe in taking a stranger in and feeding the stranger. They believe in kindness, and they believe in helping the refugees, like they were helped when they came over to America. We're all immigrants, aren't we, except if you're a Native American. I mean, my grandparents came from Russia and from Austria. Where did your grandparents come from?

On the Jewish side, Spain; on the Irish side, Belfast.

That's right. If we just look at ourselves as all being immigrants, we can accept each other more easily, love each other.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Barbra Streisand has two Oscars, eight Emmys and millions of album sales. She could probably read and record the stops along the route of the D train through the Bronx and get a million downloads. But she's done something different with her new album, "Walls." She's addressed songs, including some of her own original works, to the president of the United States.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LIE TO ME")

BARBRA STREISAND: (Singing) Why can't you just tell me the truth? Hard to believe the things you say. Why can't you feel...

SIMON: The name of this song is "Don't Lie To Me."

STREISAND: That's right.

SIMON: Barbra Streisand joins us now from her home in Malibu. Thanks so much for being with us.

STREISAND: Oh, my pleasure.

SIMON: Why was it important for you to do this album?

STREISAND: You know, because I could express my thoughts and feelings at a time when I was feeling sad and heartbroken about what's happening to our country. And I'm so grateful that I have music in my life that gives me the chance to express my feelings through my work.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LIE TO ME")

STREISAND: (Singing) How do you sleep when the world is burning? Everyone answers to someone. Don't lie to me. Don't lie to me. You lie to me. Don't lie to me. Don't lie to me. You lie to me.

SIMON: Now, this is not a song about a busted love affair, is it?

STREISAND: No, I started off trying to create that so that more people could relate to it, in a way - lovers who, you know, go through this all the time. Like, that joke - woman walks in and her husband is in bed with another woman. And she gasps. And he says, well, who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?

And I guess it's about lies. You know, the lies that are coming out of this administration are very unpleasing, unsettling. And maybe that means so much to me because I was lied to as a child. And I just - you know, I've based my whole career, especially, on telling the truth.

SIMON: Do you have any concern that people who love your singing might not like the message of this album?

STREISAND: That's true. And they're entitled to do that. I made this album to express my heartbreak, you know, after this last election. I am for discussion for agreeing to disagree, but in a civil discourse, you know?

SIMON: May I go back to something you said earlier in the interview? You said you felt especially strongly about the truth because somebody had lied to you when you were a child. I don't know that story. What happened?

STREISAND: Well, during the summers of - one summer, I was sent to a religious camp. And I had left a home in Williamsburg, where we lived in an apartment with my grandparents - my mother's parents. And I slept in the bed with my mother in another bedroom. And my brother had a folding cot that came out at night.

And when my mother came to pick me up from that camp, she didn't tell me that this man in my - in the car turned out to be my new stepfather, which I was never introduced to or told about. And we were taken to a different apartment. That's the kind of story, you know? I just think that the truth is so powerful - truth between people, truth in government. Tell us the truth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMAGINE / WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD")

STREISAND: (Singing) Imagine there's no heaven. It's easy if you try.

SIMON: There's a beautiful version here of John Lennon's "Imagine" that works its way into Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" - that song written by George Douglas and George David Weiss. Let's listen to a little of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMAGINE / WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD")

STREISAND: (Singing) Imagine all the people living for today.

SIMON: Why did you include these songs?

STREISAND: Oh, because I believe in hope. I believe in goodness. I believe that we can even manifest what we imagine. And this is one of the most beautiful songs. It's a great peace anthem.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMAGINE / WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD")

STREISAND: (Singing) Living life in peace with skies of blue and clouds of white, the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

SIMON: There's a question we can't evade in these times. Have you seen the remake of "A Star Is Born?"

STREISAND: Why is that so important? Everybody asks me that.

SIMON: (Laughter).

STREISAND: Why is everybody so fascinated about that? Yes, it's made - it was made in the 1930s, the 1950s, the 1970s and now in 2018.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, it was made with you in the '70s. That's why we're asking you.

STREISAND: That's right. That's right.

SIMON: Yeah.

STREISAND: It was - yes. Yes. Yes.

SIMON: And have you seen it, may I ask?

STREISAND: I've only seen it unfinished and think Lady Gaga was perfect casting. I think Bradley Cooper did a wonderful job directing the part I saw.

And when I first heard about it, actually, 15 years ago that it was going to be remade, it was being remade with a black cast. And I thought that was really interesting - you know, Beyonce and Will Smith. And then it became a multiracial cast. And I thought it would be with rap music. I guess what was surprising is that was more like my type of music in 1976 when I wrote "Evergreen." It's more of a standard.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTER ANGELS")

STREISAND: (Singing) Angry words and bitterness are slow to fade away. What happened to the dreams and hopes that we shared yesterday?

SIMON: This has been an especially tough week and a half for the United States, with pipe bomb explosives...

STREISAND: That's right.

SIMON: ...In the mail and U.S. troops being sent to the border. And then, of course, the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

STREISAND: Oh, gosh. That's why I'm so - you know, he gave my depression a depression. It's been a horrible week.

SIMON: Haven't a lot of American Jews believed that anti-Semitic attacks were only in the past for America?

STREISAND: No. No. Anti-Semitism is rising. So - it's so sad for our world to have to demonize a certain group of people. You know, it's immigrants as well. And, you know, Jews, every Friday night, believe in taking a stranger in and feeding the stranger. And they believe in kindness. And they were believing in helping the refugees like they were helped when they came over to America.

We're all immigrants - aren't we? - except if you're a Native American. I mean, my grandparents came from Russia and from Austria. Where did your grandparents come from?

SIMON: On the Jewish side, Spain. On the Irish side, Belfast.

STREISAND: See? I mean, that's right. If we just look at ourselves as all being immigrants, we can accept each other more easily, love each other.

SIMON: Barbra Streisand - her new album, "Walls." Thanks so much for being with us.

STREISAND: Oh, thank you, dear.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTER ANGELS")

STREISAND: (Singing) We are not enemies. There is no good in that. There are better angels that surround us all. And we will find a way through all our differences. Hear the better angels. Listen to their call. Let the better angels be our guide. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.