When it was announced in late April that Glenn Beck was giving Andrew W.K. a talk show on the Blaze, his radio-TV network, both sides of the political spectrum cocked an eyebrow. After all, a cagey conservative and left-leaning hard-rocker make for strange bedfellows.
But Beck is long-removed from his perch atop Fox’s cable news kingdom, and in March, he even left the Republican party altogether — a telling move. W.K., meanwhile, now pens a compelling Village Voice advice column. Whether it’s discussing depression, tackling atheism or coming out as transgender, the “Party Hard” singer has the answers. Last year, when he advised a liberal-leaning son to deal with his “right-wing asshole” dad by not picking sides of a political party, Beck invited him to appear on his show. A series of guest spots later, the idea for Andrew’s own show, America W.K. — Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. — was born.
We caught up with the unlikely pair to discuss their budding bromance, the challenges of turning a rocker into a talk radio host and parties of all sorts.
Glenn, what made Andrew W.K. and all that he’s about so appealing to you?
Beck: I saw Andrew as a guy who believed in some basic principles that I thought we always believed in: We have to be decent to each other; we have to start seeing people as people and not as political parties or policies or anything else but people. I saw him as a force for good and it’s the same thing that I’m trying to do. I’m trying to correct the error of my ways just as Andrew is trying to correct the error of his ways. We all make mistakes and now let’s move forward in a positive way and try to find people that are not basing everything on how you feel about the Keystone Oil pipeline or were you for or against the Iraqi surge
Have you been listening to his music?
Beck: [Laughs] I have listened to one song of Andrew’s, but it’s not. . .I’m going to be real honest with you: No, I haven’t. But I’m not going to him for his music. I’m going to him because I think he’s a very inspiring guy. And I don’t think Andrew’s coming to me for political philosophy. And that’s fine. The CEO of the Blaze is a woman who was the CEO of the Huffington Post. The President of Mercury Radio is an Orthodox Jew. We can sit here and talk about the things we don’t have in common all day long, but they’re decent, they’re smart and we actually like each other.
Andrew, you’ve had other offers to do radio. What made you want to do this show with the Blaze?
W.K.: Some of the other talk radio opportunities, they were with similar networks that people associated with a certain point of view. I was expected to maintain or not go against that point of view too hard. They didn’t want to tell me what to say, but there was an understanding: “This is the theme we’re working in.” All this was, was Glenn saying, “Do you want to have your own show?” I said, “I guess, OK.” He said, “All right, great.” That was it.
What was your initial reaction?
W.K.: I was just really surprised. More that he would associate with me. I sometimes feel like I bring [people] down. [The reactions were] not all positive, including from his audience, who were very skeptical. “Who is this guy? He looks like an idiot. He’s not educated.” Which is all true, including looking like an idiot.
Glenn obviously has a reputation himself. Did that concern you?
W.K.: I would have to literally stay in my bedroom with my door locked if I didn’t want to associate with people who might be different than me. Like the members of my band, I didn’t grow up with them. I met them for the first time at the video shoot for “Party Hard.” You can’t help but interact with people that are different than you if you really want to live in the world. I want to be where I’m not supposed to be. If I have anything to offer the world, it’s going to be more valuable in places where it doesn’t already exist.
Glenn, your politics have shifted to the point where you even left the Republican Party. Yet the news of this show did catch people by surprise.
Beck: It’s interesting that it’s a big deal that two people who believe in some core fundamentals that are big, that are universal, that are human, and America goes, “Wait, what does this mean?” It means we’re people trying to be people. And trying to, I guess, model the way we’ve always been in the past. I’ll join Andrew’s party every day of the week, but I don’t want anything to do with the Washington parties, the political parties. The parties will be the death of our country. They gain strength by separating us.
Were you a Glenn Beck fan prior to all of this, Andrew?
W.K.: I’d seen him on Fox. Maybe it’s because it’s coming from someone in entertainment — I noticed he didn’t look like other people on the news. I felt like he was doing something other people were not doing, and it made me question not why he was doing but why other people weren’t. Like, why is typical TV news the way it is? Why is it set up that way?
And as you heard Glenn say himself, I think that he has changed, intentionally made efforts to change, which is what I was most struck by when I actually met him. It’s also hard to have many feelings about people if you don’t meet them.
Three episodes in, the show is really coming together. Has it been challenging?
W.K.: Painfully challenging. It’s so free form. I think people would be very surprised — I was even surprised — how little input I was given, even in how to structure the show, what to do on the show, in terms of even having guests or what kind of topics to go into. Not only was I given free reign on what I said on the show itself, but I could sit down and read a book for two hours or play piano for two hours. And maybe I even will. It’s almost a confounding amount of freedom I have. The challenging part is it’s impossible to know how I’m doing. I usually just feel like I did a horrible job [laughs].
Glenn, what advice have you given him so he can be his best self on the radio?
Beck: The unscripted spoken word is a powder keg every single day. So you have to be smart enough to avoid the stupid things that you’re just spilling out of your head. You’re kind of like, “Let me just think out loud here.” And you know everybody is like, “No, no! Don’t think out loud because that’s going to be taken out of context.” Be exactly who you are. Don’t ever bluff. Don’t ever say something because somebody tells you it would be better for ratings. Always be yourself, and if you’re wrong about something, just come out immediately and say, “You know what? I thought about that; it’s wrong.”
Is that advice gleaned from your own experiences, where you might have said things you didn’t agree with just to be inflammatory?
Beck: Not in recent memory. There is no formula now. However, I think just about everyone in the media has had their throat stepped on to say, “Don’t say this because we have a sponsor. Don’t say this because we have a friend in power in Congress or in the White House or whatever.” I don’t engage in that at all. I’m a devout Christian who has atheists who work for him, and I don’t ever tell them what to say. Your opinion is your opinion.
You’re very big on free speech.
Beck: I think this country is the kind of place that should not be surprised that I have defended Bill Maher many times on the air for things I don’t agree with. That the Charlie Hebdo scene in France, people needed to stand up for their freedom of speech. But the only kind of Freedom of Speech that you need to stand up for and protect is the stuff that you hate. We’ve got to start exercising the muscle of “let’s listen to people that are different than me.” Let’s get out of our comfort zone. Let’s start seeing people and enriching our lives by being a little more diverse.
In that sense, would you suggest that the left has tried to suppress the conservative view on things?
Beck: Let’s take out the beam in our own eye before we look to someone else’s. With this being said, I would encourage others in the media to look to the beam in their eye. I can tell you that there are things on my side that I’m trying to battle, in me myself as well. If I can help police myself and the left can police themselves and we can come together and say “OK, we see people again,” then we’re going to change the world. And that’s what I like about Andrew W.K. He wants to change the world. He wants to make it a happy place. He wants to make it a thinking place. And he wants to make a place where we can all just party.
This might be a good message, but there’s a lot of civil unrest now and these are highly divisive times.
Beck: But you know what? That gives us the opportunity to be better people than what we thought we could be. One of my favorite lines from a Muse song, and I’m going to butcher it, is “I have this recurring nightmare that everybody loved me for who I was and that I missed the opportunity to be a better man.” That’s pretty profound. What our country needs to understand now are the words of Martin Luther King on reconciliation. Right now the left and the right and the middle even, everyone is trying to win. Stop trying to win. Let’s reconcile with one another. Let’s reconcile to the truths, that way there are no losers. This was the main point of Ghandi and Martin Luther King. It was the main point of Abraham Lincoln. It’s what made our country. And quite honestly, for Christians, it’s what the Christian message is. Reconciliation.
But you can you see where some people have an “us vs. them” mentality. Because it’s hard to have open arms when everyone else’s arms are closed.
Beck: I can’t talk about any other group. Everybody has to police their own group. I grew up in Seattle and I was born in 1964, so I knew the civil rights movement in a textbook form and as kind of a dispassionate bystander because it wasn’t my era and it wasn’t in my part of the country. So I knew all the facts, but it was not relevant to my life. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “Martin Luther King was a communist.” And you know what, you can look at some of the people around him and some of the people that glommed on to him, and yeah, there were probably some communists around him. OK, is that his message? No. His message is reconciliation. His message is peace. His message is: Let’s see beyond color, let’s see beyond class, let’s see beyond what the world tells us to look at. That’s his message.