B.J. Novak is best known for his role as Ryan, the ne’er-do-well temp on the NBC comedy The Office. But he’s also a screenwriter, producer, and author of a new book of short stories, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories.
Novak shares a decades-spanning playlist of some of his favorite songs, including one by a singer-songwriter who's recently caught Soundcheck host John Schaefer's attention as well -- Courtney Barnett. Plus, he tells us why being a romantic person is delusional (even though he is one), and makes the case for Prince's "When You Were Mine" as the most romantic song of all time.
This segment originally aired on Feb. 10, 2014.
Novak also took time to answer a few more questions on camera. Watch that below:
B.J. Novak's Pick Three
Elvis Presley, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
If you click around on iTunes and find late Elvis covers, it's unbelievable that Elvis did certain songs. And he seemed to misunderstand them so profoundly. He's still Elvis -- the big heart of this American performer is still there -- but he does a version of "Something" by the Beatles, and the first two lines he sings are "Something in the way she moves/Attracts me like no other lover/Hooooot damn." Just so out of place in this sensitive song.
And he also covers Bob Dylan. Elvis Presley covers Bob Dylan, late in life -- there was a time when that actually happened. And he has a cover of one of my favorite songs of all time, 'Don't think twice, it's all right," and again, he seems to fundamentally misunderstand it. He does it in a very rollicking, upbeat way, messes up some of the lyrics and keeps going. He has no understanding, it seems, of the subtle pessimism and sadness of this song. It's just like a popular song that he was just going to do a version of, and yet his spirit is still in there. The positive spirit of Elvis is shining through.
Courtney Barnett, "Avant Gardener"
I love her. I play her all the time. This is my favorite song, but I love this whole album, I love everything she's put out. It's so spare and cool -- it reminds me of Nirvana, or Hole -- it reminds me of that early era. But the lyrics are a very modern way of writing lyrics.... The lack of boundaries between the way you would text, the way you would talk to a friend, the way you would write a novel -- it feels like it's all one voice to her. And I feel like that's very modern.
Niagara, Pendant que les champs brûlent"
I don't understand a word, but I love it. I love not being able to understand it, because to me that is the mystery that we need in our lives. There needs to be something that you don't understand at all, but you wish you could be in that world. And for me that is everything classically French. The fashion, the literary glamour, all these things, and I -- oh god -- I went to Paris and didn't talk to a soul, didn't understand anything, just kind of looked at everybody and felt like, "Oh this is cool, this is cool." You need something like that in your life.
On why "When You Were Mine" by Prince is the most romantic song of all time:
I think that you can't have an even match -- love needs some longing to be expressed in the form of a song. Just two people gazing into each other's eyes would just say 'I love you' or say nothing -- they wouldn't need a song. There needs to be something you're trying to overcome. And the tension in 'When You Were Mine' -- 'I love you more than I did when you were mine' -- who hasn't felt that? That to me is the most visceral type of need and longing.... It's the most exciting upbeat song about regret and loss and trying to reclaim something that may never have been there the way you see it now.