Episode #175 — Mike Kaplan on the “2001: A Space Odyssey” Pop Single

No matter what you choose to celebrate this holiday season, or even if you choose not to celebrate at all, everyone deserves a meaningful gift after the year we’ve all had. Every Morning Zoo show has a gift closet and we’re no exception, so we started digging around to see what we could give to our listeners. An “I’ll Take Bruce Vilanch for the Block” t-shirt? Sorry, we already sold those to a snarky team of friends to wear to pop culture trivia night every Thursday. (Don’t even pretend you know more than them about the latest Ben Affleck drama!) We would gift boxes of cricket pasta to you, but Heidi already sent all our boxes to her Peloton instructors in the hopes that would get her specific shout-outs on her rides. Thus far it hasn’t worked. Come on, Cody Rigsby! (See, shout-outs aren’t that hard.)

We could get everyone tickets to the Idaho Potato Museum, or a weekend stay at Buffalo Bill’s house, but we’re assuming you’ve visited both of those places already. And if you still require Air Supply’s greatest hits after all this time, what are we even doing here? Truthfully, our gift closet isn’t particularly full of gifts – it’s full of Luke’s AV equipment and Heidi’s coats. Neither of them is willing to give up any space, so we’re going to give you the best gift of all: our podcast. Trust us, this week’s is not to be missed!

When you think of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic “2001: A Space Odyssey,” what come to mind first? The words “cinematic masterpiece?” An image of apes around a monolith? “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that?” After listening to this week’s episode with our guest Mike Kaplan, you’re going to be thinking about “2001: A Garden of Personal Mirrors.” If you don’t know what that is, prepare to be introduced to one of your new favorite songs.

Mike Kaplan has worn a lot of hats: producer, director, award-winning poster designer, and marketing strategist. He also was Stanley Kubrick’s PR guy – though Mike explains that “PR” wasn’t really a term used then. Any one of those jobs would be reason enough to have a great conversation with him, but it’s because of Mike’s songwriting/producing skills that we connected. When MGM was grappling with how to promote “2001: A Space Odyssey,” one of the ideas was to write a pop single to go with it. Kubrick heard that Mike was a songwriter – and how he even knew that is an interesting sidenote to our conversation – so he created “2001: A Garden of Personal Mirrors.” (Once you hear the single, you’ll forever hear in your head how Naomi Gardner sings it.)

“But I don’t remember a pop song in the movie,” you may be thinking. And you’re correct. There’s lots of classical music. And who could forget HAL 9000’s rendition of “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)?” Mike walked us through the initial idea to have a pop song (and how the Beatles’ name came up), his writing process, what happened when he played it for Kubrick, and why his song is having a new life now. His tale is fascinating but devastating for us, because we know we’ll never have our own story like that to share at cocktail parties. Please pass each of us another Monkey Gland.

This songwriting tale would have been enough for most, but not for us. Mike worked a great deal with both Stanley Kubrick and Robert Altman and was kind enough to thoughtfully answer our questions about the differences between their directorial styles. He also gave us an insider’s perspective on how a certain notorious scene in “A Clockwork Orange” came to be, along with lots of other stories about Kubrick and Altman.

After listening to this week’s episode, you’ll be inspired to check out both directors’ catalogs, either again or for the first time – but only after you’ve downloaded “2001: A Garden of Personal Mirrors” wherever you get digital music. You can also get a limited-edition vinyl copy. While you might not have Mike’s amazing personal stories to share at your next cocktail party, playing his pop single will get you all sorts of cred: “Oh, you didn’t know about ‘2001’s’ pop single that almost was? Listen and learn!” But please don’t be a jerk about it …

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