Larry King Live
December 7, 2003
KING: Now, it's a great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE, an old friend, Donna Summer, the famed singer/songwriter. Her music has earned five Grammys. She's the author of a very candid memoir, "Ordinary Girl: The Journey." There you see its cover. Her latest CD is "The Journey: The Very Best of Donna Summer."
Why are we hung on the word "journey"?
SUMMER: Well, I think it's because life is a journey and it's easy -- a way to impart what it is. I mean I don't -- you know, to me anyway.
KING: It's a good word.
SUMMER: Yes, I like that.
KING: What did you do the book?
SUMMER: Just because it was time to do something different and I was bored. And it -- you know I was working on the musical and you kind of needed the book anyway. And so, I just decided let's do it.
KING: You mean you were doing it -- working on the CD and the book?
SUMMER: Well, the musical not -- the musical to "Ordinary Girl" was written several years ago.
SUMMER: And we've been sort of trying to get a book together for it, but it was difficult because nobody -- I didn't have all the information. And I always had to be there. So writing the book was sort of a way to get everything down so someone can the book for the show.
KING: Was it cathartic for you?
SUMMER: Yes, definitely. Definitely. Painfully cathartic, but nonetheless cathartic.
KING: Because it's hard to get out painful things, isn't it?
SUMMER: Yes. Well, I think that the difference is when you write a book -- when you live life, life is over a long period of time. And then when you write a book, it's all condensed into one period. So you suffer the -- like, the death of your mother or the this or that or the other thing all, you know, in whatever period of time that is. And that's the difficult part, I think.
KING: Memory ever leave you?
SUMMER: Of my mom?
KING: No, forget things.
SUMMER: Oh, you know, sort of technical things, yes, like business kind of things, like I have people doing research for me.
KING: But you've been involved in everything, right? You've suffered from depression?
KING: You were in an abusive relationship?
KING: You didn't have to tell us all these things. Does it help you then, I guess?
SUMMER: I think -- I think more than even helping me, I think, it's time to help other people. And I think that it is -- I don't think this book is about me. It's really -- somebody would have to be a mirror because I -- if people are in abusive relationships, I think they need to get out of them or at least get help. And I think knowing that somebody that you maybe look at and admire has been in an abusive relationship, so, like Tina Turner. And the show is not to die, not to go to that level. But I could have gotten killed.
KING: Why do people stay in them?
SUMMER: Fear because they're afraid of the person, that the person will come after them and kill them, that the police -- that if they go to the police, they really won't the help they need and they'll be vulnerable all over.
KING: What affect did it have on your career?
SUMMER: Well, to me, it -- I mean thank God, this person was from Europe so they were deported. And then, I was able to sort of be free, but I was afraid for years. So...
KING: Did you sing as a kid?
SUMMER: I sang since I was 8 years old.
KING: You were raised in a very religious household, right?
SUMMER: Yes. My grandfather was a minister. My dad was a deacon in a church. And so, church was -- you know I was in church several days a week. It wasn't foreign for me to be in church.
KING: Was what your break? What broke it out? How did we get to know you?
SUMMER: Well, I think -- I auditioned -- when I was in my teens, I auditioned for "Hair". I was in a band, a rock band, and I went to New York. And I met a man and I auditioned. And I got on the show and I went to Europe and sort of in the...
KING: You were in the European version of...
SUMMER: Of "Hair".
KING: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
KING: A great show to do, wasn't it?
SUMMER: Yes, it was. It was fun at the time. And -- a night -- I stayed over and did about four more shows. And then I had a hit record and came back to America.
KING: What was your first hit?
SUMMER: Well, "To Love You Baby," you know?
KING: And that took off right away, right?
KING: And our mutual friend, Bruce Roberts, he wrote songs for you, right? SUMMER: Yes, he sure did. And he still does. I mean we're -- we have actually just wrote another song called "Gotcha on Love" and I think it's going to be on my next album.
KING: Do you write a lot of your own stuff too?
SUMMER: Yes, I've written for many years, not everything, but I write a lot of my own songs or co-write a lot of my own songs.
KING: Having a hit, was it early like when you -- like when that record broke out, were you...
SUMMER: Well, I was in my early 20's -- sort of like almost in my mid 20's. And I...
KING: Were you able to handle it well?
SUMMER: Not really. It was tough. I think success is always a surprise, you know.
KING: Yes, and it can lead you into...
SUMMER: yes, into everything that's in that book.
KING: Wayward paths?
SUMMER: Yes, definitely.
KING: What was the hardest part to write about?
SUMMER: Well, I think writing about personal things, actually, were harder than writing about certain other things like the fact that I used to wet the bed. That was a really difficult thing for me to write, but it -- that was cathartic because it was a point of shame for me for many years.
KING: It didn't (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
SUMMER: Even until -- I know, but even until now, until I wrote it and then it was like, OK, now everybody knows, you know.
SUMMER: It's OK. But then there's going to be other people out there that are going to have that problem as a young kids and when they read it, they're going to go, well, she became famous and she wet the bed. And this isn't going to have to stop me for the rest of my life because I thought that would stop me.
KING: Did you have any problems with the image of the sex queen, the diva image, with the girl who was raised in the church?
SUMMER: Oh, I think that's a big -- that's a big complex. Yes, it was a big complex and the image was sort of created around me. I was sort of there, but not consciously there. And I didn't have anybody sort of on my side at that point, fighting for me, except for me, being in the middle. And then people would say, you know, "Lay down here and do this." And you know, whatever. I wasn't doing...
KING: Were you poorly managed?
SUMMER: Well, at the time, I didn't even have a manager when I first started. I just -- you know, I was sort of just with my producer and...
KING: And they said, "Pose this way" and you'd pose...
SUMMER: Yes, we'd go to, you know, a photographer. And I was new to that stuff. It wasn't something that I've done for my own career at that point. Most of the things I'd done was...
KING: But conversely, it didn't hurt you, did it?
SUMMER: Well, it didn't hurt my -- well, it's sort of like this -- it hurt -- it certainly hurt my personal image as far -- and my self esteem was changed. But I think that it helped me in my career.
KING: Yes. So...
SUMMER: Sex sells...
KING: ... sex sells.
SUMMER: ...you know.
KING: You are happily married now, right?
KING: Three children?
SUMMER: I have three daughters. And one of them is on TV.
KING: She is?
SUMMER: Yes, Brooklyn. She's on "My Wife and Kids."
KING: Why did you name somebody Brooklyn?
SUMMER: Because my husband, Bruce, is from Brooklyn. Aren't you from -- aren't you from Brooklyn?
KING: You bet your life I'm from...
SUMMER: Yes, right.
KING: That's a great neighborhood.
Yes. Brooklyn, because it's a great name. It is a great name and we never had
any another name for our child except for -- for that particular child except
SUMMER: You know I never totally interrupted it. I think people think that I stopped at some point, but I never stopped singing. I -- actually, when I'm on the road, I can't work in Europe when I'm here and everything's going strong. So I usually take the time -- when I'm having down time here to go to Europe and to South America. So I've been working.
KING: Are you as big there?
SUMMER: Yes. Yes. My success was pretty much worldwide when I was successful. So I'm picking up the slack of all the years I didn't travel.
KING: Has what modern radio's playing now suit you?
SUMMER: Oh, some of the songs are great. I love -- yes. I mean music is always good...
KING: Do you any good song could break through?
SUMMER: Oh, yes, I think so. I -- you know this young kid, John Mayer, he had a song that was on the Internet and my daughter was listening to it. And she made me listen to it on the Internet. And then he, out of nowhere -- you know they discovered him. He got a deal and bam, he was huge. And he is huge. So...
KING: Now, tell me, the book is called "Ordinary Girl". I love that (UNINTELLIGIBLE), like you were an ordinary girl.
SUMMER: But I am.
KING: Yes, sure.
KING: But tell me about the CD.
SUMMER: The CD is a culmination of...
KING: There are 20 songs.
SUMMER: ... yes -- of most of the hits from career and I think two or three new ones. And basically for those people that don't have my albums and want to play the music with the book -- a friend just called me from Saint Bart so -- before I came here -- and she said, "I'm listening to the record and reading the book at the same time." And she says, "That's what you need to do. You need to do it spoken and have the music going on behind it." So I think that she got the point.
KING: What are going to do next?
SUMMER: Well, I'm working on another album and I probably go on tour next summer or something, and continue to promote the book and the album. And I'll get into the studio and start recording soon.
KING: Why is this happening to you now?
SUMMER: Life is full and happiness is what you make it.
KING: It's relative.
SUMMER: Yes, it sure is.
KING: But it's about time.
KING: Thank you, Donna.
SUMMER: Thank you. Thanks, Larry.
Donna Summer. The book is "Ordinary Girl: The Journey, Donna Summer".
It's published by Villard. And the CD is "The Journey: The very Best of
© December 7, 2003 Larry King Live