She's gone black-boy crazy I've gone white-girl hazy
We're each other's baby
We're in love
Yes, it's Stevie Wonder singing Spike Lee.
No, the filmmaker isn't writing songs, but Jungle Fever, Lee's provocative new film about an interracial love affair, inspired Wonder to record his first album in four years.
Wonder's sound track is the first time the filmmaker and the musician have worked together _ a teaming they have discussed since the mid-'80s, when Lee attended a Wonder concert and sent him a video of Lee's first film, She's Gotta Have It.
Blind most of his life, Wonder is a big movie fan, citing Fatal Attraction, Lethal Weapon II and Driving Miss Daisy as recent favorites. He listens to films the way a sighted person would a radio drama. Friends describe the action during non-speaking sequences.
Wonder, 41 this month, was working on another album, an ambitious undertaking tentatively titled Conversation Piece, when Lee contacted him last year about Jungle Fever. He was so intrigued by the concept that he took a break to write the 11 songs that make up the sound track.
The film is dedicated to Yusuf K. Hawkins, the young black man who was killed during a 1989 attack in the predominantly white Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. Its theme extends beyond the affair between a black architect and his white secretary to reflect the tensions within their families.
Lee's subject matter gives an edge to the title song and other parts of the new album that has been largely missing from Wonder's work since his trio of socially conscious Grammy-winning albums in the 1970s (Innervisions, Fulfillingness' First Finale, Songs in the Key of Life).
Pleased with the album and the film, Wonder _ who will receive the second annual Nelson Mandela Courage Award for humanitarian efforts at TransAfrica Forum's "Bridge to Freedom" dinner on June 14 in Los Angeles _ went to the Cannes Film Festival two weeks ago with Lee to help promote their efforts.
Before leaving for France, Wonder _ sporting a slight beard and wearing his hair in a ponytail _ spoke in his Burbank offices about the new album as well as the state of pop music, including rap, and race relations in the '90s.
Q: What interested you most about the film's plot?
A: It was controversial, but it also had a point . . . a lot of food for thought. You had these people in seemingly extreme situations, yet you get to know them as human beings . . . how they think, their families and backgrounds. I liked Do the Right Thing a lot, but I think this is his best film to date. In fact, when I saw (a version of it without any music), I thought it worked so well that I told him, "You don't need any music for the film. Just leave it the way it is."
Q: Did you write the music after seeing the script or the movie?
A: I have a reading machine so I could read the script, but I wanted to see the film and get a sense of the different voices and feel the motion of the picture . . . the timing. I kind of already had an idea for the theme song, but seeing the movie helped me come up with the other songs.
Q: Some of your most prized work has dealt with prejudice and social conditions _ things you talk about again in parts of Jungle Fever. Do you feel conditions have improved over the last 30 years?
A: Sometimes you feel like the dream where you think you are running, but you are standing in one place. It's kind of like things have changed, but you look around and there is still so much still to be done. It's sad to think we are still in this state of affairs where we cannot appreciate each other because of racial difference as far as color . . . where things like the (Hawkins killing in Bensonhurst) still happen.
As people get older and others are born, you expect to see changes, but I think it is going to take a combination of two things: more and more interracial marriages, which is going to take time, and a leader in America that is strong enough and big enough to say, "On this particular day, I declare that all people, no matter what color they are in this country, are Americans, whether you are white, black, red, yellow or brown."
Q: But haven't lots of leaders said that?
A: Not leaders in the sense I am talking about, not in the sense of seeing something wrong and saying, "Hey, this (has to stop)." We need someone who will go beyond words and make sure people have equality or equal education in every community, someone who follows up on the speeches.
Q: Are you any more optimistic now than in the '70s when you wrote songs such as You Ain't Done Nothin' and Higher Ground?
A: I'm about in the same place. I'm still optimistic, but I feel that something drastic is going to happen before people understand the need to change. . . . It's very unfortunate.
Q: Do you think music really changes society?
A: I think people change society, but sometimes music influences society, the same with comedy.
Q: Why is it taking so long between albums these days? You released five albums, including Songs in the Key of Life, which was a double album, in a five-year period in the '70s. But Jungle Fever is just the third album in the last six years. Is it harder to come up with music that satisfies you?
A: I don't know . . . the time just slipped away. Partially, I think I was working on the King holiday bill for a long time, and I was on the road. I have also been spending a lot of time learning the new technology that is available for music and I wanted to wait until things settle down a bit at Motown (which recently filed suit to end its distribution deal with MCA Records).
You have people around me say, "Come on Stevie, everybody's trying to do you (with their records). Why don't you do you? Put a record out." Because they know I'm always working on new stuff. But I just say, "Hold on." I knew there was something I wanted to do with Conversation Piece that was going to take time because of the new technology. I wanted to use it, yet not sound so mechanical. I'm just about done. That album could be out by the end of the year _ or early next year.