PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we reward a lifetime of achievement with five minutes of confusion. Dwight Yoakam was born with a big disadvantage for a future country star; namely, he was raised in Ohio. He overcame that handicap to become one of the biggest country stars in the last 30 years with multiple platinum albums and number one songs. Dwight Yoakam, welcome to WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME.
DWIGHT YOAKAM: Great to be here.
SAGAL: How fun to talk to you.
YOAKAM: Well, it's good to be here, Peter. It's nice to talk to you. You know, I never looked at it as a handicap. You know, Bobby Bare came out of southern Ohio. A lot of great singers came out of that Ohio Valley region. It's just 90 miles from the river there in Kentucky where we - where I was born. We're - you know, a lot of us were tail light babies, back and forth on the weekends.
SAGAL: Tail light babies?
YOAKAM: Part of that region's history.
SAGAL: What is a tail light baby?
YOAKAM: Well, kids - you know, there were people that moved to Ohio, moved to Detroit, you know, Michigan. And it seemed like on Route 23 -that went through Columbus, Ohio, on down to the river at Ashland in eastern Kentucky and then Huntington W.V. - there was a steady stream on any given Friday evening of people going, quote, "home." My mother used to say, we're going to go home this weekend.
ROY BLOUNT JR.: Oh, I see.
YOAKAM: Even though we lived in - you know, moved away from Kentucky. So I used to call the other kid, you know, kids that would make that trip a lot, tail light babies. You kind of sit in the back, you know, looking at tail lights.
SAGAL: Has it ever occurred to you that would make a fantastic country song?
YOAKAM: Yeah, actually.
SAGAL: That would be. Now, we understand that you were playing music and very interested in music from a very young age, right?
YOAKAM: Yeah, well, from memory there was a guitar around. There are shots of me when I was probably about 18 months old dragging an old F-Hole Kay guitar around, my granny, Arlene Tips (ph), holding it up for me. I actually, eventually, tripped and fell over it and broke it. And, yeah, I mean...
PAULA POUNDSTONE: That's a musical background.
SAGAL: And were you playing it when you were dragging it around, or was it just, like, a toy?
YOAKAM: Well, probably about what I'm doing now with it, so, yeah, I guess...
SAGAL: Were you writing sad songs about being a toddler? Like, the night is long and my pants are full, that sort of thing.
YOAKAM: No, I didn't. No, well, I got a - you know, it's kind of like "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It" by Hank Williams, you know. That would apply to a toddler.
YOAKAM: Still, the first thing I ever wrote, I was 8 years old.
SAGAL: Really, you wrote a song when you were 8 years old? What was it?
YOAKAM: Well, Vietnam had begun in full swing in the living room every night on the news, and I wrote a song called "How Far Is Heaven?" about Vietnam.
BLOUNT: Could you sing it for us?
YOAKAM: Yeah, we - no, would I sing it for you?
CHARLIE PIERCE: (Laughter) For anybody?
YOAKAM: No, well, I could do a moment of it.
SAGAL: Go ahead.
YOAKAM: (Singing) My daddy got killed over in Vietnam, and here's just a few things that don't understand. How far is Heaven? When can I go? I miss my daddy. Oh, I miss him so. Anyway, so it's...
BLOUNT: Oh, man.
PIERCE: You were 8 years old? You were 8 years old?
SAGAL: If my 8-year-old son sang that song, he had written it himself, I would be torn between getting him an agent and a therapist. That is...
YOAKAM: I was going to say, you'd seek help.
SAGAL: Yes, that's amazing that you did that.
YOAKAM: My dad was a little confused because he wasn't sure...
YOAKAM: He was no longer in the Army.
SAGAL: And it's also...
YOAKAM: He was wondering if I was encouraging his re-enlistment or...
SAGAL: That's - I didn't think of that. Here you are, you're - I'm thinking of your father - you're sitting there, your son, amazing prodigy, is singing a song he wrote. And in it, you die. That's...
YOAKAM: Exactly. It probably affected our relationship the rest of our lives.
SAGAL: I can imagine. Now, I heard that you went off to Nashville as a young man, and you were not well-received there. How can that possibly be true?
YOAKAM: Well, they didn't know I was there.
SAGAL: Oh, I see.
YOAKAM: (Laughter) I mean, I still think they probably wouldn't have cared even if they'd known.
SAGAL: Did you find yourself having to do the classic thing that country singer-songwriters do which is, like, have hard times so you could sing about them?
SAGAL: You also, and I don't know much about country music, but I know a little bit about hats, and you sport a cowboy hat like nobody I've ever seen.
YOAKAM: Yeah, the hat's done all the work, really.
YOAKAM: I just like that block, when I went in - I think - the first hat - that original hat - the hat - was blocked by Manuel Cuevas. I think I got that from him in 1979 where he was down on Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood. And I told him, I said I want the brim kind of this way and that way, and it was very much kind of a late '60s, early '70s - it was called bull riders.
SAGAL: I have to interrupt because not only do you know, like, the legacy of the music you play...
SAGAL: You know the history of your hat just as well.
POUNDSTONE: Yeah, of who blocks good hats. You know what? You're a wonderful musician, but you're throwing away a career as a historian.
SAGAL: Dwight Yoakam, it is a pleasure to talk to you, but we have asked you here today to play a game that this time we're calling...
BILL KURTIS, BYLINE: You're the Happiest Man in the World.
SAGAL: You genuinely might be, but as a country singer and songwriter we also know you have shared your tales of woe and heartbreak. So we're going to ask you three questions about one Matthew Ricard. He is a French-born Buddhist monk who is reputed to be the happiest man in the world as measured by science. Answer two questions about Mr. Ricard correctly, you will win our prize, Carl Kasell's voice, for one of our listeners. Bill, who is Dwight Yoakam playing for?
KURTIS: Nicole Korsen of Potomac Falls, Va.
SAGAL: So you ready to do this?
SAGAL: (Laughter) Here's your first question. Ricard grew up the son of a wealthy famous couple in France, but he left that life to pursue enlightenment in the Himalayas. Why? A - he accidentally set fire to his parents' piano and had to flee; B - all the famous, successful people his parents hung out with were miserable; or C - he heard that the best pot in the world grew in the mountains of Nepal.
YOAKAM: I'm going to suggest B.
SAGAL: You're going to suggest B, you say with some confidence. And you are right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: His parents were very well known in artistic circles, so he grew up hanging around with people like the poet Andrea Breton, the filmmaker Lous Bunuel, and he decided they were all...
YOAKAM: It seemed, to me, arrogant enough and self-absorbed enough an answer.
SAGAL: You're right, it was pretty good. But he thought, all these people, they're miserable despite their success. So clearly there's another way. Is that true, in your experience? Do you meet a lot of famous, successful people?
YOAKAM: No, no.
SAGAL: Next question. He was being interviewed...
SAGAL: By Esquire magazine recently and Ricard said that people might envy his life of sitting around meditating in the mountains, but it's not all easy. In fact, he complained about what? A - all the emails that he gets from LinkedIn.
SAGAL: B - have you ever tried to get a decent croissant in Nepal? Or C - he said he hasn't had a day of vacation.
SAGAL: You're going to go for B. He can't get a decent croissant there.
SAGAL: No, I'm afraid it was C. He complained about not getting a vacation. He said, quote, "I took 70..."
YOAKAM: Wow, what a socialist.
SAGAL: I know. He says, "I took 70 flights from 15 July to 6 November. I've not had one day off," he complained. Now, you could still win it all with this question. While Ricard lives...
YOAKAM: What a crybaby.
SAGAL: No, yeah, I know.
BLOUNT: He doesn't sound all that happy to me.
YOAKAM: (Laughter) No.
SAGAL: Toughen up, you damn Buddhist.
SAGAL: Here's the - now I will say, before I ask you this question, that he has this reputation. In fact, if you type happiest man in the world into Google, he pops up because they've given him brain scans. And the pleasure, the happiness part of his brain, lights up more than anybody else ever recorded. So...
YOAKAM: That could just be a glitch.
SAGAL: It could be.
SAGAL: So, Ricard, he does live a simple life of a Buddhist monk, but he has made one concession to modern times. What? A - his robes are made of Under Armor Performance Wicking Fabric because, quote, "sitting still all day makes you sweat more than you'd think;" B - he has a cell phone, although the ring tone is a loud Buddhist chant; or C - every year, he goes to the Upper East Side of New York City to have his head waxed in a salon because he says shaving his head every day takes away valuable meditation time.
YOAKAM: Is there music playing now while I...
SAGAL: No, no it's just an uncomfortable silence.
YOAKAM: That's kind of a drag. I'm going to go with B.
SAGAL: You're going to go with B, he has a cell phone? Of course he has a cell phone.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: It's 2015.
YOAKAM: Yeah, there you go.
SAGAL: And we know this because when he was being interviewed by Esquire magazine, it went off. So that's how we know.
YOAKAM: Well, there you go. But it was with a wonderful Buddhist chant.
SAGAL: Exactly. Bill, how did Dwight Yoakam do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Well, Dwight Yoakam got 2 out of 3, and that makes him a winner.
SAGAL: Thank you, Dwight.
SAGAL: Congratulations. That was well done.
YOAKAM: Yeah, well, as Bobby Bare, that other country singer from Ohio said, I'm a winner.
SAGAL: You are.
SAGAL: Dwight Yoakam is a multiple Grammy award-winning artist. You can currently catch him on tour in support of his more recent album, "Second Hand Heart." I listened to it all day. It is fantastic. Dwight Yoakam, thank you so much...
PIERCE: Thanks, Dwight.
SAGAL: For joining us on WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME.
SAGAL: What a joy.
YOAKAM: Thanks for having me.
SAGAL: Thank you, sir.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUITARS, CADILLACS")
YOAKAM: (Singing) Now it's guitars, Cadillacs, hillbilly music, lonely, lonely streets that I call home. Yeah, my guitars, Cadillacs, hillbilly music, it's the only thing that keeps me hanging on.
SAGAL: Coming up, some shocking news about fitness trackers and our Listener Limerick Challenge game. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
KURTIS: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations and Fifth Generation, Incorporated, maker of Tito's Handmade Vodka, still independently owned by Tito Ceverage, distilled and bottled in Austin, Texas. American-made and gluten-free. Recipes and more at titosvodka.com. The William T. Grant Foundation, supporting research to improve the lives of young people from diverse backgrounds and ensure that they reach their fullest potential. More information is available at wtgrantfoundation.org. Subaru, automotive partner of the National Park Service Centennial. Subaru encourages people to explore America's treasures and discover a national park adventure at findyourpark.com. Love, it's what makes a Subaru a Subaru. And the William and Flora Hewlett foundation, helping people build measurably better lives, supporting efforts to make education more affordable for students and flexible for teachers through open educational resources online at hewlett.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.