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Rick Moranis Rides Hard for Rush

Despite not having appeared on screen since 1997 Rick Moranis will forever occupy a nebbish-loving spot in the minds of movie fans as a result of his work in ’80s classics like Ghostbusters and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The funnyman shifted his (sporadic) work focus to music over the past decade, earning a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album for 2005’s wry The Agoraphobic Cowboy. On June 18 Moranis will release the only slightly more serious My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs (Warner Bros. Records/LoudMouth), which finds the 60-year-old hopping genres from jazz to folk to rumba as he ruminates on food, religion, and love. Speaking on the phone from his Manhattan apartment, the Toronto native and former radio DJ discussed the music of his life.

What was the last song you listened to today?
Off the top of my head it would have been a classical piece because I always listen to WQXR, the classical station out of Newark, New Jersey. I have the radio on all day. [WQXR] repeats things now and again but they have a pretty deep bench. I can’t say I could recognize a particular song or movement but from the moment I walked into the kitchen this morning WQXR went on and it will remain on.

When you were growing up was there anything you listened to that your parents objected to?
When the Beatles hit in the early ’60s I think the objection was more to the hair than the music. The McCartney melodies were undeniably beautiful. The parents of my generation couldn’t deny “Yesterday.” I happen to have been partial to the Beatles but a lot of kids loved the Rolling Stones and I don’t know what their parents thought of them.

If you could put anyone on your dream concert bill, living or dead, who would you have play?
This is like picking your favorite color or favorite food and I can never do that because I love everything. The only type of music I don’t like is Dixieland jazz. It’s just a little too happy and noisy for me. I like intervals and spaces in my music. There’s just something about Dixieland.

Do you have someone you’ve worked with in the past with whom you shared musical tastes?
For me music is pretty personal. I generally listen to it alone and I’ve never been a lover of concerts. So I don’t think I really bond with other people over music. That’s not unique to music for me either. I feel that way about film, television, art, everything. I read a book alone so why wouldn’t I listen to music alone?

So if you hear a beautiful classical piece in the morning on the radio, you don’t tell anyone about it?
I guess I might tell friends who have a similar taste in a particular genre. I’m like other people, I get lost on YouTube, drilling down some nights for a couple hours and I’ll send links around. Like the other night a song came to mind and I was trying to tell my son about it and I could have sworn it was a Nat King Cole song called “If I Had to Choose” but that just turned out to be in the first line. It was actually called “That Sunday, That Summer” and I found a really good YouTube rip and I sent it to way too many people. It was just unbelievably gorgeous.

Do you share music with your son a lot?
When my son was 16 we started golfing together, so we were in the car for longer periods of time on the way to courses. During those trips I started turning him on to the rock that I loved listening to when I was a rock radio DJ, which would have been around 1976. That was the beginning of the progressive rock or album rock era — at least it was in Canada. So I was playing Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Jeff Beck, Rush, stuff like that.

What’s your favorite song of all time?
There are songs that haunt me. I say haunt me because they’ve stayed with me for so long. The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” is another like that. There’s a Bach piece, don’t ask me the name of it, and it sounds like something McCartney could have written. It’s 400 years old and it’s always coming into my head. There’s a Genesis album, Selling England by the Pound, that has incredible riffs and melodies and it’s also always coming to mind. I have the same feelings for Yes.

Going back to your fellow Torontonians Rush: You have a long history with them, right?
Geddy Lee and I went to the same grade school. He moved away when we were still young but I remember him like I do all my friends from back then. Then in 1982 Dave Thomas and I were approached to do a record as the McKenzie Brothers on Anthem Records, the same label that Rush was on. So when we did the album we wound up having Geddy sing the vocal lead for the first single, “Take Off.” That was the first time I had seen him since we were kids and the first time he had this enormous success. I’ve seen him subsequently a number of times and he always says, “That’s the only number one record I’ve ever had!” Which is insane to me because those guys have sold about a 150 zillion records.