« Desert Island Discs

John McEnroe

2017-07-16 | 🔗
Kirsty Young's castaway is the tennis player and commentator, John McEnroe. He won three singles and five doubles Wimbledon titles, four singles and four doubles at the US Open and was ranked number one in the world for four consecutive years in the 1980s. John McEnroe grew up in New York and didn't pick up a tennis racquet until the age of eight, but his talent was quickly spotted and he began to compete in junior tournaments. In 1977, aged 18 and between high school and university, he qualified for the main draw at Wimbledon and reached the semi-finals where he lost to Jimmy Connors. By the end of the tournament his on-court behaviour - shouting, haranguing umpires and abusing his racquet - earned him the nickname 'Superbrat'. He made his first Wimbledon final against Bjorn Borg in 1980. In one of the finest matches in history, despite winning a tiebreak 18-16 to win the fourth set, he lost the match. He beat Borg the following year to win his first Wimbledon singles title. 1984 was the best year in John's career: he won 82 out of 85 matches he played, but it was also the year when he was beaten at the French Open by Ivan Lendl, who replaced him as number one. John married the actress Tatum O'Neal in 1986. They divorced in the mid-1990s and he has been married to the singer Patty Smyth since 1997. Since retiring in 1992, in addition to his role as tennis commentator, he has been a coach and runs his own tennis academy. He still plays in tennis tournaments. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This. Is the bbc hulu on Kirsty young? Thank you for downloading this podcast of desert desert island discs from BBC radio. For for rights reasons, the music choices are shorter than in the radio broadcasts for more information about the programme. Please visit bbc dotcom, dont, uk slash radio for the
I cast away this week. Is the tennis player john Mcenroe, the sporting world isn't short on hyperbole, but in his case the word. Legendary fits at a time when our tennis champs often come wrapped in the suffocating packaging of marketing, endorsements and image. Spin, his character playing or passing comment has always a welcome spirits of tiny reality. He blazed onto the circus in late seventies, irascible, petulant and utterly brilliant a grandson. I'm champion many times over, he spent four consecutive years ranked world number one. These days he's not only got a better here costs, but has matured into a wry, witty and wise commentator on sport that has so dominate.
If he says there was always a devil inside me whom I had to fight and the devil was fear of failure, so welcome John mcenroe, one hundred and fifty six tournament titles. In all, seven grand slam singles titles. Nine grand slam doubles titles. He spent a total of one hundred and seventy weeks ranked world number one, and I wonder, are you over the fear of failure? Now I don't. I don't think anyone ever gets over that fear, but it's been a wild ride. I mean forty years ago is my first time here it in london and I can't believe that I'm sitting here talking about music. So this is awesome, he sat they even coming to the uk. None for forty years and I know from from stuff. You said your relationship with the uk has not always been the easiest. Do you enjoy it here, not a lot better than ever. The reasons are known to me BBC years ago decided that they want to sort of a change of direction in their commentary and they will
Did you bring me on board and let me do my thing be myself, which are found surprising, that the bbc who to americans in their bid stephan, you know they expect a certain type of behaviour and that's turn out to be too my benefit as well. in a different light than they saw me when I was ranting and raving on the tennis court. You say be yourself: you've certainly been making your thoughts plane in the last few weeks. He you said about Serena Williams and her ranking that she would be about seven hundred if she was ranked in the men's game. She wasn't entirely pleased with that comment. Do you have anything else? They have. First of all, I'm a fan of Serena. You know people pick things out and I I've been known to put my foot in my mouth and in the past the question was who's, the greatest female tennis player. Ever, I think Serena Williams without question, and then the interviewer said to me. Why don't you just say she's the greatest player that ever played, and I said what why why wait? Just a second here,
I was just a second here. I mean in essence, but if people are so interested go out and have a circuit with the men and women play together and then you'll see what happens I mean Serena Williams is a magnificent athlete and magnificent player. I mean what do you think she'd be ranked? I have no idea, but I am not an expert in July, so I gave an opinion that exploded so in wretched, spect, I probably would have been better off just saying- is apples and oranges and there's no number needed how many times in a d d, people shout or say to you, you can don't be serious, and how do you deal with that? Probably seven to ten idea with it sometimes better than others at the immigration? When I came in to england, the guy said that to me after I waited over an hour in line, and so I was in as amused as I normally em at this point, but it's incredible that people say that to me all the time you say that
don't get mad at me. John. You know, I suppose, if I had played as well as I did released for appeared a time that no one would have remembered any of this, but none the less. I find it sort of somewhat pathetic, but may that people still bring it up right there and then he asks me. Are you tired? Are you in a bad mood? Why are you asking me these questions on behalf of the people and the immigration service? I'd like to apologize for his mis timed comment. I'd like to ask you then, to go to your list of eight disks, and I want you to tell me about the first one about why you've chosen this piece of music. What first of all the first one, the suffragette city by David Barr, I mean I've, a blog, been a David Bowie fan and in particular, because he's passed away not long ago, but there's a quick little story. When I started- quick little story when I started to learn how to play guitar. I was here in london getting ready for wimbledon and it turned out that we were
staying. In the same. It wasn't a hotel but a hotel like facility, so on plane, as it turns out suffrage sitting on butchering very badly and after a period of a few minutes, I get a knock on the door and I opened the door and its David Bowe uncle grace and he looks at me and he has hey John. I heard you were here great to meet you. Would you like to come up for a drink, and I found my god favorite bowers asking me upstairs
the David Bowie and suffragette city. You didn't jam with him than John mcenroe, but you have jammed with Eric clapton and Carlos David Bowe, suffragette city, you didn't jam with him than john mechano, but you have jammed with Eric clapton and carlo Santana, among others. When and where do you play no issue? Qatar doesn't come around the world with
I actually have a music set up on the top of my apartment and trying to jam with friends, but I can't get anyone to play with me. My wife, who is in a pretty big band in the states, I know and she's a great singer, so I had this crazy idea that we play in a band together. We've been together about twenty three years now, so she looked at me and said: oh yeah, we should also play mixed doubles at wimbledon oh yeah. We should also pay mixed doubles at wimbledon and I go. You don't play tennis and she goes exactly that was a bit of down or was it difficult? The more I listen to tape, recur It aims at what I was playing the less difficult it was because I didn't really want to be the singer. She would tell you otherwise, probably if she was here with me, but I wanted is sure to be like Carlos in tat. If I could- do not get a great singer and may be single little background and play the guitar, but it's tough define sing
his orange singers knock and at my door pay. I want to be in the job market or ban, and I said in the introduction of the tennis of Worse, has sue dominated your life, but there is The music and also I remember, reading the past art you had an art gallery. Do you still have an art gallery? I still haven't our galleries by appointment. Only I'm busy with a lot of things. Mainly around tennis. I have six kids although they were large younger than so many difficult as you have to be all in anything, you do others, music, art, obviously sport I love our and relates artists. Allow cause they're out there on their own and you're exposed and naked. and you could lay an egg and eggs too horrible feeling, although at the other side of its giving the greatest feeling in the world, had always love to collect art. Third, this point, but I really liked clanked I'm very collecting them all over the place, and I mean I'd prefer, I guess contemporary, even though its risk here in a fight, answer web, but the eyes of knowing living artists instead of getting in there.
ads and what their into and why they're doing what they're doing biggest five hundred years ago, ten a rattle Ghibli impossible, the top terms of the quality of how her granted droughts, many as how well he was able to draw the draw, and so it's not like sports. I thought at one stage: hey you know, borg and I and connors were the best of the best, and now you look at roger federer and Rafael nadal. He like whoa the games at a whole new level. It seems like people get aims at a whole. New level seems like people get better and better, whereas in art, that's not necessarily the case, you have to invent something different, which is extremely hard to do. Let's have some music term national. Tell me a little bit about my second well, I mean Chris, behind is an old old friend of mine and the reason I pick the sullen precious offer first record is because live. I played that song with her, which is amazing, in six or seven different values in new york were up, this song. I played a couple other ones, but this is the one that I love get a kick out of.
are you still get moving, Attack in texas, cause. so route. The question interviewers always work round to asking me is: how did you get that way and the first thing I tell them is I'm a new yorker? I burst out laughing when I read that, but why is it true? What would he mean you're in new york army, more the entered to do what it would mean you're in new york I mean more, the energy and the insanity of it in a good way. Hopefully you drive from the airport is a people. You saw what he's Diana. So when I first came to london, I was in for quite a shock to see how much different it was here and it was a family of yellowish use.
A family reactors which seem normal if you don't know any other way and you're in an environment where that happens, all the time and you ve got asserted basically out shout other people are, though, walk all over you. amazingly surprising to me to come here. and your parents, John and Kathryn. What were they yelling about? What was the subject, but it didn't matter what it was. They just sorta
just sort of like to raise their voice. My father would always say to me he say: John. You don't need to do this type of behavior. You know you're better than them just go out and play, but the wade said like you: don't need to do this you're better than them. They take it easy. So there was an intensity from him and an expectation from my mom. You know I used to tell the story that my dad went to law school and he finished second out of four hundred and fifty people, and my mom was like. Why didn't you finish first? So there was this expectation of success. I suppose that was from a very young age that my mom and dad expected me to do well, and there is a thing with americans. I think it deficiency generally, and particularly with new yorkers, as they are incredibly and refreshingly straight talking. Would you say your mother was the abs
absolute example of this. I would say that both of them were yeah. My dad passed away a couple of months ago, and he was saying it like. It is literally two days before he passed away. My son came with a visit him and he said something where my son came with me to visit a many said, something to the effect did you see me and dad at the neck game at this basketball game? The other day my dad was Barely there he says your father: and I didn't know at the time that he was going to pass away two days later, but what I was absolutely amazed at is that to the absolute iran was going to be the person that he was as long as I knew him tell me, but when you very first picked up a tennis racket, what was the sensation? Well, I'm going to be truthful and honest here, but I don't remember picking up a tennis racket, I don't. Picking up a tennis racket. I don't remember learning how to play. I just remember knowing how to play. You know man. I know I went and hit against a wall and,
you know I know I went and hit against the wall, and then I was started to play to club at eight have years resolve and so for whatever reason that I don't know add well if you believe in up above some type of god, wanted me to play tennis a lot more to come. John Mccain of god. Wanted me to play tennis lot more to comes on mechanism for nine months. Here said piece of music, but while this is bring it on home by led sapling and lads, applin was my favorite band. A up, bring it on home is actually a track, but
shall years ago, and robert plant came on. Who is obviously, you know a hero and we had become friendly ish and at one stage he asked me: what's your favorite led zeppelin song and instead of saying something like cashmere whole lotta, love or any number of a fifty or one hundred zone ice said bring it on home, and he looked at me like. Are you kidding me? He didn't say anything and he tried to sort of right above it, and I thought, oh, my god. This is one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. Perhaps, and I don't think I've seen him since in the most embarrassing moments in my life Perhaps- and I don't think I've seen him since in that- was I to gifts
the the was led zeppelin and on whom John mcenroe, by the time you were twelve years old, you were ranked seven seven in the country in the twelve and unders yeah. How much of that was about you and how much of it was about your appearance wanting more about my parents, then, because
you're losing pretty much every tournament. At some stage I wasn't a big fan of losing, and especially when you're out there by yourself it's it's. Why I try to nurture people at my own tennessee kind of, because I think it's extremely difficult to be out there by yourself. Individual sporting pursuit is always very interesting. Of course. What do you think the characteristics were that you either developed early on or that you had early on the enabled you to be the little guy on the court, narcissism and selfishness wanting everyone to do everything for you, the perks of succeeding are a lot higher in individual sports. You said earlier to me that you were shy. When did you lose your shyness or lost that it's I'm not sure I've totally lost
sure I've totally lost it, even though I've done a pretty good job of faking it, but certainly not until I don't believe my mid twenties, because my life changed forty years ago completely. So it was a process that took a number of years until I sort of felt more and more comfortable in my own skin and, of course, by reputation. The outburst on court that aggression that you showed often vague physical aggression where you as a young player, aggressive off court. No, I don't think so at all. I think that I was someone that you would wouldn't have expected that from her we didn't have on piracy when you played your events and no umpires don't want to yell at. I definitely
by junior of cats and dogs empires. No one a yell at. I definitely played with a lot of intensity and definitely wanted to win, but it wasn't like. I was going nuts when I was twelve fourteen, and so you, eighteen, when you came to you first wimbledon tournaments june of nineteen, seventy seven still an amateur. What? What did you make of britain port was about Britain, you thought was so they had extremely good manners. The beer was very warm it tasted terrible and there was lies in the entire country, so it appeared, at least to me actually was a great experience from to be here, because I was totally anonymous here. My first year that was made b and away my most enjoyable wimbledon. What did you actually make it kindled in itself of the of the place of the people I didn't understand it. I was really taken aback by how in the tradition oriented they are now. I understand that some of that is great at the time. I thought these causes a bunch of steps. You know, I understand this at all, but I could
pretty quickly. They didn't understand me either until I got to the quarters, move me into the general in a locker room. We did suddenly I get sort of an inkling of what was to come, each of which was that when I played the quarter funnels against failed, and I looked number one number one- the first summit in there- I lost the first said- I took my rack and I put it on- I sneak out there a snapped this damn thing I can't believe he lost his first and a typewritten. It's the first time that I recall being boot and I thought what are they booing me for I'm, the one that should be upset? You know why do they care so much suggest as the test them? I decided to kick my racket and kick it to where I was going to sit down to see if that would cause a reaction which it did. I thought this was the funniest thing: they don't get it they're missing the joke and then, when I ended up going back to the states they're like hey you're, that brad kid
the super bratty. All of a sudden there was I I was on my god. Even my eighteen year, old friends started looking at me, sort of weird. It reminded me that line and Jacob dylan says I haven't changed, but I know ain't the same and my life took a complete turned at that moment. Time from a music to mcenroe. Tell me: This then re on cutest, for what is right on cue, because actually this was what has happened in big time and now did Steve jobs over the course of the last ten fifteen years has become a friend of mine, and I respect him as as it person even always comply They nods, but then again maybe saw my, but this is right at the time where I was totally anonymous, walking the kings road and seeing these people ass, I got these people are freaks and then I started thinking those are the people there really started in a way rally behind me, and this is just a classic anthem. There's no question
the sex pistols and god save the queen. No mechano by the end of the seventies than you were ranked in the top five players in the world. Those above you were, of course, born borg was jimmy corners features, gonna lie siskiyou movie less
you said that when you were watching bjorn, of course you you more than admired his considerable playing skills, but you know you saw the girls when the girls start come. When did you get them hanging outside the look of relief? I never had a due to any degree like mr borg or Mr Guerrero laid aside. I too stirring the book wherein studio fifty four, which is I ve spot where everyone went and need our. I was five six in the world back on five in the world. Let me in and made like get out of here kid. So I'd try to being in such vetoes because they rolled out the red carpet for him. I'd say when he did. You say you are going to do you mind if I tag along, I mean I want to stanford. This was after I play my first wimbledon ranked. I believe when I went to Stanford university, twenty one in the world was pretty good, and so
I thought our eye. A girls are really guinness, be impressed by this and no one gave a rat's ass. So I thought, oh, my god, I gotta get a lot better than ask as this is in good enough. So that was an incentive. You know you get things it push you you're next piece of music till neck and let's hear you fit till his. This is a little bit of a sounder one. You know nirvana, obviously, chains music in the early nineties in Kirk, obeying I met a couple times, but I was actually in Argentina, a plain exhibition? and I was going on stage with a friend of mine who is argentinian. We were going to maybe play with a cup other people when word came that kirk albanian killed himself, and I think that was probably one of the most down moments ever felt just feeling so bad that this had happened, and I went on stage. It was like the white stripes me in the DRC
are we played easily the worst rendition of come as you are in his memory? Hopefully, there's no tapes, I'm just praying that young click that on and it's made plain and argentina that its car cobain playing come as europe, brad: Yes, That was nirvana, as you are, an in nineteen eighty, of course we should remind me
then that you made it through to that wimbledon final. It went down in history. Such was the quality and the intensity of the tennis. Indeed, nelson Mandela even said that he was listening to the commentary on the radio while he was on robin islands. That must have been extraordinary to hear that. To imagine that this match that you were playing that was so personal to you reached our way beyond what the big referring was the time I met him, and he told me this story after a gardener become president, and this is a must, fixture journey handshake. I've ever felt my entire life. I've goosebumps is thinking about it, and you know him telling me it's an honor to meet you and I'm looking back on what I should be saying that they say to him, and then it really put in perspective that he taught me listen you this match on the radio which later I figured out, ok, he's talking about when he was in prison for twenty seven years of his life,
and I'm sitting there whining about a line call yeah I mean we should remind people who haven't seen it recently. You won a tie, break eighteen, sixteen to take the match to a fifth set, and you must have thought at that point. It's mine yeah. He had won four in a row. I thought he's going to lead his corpse aboard, be on board. I thought he'd be discouraged because he had let it slip away. And I had it and he taught me something he dug deeper. He show greater resolve more well. He was incredibly fatty was like than thou of today. in a way he wore me down. I still thought I had him. It made me realize after that match even I had gained a lotta respect from the players, the fans and media everybody that I needed to improve, and I needed to want it more. I needed to get hungry ernie they get fitter, so it was agreed, lesson and I was very proud to be part of that match, even though I lost it at that time, in your life and as you were the euro per,
forming than wimbledon and of many other courts around the world? You know you were haranguing umpires, you were breaking racquets you'd, sometimes turn the air blue. What was all that about? That was about being spoiled. I suppose him knowing that you can get away with it to a large degree in absolute frustration and anger, not handling myself very well at times a lot of the time. I believe it help because it got me into it and got the adrenaline pumping got me more energized and perhaps if that was all it took- to throw off someone. That's too bad was that a kind of punk sensibility was something about the time that you were playing tennyson or was it more about you it was a combination, but this sport was exploding. There was a lot of personalities in tennis. Connor's was, you know he seemed misbehave pretty well. So I didn't think I was.
add compare to him and his thousands and then people started got whoa wait on. How could you do this, but it was just such an exciting time to be in ten us and I suppose, in a way here I say I was coming into my own. We know how closely tennis player these days are monitored in their contracts, anybody compensate you John pight done. This is not good for a refill knight who owns nike. He would call me after I would get into some bad situation. Sir. Miss behave, any say, John just keep doing what you're doing, don't change anything and they actually have campaign said they work around that then I bet your next. He sent me to next. One is,
this reminds me cuz. This was before in my life change. This makes me remember when I lost my virginity. The first unfortunate soul that has put up with me, love, stevie, wonder and stevie wonder, is one of the magnificent musicians and talents in the history of music and she opened my eyes and ears still holds her two different.
The music, and so it got me going in thinking. Well, there's a lot more to music than I know. They know now a myth I will see the wonder and as it would, of course be ninety ninety one than John mcenroe, when you did finally beat bjorn borg to win the first of your three wimbledon singles titles and
said being world number. One is like the summit of everest, weird territory impossible to understand. I love to try to sort of understand that. Can you give me a window? said an unbelievably satisfying feeling and you are sort of the dirt. To number one. Is a lot more fun than when you actually get on the summit yeah? I think that people that climb mt everest- I respected people to do it, but when you get up there and they take the pictures and hey guess what he had to go back down and that sort of what you feel like at the top, you don't feel that comfort I didn't feel it where I was always looking over my shoulder and what's going to happen next. Can I enjoy the moment, and I was unable to as well as I would have liked. That's why
struggled with it at the time and even struggle with it. Now I mean I'm better now, but I'm also thirty years over the hill. One of them was difficult. Things for people who are in the public eye for long stretch of time is, of course, that their life is, is scrutinised in every possible way and when they have their difficult times. There is scrutinised as the happy times when has been the most difficult time for you when you ve wish that people, the press we just bought out well at the end of my first marriage, sir trimly difficult, and I stopped plain, and I try to just sort of more or less go away. That's really where I got into music, but that was extremely devil unfortunately continues to be difficult. Has nothing to do with the press. I can't blame the press for that one, but that's in oversight. Of course, I should to my people was to take him. Oh neil, who herself was incredibly famous. She was the youngest person at the time you ever wonder still in an oscar, less work for paper moon and you have three children together, you see now you got six children in sixty.
oh yeah, you talk about, allow dinner table eyes it. What can I do for you with sixty I'll? It's been, you know. The toughest thing in the world is to be successful, father and to parent kids, especially, I guess kid said- have come from situation we're both their parents have some notoriety in some fame and some success. All all three me in both my present wife and my ex wife, and if you guys are on the same page, it makes it extremely tricky and difficult say I hope and pray every day that my kids just be happy in and healthy in and be
but have success relies tell me about your seven soy stomach and what do we get when the seven choices it? I had to bring this up just because my wife has accused me of being a white rocker, and this is a sign that came around very early in my career as I was ascending, the latter towards the top of the game and all of what was happening felt like this, which is happening for the first time, and in addition to that make Jones is an old old friend of mine is a matter of fact. He was one of the few people that was at my first wedding. So that's why I picked particular too
spend much together will make. that was foreigner and feels like the first time, John mcenroe, when I listened to your commentary as I often do, you seem very light of spirits. Your sense of humor seems very close to the surface and I'm wondering does anything they imagine these days been entrapped. on the way to this interview with upsetting. But that's you don't seem in the lightest of needs actually ass. He came here. I feel much better. Now. I know you ve made me feel very comfortable. Thank your pardon. I get the final thing I get mad at things. I think that the length of the anger is is not as long as it were, Generally, it takes more to get me going that doesn't mean that some things
going to happen tomorrow. I dont know how much you know about this, my intention here on this desert island is to cost you away. You're gonna be on your own on a desert island which his wife course you ve got a little, but I do think you'd be entertaining yourself at coping with the situation on better than I ever was a boy by myself. I do enjoy some time alone. Some solitude. I love the companionship of having a happy marriage. I love that every one of my kids wanted to speak to me every day. So I'm not gonna idea that I'm one of these guys it would be real, come to both been playin Tom hanks, his son on cast away too, but none the less I think, I'm better whipped to handle it now than I then I've been so sues fairly lengthy peers. At times, I believe I could survive. Tell me that you find a piece of music John. They know what are we gonna hear while the final piece, is it is energy song is how I would describe. It is one of the great
to me the last twenty years, and it so happens that one of my best friends is is in the ban rage against the machine I didn't see him in their heyday, but I so many first came back about ten years ago, when I was amazed at how athletic They were on stage and the amount of crazy ass I was going on in a crowd people just absolutely knowing knots. wanting to sort of jump out of their pants and skin with something I can relate One some of us,
the killing in the name that was rate against the machine. So John, it's time for me, I give every castaway some books to take to the island to get the bible and the complete works of shakespeare. Let's keep going a cancer. You also get to take a book of your own. What's your own, but gonna, be I'm gonna have to go with one flew over the coup
business, which is one of my all time, favorite movies in one of my all time, favorite actors, who I share the scene with anger management and that would make me feel good great. Ok, you can have that you realise a luxury to, and this is something you can't be too useful, but something to make life just a little bit more bearable on this island was it can. I would have to pick on all vintage martin acoustic guitar. I could master my craft if I had enough time and I'd have a lot of time as fine. You can have that and if the disks were to threaten to be washed away into the sea
which is the one disk that you would run to save as a tough one, I would have to pick come as you are by nevada. It's yours, John mcenroe. Thank you very much for letting us here. Your desert, island disk space forever me
You ve been listening to a diamond from the BBC. You'll find more information on the radio for website BBC co. Uk slash radio, for This is the bbc.
Transcript generated on 2022-06-12.