DATE July 2, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Eric Burdon discusses his musical career with The
Animals and his new memoir, "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross.
Eric Burdon was the lead singer of the English band The Animals, which was
part of the British Invasion of the mid-'60s. Their hits included "House Of
The Rising Sun," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and "We Gotta Get Out of This
Place." After moving to the US, Burdon formed a new version of The Animals,
which had such counterculture-era hits as "Sky Pilot" and "San Franciscan
Nights." He also co-founded the band War.
Burdon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. He has a new
CD, "My Secret Life." Let's hear The Animals' first hit, "House Of The Rising
(Soundbite of "House Of The Rising Sun"; music)
Mr. ERIC BURDON (The Animals): (Singing) There is a house in New Orleans
they call the Rising Sun. And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy, and,
God, I know I'm one. My mother was a tailor, sewed my new blue jeans. My
father was a gamblin' man down in New Orleans.
BIANCULLI: Terry spoke with Burdon in 2002. She asked him about the early
days of the British Invasion, when The Animals, The Beatles and The Stones
were getting off the ground.
Mr. BURDON: I took one look at The Stones one night--I mean, I'd met Mick
before. I'd jammed with him down in London, in Reading, which is not far from
where they grew up collectively--The Stones grew up. And I would travel to
Paris to buy records and to London to buy records. And then I would stop off
at Alexis Corner--God bless him--his club, where there was the first British
R&B movement there. And The Stones and myself, you know, before we were
Animals, before we were Stones, we all crowded into this room and listened to
these guys interpreting American music. And it would just blow our socks off,
So we'd stand in line asking Mr. Corner, `Alexis, please, can we sing, man?
Can we jam with you?' you know. And he'd say, `Yeah, OK, tonight. Mick,
Eric, do you know Elmore James', you know, `"King of the Highway"?' `Yeah,'
and we'd get up and we'd jam. Yeah. OK.
Then they became--then we all went home and we thought about it, and we
started our own bands. And we became The Animals, and we didn't have any idea
that down in London The Rolling Stones become The Stones. What overnight grew
from a brotherhood of musicians worshiping black Americans, worshiping
American culture, trying to spread the word to audiences by every night
saying, `Look, we're going to play a tune now. It's called "Roll Over
Beethoven," but you can get this record at your local store tomorrow by Chuck
Berry. Please, buy the record by Chuck Berry. Don't listen--you know, take
my advice: Don't listen to me.' That was one of my favorite slogans at the
GROSS: Let me play another recording that you made with The Animals; this one
in 1965. It's "We've Gotta Get Out of This Place."
(Soundbite of "We Gotta Get Out of This Place")
Mr. BURDON: (Singing) In this dirty old part of the city, where the sun
refused to shine, people tell me there ain't use in tryin'. Now, my girl,
you're so young and pretty, and one thing I know is true. You'll be dead
before your time is due, I know. Watch my daddy, he's bent and tired; watch
his hair, been turnin' gray. He's been workin' and slavin' his life away.
Oh, yes, I know it.
THE ANIMALS: (In unison) Work!
Mr. BURDON: (Singing) He's been workin' so hard.
THE ANIMALS: (In unison) Work!
Mr. BURDON: (Singing) Might be workin' two jobs every night and day. Yeah,
yeah, yeah! We gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever
do. We gotta get out of this place. Girl, there's a better life for me and
GROSS: You grew up in Newcastle, which is a coal mining town.
Mr. BURDON: I did, yeah.
GROSS: Did you want to get out of there? Did this song express the sentiment
of how you felt?
Mr. BURDON: I wanted to get out of everything. I just--you know, we saw
imported American movies and French movies at the local theater that would
show anything that was X-rated. And we would make our way in there by hook or
by crook, and we'd see these movies when we were supposed to be studying at
college, at art school. And it was like, `We want to be there. We want to
get there.' Yeah, I mean, the song became an anthem for different people, you
know. Everybody, at somewhere in their life, wants to get out of the
situation they're in.
GROSS: When were you growing up in Newcastle, did your father work in the
Mr. BURDON: No, he was lucky. He was an electrician. But he took me down a
mine one day because he used to do the electrical servicing of the pits, the
collieries. So when the pit was shut down and all the miners were away on a
holiday, he took me down a shaft to the pit floor. And I stood there in the
total freezing, cold darkness, and there was damp, wet water dripping
everywhere. And funny enough it was called The Rising Sun Colliery.
Mr. BURDON: And I just knew that he did that to let me know just what it was
like to be down there.
GROSS: To discourage you from having to work there?
Mr. BURDON: Well, yeah, because everybody wanted to work in the mines. It
was the best money you could possibly make...
Mr. BURDON: ...because it was the most dangerous job. And it would have
killed me off real quick because I'm an asthmatic.
GROSS: Why don't we listen to the song that your book takes its title from,
your 1965 hit "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." I've always really loved this
record. Where did you get the song from?
Mr. BURDON: I heard Nina Simone sing it.
GROSS: Really? I didn't know she sang this.
Mr. BURDON: And--yeah. Oh, yeah. And I was a big fan of Nina. And one
night, Linda Eastman suggested that we go see her at Hunter College.
GROSS: This was Linda Eastman, who became Linda McCartney.
Mr. BURDON: Linda McCartney, sorry. I still think of her as Linda Eastman.
GROSS: You knew her way back. Yeah.
Mr. BURDON: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And I said, `Oh, come on, Linda, you
know, we can't'--`Yes, yes, yes. And I've got it set up. You're going to
meet her backstage.' `Oh, really?'
So after the show, which blew my mind, completely had me mesmerized, we went
backstage and I was further mesmerized to see that when the autograph hunters
had dissipated that Nina was left sitting there at her dressing table with her
manager, who was an ex-Chicago cop, I think, and her guitar player. And she
looked up at me and said, `So you're the little white--(makes noises)--that
took my song.' And I said, `Yeah, you could say that,' you know. And she
said, `Well, you know, thanks for screwing it up,' or whatever. And I said,
`Listen, you know, if you'll give writer's royalties to the guys in Angola
State Prison, who are down there still working under the hot sun in the
sugarcane--if you'll give them the acknowledgement for a recording, you know,
a work song that was on one of'--`Wait a minute. Wait a minute. OK. My
name's Nina Simone. What's your name?' `Eric Burdon.' She said, `Oh, cool.'
We shook hands, and we were sort of friends from that point on.
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear the 1965 recording by Eric Burdon and The
Animals "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."
(Soundbite of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood")
Mr. BURDON: (Singing) Don't let me be misunderstood. Baby, sometimes I'm so
carefree, with a joy that's hard to hide. And sometimes it seems that all I
have to do is worry, and then you're bound to see my other side. But I'm just
a soul whose intentions are good. Oh, Lord, please don't let me be
BIANCULLI: "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," by The Animals.
We're listening back to Terry's 2002 interview with the lead singer, Eric
Burdon. He has a new solo album called "My Secret Life." We'll hear more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2002 interview with the lead singer of
The Animals, Eric Burdon.
GROSS: Now before you started singing rock 'n' roll, you sang jazz.
Mr. BURDON: Yeah, I...
GROSS: What kind of material were you doing?
Mr. BURDON: Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Witherspoon, one of my heroes. I listened
to a lot of Count Basie. I listened to a lot of, you know, what was called...
GROSS: Jump blues kind of stuff you were doing?
Mr. BURDON: Well, yeah. That was my love. I mean, that was the stuff that
I loved was jump blues, rhythm and blues. But I also liked cool, you know,
West Coast, Shorty Rogers and all that kind of stuff. You know, I couldn't
wait to also--not to go beyond New York and the Deep South, but also to get to
the West Coast, as well, because I knew from reading and research that a lot
of the players who were a part of the black urban drift who came up from the
Mississippi Delta, they moved through Detroit to get jobs. And then if they
became successful at recording and they made a little dough and they traveled
a lot, they would eventually find themselves out on the West Coast by
GROSS: When you got to America with The Animals--I mean, so much of the music
that you loved was from America. Did you meet any of the people who you had
idolized when you were living in England?
Mr. BURDON: I met most of them before I left England.
GROSS: Oh, singing at clubs there?
Mr. BURDON: No. There's a venue in my hometown, the city hall. It was the
only venue available for top-ranking jazz stars and, well, musicians of every
caliber. And I stood in one doorway every night, and in this particular
doorway, guaranteed, I could meet anybody that I ever wanted to meet. And
because of that doorway, I met Louis Armstrong when I was 11 years of age. He
took me into his dressing room.
GROSS: Oh, really? That was nice of him.
Mr. BURDON: And I--his trombone player took me in. Jack Teagarden came out,
and they heard that I was singing along with all their songs. I think a cop
went in there and said, `There's a kid out there, man, in the doorway, you
know, can't afford to get in. He's singing along with all your songs, you
know.' And then Jack Teagarden came out, towering way above me, you know, and
said, `Come here. I want you to meet Pops. I want to show you something.'
GROSS: You know, it's funny. The Animals started recording in '64. By '67,
there was the New Animals. It was a new band that you were playing with.
Mr. BURDON: Yeah.
GROSS: And your material had changed, and I imagine your way of performing
had changed, and a lot of the culture had changed.
Mr. BURDON: Yeah.
GROSS: You know, by '67, you're talking more hippie culture. You're doing
LSD. There's light shows on stage.
Mr. BURDON: Yep.
GROSS: You're singing "San Franciscan Nights." So it just seems like such a
dramatic change in just a couple of years. I'm wondering if you can compare
the experience of singing on stage, say, in 1964 at the beginning of that
whole British Invasion era, with singing in '67.
Mr. BURDON: Well, yeah. I mean, everything changed. The most important
thing is that our minds had changed. And that's part of the lyric of one of
my songs, `Walls move and minds do, too,' you know. The Animals had arrived
in America and did two years of touring in America. We'd passed through San
Francisco. We'd been to the Hungry Eye to see Lenny Bruce. It was still
bongo mongo. You know, everybody was wearing black, reading Lawrence
Ferlinghetti. And then when I went back, it was like somebody had just taken
tons of paint and just plastered the place with graffiti and paisley colors.
And even--you got off the plane at the airport and everybody had long hair and
you could smell incense and marijuana everywhere.
Now what happened here? I mean, this is incredible. So I had a girlfriend
who called me. She lived in Sacramento. And she said, `You've got to come
out and see what's happened to San Francisco. You won't believe it.' And I
never went back. I thought, `This is great, this is the future. We're going
to change the world. You know, we're going to really change things.'
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear one of your recordings from that era? You
want to hear "San Franciscan Nights"?
Mr. BURDON: Yeah, you can play that, yeah.
GROSS: OK. Let's hear it.
(Soundbite of "San Franciscan Night")
Mr. BURDON: (Singing) Strobe light's beam creates dreams. Walls move.
Minds do, too, on a warm San Franciscan night. Old child, young child feel
all right on a warm San Franciscan night. Angels sing, leather wings, jeans
of blue, Harley-Davidsons, too, on a warm San Franciscan night. Old angel,
young angel, feel all right on a warm San Franciscan night. I wasn't born
there. Perhaps I'll die there. There's no place left to go, San Francisco.
GROSS: That's Eric Burdon and the New Animals recorded, in--What?--about '67.
Mr. BURDON: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, '67, yeah.
GROSS: In the back of your memoir "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," there's a
photograph of you. And in this photo, you're rolling a joint and licking it,
and on the table is a gun.
Mr. BURDON: Yeah.
GROSS: What's the gun doing there?
Mr. BURDON: Well, I had to come to America to experience America. And one
of the biggest experiences one can have in America is you can own a gun, dude.
You have the right to go out there and shoot yourself in the foot. And it's
become such a way of life for us that we've forgotten how wicked it really is,
But being wicked is part of the thing, you know, that you go out in the world
to discover how wicked you can be, how bad you can be, man. I want to be bad,
you know. I want to be American, yeah. I'm in America. What do I do? I go
out and buy a .44 Magnum. In fact, I didn't buy a .44 Magnum. Somebody came
to a gig in Wyoming--Billings, Montana, correction. They came to my door with
an oily rag, and there was a .44 Magnum in it. And he said, `This is a gift
from the people of Wyoming, you know. May it protect you. May it serve you
well.' That gun got me into so much trouble...
GROSS: What kind of trouble?
Mr. BURDON: I don't want to go into it because...
Mr. BURDON: ...it's detrimental to my mental health. But I only know that
one night, I threw it into the swimming pool. And my wife called Jimmy
Witherspoon, and Jimmy Witherspoon came up to the house, and he said, `What's
that piece doing in the pool, man?' And my wife said, `It's Eric's handgun.
He doesn't want it anymore.' `Man.' He takes his clothes off, jumps into the
pool, retrieves the gun. He had it until the day he died. And I would get
messages from him all over the world from people who had met him and run into
him, and he would send a message saying, `Just tell him I got his gun. I got
his gun, and it's cool. It's in good condition. It's oiled and it's ready to
GROSS: Did you give up wanting to be bad?
Mr. BURDON: Yeah, after I loosed off a couple of rounds one night trying to
get rid of another well-known rock star and realized what damage I could
really do, I kind of swore that I would never touch a weapon again.
Mr. BURDON: It still doesn't stop me having a fascination for it. I still
know every caliber of every gun that's out there. Know thy enemy; know what
you're up against. But I--yeah, I've thrown in the towel on that score.
BIANCULLI: Eric Burdon. He first came to the US as the lead singer of the
British invasion band The Animals. His new CD is called "My Secret Life."
I'm David Bianculli. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of song)
BIANCULLI: Coming up, how to make it big being selfish, neurotic and
annoying. We meet two of the co-conspirators behind HBO's "Curb Your
Enthusiasm, Larry David and Bob Weide. And linguist Geoff Nunberg compares
the speaking styles of George W. Bush and John Kerry.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Robert Weide discusses the show "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.
After co-creating and writing the phenomenally popular series "Seinfeld,"
Larry David moved from behind the scenes to star in his own HBO series, "Curb
Your Enthusiasm," which recently completed its fourth season. In the series,
Larry David plays an exaggerated version of himself. The chief difference, he
says, is that the TV Larry does and says things that the real-life Larry
doesn't have the nerve to. And the TV Larry, for saying what he thinks,
usually pays for it. "Curb's" second season is now out on DVD.
We'll hear from Larry in a few minutes, but first let's listen to Terry's
recent interview with Robert Weide. He's an executive producer and director
of "Curb." Weide has also made documentaries about his comic heroes,
including Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and the Marx brothers, and he's working on
one now about Kurt Vonnegut. In "Curb Your Enthusiasm," many of the plots are
based on real-life incidents that actually happens to someone working on the
show. Weide told Terry about one of them.
Mr. ROBERT WEIDE ("Curb Your Enthusiasm"): A few years ago a friend of mine
passed away and it was all very sad. But the friends got together that night
of the funeral. And, you know, my friend lived alone and he wasn't married.
And there was talk about, you know, his family would eventually be going
through his apartment and gathering things. And one of us said, `Gee, should
we go in there first and sort of make a run and see if there's anything that,
you know, maybe he wouldn't want his family to discover?'
And so after a little bit of drinking, we all decided that we should sort of
have an understanding that we do that with each other. And if anybody, you
know, went prematurely, the others would go into, you know, their home and
apartment and start to look to see if there's, you know, any magazines or
anything lying about. And so I brought that to Larry, and that wound up being
a story in season one, I guess it was, the "Porno Gil" episode, where Jeff is
in the hospital, he's about to have some emergency bypass and asks Larry to go
to his house, tells him where the secret stash of pornography is and asks
Larry to gather it up so his wife doesn't find it if, God forbid, something
happens on the operating table.
But Larry's brilliance again was weaving that into a story that he already had
about this ex-porno star. And when Larry goes into the house and finds this
stash, he finds a tape that, you know, this friend that he just had dinner
with appears in and puts it on. And then Jeff's parents walk in. And so he
can take these ideas and just find a way to fashion them into something way
beyond anything you could imagine would ever be that funny.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Well, let's hear a scene from the "Porno Gil" episode. And this is from "Curb
Your Enthusiasm," the Larry David show.
(Soundbite of "Curb Your Enthusiasm")
Mr. JEFF GARLIN: This key right here.
Mr. LARRY DAVID: Mysterious.
Mr. GARLIN: Very mysterious. This key right here, my front door. I need you
to go into my house, OK? Go up to my bedroom. To the left of the TV, there's
a cabinet by the bookcase there. Open it up. Move the linens--there's linens
in there. Move them to the side, push on the back door, and it'll open up.
Inside there I have like my porn collection. There are like seven, eight porn
tapes, a couple of magazines, all right? I need you to get them out of there.
You've got to get it out of there because if something happens to me...
Mr. DAVID: Oh, you're thinking like the anesthesia or something goes wrong...
Mr. GARLIN: ...something--anything goes wrong--she's not a big porn person.
Mr. DAVID: So in case you die, you don't want your wife to discover your
Mr. GARLIN: She doesn't understand that. I'm not embarrassed about it or
Mr. DAVID: I'm just ...(unintelligible).
Mr. GARLIN: That's your own deal.
Mr. DAVID: Yeah, OK.
Mr. GARLIN: That's your own deal, Repression Jones.
Mr. DAVID: I--well, what about--is there an alarm code or anything like that?
Mr. GARLIN: Easy, 9988.
Mr. DAVID: I better write that down.
Mr. GARLIN: In there should be a pen and a piece of paper.
(Soundbite of drawer opening and closing)
Mr. DAVID: 9988. OK.
Mr. GARLIN: I can't believe you have to write it down.
Mr. DAVID: What am I going to do with these things?
Mr. GARLIN: Keep it in your trunk.
Mr. DAVID: What if I get in an accident on the way home? What about that and
Mr. GARLIN: And the porn goes flying everywhere?
Mr. DAVID: ...strewn all over the car, all over my bleeding body?
Mr. GARLIN: Yeah. You'll be fine.
Mr. DAVID: The alarm code; I'm worried about this, too.
Mr. GARLIN: No, nothing's going to happen.
Mr. DAVID: I'm no good with stuff like that.
Mr. GARLIN: 9988.
Mr. DAVID: It's too technical for me.
Mr. GARLIN: 9988.
Mr. DAVID: The alarm's going to go off, there'll be a SWAT team descending on
me. This whole thing just has disaster written all over it.
Mr. GARLIN: You'll be fine. Trust me.
Mr. DAVID: And your wife better not show up.
Mr. GARLIN: Yeah, I guarantee she's not going to be there. She'll be here.
I appreciate it.
Mr. DAVID: Good luck.
Mr. GARLIN: You're a great pal. You're a great pal. I appreciate it.
Mr. DAVID: Try not to die.
Mr. GARLIN: Try not to die? Thank you.
GROSS: How did you start working with Larry David?
Mr. WEIDE: Larry and I have known each other for more than 20 years now, and
we met initially--I was heading up development for the production management
team of Rollins and Joffe, who produce all of Woody Allen's movies and have
been with him from the beginning. And, oh, they've managed every great
comedian from Robin Williams to Billy Crystal to Robert Klein and Martin
Short, and on and on. But I was their development person about 20 years ago,
a little more, and so one of my duties was to read scripts that came in for
non-Woody Allen projects.
And a script came on my desk called "Prognosis Negative," and I read it. It
was one of the funniest scripts I'd ever read. And I said to the guys, `Well,
we have to bring in this writer, Larry David. This is such a funny script.'
And we all did know Larry because Larry at that time had appeared on a show
called "Fridays," which was a late-night variety/comedy show. So we brought
Larry in for these meetings.
Now the story of "Prognosis Negative" was typical Larry David. It was about a
fellow much like Larry--this was, again, you know, years ago, so it would have
been the younger Larry--who was single, who was dating and just could never
make a commitment to a woman. And he'd go through one relationship after
another because he couldn't commit. And then finally he finds out that a
woman that he dated a few years ago who was nice, he quite liked her, finds
out that she's terminally ill and that she doesn't know it. That's the
beautiful thing. He finds out accidentally from a doctor. And so he thinks,
`Well, this is the perfect relationship, because I can go out with her and I
can commit to her, and what's she got, six months? In six months, it will be
over.' So that was sort of the basis of the story.
So Larry would come in for these meetings with myself and the executives
there, and the executives would say, `Larry, we love the script, it's very,
very funny. But, boy, this character, you know, he's not very sympathetic.
Do you think there's anything you can do to make him a little more
sympathetic, a little more likable?' And Larry would think about it and then
say, `No. No, I don't think so. No, not at all.' So it was more important
to him to sort of stick to his guns about that character rather than make an
easy sale to get the film made and to change it. So I just thought, `Well, I
like this guy. I like his way of thinking.'
So we started to hang out. I'd go to the clubs with him, the comedy clubs.
He was doing stand-up in those days. And so many nights, I'd be with him in
the clubs and he'd be on stage performing. And some nights he'd do rather
well, but there were nights when he would just bomb terribly. And I would
just be in the back of the room laughing because I thought the material was
brilliant and the audiences did not know what to make of him. And they would
just stare up at him like carp in a pond. And I remember thinking, `Boy, if
the country ever caught up to this guy's sense of humor, there will be chaos
in the streets.'
GROSS: What was his stand-up act like?
Mr. WEIDE: Well, it was unlike anything else I had seen. First of all, Larry
would come out on stage, and there was no, `Good evening. How are you,'
anything like that. Actually looked a little bit like a deer caught in the
headlights behind that microphone. And this is one night I remember--this was
sort of typical of what he would do. He would come out on stage, and the
first thing he'd say was, `Every morning I wake up and thank God that I wasn't
born a wealthy, Spanish landowner because...'
GROSS: (Laughs) What?
Mr. WEIDE: ...which is, you know, a typical opening for a comedy monologue,
`because if I were, I would never know whether to address the help using the
two form or the usted form. And you'd say, "If I use the usted form, I don't
want them to feel I'm being condescending. Yet if I use the two form, I don't
want them to feel so familiar that they can just come into my kitchen and help
themselves to anything in my refrigerator."' And that would be the kind of
thing that would just knock me on the floor because, to me, that was a very
sort of Robert Benchleyesque sort of concept, something that harkened back to
the days of Benchley and Pearlman and those great wits. But the audience
was--you know, usually it was 1:30 in the morning, and they were sort of
drunk, and they wanted, you know, the obvious sex jokes. And I'm telling you,
I would be hysterical, but people would be throwing things at him. People
would be shouting to him to get off the stage.
And Larry has a very combative personality, so he was no shrinking violet. He
would start shouting back at the audience. And then there would be the people
in the audience who were ready to jump up there and punch him and then other
people who'd be shouting at them to, you know, `Let him talk, let him talk.'
And this melee would break out in the audience, the pro-Larry faction and the
anti-Larry faction. And I saw that happen on more than one night.
BIANCULLI: Robert Weide is executive producer and one of the directors of
"Curb Your Enthusiasm." We'll hear more from him, and Larry David, after this
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Robert Weide, executive
producer and director of Larry David's show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
GROSS: Since you've directed so many documentaries about comics, I'm
wondering where you think Larry David fits into modern comedy...
Mr. WEIDE: Well, it's...
GROSS: ...because he's kind of like an insult comic, but it's not like he's
Don Rickles or something. I mean, he insults--it's more like obnoxious than
insulting, though he insults people all around, but they're people in his real
world since this is a sitcom.
Mr. WEIDE: Right. Well, what is interesting is as schooled as I was in the
great comedians, both of the silent era and, you know, the golden age, '30s,
Larry is familiar with very little of that. You know, he's never seen a
complete Marx brothers movie or a W.C. Fields movie, and this is the stuff I
grew up on. And Larry and I a couple of years ago went to a Harold Lloyd
film. It was the first time he had seen Harold Lloyd and maybe the first time
he had seen an entire silent feature. And afterwards we walked out of that
theater, and his jaw was gaping. He just said, `My God, that was so funny. I
didn't know that silent films were so funny.'
The only real influences that I've known him to cite have been Abbott and
Costello and, really, from the TV years more than from their films and Phil
Silvers and Bilko and all of that. But that's what's interesting is that he
is that intuitive. He doesn't give a second thought to, really, his comic
persona in any sort of historical sense. And I'm always thinking about that,
and it even informs the way sometimes I'll direct or stage things or what I'll
contribute to stories, whatever. If Larry is doing battle with a little kid,
well, that can be uncomfortable unless that little kid has really done
something to deserve Larry's wrath. And that was sort of W.C. Fields'
thing--is that he could go after Baby LeRoy but only after Baby LeRoy dumped
Fields', you know, pocket watch into, you know, the molasses and was acting
like a real brat.
And sometimes with Larry and Jeff, I'll stage things in the way that Laurel
and Hardy would do it, where if they're facing Jeff's wife, Susie, who's
screaming at them, Larry will sort of hide behind Jeff's girth, which is a
very kind of Laurel & Hardy move.
GROSS: This season Larry David has been cast by Mel Brooks in "The Producers"
in the role of Max Bialystock, originated by Nathan Lane. How did that plot
idea get hatched?
Mr. WEIDE: Larry and I were actually in New York a few years ago, I think,
doing some publicity for--maybe it was the second season or the third season,
and we saw "The Producers" in New York, not with Nathan Lane and Matthew
Broderick but another cast that was in. And Larry, just watching these people
on stage singing and dancing, just was flabbergasted: `How do they do that?
How do they memorize all that? How do they know all the steps?' And he just
thought it was the scariest notion in the world. And then he started to
think, `Jeez, what if I were put in that situation where I had to do all
that?' And, again, that was just an idea that grew out of that moment of
seeing the show. And the season finale this year is the opening night of "The
Producers" on Broadway, and audiences can see if disaster strikes or not when
Larry takes to the boards.
GROSS: Well, Robert Weide, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. WEIDE: My pleasure. Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Bob Weide speaking earlier this year with Terry Gross.
Since the interview, "Curb" viewers have seen Larry open in "The Producers"
and learn in the season finale twist ending that Mel Brooks and his wife, Ann
Bancroft, have their own reasons for casting Larry in their hit Broadway
(Soundbite of "Curb Your Enthusiasm")
Mr. MEL BROOKS: Did you see the look on their faces?
Ms. ANN BANCROFT: (Laughing)
Mr. BROOKS: What Larry did, he forgot every line he...
Ms. BANCROFT: (Laughing)
Mr. BROOKS: He went up, up in smoke.
Ms. BANCROFT: I am so glad, so thankful--thank God that this damn play is
going to be over. We're going to get our lives back.
Mr. BROOKS: He has freed us from the anchor, from the albatross...
Ms. BANCROFT: Right. Right.
Mr. BROOKS: ..."The Producers," which has invaded our lives every single
minute, every hour of every day.
Ms. BANCROFT: Trapping us.
Mr. BROOKS: No more openings in Cleveland. No more sleeping in dirty beds in
Pittsburgh. We're free. Free at last.
Ms. BANCROFT: I know.
Mr. BROOKS: Isn't it wonderful?
Ms. BANCROFT: How did you know that he could ruin the show? How?
Mr. BROOKS: The minute I laid eyes on him, I said, `This guy's a disaster.
He's a living disaster. He's a storm.' He's like a storm that will destroy
everything in its path. I mean, he's got this gift. Everything he touches he
dooms. He's a little cyclone, a little tornado destroying the St. James
Ms. BANCROFT: I know.
Mr. BROOKS: Any minute now, the show will be dead. Here, a toast, to the
death of "The Producers."
(Soundbite of glasses clinking)
Mr. BROOKS: May it rest in peace.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
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Commentary: Speaking styles of George W. Bush and John Kerry
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Is John Kerry nuanced or is he equivocal? Is that forthrightness we're
hearing from George Bush or is it arrogance? Geoff Nunberg has been listening
to both men with a linguist's ear, and he thinks those impressions may depend
on how they use little words like `now' and `see.'
Which of the major presidential candidates recently began a section of a
foreign policy speech with a phrase `As complicated as Iraq seems'? You
needn't have heard this speech to guess that it was John Kerry. George Bush
doesn't begin a lot of sentences by reminding you that the issue is
complicated. It's hard to think of two presidential candidates who deal with
complexity more differently than those two do, the one acknowledging it at
every turn, the other gliding over it as if it weren't there.
If you're looking for a stylistic key to Kerry's complexity complex, listen to
the sentences he begins with `now.' I'm not talking about the now that means
at this moment, but the now that announces a reservation or a concession, the
one that sets up a `but' somewhere down the line, as in `Now I know it's no
beauty, but it'll get you to work on time.' That's where Kerry piles on his
qualifications and hedges before he finally comes down on a question.
Here he is in a recent interview with The Washington Post.
(Soundbite of interview)
Senator JOHN KERRY (Democratic Presidential Candidate): They way to go is to
try to maximize the ability to be successful. Now this administration may
have--and I say may have, I don't know the answer to this, they also may not
have. It may be that we get brainy through a successful process. It may be
there's a sufficient level of deal cut. It may be that the parties will all
quell their individual aspirations long enough to get us out of there and
reduce the level and then go at it. I don't know. I mean, you don't know. I
don't; None of us do. But I'll tell you, we're not maximizing potential for
the outcome that we went in there to achieve.
NUNBERG: That's a typical Kerry comment with as many forks and switchbacks as
the Boston subway. The style makes him an easy mark for charges that he's
inconsistent or lacks strong convictions, particularly if you pull out a
snippet to use as a soundbite. `They may have, they may also not have.' But
Kerry's involuted syntax is less a sign of prevarication than of an excess of
prudence. He steps into a thought like someone cautiously wading into Iraqi
stream, always probing with his toe for stones. And when he finally does set
his foot down, it's cushioned in abstractions. `We're not maximizing the
potential for the outcome we went in there to achieve.' When he's finished,
it's sometimes hard to tell if he's actually touched bottom.
George Bush rarely allows complexities to cloud his remarks. Even if he
wanted to, his syntax wouldn't be up to it. In fact, he often conveys a
puzzlement that things aren't as clear to others as they are to him. You can
hear that attitude in his predilection for beginning sentences with `see' or
`you see,' which he'll sometimes do half a dozen times in a single press
conference. Ordinarily, you use those expressions when you're letting your
listeners in on a hidden explanation, something you know that they don't.
`See, that's why they wrap them that way, so you can't tell they've shrunk the
But the remarks that Bush begins with `see' are rarely things that would come
as news to the audience. They're more often platitudes or truisms.
(Soundbite of speeches)
President GEORGE W. BUSH: It's an opportunity for us to say to a mother or a
dad, `Here's your chance to achieve your expectation for your child.' You
see, a society that is responsible is one in which a mother and dad, you know,
love their children with all their heart and all their soul.
And that's the definition of full sovereignty. You see, when a government's
fully sovereign, they then make requests on behalf of their people.
This economy of ours is strengthening, and that's positive. See, we want
people working here in America. We don't only want people...
Freedom-loving people did not seek this conflict. It has come to us by the
choices of violent men, hateful men. See, we see peace.
NUNBERG: It isn't likely that Bush thought that any of those remarks he
introduced with `see' were revelations to his audience. But then that isn't
really what he's doing with the word. It's like beginning a sentence with
`Let me tell you a little secret' or `This may come as news to you.' It's a
way of packaging a truism as if it were inside information, with the
implications there are some people who may not find it as obvious as it is to
you and me. It's as if to say that the world is really a simple place, except
for the people who make things too complicated to see the truth in front of
their noses. `See, I believe you have to ask for the vote.' `See, terrorists
To Bush's supporters, that little habit may convey resolute self-confidence.
But others are apt to hear it as smug and simplistic, the same way that
Kerry's elaborate verbal hedging can make him sound overcomplicated and
equivocal. That may seem a lot to lay on the back of a few conversational
ticks, but then sometimes the prefatory noises we make unconsciously can be
more revealing than the words that follow them.
`The style is the man himself,' said the Count de Buffon in the 18th century.
People sometimes quote that dictum as if it meant that a man was no more than
his style. But Buffon wasn't being reductive. He only meant that there's no
choice we make that doesn't open a little window onto our nature.
BIANCULLI: Geoff Nunberg is a Stanford linguist and the author of "Going
Nucular: Language, Politics and Culture in Confrontational Times."
BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.