DATE May 6, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Al Gore on his book "The Assault on Reason," on the
Democratic presidential race, and on climate change
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Al Gore has been staying on the sidelines in the Democratic primary. He's a
superdelegate who has not yet endorsed a candidate. This morning I spoke with
the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former vice president and senator about the
primary, the proposed gas tax holiday and several other issues. He was in
London. The occasion for the interview was the paperback publication of his
book "The Assault on Reason," which is about what has gone wrong in our
democracy and how he thinks we can fix it.
Al Gore, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It's a pleasure to have you here.
Mr. AL GORE: It's good to be here.
GROSS: The two biggest states remaining in the Democratic primary vote today.
You've been keeping quiet about the primary. You haven't made an endorsement.
What's your intention in remaining on the sidelines for now?
Mr. GORE: Well, we scheduled this book interview long before I or almost
anyone else felt that the Democratic contest would still be going on this
late. My purpose in not endorsing a candidate is nothing elaborate. I'm
simply watching and listening to the campaign. As a delegate to the
convention, I will cast my vote at the proper time. I haven't ruled out
making an endorsement prior to that time, but I haven't been moved to do so.
You know, I have respect for both candidates, and they both have strengths,
and I'm simply listening and watching like a lot of people.
GROSS: OK, speculation is that you're trying to remain neutral right now in
case you are needed as a party elder to step in and help referee a conclusion
to a race that seems like it might be inclusive.
Mr. GORE: Well, I don't like that phrase, party elder. A woman came up to
me in a restaurant not long ago and said, `You know, if you dyed your hair
black, you would look just like Al Gore.' I said, `Well, thank you, ma'am.'
And she said, `You sound like him, too.' And so I'm not anxious to be playing
that role of a party elder. I just turned 60, which is the new 59. And so
I'm just a voter and a recovering politician and watching it carefully.
GROSS: So you don't think you're going to be called on to step in at some
Mr. GORE: Well, I don't know that that role really exists. I've heard a lot
of speculation that the superdelegates, perhaps in capes, will come and rescue
this lingering process. But actually it's designed to allow the voters to
determine the outcome, and even though it has gone on much longer than is
normal in the age of primaries and caucuses, nevertheless I think the odds are
overwhelming that it will tip rather decisively in one direction or another
before the convention even meets.
GROSS: Because the superdelegates have so much power in this current primary,
some Democrats think that the superdelegate system should be abandoned after
this election and have it be more of a direct vote. What do you think?
Mr. GORE: I probably--it should be re-examined, but I prefer to wait until
this is over and get a full picture of how it has worked. I think it's
premature to--I guess there's widespread dissatisfaction with the whole idea
of having so many so-called superdelegates, and maybe that will be the
prevailing view when this cycle is over. I'd prefer to wait and see.
GROSS: Florida and Michigan aren't being counted in the primary because they
violated the DNC rules and jumped ahead in the primary schedule. A lot of
people in those states are very angry about not having their votes counted.
You know, I'm thinking like after the Florida recount, you're especially
sensitive to Florida voters feeling disenfranchised. Do you think there would
have been a way of punishing state party leaders instead of punishing voters
in how Florida and Michigan were handled?
Mr. GORE: Well, I guess that the party rules are there for a purpose, to
ensure the order and integrity of the process, and at some point the party has
to decide to enforce those rules. I'm sympathetic with Chairman Dean, and I
think, in fairness to him and others, everyone sort of assumed that by this
stage in the process there would be a nominee and ample opportunity to go back
and find remedies for the lack of participation by voters in Florida and
Michigan. And yet here we are.
And in Florida, it's interesting--if I'm not mistaken, the congressional
delegation and elected officials supporting both of the remaining candidates
unanimously came to the conclusion that they did not want to try and do the
contest over. I gather there was a good deal of concern about whether or not
they could manage the process in such a short period of time. There may yet
be an opportunity to go back and fix this before the convention. And one way
or another, they'll be seated. There will be delegations from both states.
There's no doubt about that.
GROSS: What do you think the fairest way of reconciling this would be?
Mr. GORE: Oh, I don't know. I don't know. I'll leave that to the...
GROSS: Party elders?
Mr. GORE: ...Democratic National--the party elders. Thank you. Yes, yes.
With more gray hairs than me.
GROSS: My guest is Al Gore, and his book "The Assault on Reason" has just
been published in paperback.
Do you worry, as some Democrats do, that this very intense primary race and
this very long primary race is ultimately weakening the party because of all
the money and all the ammunition the two Democratic candidates are using
against each other?
Mr. GORE: It could be. We'll know later on in the year. It could be that
it's reached the stage where damage to the eventual nominee, whichever of them
that turns out to be, has reached a point that will be difficult to repair.
But I'm not sure that's the case. There's a big pendulum in American politics
that favors the party that has been out of power in the White House for eight
years if there is a two-term incumbent. And that pendulum is swinging in
favor of the Democratic nominee this year, and one manifestation will be a
very powerful urge toward unity, no matter the divisiveness of the nominating
contests. And I would not underestimate the healing power of that desire to
win on the part of Democrats from all parts of the party. But I must confess,
I don't really know the answer to your question. It could well be that, even
with that urge to heal, it may have reached the point where this damage is
serious. But I don't know. I don't know.
GROSS: If so, that would be such a source of frustration to Democrats who
feel that this year, you know, President Bush has become so unpopular, many
Democrats feel this year should be an easy win, this presidential campaign
should be an easy win for them, but it might not be because of all of the
attacks in the primary and the prolonged primary.
Mr. GORE: And also because Senator McCain has cultivated an image as
something of a maverick and an outsider where the Republican Party is
concerned. I think he's put that image at risk by embracing President Bush's
policies so wholeheartedly. But you're right. It would be a source of
frustration for many Democrats if divisiveness in the primaries and any other
cause led to a feeling that what many believe should be the natural corrective
course of events here in 2008 was not going to play out. My guess is that the
Democratic nominee will retain a very powerful advantage, no matter who's
nominated, because of the record of the incumbent combined with the eight-year
Now, I must caution you and your listeners, Terry, that I have recently begun
to fear that I'm losing my objectivity on President Bush and Vice President
Cheney. And so you must take whatever I say about them with a grain of salt.
GROSS: Yes, you lost a whole lot of that objectivity in your book "The
Assault on Reason," which...
Mr. GORE: Well, I don't know.
GROSS: Just one more question about primaries. You ran in your share of
primaries, and, of course, ran for president. Are there different rules of
engagement for a primary contest than a presidential campaign where you're
running against someone from the opposite party? Is there usually an
understanding of how much artillery is OK to use against members of your own
party as opposed to against someone from the party?
Mr. GORE: Oh, I think these contests look and feel the same from the inside,
but yes, there is a felt obligation to show restraint in battling against the
member of one's own party. But there's a felt obligation toward restraint in
the general election contest if the rancor one might otherwise be vulnerable
to would be damaging to the country. I guess when you balance them out, by
and large, you'll see a little more restraint in the primaries. But it
depends on the candidate, doesn't it?
GROSS: My guest is Al Gore. His book "The Assault on Reason" has just been
published in paperback. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Al Gore, and the occasion for
his visit if the publication in paperback of his book "The Assault on Reason."
Your book is in part about how America's public discourse has become less
reasoned. You write, "American democracy is now in danger. Reason has been
withdrawn from the public sphere, and the resulting vacuum has been filled by
fear, superstition, ideology, deception, intolerance and obsessive secrecy."
Give me one example of what you mean by that.
Mr. GORE: Well, the day before the United States Senate voted to invade
Iraq, our longest-serving senator, Senator Robert Byrd, stood on the floor of
the Senate and asked poignantly, `Why is this chamber empty? Why are these
halls silent?' And in pointing out that the nation's greatest deliberative
body was about to make one of the most important decisions it would ever
face--a choice between war and peace--very few, if any, were present to hear
the speeches, and the role of reasoned discourse played a much smaller role
than our founders would have imagined.
And on that day, public opinion polls showed that more than three-quarters of
the American people, as of that moment, genuinely believed that the person
primarily responsible for attacking us on September 11th, 2001, was Saddam
Hussein. And of course he had absolutely nothing to do with it. Bad as he
was, he was not involved in that attack. And the fact that more than
three-quarters of our fellow citizens had been led to believe and did believe
that this war was, among other things, a justifiable act of revenge against
someone who had attacked us when it was not. That serves as an example of how
reasoned discourse, the best evidence of reliance on facts, and debate played
less of a role than it should, and that our founders assumed that it would.
And we got into deep, deep trouble as a result.
GROSS: Why do you think there was less debate in the Senate than there should
have been about the war?
Mr. GORE: Well, I think that the images of the towers falling down coupled
with repeated and organized assertions by the administration and their
spokesmen implying a linkage between Saddam Hussein and the attack had its
predicted effect. And I think that the Senate chamber was empty that day
because most of the senators were somewhere else. They were in fundraisers,
many of them, collecting money that they could use to buy the 30-second
television advertisements that are now the principal vehicle for our
re-election campaigns. And that's a feature of the television age. And
television is, even with the ascendancy of the Internet, by far the dominant
medium in our society.
And part of the thesis in this book, Terry, is that our Constitution was
written during the age of reason, which was defined by the printing press, and
our founders assumed that printed words by free presses, protected by the Bill
of Rights against any censorship or encroachment by government action, would
ensure a well-informed citizenry. And in a public marketplace of ideas
dominated by the television medium, there's reason to worry that reason itself
plays less of a role, and these advertisements which are linked to having
enough money to buy the advertisements and the 30 seconds with which to air
them. And so money plays a much bigger role and reason plays a smaller role.
GROSS: Now, in your book, you write about how President Bush has greatly
expanded executive power, and President Bush has signed an unprecedented
number of signing statements attached to legislation that he signed.
Mr. GORE: Yeah.
GROSS: And, you know, the way this works is President Bush can sign a bill
into law and then attach a separate statement that he signs saying that all or
a part of this bill the president considers to be unconstitutional, an
encroachment on his executive power and therefore he will decide not to follow
all or part of the bill that he's just signed, virtually vetoing the bill
without vetoing it. So what does that mean for the next president? Is the
next president supposed to follow President Bush's signing statement? Or is
does that just apply to President Bush? I don't really understand what kind
of precedent that sets for the next president.
Mr. GORE: Well, it's extra-constitutional. It's not really legal. It's not
GROSS: The signing statements in general?
Mr. GORE: Correct. Well, they have a limited role. It is not a new device.
But what is new in this administration is the ridiculous extreme to which this
has been taken, and the arrogance with which this president has asserted the
right to unilaterally, as one person, overturn acts of Congress that have been
enacted according to the Constitution, and even the Supreme Court decisions.
And that's really a violation of the spirit as well as the letter of the
GROSS: Let me give you an example of what I'm really unsure of. One of the
signing statements that President Bush issued, and you cite this one in your
book, has to do with the so-called McCain amendment that prevented what this
amendment defined as torture as well as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment
of detainees. It passed with enough votes to override a veto, so what
President Bush did after signing the bill into law is he wrote a signing
statement saying that he didn't have to follow this McCain amendment because
it violated what he thought was his constitutional powers. Correct me if I'm
getting any of this wrong. So say John McCain was elected president. What
would his options be in terms of dealing with President Bush's signing
Mr. GORE: Well, the reason you're having trouble with it is that it's
contrary to the American system. And in my view, not only would that signing
statement not bind the next president, it is not legal as a statement of law
where the current president is concerned. It is a raw assertion of authority
outside the boundaries of the law.
GROSS: But who would decide that it's officially legal or illegal? Nobody's
officially thrown it out saying `this is illegal.'
Mr. GORE: Well, that's correct, and in our system, the ultimate arbiter of
what is constitutional, since Marbury v. Madison in the first decades of our
republic, has been the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court does not take all
cases and has been often timid where this president's arrogation of authority
to himself is concerned. But even where they have not been timid, where, for
example, they ruled that the Clean Air Act requires President Bush and his EPA
administrator to regulate global warming pollution as pollution under the
Clean Air Act. And the executive branch has nonetheless refused to comply
with the Supreme Court decision.
And ultimately the guarantor of our freedoms are the people, and these kinds
of outrages, a president saying that he has the right to overturn George
Washington's 200-plus year prohibition against torture and torture anyone he
wants with his assistants gathered in the basement of the White House,
according to recent revelations, personally reviewing the kinds of torture
techniques being used prisoner by prisoner. It's obscene.
GROSS: Al Gore will be back in the second half of the show. His book "The
Assault on Reason" has just been published in paperback. I'm Terry Gross, and
this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Al Gore, the Nobel Peace
Prize winner and former vice president and senator. His book "The Assault on
Reason" has just been published in paperback. Our interview was recorded this
I'm really interested in where you stand on the issue of a gas tax holiday
since that's become such a big issue in the primary right now and since you
are so--I mean, our use of gas and oil is such a major issue for you. So what
do you think?
Mr. GORE: Well, for almost 20 years now I have formally proposed a massive
shift in the system of taxation in the US with a reduction in payroll taxes,
taxes paid by employers and employees, and a new CO2 tax that makes up all the
difference. The end result would not be a tax increase, it would be neutral
in terms of the amount of revenue raised, but the effect would be to shift the
incidence of taxation away from working people and away from employers and
toward pollution. And CO2 is the most dangerous form of pollution we have
today. Seventy million tons of it will be put into the earth's thin shell of
atmosphere today as if it's an open sewer.
GROSS: So that would mean more tax on fuel?
Mr. GORE: But less tax on paychecks and on payrolls, with transition
features that would allow an adjustment to this new system.
GROSS: So you see this is a kind of consciousness-raising tax in a way?
Mr. GORE: Well, not only that, it's not just consciousness raising, it has a
direct impact on what we do. If you, you want to tax what you want less of
and you want to encourage what you want more of. We have, for a long time
now, paid for our social welfare and health and public programs mainly through
a payroll tax. And that's a system that was invented by Bismark in the 19th
century, and a lot of things have changed since then. And one of them is that
the United States now competes in an IT-empowered, outsourced world with
developing countries that have access to technology and skilled labor. And
one of our biggest disadvantages has been our relatively high labor rates,
which we don't want to decrease, but which we shouldn't want to make more of a
disadvantage in international competition by piling on top of wage costs all
of the costs of these social programs; we ought to pay for them with pollution
taxes instead and, in the course of that, give an incentive to the reduction
of CO2 and assist people with the adjustment toward a low-carbon, no-carbon
economy that will make us much more competitive in the future.
GROSS: So from what you've said, would it be fair to assume that you think a
gas tax holiday would set us, however briefly, in the opposite direction of
where you think we should be heading in terms of what is taxed?
Mr. GORE: Well, I've tried to deal with this at a whole different level. I
think that we need a massive change, and something like this is not even
advertised as a serious policy change. It's intended as relief for people who
are hit by higher gasoline prices. I would rather take the problem head on
with this massive change with a CO2 tax and lowered payroll taxes.
GROSS: Ethanol and the amount of farmland in the United States being devoted
to growing corn for ethanol is now considered one of the major reasons for the
global food crisis that we now have. Are there policies that you've watched
being created that you think helped lead to the position that we're in with
corn and ethanol?
Mr. GORE: Well, I think that corn ethanol is at best a transition strategy
toward the new generation of biofuels that don't compete with food crops at
all. There is a sophisticated debate about why the food price crisis has
suddenly blown up in the world. The drought in Australia, connected to global
warming in the view of many, took the largest grain flows out of the world
markets, and that touched off some protectionist measures with countries
hoarding grain. And the introduction of leverage or speculation in
commodities has had a lot to do with it as well. But there's no doubt that,
at least on the margins, the amounts of corn being used for ethanol have had
But there's a major debate on how to go about this in an environmentally and
economically sensible way. And I think that's a useful debate. Most people
come out, when they really look at all the facts, by saying, look, some of
these fuels are bad and some of them are good. We shouldn't throw the baby
out with the bathwater. Let's concentrate on developing the next generation
that have positive consequences.
GROSS: You know, in your book you mention that you think Hurricane Katrina,
convinced Americans to look differently at climate crisis...
Mr. GORE: Some, mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...even though no one can say for sure whether Katrina was directly a
result of the climate crisis or not. But, you know, one reaction to Katrina,
one now famous reaction was from Pastor John Hagey, whose endorsement John
Mr. GORE: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: And on our show about Hurricane Katrina he said, "All hurricanes are
acts of God because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had
a level of sin that was offensive to God and they were recipients of the
judgment of God for that. I believe that Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the
judgment of God against the city of New Orleans." And he went on to explain
that this was punishment for a gay pride parade that was about to happen that
promised to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in all of the
gay pride parades. So what do you think about when you hear a reaction like
that to Katrina?
Mr. GORE: Well, my friends in New Orleans said, `Well, if that's the case,
how come God spared the French Quarter?' Of course that's silly. It's also
important to note that the emerging consensus among the climate scientists is
that even though any individual storm can't be linked singularly to global
warming--we've always had hurricanes--nevertheless, the trend toward more
Category 5 storms, the larger ones, and the trend toward stronger more
destructive storms appears to be linked to global warming and specifically to
the impact of global warming on higher ocean temperatures in the top couple
hundred feet of the ocean, which drives convection energy and moisture into
these storms and makes them more powerful.
And as we're talking today, Terry, the death count in Myanmar from the cyclone
that hit there yesterday has been rising from 15,000 to way on the, up there
to much higher numbers now being speculated. And last year a catastrophic
storm last fall hit Bangladesh. The year before, the strongest cyclone in
more than 50 years hit China. And we're seeing consequences that scientists
have long predicted might be associated with continued global warming. And
the entire north polar ice cap, normally the size of the lower 48 states, give
or take an Arizona, is melting before our eyes, 40 percent melted in the last
20 years. And in the summer months it could be completely gone, according to
one scientific estimate, in as little as five years. So...
GROSS: You know what confuses some people? For some people, they say, `well,
where I live it's been cooler this year. It's been a cold winter so therefore
there's not global warming.'
Mr. GORE: Yeah, well this has been the hottest winter--well, several of the
months this winter have been the hottest in the history of the world. And of
course the United States is only a small percentage of the globe's surface.
And one challenge in responding to the climate crisis is that it is global in
nature. And it's the average temperature worldwide that brings these
consequences. The seasons are getting mixed up. The animals and plants are
finding themselves pushed out of their niches. The extinction rate is being
elevated to very dangerous levels. We're seeing deeper droughts and,
ironically, at the same time stronger, more destructive floods because there's
more moisture evaporating off the oceans into warmer air, and more of it falls
at one time. But the soil moisture evaporates more readily because of the
increase in average temperatures.
And this has a destructive impact that is unprecedented and devastating and
must be arrested. And in order for us to solve the climate crisis we have got
to find a way to reason together about these complex facts that the scientists
are now agreed on. And these propagandistic efforts by some of the largest
carbon polluters to convince people to say, oh, well, it was cold this week so
there's no global warming, or to take some other head-in-the-sand approach,
that is self interested and wrong. And we--again, we the people--have to find
a way to reason together on the basis of the facts.
GROSS: You know, in your book you despair about how public discourse has been
kind of cheapened and overwhelmed by innuendo and disinformation and
everything's like a TV commercial. You're using TV commercials now as part of
your environmental work through the Alliance for Climate Protection. You have
a series of TV ads, which are kind of funny, in which you've teamed up, you
know, conservatives and liberals, people like Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton,
Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich. And they basically come on and say, `We
disagree about everything except for one thing, and that's the importance of
protecting the environment.' What made you think that you should be doing an
ad campaign? Because you're so critical about how advertising is turning our
discourse into sound bites?
Mr. GORE: Well, in the normal course of events, you know, I'm optimistic
about how this is going to turn out. And I don't despair about the current
trend. I predict that if we keep the Internet free from dominance and
control, it will evolve in a way that re-empowers individuals to play the role
that American citizens are supposed to play in re-invigorating our democracy.
I think that there are good times ahead. But I think that transition is going
to happen too slowly to solve the climate crisis. So we have to use every
means at our disposal in order to get the word out about the nature of the
climate crisis and the need to react quickly.
The leading scientists have begun to say that we may have only a few years
until we cross a kind of point of no return, beyond which it would be so
difficult to reverse this process that we'd have far less of a chance to do
it. So getting these policies changed quickly worldwide is an urgent
GROSS: My guest is Al Gore. His book "The Assault on Reason" has just been
published in paperback. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Al Gore, and the occasion for his visit is the paperback
publication of his book "The Assault on Reason."
I want to get back to political discourse for a minute. In your book you
mention that your father was, in one of his re-election campaigns, he was
called an atheist. He was called unpatriotic.
Mr. GORE: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: And he lost the election. Why was he called an atheist and
Mr. GORE: He was in favor of the constitutional provision that protects us
against the mingling of governmental power and organized religion. One of the
bedrocks of America's founding was the insulation of religion against
government interference. And the flip side of that is the protection against
the cynical mixing of a particular denominational approach with government
authority. And so the separation of church and state, as it's usually
referred to in shorthand, was a principle that he supported, and that led him
to oppose a constitutional amendment that would overturn that prohibition and
allow particular denominations to put into the public schools their preferred
doctrinal instruction. And that was used by his opponents. He's hardly the
GROSS: And the unpatriotic, I think, was because he opposed the war in
Mr. GORE: Yeah. Tennessee is the Volunteer State. That goes back to Andy
Jackson and the War of 1812. But we're particularly proud of serving our
country in time of war. And many Southern states have a similar attitude, and
that's something to be proud of. But when the Vietnam War was prosecuted on
false pretenses--and we now know, of course, that the Gulf of Tonkin was based
on fabricated evidence--and we stepped into the shoes of the British and
French in a complicated situation there that we just didn't know what we were
getting into. And that's ancient history by now, but he was on the Foreign
Relations Committee and was one of the earliest voices raised in opposition to
what he thought was a misguided policy, and that was used against him.
GROSS: So what did you take away from this? What did you take away from his
experiences being labeled an atheist and unpatriotic and losing as a result?
Mr. GORE: Well, I was very proud of him for his courage and for his
willingness to stand on principle and fight for the right. I'm proud of his
service, over 32 years. I miss him. He and my mother both were heroes to me
in their devotion to American democracy. And the positive memories far
outweigh the pain our family went through in seeing him defeated in a way that
we thought was unjust. But that's just part of the battles that are inherent
GROSS: Paul Krugman, in October of 07, wrote, "What is it about Mr. Gore
that drives right wingers insane, the biggest reason they hate Mr. Gore? In
his case, the smear campaign has failed. He's taken everything they could
throw at him and emerged more respected and more credible than ever, and it
drives them crazy." Your comment?
Mr. GORE: Thank you, Paul Krugman. I think he's a brilliant columnist. I
don't always agree with him. But I think that, particularly when he looks at
economic issues, he's just brilliant. And you won't be surprised that I think
that particular sentence was brilliant.
GROSS: Finally, you know, a lot of people have had these scenarios that if
the race ends up being very problematic and hard to resolve, the Democratic
primary race, that somehow you're brought in and you resolve the problem by,
through the superdelegates doing their thing, you become the Democratic
candidate and one of the two current contenders become vice president. Has
anybody ever talked to you about that during the long primary?
Mr. GORE: Well, that is, in a year of remote contingencies, that's about as
remote as you could possibly imagine. And, again, as I said earlier, there's
no doubt in my mind that well before the convention assembles in Denver,
during the time between the last primary in June and the last 10 days of
August, there will be a nominee before the convention ever meets.
GROSS: Well, thank you again for talking with us. I really appreciated it.
Mr. GORE: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Al Gore's book "The Assault on Reason" has just been published in
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Ken Tucker reviews Hayes Carll's new album "Trouble in
TERRY GROSS, host:
Hayes Carll is a 32-year-old Texan who makes country music inspired, he has
said, by beat poetry and Bob Dylan, as well as another Texas singer-songwriter
Townes Van Zandt. Rock critic Ken Tucker says Carll's new album, "Trouble in
Mind," does a lot to establish him as something more than the sum of his
(Soundbite of "A Lover Like You")
Mr. HAYES CARLL: (Singing) You came a ragin'
At my front door
You said, `Hey, I never see you no more'
You broke a window
And you climbed on through
I could never be friends
With a lover like you
You kissed the...
(End of soundbite)
Mr. KEN TUCKER: With his limp, longish hair, his wispy beard and sleepy
eyes, Hayes Carll looks like a very sly loser, the kind of guy whom you might
dismiss at first glance only to realize he's played you for a sucker. That
was my experience the first time I played his album "Trouble in Mind." I
listened to the album's opening cut, "Drunken Poet's Dream," and thought, oh,
another Texas singer-songwriter who's endured a rough life and some
(Soundbite of "Drunken Poet's Dream")
Mr. CARLL: (Singing) I got a woman, she's wild as wrong
She likes to lay naked and be gazed upon
Well, she crosses a bridge then sets it on fire
Lands like a bird on a telephone wire
Wine bottles scattered like last night's...
(End of soundbite)
Mr. TUCKER: It was that line--"she likes to lay naked and be gazed
upon"--poetic diction uttered in a lazy drawl that caught my ear. Was Hayes
Carll being serious, pretentious or sarcastic? Then two cuts later I heard
"Girl Down Town" and I set aside my skepticism. This guy can come on like a
young Andy Griffith, cornpone clever, and deepen his music with a great simple
melody and a real gift for playful romance.
(Soundbite of "Girl Downtown")
Mr. CARLL: (Singing) There's a girl downtown with freckles on her nose
A pencil's in her pockets and-a ketchup on her clothes
She's a real nice girl
Pretty as a plate
The boys call her Katie when they ask her on a date
And who knows, Katie, maybe you could be the one
There's a boy outside standing in the rain...
(End of soundbite)
Mr. TUCKER: At the other extreme from the sweet banjo honky-tonk of "Girl
Downtown" is Hayes Carll's bid for novelty song status, "She Left Me for
Jesus." Sung in the persona of a clueless, bitter bumpkin, the song is equal
parts funny and tasteless, emulating his superiors like John Prine, Roger
Miller and Randy Newman. The song also has a strong country rock melody
because Carll is smart enough to know that you need a good tune to sell a joke
(Soundbite of "She Left Me For Jesus")
Mr. CARLL: (Singing) We've been dating since high school
We never once left this town
We use to go out on the weekends
And then would drink till we drowned
But now she's acting funny
And I don't understand
I think that she's found her
Some other man
She left me for Jesus
And that just ain't fair
She says that he's perfect
How could I compare?
She says I should find him
And I'll know peace at last
If I ever find Jesus
I'm kickin' his ass
(End of soundbite)
Mr. TUCKER: As you may have gathered by now, Hayes Carll's music is all over
the map. Nashville country one minute, Texas outlaw self mythology the next,
and some retro Rolling Stones thrown in there. Sometimes he puts all of these
together in one song.
(Soundbite of "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart")
Mr. CARLL: (Singing) Arkansas, my head hurts
I'd love to stick around and maybe make it worse
I got a girl out in Henrietta
And her love's like tornado weather
It's girls like this that keep me trying
She goes off like an air raid siren
Come in clean, leave torn apart
A bad liver and a broken heart
A bad liver and a broken heart
(End of soundbite)
Mr. TUCKER: On another song on this album, Carll sings "I drink too much, I
smoke too much, I laugh at my own jokes too much." It's good that he's so self
aware. With country radio resistant to playing music as lose and shaggy as
this, and his lurches into rock 'n' roll so countrified, he's got his work cut
out for him careerwise. But never underestimate the guys with sleepy eyes and
heartache in their voices. They're sometimes the guys who really get you
where you live.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Trouble in Mind" by Hayes Carll.
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