DATE June 25, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Musician Jarvis Cocker on his new solo album, "Jarvis"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Jarvis Cocker, recently released his first solo album, called
"Jarvis." He was the founder and front man of the British band Pulp, which
became famous in the '90s, but actually got started in 1978, when Cocker was
in high school. He now lives in Paris with his wife and child.
Let's get started with a song from "Jarvis." This is "Don't Let Him Waste Your
Time." He wrote this for Nancy Sinatra. She recorded it on a 2004 album.
Cocker later decided to record it himself.
(Soundbite of "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time")
Mr. JARVIS COCKER: (Singing) Well, you can stay all night if you want to
You can hang out with all of his friends
You can go and meet his mother and father
Mm, you better make sure that's where it ends
'Cause, baby, there's one thing that you gotta know
Let him read your palm and guess your sign
Let him take you home and treat you fine
But, baby, don't let him waste your time
Don't let him waste your time
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Jarvis Cocker, welcome to FRESH AIR. So this is your first solo
album, and you started Pulp, the band that you, you know, were with for so
long when you were 15 years old. What were your expectations at age 15...
Mr. COCKER: Oh God.
GROSS: ...when you started the band?
Mr. COCKER: I don't know. I've given rock 'n' roll the best years of my
life. Well, you know, I think when I started the group then, you know, it was
like I'd wanted to be in a group for a long time but that wasn't a
particularly original thing to think, you know. It was a bit like saying you
wanted to grow up and be a fireman or an astronaut, you know. People just
said that. And I think, you know, when I did start the band, a lot of it was
kind of social things. Like, I couldn't play sports so to have a band, that
was kind of like you could be in a gang, you know, albeit a kind of quite
small gang. And I suppose I kind of thought that maybe I might get girls.
They might think that I was a bit mysterious and deep if I was in a band.
That failed miserably. And you know, that kind of thing.
I was this shy child, and I think a lot of people maybe start bands because
they're kind of socially inadequate and they think that if they become a pop
star, then suddenly all the things in their life will fall into place, and you
know, they won't have to suffer all those kind of social embarrassments,
because you can get your minder to do that or your bodyguard to sort, to vet
everybody who comes into your social orbit or something. And I think that's
probably why a lot of pop stars then go on to have drug and alcohol problems
because when you become famous that doesn't actually happen. You find that,
you know, you're still stuck with yourself, basically, all those kind of
foibles and character defects and stuff don't go away.
GROSS: When you said you couldn't play sports, was that because you weren't
very good at it or was there some kind of physical problem that actually
Mr. COCKER: No, I mean, I'm just--I haven't really got an athletic build.
I'm kind of skinny and lanky, and also the spectacles didn't help. And I've
got pretty bad eyesight so if I took them off, you know, I wouldn't hardly be
able to see the ball. So you know, I just never was really cut out for
GROSS: Your eyeglasses, which are big and thick, are kind of part of your
image now, too. Were you're always wearing glasses like that?
Mr. COCKER: I've been through--I think what happened, they used to have
these glasses in the UK. I don't know if they have them over here. If you
were on welfare or low income, you could get kind of free spectacles on the
National Health Service, but they only had like one style, which was this kind
of like thick black frames and kind of like Elvis Costello's glasses when he
first started out.
Mr. COCKER: And you know, they were kind of like, if you wore them at
school, people just kind of--first of all they knew that--first of all, they
would call you "four eyes"--so original--but then they would also know, they
would kind of say, `Oh, you've got no money. You're a poor person because,
you know, you couldn't afford to have a decent pair of glasses. You've got
these free ones from the government.' And I kind of mortified my mother, I
think, because she'd got me a pair of the National Health glasses as a kind of
spare pair, in case I should ever decide to play a sport, and they got broken
or whatever, and then she kind of paid money for this, you know, what she
considered to be a proper pair of glasses. But then the punk rock thing came
out and suddenly of course I decided, you know, that I was just going to wear
the black glasses because that was the message of punk rock, you know, don't
be bothered about social status, all this kind of thing. It's good to be an
outsider. It's good to be different. And so this pair of glasses that my
mother had spent a fair amount of money on never got worn, and I've kind of
stuck with the thick black glasses ever since, really.
GROSS: Well, I want to play another track from your solo CD "Jarvis," and
this is called "From Auschwitz to Ipswich," and it's got a great lyrical hook
in it. "They want our way of life, they can take mine any time they like,
because God knows, I know I ain't living right. I'm wrong, I know I'm so
wrong." Sorry for killing the lyric there. I hate to quote people's lyrics.
But you know, this is like an expression that I think is supposed to refer to
terrorism because they're always saying, you know, like `They want to change
our way of life.' So, was this song inspired, in a way, from that?
Mr. COCKER: Well, yeah, the first line is kind of of quote from a speech
that Tony Blair gave after there were these bombings on the underground system
in the UK, and it just got me thinking, because he said, you know, `They want
our way of life,' like, and it just made me--there was something that didn't
ring true about it. You know, I don't agree with terrorism. I'm not
sympathize with people who plant bombs and stuff like this. And the thing
that got me, I think, was that, you know, it's characterized that, you know,
we in the West are supposedly the ones living the good life and that somebody
jealously wants to take our way of life. But then when you look at, you know,
like English society, that supposedly the people are reaping the benefits of
Western civilization, and so it seemed that like, you know, that way of life
isn't even working for us, the ones who are supposed to winning out, and it
certainly doesn't work out for the people who get kind of exploited in order
to make all these things that are supposed to make us happy.
So the song was written as a kind of reaction against an oversimplification of
stuff, this idea also, it's like cowboys and Indians where we are the good
guys and they're the bad guys, and you know, I think, you know, it's a basic
thing. You have to realize that, you know, I'll probably start quoting the
lyrics to "Ebony and Ivory" in a minute. You know, there is good and bad in
everyone. But it's true. You know, it's a very trite phrase to use, but
unless you realize that the capacity for good and evil is all within yourself,
rather than like, `Ooh yeah, we're the goodies and they're the baddies,'
unless you realize that, you know, you've not really got a very realistic
understanding of the world, I don't think.
GROSS: Well, let's hear your song "From Auschwitz to Ipswich." This is from
Jarvis Cocker's new CD, a solo CD, called "Jarvis."
(Soundbite of "From Auschwitz to Ipswich")
Mr. COCKER: (Singing) "They want our way of life"
Well, they can take mine any time they like
'Cause God knows I know I ain't living right
Oh, I know I'm so wrong
So like the Roman empire fell away
Let me tell you, we are going the same way
I'll behold the decline and fall
All hold hands with our backs to the wall
It's the end
Why don't you admit it?
It's the same
From Auschwitz to Ipswich
Evil comes, I know not from where
But if you take a look
Maybe you'll find some in there
Not one single soul was saved
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's "From Auschwitz to Ipswich," from the CD "Jarvis." More with
Jarvis Cocker after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Jarvis Cocker, the founder and lead singer of the British
band Pulp. He recently released his first solo album. It's called "Jarvis."
You know, Pulp was, I think, like probably much more famous in England than
the United States, but Pulp, Blur, Oasis were three really big bands, you
know, popular bands, in England...
Mr. COCKER: Mm. They called it the Brit pop explosion.
GROSS: So what--did you see yourself as being like the indie versions, or
like the indie alternatives to something else that was going on in England at
Mr. COCKER: The thing was, you know, indie music had been around, and people
were into it, but it always seemed that it was on the margins. And then
something happened in the kind of mid-'90s, for whatever reason, and suddenly,
these bands that normally would just be written about in the New Musical
Express, you know, which is like a weekly music paper in England, and just be
played at student discos, suddenly this stuff was getting in the proper
charts. And it was very exciting because--especially for me, you know, I'd
kind of been on the margins of society and working in this indie band, but
we'd always wanted to make a connection with a large audience because I kind
of was brought up on pop music, and I don't know, I just thought that maybe--I
didn't see why the mainstream always had to be so bland. And the idea of
suddenly kind of storming the barricades and being able to get something that
maybe had a bit more content and, you know, it really felt like--I felt, or I
wanted it to be like a social revolution or something. And unfortunately it
didn't quite have that kind of transforming effect on British society.
But I think, you know, people have drawn parallels between the Brit pop thing
and Labour's rise to power and Tony Blair becoming the prime minister. It was
like the idea of a Labour government ever becoming a reality was about, you
know, the same as like, an indie band getting to number one in the charts.
And so, when the indie bands did get to number one on the charts, it was kind
of like, people thought, `Oh, well, maybe we could have a Labour government
then.' And we eventually did. And then, unfortunately the two things kind
of--like I say, I wanted it to be some kind of social revolution, the Brit pop
thing. I also had high hopes for a Labour government, a supposedly more
socialist government, and unfortunately the Brit pop thing didn't do anything,
and, to be honest with you, the Labour government hasn't really done that much
for British society either.
GROSS: So, you know, so you started Pulp when you were 15 and played with
various incarnations of the band till just a few years ago. The band changed
a lot, like the musicians changed a lot over the years. Why did you keep the
name, even though the band kept changing?
Mr. COCKER: Probably just laziness. I don't know. And I liked it as a
name. You know, because I have this kind of, you know, love of pop music, and
I especially, I liked the stuff that was supposed to be disposable. I
liked--so, you know, pulp, you know the kind of idea of pulp fiction stuff
printed on bad quality paper that you're supposed to just kind of read and
then throw in the bin afterwards, and I always kind of preferred pop music to
rock music for that reason, that pop music didn't have kind of an inflated
sense of its own worth and of its own importance. But I do think that, you
know, some pop songs have profoundly affected me, but they don't try to do it.
Do you know what I mean? Sometimes rock is very kind of chest-beating and `I
have my message for the world, and you must listen, and this song will change
your life.' And you kind of go, `Oh, give me a break please.'
But, you know, something like a Phil Specter song, which, they were kind of
like, you know, very much kind of pumped out in kind of production line kind
of fashion. You know, people are still listening to those songs at 40 years
on, you know, but they weren't meant to be masterpieces or anything. They
were just entertainment and I generally think that, that music can be profound
and stuff like that, but usually by accident almost or--do you know what I
Mr. COCKER: It's like it doesn't get it by taking itself too seriously...
Mr. COCKER: ...and really striving for profundity.
GROSS: Well, let's hear one of the songs that you did with Pulp, and I
thought we'd play "Common People." Would you say anything about writing the
Mr. COCKER: Well, this song is Pulp's most famous song, I guess. It's the
song that brought us--it was our first big hit after this kind of decade in
the wilderness, this was the point at which we realized that we'd kind of
connected with some mood that was in the nation at that time. Which is kind
of strange because the song is about--well, it was about a girl that I met
when I was at art college. I went down to art college when I was 25, and
during that course I met this girl who said the line to me in a pub. She was
from kind of a wealthy Greek family and she said, `I want to live like common
people.' She wanted to move to Hackney, which is a kind of roughish area of
London. And I kind of tried to explain to her that because she was kind of
well-to-do and stuff, it wouldn't really be the same. You can't kind of go
and live in what you think is an edgy area and all this kind of thing. It's
not the same kind of thing, because she could always just ring Dad up, and he
would bail her out of any trouble.
And it just kind of, you know, it's the thing that's still going on in society
now. It's like, I think, you know, people are drawn to those areas or stuff
like that, the reason being because there's a vitality to that culture and
people who live there, but the reason that there's a vitality there is because
life's kind of tough and so you have to kind of take your pleasures as and
when you can. And because life is tough in the week, maybe you really, really
go for it at the weekend, and that's something that's born out of necessity.
You can't kind of play at that. You can't kind of take a little holiday in
And so, you know, the song was kind of written about her. You know, I think
that's the way songs should work, that you take an incident that happened to
you in your own life and sometimes that actual situation talks about a wider
social issue. But I'm kind of mistrustful of songs that try and tackle social
issues, and I'm always slightly horrified at meself when I go into that
territory, and the only thing I can say in me defense is this thing that all
the songs that I've written that do that kind of thing, the starting point is
some kind of real event, and this event was, yeah, talking to a Greek girl in
a pub and probably getting slightly pissed off because she didn't fancy me and
so then writing a spiteful song.
GROSS: So let's hear "Common People," and this is from the Pulp CD "Different
(Soundbite of "Common People")
Mr. COCKER: (Singing) She came from Greece
She had a thirst for knowledge
She studied sculpture at St. Martin's College
That's where I
Caught her eye
She told me that her dad was loaded
I said, in that case I'll have rum and Coca-Cola
She said fine
And then in 30 seconds' time
`I want to live like common people
I want to do whatever common people do
I want to sleep with common people
I want to sleep with common people
Well, what else could I do
I said, `I'll see what I can do'
I took her to a supermarket
I don't know why
But I had to start somewhere
So it started there
I said, `Pretend you've got no money'
She just laughed and said, `Ha, you're so funny'
I said, `Yeah, ha,
I can't see anyone else smiling in here'
Are you sure
You want to live like common people
You want to see what kind of common people see
Want to sleep with common people
Do you want to sleep with common people
But she didn't understand
She just smiled and held my hand
Rent a flat above a shop,
Cut your hair and get a job
Smoke some fags and play some pool
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's "Common People" from the 1995 Pulp CD "Different Class." My
guest Jarvis Cocker is the former front man of Pulp. He has a solo CD called
"Jarvis." He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and
this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Jarvis Cocker. He's the
founder of the British band Pulp. He recently released his first solo album.
It's called Jarvis. Here's another song from it. It's called "Black Magic,"
and it was co-written by Cocker.
(Soundbite of "Black Magic")
Mr. COCKER: (Singing) I woke up in the morning
And all the bells were ringing
My eyes could see the glory, baby
Could hear the song they're singing
You only get to see the light
Just one time in your life--oh!
That blows your mind away
And takes you somewhere that you want to stay
You only get to stay one day
Oh, that cold black magic...
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: You were saying that you like pop because it doesn't have those kind
of pretentious, you know, the pretentious mission of some rock songs that take
themselves too seriously. There's a kind of famous incident in your life at
the 1996 Brit Awards, and I guess this are British music awards.
Mr. COCKER: Yeah. It's like the British equivalent of the Grammys.
GROSS: OK. So Michael Jackson was performing onstage and you crashed the
stage. What was your objection to the Michael Jackson performance, like what
did you want to do by crashing the stage?
Mr. COCKER: Well, it was just--it was kind of a strange thing. Like I say,
the Brit Awards is this kind of--it's the corporate, you know, industry event,
and they were very, very, very pleased with themselves that they'd got Michael
Jackson to play because, by having him perform at this event, it gave more
kudos and made their event seem, you know, important and happening, you know.
But the thing about that was they kind of would let him do whatever he wanted,
and he came on and did this--I think he was singing the song "Earth Song," and
it was just a kind of weird performance where there were all these people in
rags and kind of looking ill and stuff, and then he kind of spread his arms in
a kind of Christ-like way and touched people and then suddenly the rags fell
off and they were healed. So it was pretty distasteful. Now, you know, I
haven't got--I haven't really got much in the way of religious faith, so it
wasn't like he offended my deep-rooted Christianity. But the idea of a pop
performer kind of pretend--you know, wanting to portray themself in this kind
of Christ-like way, you know, well, talk about egos, that's kind of going a
bit far for me and...
GROSS: So had you planned this beforehand or were...
Mr. COCKER: No, no, no, no, no.
GROSS: ...you so taken aback by the performance that you thought, `I can't
stand it anymore. I'm'...
Mr. COCKER: Well, and the thing was--and, you know, I like Michael Jackson's
music. I like a lot of his stuff, so it wasn't so much a protest at what he
was doing. It was also a protest against this event, as well, and against the
Brit Awards. Because basically what was happening was that he was performing,
and everybody in the room was kind of saying, `This is bad. This is too
much.' But they were prepared for it to go ahead because, like I say, it gave
their event some kind of like kudos and stuff. And I thought the hypocrisy of
that was pretty bad, and I kind of--I was saying, `This is terrible, this is
terrible,' and then it was Candida Doyle, the keyboard player in Pulp, said,
`Why don't you do something about it?' I said, `All right, then. All right
then, I will.'
And weirdly enough, I guess because we'd performed earlier on in the night, I
just started walking towards the stage, and you would have thought there
probably would be some security or something, and lo and behold, eventually I
just found myself on the stage. I never really expected to get there, and
once I was there, I kind of--well, I didn't really know what to do so I
kind--I think what I ended up doing was bending over and pretending to break
GROSS: Oh, geez.
Mr. COCKER: Which, you know, in terms of a protest isn't particularly the
most profound thing to do, but yeah. That was it. It's something that--it
had certain, you know, repercussions. I mean, it made me, in the UK, a very
recognizable figure because everybody talked about it. It was in the front of
the newspapers. And it kind of made my life hell for a while because I was
suddenly like ubiquitous, you know. Everybody recognized me wherever I walked
and that kind of did me head in. And like I say, being quite shy person, I
kind of like to keep meself to meself, and I didn't enjoy that part of it.
But I don't--you know, the positive thing of it is people remember that thing
with some kind of fondness and, generally speaking, people thought that it was
a valid protest to make. And so, you know...
GROSS: Did Michael Jackson every talk to you about it?
Mr. COCKER: He hasn't called in a long time, no.
GROSS: Can I ask you about another story that was probably all over the
papers in England? And this...
Mr. COCKER: You can, yes, if you wish.
GROSS: This was when you fell out of a window and...
Mr. COCKER: All right--oh, no, that was in my obscurity days. That was...
GROSS: Oh was it? Oh.
Mr. COCKER: Yeah, that was in 1985, when the thoughts of any form of pop
stardom was still a distant pipe dream.
GROSS: Do you want to explain what happened?
Mr. COCKER: Yeah, I suppose so. I mean, I was just trying to impress a
girl. You know, a lot of those kind of accidents happen because of girls, and
I'd been to a party the week before where somebody had really impressed me by
doing this trick where they went out of one window, stood on the window ledge,
reached across the outside of the building, and came in through another open
window, and I'd been very taken with this and impressed, so I thought I'd do
it to impress this girl and maybe, you know, I'd get somewhere with her.
Unfortunately, what I just didn't take into account was the windows in her
apartment were the hinged type. You know, the ones I'd seen at this party, it
was a sash window, where you just pull it straight up, but these were hinged
and went out, and when you opened the window it kind of...
GROSS: Displaced you.
Mr. COCKER: ...it protruded outside...
Mr. COCKER: ...so there was no way you could stand on the window ledge to do
it. So I really vastly kind of overcalculated my physical strength. We've
discussed my lack of sporting prowess. So I thought, in a fit of terrible
bravado, that I could go out, hang from the window ledge by my fingers, and
then swing over to the other window ledge and then pull meself in that way.
Well, I got out the window and I was hanging from the window ledge, and then
instantly realized that I didn't have the strength to do that, but also came
to the unfortunate conclusion that I also didn't have the strength to pull
meself back in through the window that I'd just gone out of. And there was
only the girl in the apartment and she didn't have the strength to pull me in.
And I could feel me fingers starting to slip so--and I said to her, `Look, I'm
just going to have to count to three and let go.' And she said, `Oh, no, no.
Don't do that. Don't do that.' But I just thought it would be better to have
a controlled fall then a random fall.
GROSS: How high up were you? What story was this?
Mr. COCKER: Well, this would be three stories up, I think. It was kind of
slightly higher than a double decker bus. You know, if you imagine a
sight-seeing bus in New York, just a little bit higher than that. So it
wasn't superhigh, but I did break numerous bones.
GROSS: In your legs?
Mr. COCKER: Yeah. Ankle, pelvis and wrist.
Mr. COCKER: So I was in hospital for a couple of months and in a wheelchair
for a while. Did some concerts in a wheelchair. But then, of course,
everybody thought that was a gimmick.
GROSS: Do you, like do you actually remember the moment of impact, or is that
something that you...
Mr. COCKER: Oh, yeah, yeah, I do. I remember letting go of the window ledge
and then--because I think, you know, you get a foreshortening effect when you
look at something from above so I didn't think actually it was actually that
high. But I let go and then I thought--I can remember thinking, `Hm, it's
taking longer for me to hit the ground then I thought it would.' Then, of
course, I did hit the ground. I kind of stood up and me leg moved in a really
weird way, like outwards, and I sat straight back down, which is lucky because
otherwise I probably would have snapped me pelvis off, and so that would have
been pretty serious. But I knew instantly I'd done something pretty bad to
meself and just kind of wanly cried up, `Call an ambulance,' and eventually an
ambulance came, yeah.
GROSS: Did you spend a lot of time, you know, wishing that you hadn't done
that and trying to--you know, like obsessing on that one moment that was going
to change your life for a long time?
Mr. COCKER: Well, it's, you know, it certainly was a pivotal moment in me
life, and it changed a lot of the way that I thought about things. For a
start, you know, it made me realize that you kind of think maybe that, you
know--in a film, what would have happened, I would have found the extra ounce
of strength to pull myself in through the window. But you know, I didn't. I
just couldn't. And I could have died, and it would have been a really
pointless, stupid death, so all those ideas about maybe you having a guardian
angel or about your life having some kind of meaning, that kind of went out
the window. That's not supposed to be a joke, but it's an appropriate...
Mr. COCKER: ...turn of phrase. But--so yeah, and so it made me reevaluate
things that way. And then also, just the simple physical fact of having to
spend a lot of time laying in bed afterwards kind of gave me time to think of
stuff. And also the people I ended up in this hospital with, which was kind
of like a recuperation ward and there were guys, like, who'd had industrial
accidents and stuff like that, and I kind of realized that my injury was
nothing. There were some people like who'd been there for a year or something
like that. And then, I don't know, it just made me think that--I'd always
been a kind of airy-fairy kind of person and thought I was going to live life
on an aesthetic level, and I kind of realized that was a load of rubbish and I
should just get on and kind of get more involved in life and not kind of float
GROSS: Jarvis Cocker, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. COCKER: Well, thank you very much for having me.
GROSS: Jarvis Cocker's solo CD is called "Jarvis." Here's another track from
(Soundbite of "Fat Children")
Mr. COCKER: (Singing) Last night I had a little altercation
They wobbled menacingly beneath the yellow streetlight
It became a situation
They wanted my brand new phone with all the pictures
Of the kids and the wife
A struggle ensued
And then fat children took my life
Fat children took my life
Fat children took my life
Fat children took my life
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Coming up, still looking for something to read on your summer
vacation? Our book critic Maureen Corrigan has some nonfiction books to
recommend. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Maureen Corrigan reviews three nonfiction summer reading
TERRY GROSS, host:
Last week our book critic Maureen Corrigan recommended several novels for
summer reading. This time she has three lively nonfiction books to recommend.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:
In the summer of 1950, 11-year-old Susan Richards Shreve traveled from her
home in Washington, DC, to a rural haven in Georgia, where water play, group
sing-alongs and co-ed hijinks reigned. It sounds like summer camp, but Warm
Springs was, in fact, a retreat with a mission--to heal the spirits and bodies
of Americans who'd been afflicted with polio before the Salk vaccine was
developed in 1954. Shreve, who's the author of 13 novels, has written an
engrossing, somewhat offbeat memoir, called "Warm Springs," about the period
between ages 11 and 13 that she spent at the famous sanatorium, where she
seems to have been the reigning mistresss of misrule.
In an anecdote that encapsulates the dopiness and high drama of adolescence,
as well as the developing Shreve's outrageous personality, she recalls
steering herself in her wheelchair into the boys' ward, where the charismatic
Joey Buckley was lying in his bed, recovering from surgery. Shreve writes, "I
cannot for the life of me understand now how I had the nerve or stupidity or
exhibitionism to wear a sanitary napkin belt around my neck in full view of
nurses and doctors and 18 adolescents in the boys' ward. It occurs to me now,
considerably more embarrassed for myself in reflection than I was then, that
the gesture was an announcement of desire."
Shreve's voice throughout this memoir is wry and sometimes wistful when
reflecting back on the extraordinary world of the sanitarium. She smoothly
navigates between pity-repelling personal recollections and an encapsulated
cultural history of polio in the US, particularly during the late 1940s and
early '50s, when the power of positive thinking prevailed as a national credo.
Throughout "Warm Springs," she also pays homage to its founder, FDR, the
country's most famous "polio," as those who had the disease were then called.
Roosevelt's hard-won belief in the benefits of what we would now call holistic
treatment governed Warm Springs, and his jaunty spirit was everywhere,
especially strong, Shreve recalls, in the dining hall, where a chair at the
head table was always left vacant.
FDR had a beloved first pet named Fala, a Scottie dog. Had he been alive
today, the famous Fala no doubt would have penned, or pawed, his own memoir,
such is the current insatiable demand for dog books, kicked off by John
Grogan's megahit, "Marley and Me." As someone who now finds herself the
bewildered human handmaiden to a seven-pound Maltipoo puppy, I appreciate
those bowser books that aren't too cute, but instead capture the leaky, stinky
truth of rollicking life with Rover. One such canine classic, originally
published in 1923 and recently reprinted is Thomas Mann's little-known waggish
memoir about his dog, called "Bashan and I."
I also toss a lifetime award of three liver snaps to Jon Katz, whose many
books about dogs have always been enlightening and sane and have underscored
the profound truth that dogs, no matter how much we love them, are not furry
children. Katz's latest book is called "Dog Days," and it's a
chronicle--sometimes comic, sometimes mournful--about his life on Bedlam farm
in upstate New York, where he relocated from the suburbs about three years
ago. In addition to two border collies and two labs, Katz also tends to
donkeys, an 1800-pound steer named Elvis, who tries to sit on people's laps,
sheep, goats, and chickens. Though Bedlam is a real working farm, Katz admits
that these animals, which he writes about in thoughtful detail, are his main
crop. If you harbor fantasies of living far from the madding crowd, Katz's
accounts of delivering lambs on a rainy night over the protests of his
disintegrating spine will talk you back down to reality.
Like Susan Richards Shreve, I also live in Washington, DC, a muggy,
mosquito-ridden bog in the summertime. Teaching summer school some years ago,
I'd walk home after classes and be so wiped out by the thick afternoon heat
that I'd flop down, turn on the TV, and lose myself in crisp reruns of that
high-brow British soap opera "Upstairs, Downstairs." "Upstairs, Downstairs"
has long vanished from the rerun lineup, but I've found it's literary
equivalent in Juliet Nicolson's book, "The Perfect Summer." Published last
year in England to celebratory reviews, "The Perfect Summer" is a light
cultural history of the summer of 1911, just before the storm of World War I.
Nicolson's delightfully overstuffed account ranges from the ballrooms of the
aristocracy, where eligible society maidens were advised to `be gorgeous,
decorative and dumb,' to the corridors of Parliament, where the inexhaustible
Winston Churchill was making his mark, to the scandalous debut of the Ballets
Russes, to the docks of London, where Ben Tillet led workers on a strike that
paralyzed the shipping industry.
As the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, Juliet
Nicolson is endowed with the right set of genetic calling cards to research a
book like this. She's also savvy enough to acknowledge that the sunlit
"perfect summer" of 1911 wasn't perfect for every class of British citizen,
but like the other books I've mentioned here, Nicolson's lively history makes
for "perfect summer" reading.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Warm Springs," by Susan Richards Shreve; "Dog Days," by Jon Katz;
and "The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm," by Juliet
Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new CD by clarinetist Alvin
Batiste, released shortly before he died. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Kevin Whitehead reviews clarinetist Avlin Batiste's last
album, "Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Until he passed away a few weeks ago, Alvin Batiste was New Orleans' premier
modern jazz clarinetist. He'd come up in the 1950s, playing with other
Crescent City progressives like drummer Ed Blackwell and pianist Ellis
Marsalis. Later Batiste toured or recorded with Ray Charles, "Cannonball"
Adderley, Billy Cobham, and the reed quartet Clarinet Summit. Jazz critic
Kevin Whitehead reviews a Batiste album which was released a month before his
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. EDWARD PERKINS: (Singing) I am free
Salty dog don't bother me
Got my head in the right place
With the human race
So you see
I am free
(End of soundbite)
KEVIN WHITEHEAD reporting:
Edward Perkins, singing a tune by clarinetist Alvin Batiste over drummer
Herlin Riley's classic New Orleans parade group. Batiste's influence was
greater than his fame, but it wasn't because of his fine clarinet playing. In
1969, he founded the jazz program at Southern University in Baton Rouge, where
his students would include Herlin Riley, pianist; Henry Butler, saxophonist;
Branford Marsalis; Donald Harrison and Wes Anderson; and "American Idol"'s
But with all his academic duties, Batiste recorded far too little. He had a
broad open sound in the clarinet's low and high registers, and he liked to hop
between the two. You can hear as much on a bluesy ballad he knew from the
1940s, "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone."
(Soundbite of "I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone")
Mr. WHITEHEAD: Those bird-call leaps echo Duke Ellington's clarinetist Jimmy
Hamilton, who played with Batiste in the '80s group Clarinet Summit. Alvin
Batiste died peacefully at home in New Orleans in early May, hours before he
was to play an album release gig at the city's Jazz and Heritage Festival.
The album in question, "Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste," was conceived by
his old pupil and label honcho Branford Marsalis, who joins in on saxophones
here and there. Marsalis picked a fine rhythm section of Herlin Riley,
pianist Lawrence Fields, and bassist Ricardo Rodriguez. On "Bumps," they
bring out the Cuban rhythms always lurking behind New Orleans syncopations.
(Soundbite of "Bumps")
Mr. WHITEHEAD: Alvin Batiste had set himself a hard task as a
forward-looking modernist in New Orleans, where traditional clarinet players
got all the steady gigs. That he only recorded four albums under his own name
is a little ridiculous. Good as he sounds on his new one, I should point out
that his friend Edward Perkins lends vocals to four tracks, where one or two
would have been enough. But then, that was typical of Alvin Batiste. He'd
promote other musicians, even at his own expense.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead teaches English and American studies at the University
of Kansas and he's a jazz columnist for emusic.com. He reviewed the album
"Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste" on the Marsalis Music label.
If you'd like to catch up on recent editions of our show, you can download
podcasts by going to our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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.