DATE July 27, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Robert Byrd discusses his experiences in Washington
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Before the US began to bomb Iraq, my guest, Senator Robert Byrd, made a
now-famous speech in which he criticized the Bush administration for embarking
on the first test of a revolutionary doctrine of pre-emptive war. He
criticized his fellow senators for being ominously, dreadfully silent. No
debate, no discussion.
Byrd voted for the Patriot Act but says he wishes he had not. He opposed the
Bush tax cuts and sent back his own $600 tax rebate check in 2001. Now
Senator Byrd has written a new book called "Losing America: Confronting a
Reckless and Arrogant Presidency." Byrd is a Democrat from West Virginia who
has served in the US Congress for 51 years, 45 of them as a senator. At the
age of 86, he is the third longest-serving member of Congress in American
history. He serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, its Homeland
Security Subcommittee, the Senate Armed Services Committee and is co-chair of
the Senate National Security Working Group.
In your now-famous speech of February 12th, 2003, about 35 days before we
bombed Iraq, you called President Bush `reckless and arrogant,' and you
criticized your fellow senators. You said, `We stand passively mute in the US
Senate, paralyzed by our uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil
of events. This speech appeared on many Internet sites. It was translated
into many different languages. It even--for people who weren't necessarily
paying that much attention to your career, you became famous. What difference
do you think this speech actually made in the Senate?
Senator ROBERT BYRD (Democrat, West Virginia): I'm not sure that I could
measure that. I thought that it's something that I felt strongly. I was
astonished to see a Senate which I had long, long come to revere stand mute.
The men who were there and the one woman who was there when I came to the
Senate would not have stood still. How changed this Senate was. How
intimidated the members were. How afraid they were, many of them, of being
called `unpatriotic,' if they didn't support the commander in chief.
GROSS: Now you had been concerned that by giving the president authority to
launch a pre-emptive attack on a sovereign nation that it would redefine the
nature of defense and reinterpret the Constitution to suit the will of the
executive branch. Do you feel like we've set that precedent now?
Sen. BYRD: Yes. Oh, yes. But we've got to get back from that. We've got to
withdraw from that foolish moment and the foolish act that we did. We've got
to take that power back from the president. You see, the framers wrote the
Constitution, and when they gave to the Congress the power to declare war,
they were giving to the Congress the power to declare war and they were not
thinking in terms of one person or even one body. It takes two bodies, the
House and the Senate, to declare war, and it takes many people. And here we
were acquiescing to an administration that doesn't really understand the role
of the Senate, and we were shifting to one man this awesome power. And then
we were relegating to ourselves the position of doing nothing. We relegated
ourselves to the sidelines, and that's where we are today.
GROSS: On March 18th, 2003, you said this on the subject of a pre-emptive
attack on Iraq--you said, `I have urged the president to step back and
reconsider his decisions. But the administration has its eyes shut, its ears
covered and its mind closed.' What are some examples of how you think the
administration closed its mind?
Sen. BYRD: It doesn't listen. It doesn't listen to Congress. It looks upon
the Congress with disdain. It just pains me that here's an administration
that doesn't seem to understand the Constitution. It doesn't understand that
the Constitution is `We, the people, of the United States.' It doesn't
understand that preamble. And some examples--well, one example would be the
creating of the Department of Homeland Security. It was hatched out in the
bowels of the White House by four men especially: Tom Ridge, fine man, former
governor of the state of Pennsylvania--he was one; another was the chief
counsel, a man by the name of Gonzales; another was the head of the Office of
Management and Budget; and the final one was--yeah, the man who's down at the
White House, the head of staff, Andrew Card. Those four hatched this idea,
and the Congress wasn't counseled, wasn't asked any question.
GROSS: I know you voted in favor of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution...
Sen. BYRD: I did.
GROSS: ...which authorized the president to use force to repel armed attack
and prevent further aggression in Vietnam. My understanding is that you came
to regret that vote.
Sen. BYRD: I do regret that. And Senator Morse, who was one of the two--the
other was Ernest Gruening of Alaska--Senator Morse said that we would live to
regret our votes. We have. I regretted my vote. But let me say this about
that. We were misled by an administration. We've been misled, in this
instance, when the president of the United States and those superhawks around
him brought us into this war, which should never have been fought.
But let's go back to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. One thing about that, it
had a sunset provision, which allowed the Congress in a concurrent resolution,
which did not have to go to the president and did not have to be signed by the
president--could sunset that provision. In this case, in the resolution that
was passed on October 11, 2002, there's no provision to sunset the act. And I
said, `Look, if we're going to be fools enough to shift this power to one man,
to a president of the United States and George Bush in particular, we ought to
at least sunset it.' Only two--one year does this provision--does this
resolution remain. And after one year or under certain circumstances, if the
president certifies thus and so, it can be extended two years. So I offered
an amendment to sunset it, and only 31 votes including my own were cast. I
couldn't understand. I couldn't believe it--that the Senate was willing not
only to give this power to the president but also to leave it there.
GROSS: You've criticized the Senate for becoming the errand boy of the White
Sen. BYRD: Yes. Yes.
GROSS: Does the Bush administration interact with the Senate any differently
than the other 10 presidents that you've worked with in your years?
Sen. BYRD: I think that the Bush administration expects every Republican
senator to toe the mark. And I feel that the unwritten rule on the other side
of the aisle, as I've observed it--I think that they feel that the first
thing, the last thing and the thing to do always is to support the president.
And they speak the words `commander in chief' as though those words were
sacred. And it saddens me when a political party follows a president as
though he were the king. And I've said from time to time, the commander in
chief--why, there was a commander in chief in the Civil War in England, and
Charles I used that term in 1639.
The term `commander in chief'--that's nothing new. That term did not
originate with the framers in Philadelphia. It's meant to indicate that the
military's under the civilian rule. That's what it's there for. It's not
some sacred thing that has some innate power within itself. But I don't
know--these days my friends across the aisle use that term, `the commander in
chief.' Well, he's not the commander in chief of the Senate, he's not the
commander in chief of the industry in this country. He is the civilian
authority who is over the military. That's it. So that--and back to your
question, yes, the Republicans follow their commander in chief come hell or
high water, it seems to me. And they all stand in line. I've never seen
anything like it.
GROSS: Is this true of Democrats and Republicans?
Sen. BYRD: Well, it's true of Republicans, but it has not always been true of
Republicans. I think of men like George Aiken and Norris Cotton and Everett
Dirksen. These were men who stood on their own, and if it meant that they
would break with the president, they did so.
GROSS: My guest is Senator Robert Byrd. He's written a new book called
"Losing America." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: And if you're just joining us, my guest is Senator Robert Byrd. And
he's written a new book called "Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and
You voted against the creation of the Homeland Security Department, and you
said, `Nobody can convince me that this White House is serious about homeland
security.' Do you have any regrets about voting against the creation of the
Homeland Security Department?
Sen. BYRD: No, I have no regrets. I'm the ranking member on the subcommittee
that appropriates money for homeland security, and we have a fine chairman of
that subcommittee, Thad Cochran, a Republican senator from the state of
Mississippi. We work together well. But I foresaw that there would be chaos
and confusion in this mammoth department. And it was pushed by the president
and his administration because Ted Stevens, a Republican senator from Alaska,
and I offered amendments to appropriations bills requiring Tom Ridge or any
other person in his place should have to be confirmed by the Senate. So, no,
I don't regret having voted that way. I do vote to support the
appropriations, however, and we have hearings and try to guide the
administration of that department.
GROSS: Do you not think that intelligence information has become better
coordinated as a result of the Homeland Security Department?
Sen. BYRD: No, I can't see that as yet. But I can see this: The
administration does not support its own handiwork. The administration opposes
amendments that are offered by Democrats. I've offered many amendments to add
monies for homeland security, for border control, for the ports of the country
and to promote the safety of the American people. And this administration
votes them down. And so this administration talks out of its mouth with a
Now we have right now a bill, an appropriations bill, that has been reported
out of the Appropriations Committee on which I serve, and that bill makes
appropriations for homeland security. But this bill is sitting in a shelf; I
urged that it be taken up. Here we are--we're going to be out for 45 days,
we're going to be out six weeks. And the bill for the safety of the people
sits on the shelf because the White House has said bottle it up. I can't say
that those words were used exactly. But the Republican leadership in Congress
would certainly have moved if it had been pushed by the administration. I
cannot understand. I just simply can't understand this from an administration
that says, `Watch out. Stop, look and listen. Your country's very likely to
be under attack,' and here we are--money's sitting--we've gotta wait until we
come back after the conventions. After August is gone.
GROSS: You've described the USA Patriot Act as a `case study in the perils of
speed, herd instinct and lack of vigilance when it comes to legislating in the
face of crisis.'
Sen. BYRD: Congress was intimidated here again. It wanted to act. It
wanted to show the people that it was there and it was supporting the
commander in chief. We had just experienced a terrible, terrible tragedy, an
attack. Yes, we acted--we were virtually in a panic, and so we passed an act.
Some of it was good. Some parts of it I don't think were good. I'm not sure
I would have voted for it had it be--taken--had more time. But we were all
being pushed, and of course, the president wants to have it renewed, I'm going
to take--we'll take a better look at it when the time comes.
GROSS: Now correct me if I'm wrong, but in 2001, you were president pro tem
and you were third in line of success in the presidency. What was your
reaction when you learned that after September 11th the Bush administration
activated what you've described as a shadow government of about a hundred
senior executive branch officials to live and work secretly outside Washington
in a system reportedly run by the White House?
Sen. BYRD: Well, I was surprised that I'd not been contacted by the White
House or by the administration. This was typical of the Bush administration.
Here they were now. They created a shadow government. They didn't let the
president pro tem of the Senate know anything about it. I read about it in
the newspaper. This is typical of the administration. It is secretive, it
likes to operate out of the White House. I don't think it understands the
role of the legislative branch under the Constitution. The sovereignty rests
with the people of the United States, and that's why this administration has
left the Constitution. It has left the people and it's driven by an urge to
acquire more power.
GROSS: You were, along with Senator Howard Baker, the person who helped get
TV cameras into the Senate. You thought the Senate's work should be
televised. Well, what do you think of the results now?
Sen. BYRD: Well, I think the results have been good. The Senate was becoming
an invisible part of our government. Here was the House; it had had
television eight or nine years when Howard Baker and I worked together on
this--together with Senator Dole. After all, we the people, as I read it, we
the people need to be an informed population. And when the people are
properly informed, then we're going to reach the right decisions, because we,
especially in the legislative branch, represent the people. That's what's
wrong with this administration. It forgets that it's the people; the people
are sovereign. Not George Bush.
Just take a passage from Bob Woodward's book. This paragraph is the whole
thing. The president, in the book "Bush at War" by Bob Woodward, said this:
`I'm the commander. See, I don't need to explain. I do not need to explain
why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president.
Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel
like I owe anybody any explanation.' Now get that. That tells you in a
nutshell what is wrong with the leadership of this country.
GROSS: Senator Byrd, I'd like to talk a little bit about your life. I know
that your mother died in 1918 during the flu epidemic and then you were
basically adopted by--I believe was it an aunt and uncle.
Sen. BYRD: My mother died on Armistice Day 1918. I lacked a few days being
one year old. Before my mother died, in anticipation that she might not
recover from the flu, she asked my father to, if she didn't recover, to give
"the baby," quote, end quote--I was the baby. I had three older brothers and
a sister. I was the baby. And it was her wish that the Byrds, one of my
father's sisters and her husband, take me and raise me. And so on the night
of Armistice Day my mother went to heaven--and it is because of her wish that
I'm a senator today. My mother's wish was that I be something. She said I
was going to be the president of the United States. When she died, I know
that her prayers have thought of me.
Now the people who took me--they were good people. The man who took me was
named Titus Dalton Byrd--B-Y-R-D--and he married one of my natural father's
sisters--her name was Vlurma, and I was given the name of Robert Carlyle Byrd
by them. And I met kings and shahs and presidents and governors--and the
greatest man I've ever met was that man who raised me, Titus Dalton Byrd. He
was poor, but he was honest.
GROSS: How old were you when they told you that you were adopted?
Sen. BYRD: I think I was a senior in high school when Mr. Byrd took me aside,
as it were, and told me all about it and offered to take me down to North
Carolina to meet--from West Virginia, to meet my natural father, Cornelius
Calvin Sale. My name had been Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr.
GROSS: Senator Robert Byrd will be back in the second half of the show. He's
written a new book called "Losing America."
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music; credits)
GROSS: Coming up, architect Frank Gehry. He designed the Experience Music
Project in Seattle, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the
Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa, Spain, and the Music Pavilion at the New
Millennium Park in Chicago, which opened last weekend. Also, we continue our
conversation with Senator Robert Byrd.
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat
from West Virginia. He's written a new book called "Losing America:
Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency." Byrd has served in the US
Congress for 51 years, 45 of them as senator. In the history of America, only
two men have served in the US Congress longer than the now-86-year-old Byrd.
When we left off we were talking about growing up in West Virginia.
Now you grew up during the Depression. Early in your, I guess, teen-age years
and early adult life, you made a living in a number of different ways. You
were a gas station attendant. You were a welder. You ran a store--I think
you owned a store, actually, with your wife. And then you went to law school
and then, first, ran for the Statehouse in West Virginia, then for Congress,
then for Senate.
Sen. BYRD: Yes. Yes.
GROSS: I believe it was early in your political career that you briefly
joined the Ku Klux Klan. Now most people know that that was a brief part of
your history. Why did you join?
Sen. BYRD: I joined for a number of reasons. In that day and time things
were different than they are now. There was a time when Mr. Byrd, who raised
me, joined the Klan, and in those days many of the upstanding men and women in
the communities, I am told--was told then--were members. Lawyers, judges,
bankers and others were in the Klan, and so I joined it. I've regretted that.
I've apologized for it. There's nothing more I can do, except I speak plainly
when I condemn the Klan and its tactics. I've, I think, improved and grown
since that time. And I would urge young men not to join the Klan. But I've
always been so sorry that I joined the Klan.
GROSS: You know, you've been--talking earlier about how divisive America is
and how disappointed you are in the Senate for not speaking up and acting
independently of the president's wishes. But when you flip back to this
period of America--and are we talking about the 1950s? '40s?
Sen. BYRD: 1940s.
GROSS: 1940s. I mean, to think that a young congressman like yourself felt
that it was an important part of...
Sen. BYRD: No, no, no, no. No, no.
GROSS: Go ahead.
Sen. BYRD: I was not a congressman when I joined. This was before I got into
GROSS: This was when you were in business?
Sen. BYRD: Well, no, I wasn't in business.
GROSS: Even before that?
Sen. BYRD: I was a meat cutter.
GROSS: Oh, uh-huh.
Sen. BYRD: I was a meat cutter. You see, at first I started out, as you say,
in the gas station. Then I was a produce salesman. Then I was a meat cutter.
All this was in the coal camps in southern West Virginia, where the atmosphere
was Southern, where we had many--the people who boarded at my mom's house--I
call my aunt my mom; I never knew any other mother but this woman. She never
kissed me in my life, but she was stern, very religious and she didn't wear it
on her sleeve. She didn't go around condemning other people and wearing
religion on her sleeve, but she was a great woman. And so times were
different then, but I was not in Congress at that time. My having erred by
joining the Ku Klux Klan had long been publicized during the campaigns when I
ran for Congress. But I didn't join the Klan when I was in Congress.
GROSS: Do you have any plans of retiring?
Sen. BYRD: I do not.
GROSS: And, finally, as a lot of our listeners know, in addition to having
served in the Senate for many years, you have also fiddled for many years.
You love bluegrass music. And you recorded an album in 1978 that we have a
copy of, and I'd like to end with some music from that recording. Is there a
track from the album that you recorded in 1978 that you'd like us to close
with? Do you have a favorite track?
Sen. BYRD: "There's More Pretty Girls Than One" on there. I think that'd be
Sen. BYRD: Yes. And I hope that my wife's listening. We've been married,
you know, 67 years. I love her. And I'd like to send this to her, if I might
have that privilege.
GROSS: Of course. So you're dedicating this one to your wife.
Sen. BYRD: Yes.
GROSS: Absolutely. Senator Byrd, thank you so much.
Sen. BYRD: Thank you very much.
(Soundbite of song)
Sen. BYRD: (Singing) There's more pretty girls than one. There's more pretty
girls than one. Every town I ramble around, there's more pretty girls than
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Senator Robert Byrd singing and playing fiddle. He's written a new
book called "Losing America."
We invited over a dozen Republican senators to talk with us today. Their
offices were very gracious, but our timing was bad. They were all using this
recess period as a chance to go on the road in their states visiting
constituents. We hope to find a time that is more convenient in the near
Coming up, architect Frank Gehry. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Frank Gehry discusses his architectural career
TERRY GROSS, host:
Frank Gehry was described in Time magazine as the world's most-famous
architect. He designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, which
architect Philip Johnson described as `the most important building of our
time.' He also designed the Disney Concert Hall in LA and the Experience Music
Project, a music museum in Seattle inspired by Jimi Hendrix. Gehry's work has
been described as looking more like sculptures than buildings. His latest
project is the Music Pavilion at Chicago's new, 24 1/2-acre Millennium Park,
which opened last weekend.
Like his Guggenheim Museum, the exterior of this Music Pavilion has curving,
billowing, floating shapes that are actually made of heavy, hard steel. I
asked how he started working with those steel forms.
Mr. FRANK GEHRY (Architect): I came into architecture at the height of
modernism, the modern--it was just after the war. Decoration was a sin.
Purity, functionalism, all of that stuff. And...
GROSS: So it was an era of purity and functionalism, a lot of glass and steel
Mr. GEHRY: Right. And it became very cold and inhuman and lifeless.
Probably some people yearned for bringing decoration back, and they tried it
for a while. I went a different route. I thought it was possible within the
aesthetics of the day to find a way to express feeling and humanistic
qualities in a building. And I got interested in the sense of movement,
having a humanistic effect on an inert building. And there are examples in
history of that; I've talked about it before: the Shiva dancing figures from
India, a multiarmed dancer in bronze. And the best ones, when you look at
them and turn away and look back, you're sure they moved. I was fascinated
with that sense of movement. And since our culture, when I started making my
work, was a moving environment--plains, trains, cars, whatever--it seemed like
a reasonable place to go. Now I talked about it and I thought about it, but I
wasn't clear about it until I started experimenting, quite accidentally, with
fish forms. It was...
GROSS: Let me ask you about fish. I mean, fish, as we all know, have--they
have spines, but they're so flexible. Ad they can, you know, bend and curve.
What was the parallel you saw between fish and what you wanted to do in your
Mr. GEHRY: I was interested in movement. And I loved the drawings of
Hiroshige and Japanese wood cuts of carp. And I love the quality of them, and
I always thought they were very architectural. I also saw a fish as being on
Earth 300 million years before man. And when my brethren started to
regurgitate the past in the post-modern movement, as it was called, the past
they were regurgitating was anthropomorphic. And I said, `Well, if you're
going to go back, you might as well go back 300 million years before man to
fish.' And, you know, it was a sort of a sarcastic remark and kind of--I
didn't even realize what I was talking about when I said it.
And I started drawing--whenever I saw one of those post-modern buildings, I
would angrily sketch in my book pictures of fish. And I made a 35-foot,
wooden fish for the fashion house in Italy for an exhibit. And the 35-foot,
wooden fish was very kitsch and very embarrassing-looking object, but you
stood beside it, it had the same character that the Shiva dancing figure--you
turned away and looked, and you thought it moved. And so, quite accidentally,
I found myself into a language that I was really looking to find. And like
everything else, it happened by accident.
GROSS: So you were looking to find a way of making something very stable.
Mr. GEHRY: That expressed movement.
GROSS: That expressed movement. And you found it through the form of the
fish. And how does that connect to the forms that you've used in recent
Mr. GEHRY: Well, I then made shapes--I started to say, `What could I do to
this wooden fish that would make it less embarrassing as a piece of kitsch?'
And I cut off the tail, and I cut off the head and I cut off the fins. And I
started to abstract it. And I made a shape, an abstracted--let's call it a
`filet of fish'...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GEHRY: ...that I used in a show, an exhibit, I did at the Walker Art
Museum. And it still had that quality of movement when you looked back
and looked around. And I made that out of a wooden frame and covered it with
metal. And so that was the beginning of the language, and I took that
language into the buildings.
GROSS: But, you know, in some of your buildings, including the new Pritzker
Pavilion in Chicago and the Disney Concert Hall and the Guggenheim Museum,
those kinds of curving shapes, they're not made out of wood. I mean, they're
made out of steel or--I mean, titanium. And how did you realize that that
would be--how did you start working with titanium as a medium for something
that would be really firm and stable, strong but also moldable and--not
moldable. I guess it's more--I don't know. Are you molding it, or are you...
Mr. GEHRY: (Laughs) Yeah.
GROSS: How are you getting the shape?
Mr. GEHRY: OK, here's how you do it. I do maybe 50 models. Sometimes they
look like crumpled paper, so people think I crumple up paper and that's how
they get there. And I analyze the shapes, as though they're structures, with
the computer to determine whether I'm within the budgetary constraints. And
over time I slowly evolve these shapes and refine them. And then you've got
to decide what skin to put on it, the exterior surface. A long time ago--you
know, buildings are a wall and a roof, right?
Mr. GEHRY: And usually the wall is a different material than the roof. And I
wanted--a long time ago tried to make the buildings into one shape. I thought
if I could make it one piece, that I would have a lot of flexibility. So
I--metal roofing is tradition for centuries. And there's a tradition, and
there's a detailing tradition and there's a performance tradition, so that you
can rely on it not to leak, not to get you in trouble if you follow the rules
of it. I started making the whole building. I started to take the roofing
material down and make the walls part of the roofing material. So it all was
one material. And the choices then were copper, and then you have stainless
steel, and you're pretty much limited to a pallet like that.
Now copper, when you put it on a building, turns very dark for about 10 years,
and it's kind of morose. So unless you pregreen it--and when you pregreen it,
it looks kind of phony to me, so I reject that. And I started using stainless
steel. And when you go to Bilbao and you use stainless steel--Bilbao's a city
that has a lot of rain and a lot of gray skies, and stainless steel and gray
skies goes bad. You'll see that. The stainless steel in Millennium Park will
go quiet when it's cloudy; it won't shine. And...
GROSS: 'Cause it's a reflective, so it can reflect the sky...
Mr. GEHRY: Yeah, reflects the sky. If the sky's gray, it reflects the gray
Mr. GEHRY: ...and it goes gray. In Bilbao that would have been difficult.
And I found titanium by accident; that in a gray sky, it turns golden and
shines. And so I used it in Bilbao. It's very expensive. The reason I
didn't use it here, it would have increased the budget by a lot of money. And
since these shapes were not--it wasn't one whole building, they were mostly
vertical, I think they'll be OK.
GROSS: I want to read you a list of descriptions of the Guggenheim Museum
that you built in Bilbao, Spain, as written by journalists: `a pile of
improbably huge fish,' `fractured tin-foil flowers,' `a fantastic dream ship,
all sails, full sweeping upstream,' `Marilyn Monroe's wind-assisted skirts,'
`an exploded artichoke heart,' `vast hulls of a ship that used to loom over a
shipbuilding town,' `a prehistoric beast advancing with leg and foot toward
the water,' `an explosion in a sardine factory,' `a monstrous flower,' `a
fairy-tale castle.' What do you think?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GEHRY: Yeah, it's fine. You know, I try to describe it but not in those
kind of terms, no.
GROSS: My guest is architect Frank Gehry. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is architect Frank Gehry. He designed the Disney Concert
Hall in LA, the Experience Music Project in Seattle, the Guggenheim Museum in
Bilbao, Spain, and the Music Pavilion at the Millennium Park in Chicago, which
opened last weekend.
You were born in Toronto.
Mr. GEHRY: Yeah.
GROSS: And for four years you move with your family to a small mining town in
Canada called Timmins.
Mr. GEHRY: Timmins, Ontario.
GROSS: Yeah, where your father worked for the distributor of slot machines
and pinball machines.
Mr. GEHRY: Yup.
GROSS: And, boy, old pinball machines were so great. I mean, they were
so--they were kind of like billboards or neon signs or, like, things that
would light up and all kinds of like...
Mr. GEHRY: Right.
GROSS: ...pictures and stuff. Did you love the design of those pinball
Mr. GEHRY: They were always in the basement somewhere in my house, and I used
to play with them and help him fix them and stuff like that. Yeah, I guess
so. You know, when you go through a childhood like that--and it was a tough
one because they were tough times for the family--you tend to want to cut that
part of your life off.
GROSS: So you don't think about it very much.
Mr. GEHRY: Forget about it.
Mr. GEHRY: But he was involved with the carnival business, in a way, and used
to bring those kind of people home. And as a kid, I met a lot of them. And
there was a blind boxer, black guy, that used to baby sit me, I remember. The
good thing about it all...
GROSS: Oh, wow.
Mr. GEHRY: ...was that--the mix of people that I was exposed to...
Mr. GEHRY: ...as a kid, which has helped me in life.
GROSS: Well, one thing I think you have not forgotten about from that period,
you've said that you were exposed to a lot of anti-Semitism in this small
Mr. GEHRY: Yeah.
GROSS: And did that contribute to the fact that you changed your name when
you became an architect from Goldberg to Gehry?
Mr. GEHRY: Well, it was a factor and in allowing myself to be convinced by my
ex-wife that it was the most important thing to do, I guess. I didn't like
the idea of changing it.
GROSS: Why was it so important to her?
Mr. GEHRY: We were going to have our first child, and there had been a lot
of anti-Semitism I experienced, she experienced. And she said she didn't want
to bring a kid into the world to go through that. The name at that time was a
caricature. There was a radio program called "The Goldbergs"...
Mr. GEHRY: ...that sort of...
Mr. GEHRY: ...caricatured--and so I took a lot of heat for it. And, you
know, I didn't want to do it. My father hated me for letting her do it. My
mother went along with it. And after she did it, I was so embarrassed. Every
time I met somebody, I told them.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: But you wouldn't go back to Goldberg now. Too late, right?
Mr. GEHRY: Well, I'm married to a Panamanian girl, Berta, who threatens to
go back to it. She'd like to be Berta Goldberg, she says. But I doubt if
we'll do it.
GROSS: Well, you've made the Gehry name too famous (laughs).
Mr. GEHRY: I think my kids--my son, Sam, flirts with it because he wants to
be an architect. So he may just want to get rid of the Gehry name for a
GROSS: Now your first building that really got a lot of attention and that
ended up being pretty controversial was your own home. You had moved into a
small, two-story cottage? Is that a fair word for it? And you kind of
designed a new home around it. And if you look at it, like, in a photograph,
you have this, like, two-story building, and then around that you
have--there's sheet metal and plywood...
Mr. GEHRY: Corrugated metal.
GROSS: Corrugated metal. And then on the second story there's, like,
chain-link fencing around it.
Mr. GEHRY: Yeah.
GROSS: And it almost looks more like an assemblage--you know, like an
assemblage sculpture than architecture because there's so many--it's so mixed
Mr. GEHRY: Yeah.
GROSS: And, like, the textures all seem to be kind of conflicting. And
you're not really sure what is the purpose of the chain-link fence on the
second floor. Is there a purpose for it (laughs)? Is it just there as, like,
another material to contrast with the other material?
Mr. GEHRY: Well, there was a purpose when I did it.
GROSS: What was the purpose?
Mr. GEHRY: The kid was two years old, and his room had a door to the outside
to the terrace. And the first day I was there he started climbing down the
wall (laughs). And so we put up the chain-link fence with the idea that it
would be safe; it'd be like a safety place for him to play on the upstairs,
outdoors of his room. And then once I started--committed myself to doing
that, I then started to do things with the way it looked, I guess, and
proportioned it. But it didn't work...
GROSS: Yeah. And with some pretty odd angles, right?
Mr. GEHRY: Yeah, yeah. Well, I started doing that.
Mr. GEHRY: But I had played with it because chain-link is the most despised
material ever. People hate it, and yet they use it so prevalently all over
the world. And I was trying to figure out, `How could it be so despised and
yet so used and so much denial about it?' That people use it, and then they
say, `Well, no, no, that's a tennis court.' But it's a damned chain-link
fence. So I decided to study--I like that idea of things that people deny
exist and tried to see if I could figure out a way to make it better or
usable. Since they were going to use it anyway, maybe I could help them make
it look prettier. And I started to explore the qualities of it that I thought
were--you know, as a material, it works like a scrim. If you look at it
straight-on, you look through it, if you look at it on the angle, it closes up
like a scrim does. And there are different weights of it and different
coatings on it, and so I did a whole lot of research on it. By the time I got
to the house, I was playing with it; I had the beginning of a language with
GROSS: Do you still live in that house?
Mr. GEHRY: Yes.
GROSS: Still have the chain-link fence on the second floor?
Mr. GEHRY: Yes.
GROSS: Even though there's no baby?
Mr. GEHRY: And the kid climbed out--he climbed over the chain-link--it didn't
work. He climbed over it.
GROSS: When he got a little older.
Mr. GEHRY: No, right away.
Mr. GEHRY: He was up, over it and out.
GROSS: That's some athletic baby you had there.
Mr. GEHRY: Yeah (laughs). He was something.
GROSS: So do you still--what are your gut feelings now about chain-link?
Mr. GEHRY: Well, I don't use it very much, even though I've figured out how
to use it. People sometimes ask me to use it, and I refuse. But I've done
some things with it. I'm not against it. It's just not--I haven't been too
interested in it. We are designing a new house, though. I am...
GROSS: Oh, you're designing a new house for yourself?
Mr. GEHRY: Yeah, from scratch in...
Mr. GEHRY: ...Venice, California. And I'm working on it now. So...
GROSS: What's the most important thing you want that you don't have now?
Mr. GEHRY: A garden. I bought a piece of land that'll give me a garden.
GROSS: That's nice. And will there be a kind of architectural design around
the garden or...
Mr. GEHRY: Yeah. I'm doing a--it's a half-acre lot, and so I'm building
Mr. GEHRY: More like the Philip Johnson house in the ...(unintelligible)
where there's a living room, and then there's a separate building for bedrooms
GROSS: Huh. So it'll be like two separate houses.
Mr. GEHRY: Yeah.
GROSS: Why do you want that?
Mr. GEHRY: I'd like to live in the garden...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GEHRY: ...or outdoors. You can do that in LA quite easily.
GROSS: Yeah, I guess so. I guess so.
Mr. GEHRY: Yeah.
GROSS: Well, thank you so much. Congratulations on the completion of the
Pritzker Pavilion. And thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. GEHRY: Thank you very much.
GROSS: Frank Gehry designed the Music Pavilion at Chicago's new Millennium
Park, which opened last weekend.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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