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From the Archives: The Enduring Taboos of "Dracula."

Writer Leonard Wolf. His latest book "Dracula: The Connoisseur's Guide" (Broadway Books) is about our attraction to vampires and the curiosity they have provoked over the past 100 years. Wolf is thought of as a specialist on the subject, having written such books as "The Essential Phantom of the Opera," "The Essential Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde," "The Essential Dracula," and a number of other horror related books. Wolf is also the winner of the O. Henry Fiction Award. (Originally aired 4/28/97) (Interview by Marty Moss-Coane)

34:30

Other segments from the episode on August 8, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 8, 1997: Interview with Leonard Wolf; Interview with John Young; Obituary for Fela Kuti.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 08, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 080801np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Leonard Wolf
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane in for Terry Gross.

When Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, reviewers saw it as harmless entertainment, an enjoyable, thrilling read, certainly not destined to be a classic. But in the 100 years since its publication, Dracula has never been out of print, and its undead, blood-sucking vampire has become a potent symbol, used in many other books, plays, and films.

While Victorian critics made no mention of the novel's erotic subtext, modern critics and readers endlessly mine the tale for its many taboos. This year, there are centennial celebrations of Bram Stoker's Dracula all over the world.

One of the foremost authorities on Dracula is Leonard Wolf. He's written a number of books on the topic, including "A Dream of Dracula," "The Essential Dracula," and his latest, "Dracula: The Connoisseur's Guide."

He was a consultant on Francis Ford Coppola's screen adaptation of the novel, and he's co-curator of the Cinema Dracula series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which runs through May 20th.

Wolf was born in Transylvania. He read Dracula as a boy, but the book didn't really make an impression on Wolf until he re-read it as an adult.

LEONARD WOLF, AUTHOR, "DRACULA: THE CONNOISSEUR'S GUIDE": The primary excitement was the discovery that here I was, a professor of English Literature, and had not known the literary quality of this astonishing book. I remembered my 12-year-old response of mostly fear.

But what I -- what I had as an adult in middle life re-reading Dracula after many, many years, was the extraordinary delight. The -- you know, a sort of expanse of light flowing into my head as I found myself reading a first-rate novel.

MOSS-COANE: Why do you think Bram Stoker's novel has never been out of print in -- in the 100 years that it's been written? What do you think each generation has been able to find in this story?

WOLF: Well, in the decade following its appearance in 1897, I think it was mostly read as an adventure story. Because, he'd created what we nowadays would call a real page-turner. You really want to know who's doing what to whom, when, where, why and how, all the time.

It's an -- you know, it's a macabre tale. This tall dark evil-smelling person from Transylvania who comes to London and then feeds on British womanhood. That's exotic, it's macabre, and Stoker has a very fine plot sense. So that -- you read it for that.

For the first decades, I would say, after the novel appeared, it was read for that. It was not, may I say, a best-seller. It was a steady seller, without ever becoming a best-seller. But then, the movie industry got hold of it in 1922, with the appearance of FW Mornaugh's (ph) "Nosferatu."

And from that time on, the idea of Dracula began to permeate our culture so that by now, with more than some 400 films based on -- or in some way reflecting Stoker's novel it -- the idea of Dracula has begun -- has taken on the proportions of a folk myth to which everyone in America can -- and around the world can refer.

MOSS-COANE: Well, this story and this character of Dracula comes from -- really a long line of myths and folk tales, as you outline in your book. Let's begin with the body and the interest I assume human beings have had since the beginning of human history, in death and what constitutes death and what a decomposing body does and doesn't do and what it means to be dead and what it means to be undead.

Cause I would assume, in times past, there were possibilities of people being buried alive. They might be in a coma, and they might look dead, when they actually weren't.

That undoubtedly contributes to the folklore of the vampire, because the body -- you know, in the movies, bodies are very conveniently dead. Somebody takes a shot, and somebody falls, and that's the end of it. He or she is dead.

In the real world, that -- the moment of death is the beginning of an elaborate physical process, not very pretty, may I say, and I -- I'm not sure we -- all of us want to know all of the details about that process of decomposition. But, it does have certain side effects, so that for example, the body can swell, there are interior gases.

The rigor mortis can set in. And in the process of rigor mortis, the muscles contract and the body can assume positions much different from the recumbent position in which we put our loved ones when we put them into coffins.

The rigor mortis can sometimes produce effects on the face, for example. When the face collides with the top of the coffin, it can be bruised. If later, people open the coffin, and they see either swellings on the lips or -- or contusions of one sort or another, it was an easy to conclude long ago that the body had come to life and was trying to get out.

Now, that would be an accident. On the other hand, since they did not really know how to tell whether someone was dead beyond holding a feather to the lips or sometimes a mirror to see if it moistened, it was not unusual -- at least not unlikely -- that occasionally, somebody who had had, for instance -- who was fallen into a coma was put into his or her grave prematurely.

And the nightmare of that event must have been very, very real and, of course, Edgar Allan Poe makes quite a bit of that in "The Fall of the House of Usher." We -- there is in my book, I think, an illustration from a 19th century device that was put into coffins so that in the event the body did come to life, there was a string attached to the big toe, and the corpse -- or the revived corpse could wiggle his toe and the spring was attached to a bell up in the caretaker's office up on top. It was a patented device, and I hope it did some good.

MOSS-COANE: And it was used, I assume, just because of some of the questions about when death actually occurred.

WOLF: Of course.

MOSS-COANE: When you look through the vampire literature -- the vampire mythology -- when do you begin to see some of the early signs?

WOLF: Well, there is a vampire tale that goes back to the second century. It's in the Apollais' (ph) "The Golden Ass." And somewhere in this book, I think, I've said that vampire folklore takes place wherever anybody has seen anybody bleed. It seems such an obvious thing, that if you see someone bleeding copiously, that person is going to die unless somebody stanches the wound.

It follows rather logically, if a little bit disturbingly, that if "A" loses blood, and "B" takes blood, "B" will live longer than "A." So the easiest thing to conclude is that in order to ensure longer life, you should take blood. And, indeed, there were medieval remedies. In the Roman period, there were people who occasionally drank blood in hopes that it would extend their lives.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I'm thinking even about the ritual in the Christian Church of communion, which is considered taking the blood and body of Christ. That seems very related to this idea of drawing blood in vampires.

WOLF: Yes. And the mystery of transubstantiation and consubstantiation turns, however, on a spiritual mystery. And that is to say: the blood, though in Catholic tradition is actually Christ's blood, it is the blood of salvation. It is -- it comes with the promise of salvation and the novel Dracula, parenthetically, turns on an inversion of that idea.

Stoker's Dracula promises immortal life, just as Christ does, but under the sponsorship of Satan. And in -- under the sponsorship of Satan, you achieve immortal life by destroying your fellow humans, which is something that does not happen under the sponsorship of Christ.

MOSS-COANE: We'll talk more with Leonard Wolf about Dracula after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

Our guest is Leonard Wolf. He's a leading authority on Dracula. His latest book on the topic is "Dracula: The Connoisseur's Guide." He's in the process of creating a young Dracula for DC Comics. He's also co-curator of CineDracula -- that's a film festival at the Museum of Modern Art which runs through May 20.

Let's talk about the neck, because certainly one of the enduring images of the vampire mythology has to do with the vampire, with Dracula leaning over the exposed neck of a usually very beautiful young woman. Do you see the neck as the erogenous zone?

WOLF: Well, yes I do. Your question is actually so complex. You hear me hesitating because almost all of us who have been raised by loving mothers and fathers will remember nestling against the neck of our mothers or our fathers.

And we'll remember them nestling against our necks -- you know, doing the sort of silly things that daddies and mommies do to little children -- to comfort them, to warm them, to prove to them that they love them.

And the neck is a favorite place for that kind of nuzzling. Then there comes adolescence, where before boys and girls are really ready for sex, they -- some of them -- experience what in my generation was called a "monkey bite," but I gather -- but I gather has been renamed -- what do you now call it?

MOSS-COANE: I think -- well -- I'm a little old for this, but kids my son's age called it a hickey.

WOLF: That's right. Hickey. That's was the word that was escaping me. But you can tell my age from the fact that I still think of it as a monkey bite. So that -- what -- what they're doing, of course, is they're experiencing a kind of precursor of the sexual event.

There's a little tiny bit of pain, and there's a lot of intimacy and a lot of warmth and a certain amount of giggling connected to it all. But think for a moment: the neck is also the place where the main arteries to the brain flow.

MOSS-COANE: Right.

WOLF: And of course, it's the site of where Dracula gets his nourishment when he takes nourishment from his victims. So yes, the neck is a complex place for the kind of intimacy we would like to see us all experience.

It is also an exposed place where the life's blood flows. But the more critical thing in terms of reading the novel Dracula or watching the Dracula films -- we have to keep in mind a kind of Freudian reality called "displacement upward."

MOSS-COANE: Right.

WOLF: And that is what we see happening between the Vampire and his or her victim is what we know should happen below the waist, but we can't bring ourselves to accept that it is really below the waist where the generating members are, so we displace the event upwards. And so, what we see in the vampire's embrace is an authentic sexual exchange.

MOSS-COANE: So, it's the neck kind of masquerading as genitalia?

WOLF: Well, or as the stage for the erotic event. The neck is -- you know, in the films, it's really rather wonderful. I thought it would be great to create a film sometimes in which we took all of the vampire approaches to the neck and flashed them one after the other so that you see Max Schreck in 1922 and Bela Lugosi in 1931 and Christopher Lee in 1957 -- all of them approaching the victim who is lying recumbent with her neck exposed. They would end up looking pretty much like Groucho Marx.

LAUGHTER

So -- but, aside from the hilarity of it all, it is perceived -- really perceived -- and in the latest movies -- in Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Francis Ford Coppola film -- it's perceived as an extraordinarily erotic moment.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I think it is one of the more enduring images that's come out of all the vampire and Dracula stories and retellings of the story -- this woman, either offering up or in a passive way being offered up through her neck.

WOLF: Yes, and in Nosferatu, for example, she offers it up as a willing sacrifice to save the town or to save the country from the plague that Count Orlock (ph) has brought to Bremen.

She reads in a little book that if a pure woman can distract the vampire long enough so that he doesn't hear the cock crow in the morning -- and so she all but exposes herself at the window so that Orlock sees her and then he clumps over and climbs the stairs, enters -- she sends her husband away.

It's really -- the dynamics of the thing is very much a French bedroom comedy, except that it's really horrible. And then Max Schreck enters looking like the most appalling monster you've ever seen, with long, long fingernails, a very hooked nose, pointed ears, and a sort of hunchback -- and he kneels beside her bed.

And we never know actually what is happening, except that all of a sudden he looks up and the rooster crows, and he is aware that his life is now over because he's overstayed his leave and she, on the other hand, has -- is about to die.

We see her give a little convulsive death twitch as the movie ends. So that she has understood that her role is a Christian role -- she offers herself up the way Christ did to save humankind.

MOSS-COANE: As a kind of human sacrifice.

WOLF: Yes, indeed.

MOSS-COANE: I wonder if you think about Bram Stoker's Dracula and the way women are portrayed in that kind of story -- whether you see it as a cautionary tale to women about what can happen to them if they break the rules or they step out of the bounds of society or perhaps even taste sex -- if even just for a moment.

WOLF: I think when Stoker was writing, he could not have known that that was possible -- that it was possible to read his novel that way. What he has is the vampire is merely a terrible threat to the women. He takes their blood and he can turn them into Satanic creatures.

It was the post-Freudian readers who recognized that Dracula's embrace eroticized the women. They do -- they are eroticized in the novel, but I don't think Stoker would believe himself responsible for having conveyed that idea.

But later, and there are readers and there are critics who have seen in the Dracula story and in the myriads of films made based on it -- stories in which particularly the male sensibility warns women that if they become erotic, they will get a stake through their hearts.

MOSS-COANE: They will die.

WOLF: They will die -- something very, very bad -- it's sort of a post-Victorian Victorianism that seems still to linger on in the film makers.

MOSS-COANE: It's curious -- and I actually have a book that has some reviews of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula when it came out, and many of them saw it as a tale of adventure -- certainly a scary story.

Some cautioned, you know, don't read this while it's dark outside. But I'm thinking about Gothic fiction, and much of it having to do with these taboos of incest and murder and voyeurism and torture and on and on and on.

You say that a lot of the Gothic fiction of the Victorian era was read by women, and it's hard to imagine that they didn't see all the stuff that seems to obvious to us today.

WOLF: It was not only read by women, it was written by women...

MOSS-COANE: Right.

WOLF: ... which is even more astonishing. I have suggested in print that there is a very good reason for that. And that is: Gothic fiction, which enters English literature about the end of the 18th century was the place, if I may make -- mix a metaphor, it was -- created the rug under which all of the unspeakable human acts could be swept.

And women were the victims of any number of those unspeakable acts. So, they found in these stories a kind of resonance to their own situation. What I've suggested, for example, is that the standard villain in the Gothic novel was a tall, dark Italian who was pursuing a pure white virginal English woman or woman -- sometimes, it's a French woman or an Italian woman, but she's white, wealthy, pure.

And he pursues her with unspeakable intent. We all know what that means. He wants to rape her.

MOSS-COANE: Right.

WOLF: That's the -- sort of the machinery that makes Gothic fiction move. Within that large framework is included incest of one sort or another, torture of one sort or another, and what I'm suggesting is that the lot of women in the 18th century in the 19th century and perhaps, one tends to hope not, into our own century, was so frequently mirrored in these stories.

Somebody was abusing a woman all the time somewhere -- that women took a kind of bizarre interest, I don't mean pleasure, but at least interest in it. And what is even more interesting to a critic like myself, is that they often wrote the fiction and imagined some extraordinarily bizarre scenes.

MOSS-COANE: Let's talk about someone that actually did live, and his name was Vlad the Impaler -- the infamous Vlad the Impaler. As a native of Transylvania, which -- you were born in Romania -- was -- which prior to that, or many centuries before that -- was called Transylvania. Was this a figure -- a man that was talked about when you were growing up in Romania?

WOLF: Well, two things need to be -- maybe more than two things need to be pointed out. First, Vlad Tepes is considered by Romanians to this day as something of a national hero because he was indeed a very courageous fighter against the Turks -- the Turkish invaders.

But he was also, in his own time, notorious for the cruelty with which he treated his prisoners and his own people. The prisoners, of course, he killed and tormented because they were his enemies. But his own people, he killed and tormented in the name of maintaining order, which is a rather cruel reason to do some of the things he did.

He was not, however, a vampire. And what Stoker did was he borrowed the name and the cruelty and imposed it on his fictional character. You must keep in mind that I left Transylvania as a child of six, so that I have no real memory of anybody talking to me about vampires.

But when I revisited Transylvania in the '70s -- when I was writing my first book on Dracula -- the Transylvanians with whom I spoke were surprised at my interest, which did not, by any means, was not by any means reflected in their interest. They had almost no interest, either in vampires or in Vlad Tepes as a source of vampire lore. And particularly not in Dracula.

Much has changed since then. Since then, two people at Boston University -- Radu Fluoescu (ph) and Raymond McDalley (ph) have done several books on the historical Dracula. And then my own books on Dracula have appeared over the decades, and that has helped to create a tourist industry into Transylvania which the Romanian government has been very happy to exploit.

MOSS-COANE: Leonard Wolf will be back with us in the second half of the show to talk more about Bram Stoker's Dracula.

I'm Marty Moss-Coane, and this is FRESH AIR.

MOSS-COANE: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker's classic Gothic tale Dracula. We're celebrating that event with an interview with one of the world's leading authorities on Dracula and horror, Leonard Wolf.

His latest book on the subject is called "Dracula: A Connoisseur's Guide." He's co-curator of a film retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art called "Cinema Dracula" which runs through May 20. He's also developing a series on Young Dracula for DC Comics.

Well, I'm thinking about Bram Stoker, and much has been made of his relationship with the actor Henry Irving -- who was one of the more popular actors at the late 19th century. Bram Stoker was actually a manager at the theater where Henry Irving performed.

How would you describe how Bram Stoker saw his relationship with this rather famous actor Henry Irving?

WOLF: Well, in my book, I've taken a terrible risk. I have outed Bram Stoker, and I say very carefully that I'm speculating, but what the speculation is based on -- the details of the lives they led together.

Bram Stoker fell in love with Henry Irving very early in his own career, and then Irving invited him to come and work for him in London, and for some 28 years, Stoker was a loyal, dutiful, even slavish servant for Henry Irving.

And what I have suggested in my book is that it's the -- the unhappy part of Stoker's life was that he never could confront the fact that he was in love with Irving, and he never did anything about what I think is the incipient homosexuality, which he betrayed in other ways.

There are a series of letters he wrote to Walt Whitman, for example, that make it very, very clear that he admired Whitman for what he imagined was Whitman's comfort with his own homosexuality. It's a heartbreaking story -- the way in which he spent -- that is, Stoker spent his life not coming to terms with his own deepest hungers.

MOSS-COANE: Well, you write about and actually pull from Bram Stoker's own either letters or diaries about seeing this actor Henry Irving perform, and he really falls into a kind of swoon as he sees him -- this very famous actor -- performing on stage. And it's almost melodramatic.

WOLF: It's a heartbreaking story because Irving recited a poem -- a really soppy poem -- and Stoker fainted dead away at the sound and the sight of it. And then later, Irving gave him a copy of a photograph of his, signed with his name, and it was a sort of moment of profound -- a high point in Stoker's life. You -- you -- the bystander -- we who read this story 80 or 90 years later, can't help feeling that he could not bring himself to acknowledge what had happened. And we think -- I think -- that that's too bad.

MOSS-COANE: And are you saying -- because, certainly when you read through Dracula, it's about many things, but what you're also saying is that it really has this kind of homo-erotic sub-text.

WOLF: I said long ago -- I've created an edition of Dracula called "The Essential Dracula" in which I have notes for every moment in the fiction which I think requires some note, there are moments when Dracula says, for example, to three women who want Jonathan Harker. And he -- Dracula -- drives them away and he says: This man is mine. And Dracula looks deep into Stoker's eyes.

Well, that's not a moment in which, you know, he's behaving like Robin Hood. What that is is a homo-erotic exchange which is never fully developed. And there have been other scholars who have gone to considerable lengths to demonstrate the degree to which Stoker either avoided confronting homosexual moments in the novel or inadvertently put them in.

MOSS-COANE: You said, and I don't know whether this was a slip on your part, but that Dracula looked into Stoker's eyes, as opposed to Jonathan Harker's eyes.

WOLF: That was a slip.

MOSS-COANE: But do you see them as -- almost as one and the same?

WOLF: Well, what I'm doing, and it's really unpardonable -- one has no right to deduce from the life of a writer a clear link to the contents of a fiction by that writer. I think that that's an exercise in facile criticism, and I've just done it, and I would like to step back a little bit from it.

What I'm willing to say is: Stoker's mind and his unconscious were in turmoil. They were in such turmoil that when he sat down to write Dracula, the turmoil itself produced the energy that resulted in the vision and the language and the plot line that produced a very great novel.

MOSS-COANE: When you review all the movies that have been made about Dracula, which one do you think comes the closest to your image, your version of Dracula?

WOLF: Well, that's another one of these wonderful questions because what you're asking me to do is to be the God of the Dracula movie business, and that would be great fun to be. I have to say, first, that I don't hold the movies responsible for interpreting Bram Stoker's novel exactly.

I think film is an art form all unto itself, and fiction is an art form unto itself. They can influence each other, but they do not need to interpret each other.

Having said that, the film that moves me most is "Dracula's Daughter" because it has a scene in it in which Gloria Holden (ph) plays Dracula's daughter who, now that Dracula is dead, hopes that the curse of vampirism will leave her life and she can become an ordinary woman.

And of course, the rest of the film demonstrates that she can't. It's a very poignant, poignant film -- beautifully, beautifully realized in the scenes of ritual, particularly when she's burying her father.

Beyond that, Coppola's film did its best to include more -- most of the scenes that Stoker has written. Stoker's novel, you know, is over-populated -- it has, from a movie point of view, it has too many characters and Coppola has managed to retain them all.

In what the James Harte (ph) -- Coppola version does, however, is that it inverts Stoker's story and turns what Stoker thought of as the good guys into the bad guys. Dr. Van Helsing and his troupe are trying to prevent Vlad Tepes from uniting with his true love, whom he has been looking for for the last 400 years. So that it -- in an important sense, it's a heretical interpretation.

But I like to think and delighted to see that the films are endlessly re-inventing Dracula, which is the right thing for a great symbol -- the right way to treat a great symbol.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I know that you're in the process of creating a Young Dracula for DC Comics. And some people have said that when you look at Dracula over the last 100 years, he's getting younger and younger. Do you agree with that?

WOLF: Well, what else he's getting is nicer and nicer.

MOSS-COANE: Yes. Right.

WOLF: And that seems to me too bad. When you have a -- that probably happened most dramatically with Frank Langella's Dracula. I've called Frank Langella's Dracula the "cuddly" Dracula, because it's hard for me to imagine any woman looking into Langella's eyes who wouldn't give up, you know, some portion of eternity to be his victim for a little while.

They are getting nicer and nicer, and there has been a reversal of moral meaning for the vampire, so that in the works of Chelsea Quinn Yarborough (ph) for example, we have a vampire who is profoundly nice.

He's decent. He's law abiding. He's rich. He wears a cross, and he -- again, he only takes as much blood from his willing victims as will nourish him. I think something will disappear from vampire literature when the vampires become nice guys.

MOSS-COANE: So, your Young Dracula -- is he a nice guy or a nasty guy?

WOLF: Well, what I've done in my Young Dracula is to give the world, for the very first time, a clear coherent and terrifying explanation for why he drinks blood. I won't tell you here and now -- obviously, come.

MOSS-COANE: Well, there is the suspense, right? Which is, of course, very important part of this story.

WOLF: That's the idea. That's the idea. Now, I treat him very sympathetically, but he sustains a terrible -- he has a dreadful experience that therefore turns him into the monster we now have. But until that experience, he's a nice guy.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I want to thank you very much, Leonard Wolf, for joining us today on FRESH AIR.

WOLF: My pleasure.

MOSS-COANE: Leonard Wolf is a leading authority on Dracula. His latest book is called "Dracula: A Connoisseur's Guide."

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest: Leonard Wolf
High: Writer Leonard Wolf. His latest book "Dracula: The Connoisseur's Guide" (Broadway Books) is about our attraction to vampires and the curiosity they have provoked over the past 100 years. Wolf is thought of as a specialist on the subject, having written such books as "The Essential Phantom of the Opera," "The Essential Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde," "The Essential Dracula," and a number of other horror related books. Wolf is also the winner of the O. Henry Fiction Award and is co-curator of MOMA's film retrospective CineDracula which will be held until May 20th.
Spec: Books; Mythology; Europe; Transylvania; England; Monsters; Horror; Movie Industry; Dracula; Vampires

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Leonard Wolf
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 08, 1997
Time: 14:00
Tran: 0080802np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: John Young
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane.

Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line 50 years ago and became a hero to every black child who dreamed of playing in the major leagues. But today, the percentage of African-American players playing professional baseball is just 17 percent -- well behind basketball and football.

My guest, John Young, wants to reverse that trend. In 1989, he founded RBI, "Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities." It's supported by funds from major league baseball and works to increase interest in the sport by organizing teams and tournaments. It also works with boys and girls, encouraging them to stay in school. Today, there are RBI programs in 75 cities across the country.

John Young was a scout for the major leagues and played first base in the minor leagues for most of the '70s. An injury curtailed his major league career with the Detroit Tigers. John Young began playing ball as a kid growing up in South Central L.A. because of a role model a little closer to home.

JOHN YOUNG, FOUNDER OF RBI AND SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE GENERAL MANAGER, CHICAGO CUBS BASEBALL CLUB: A friend of mine -- he was a little bit older than me, by the name of Edward Hamm (ph) -- he was three years older. And I've constantly said that if Edward Hamm would have been a gang-banger or did something negative, there was probably a chance that I would have been negative, because, you know, as a little kids, you know, there's always that one person that you look up to. And I always say, fortunately for me, that Edward Hamm was into sports and he was into baseball and he was very good, and I looked up to him. And he's the one that got me started playing baseball.

MOSS-COANE: So he said, come on John, let's go play baseball. Let's go down the, you know, to the local park or down the street and play ball?

YOUNG: Well, he would play -- we would play on the block, right there on 103rd, which was a pretty big block. In fact, we would have, like, games against the other blocks -- 103rd, 104th, 108th -- like the Murray's grew up on 108th, a bunch of family members, and the most famous one being Eddie Murray.

But, we would have, like, block weeks. But he went to a junior high school that had a summer recreation program and they had one for youngsters, and he encouraged me to come out and play.

MOSS-COANE: So where's Edward Hamm today?

YOUNG: Edward Hamm is cutting hair, and still lives in South Central L.A., and doing well.

MOSS-COANE: And still loving baseball?

YOUNG: Loves all the sports, yes. Yeah.

LAUGHTER

MOSS-COANE: Now, did you take to this game right away, I mean, the moment your friend Edward Hamm introduced you to the sport, was it kind of love at first sight?

YOUNG: Well, even -- I can remember -- this is, I'd say, 1959, 1960 -- but I can remember 1955, my parents watching the World Series on television. You know, the Yankees were playing the Dodgers, and Jackie Robinson, as you know, was playing for the Dodgers and this was like the Jackie Robinson generation. So, most African-American families were really into baseball at that time, particularly, you know, Dodger fans. And I just -- I was five or six at the time, and I remember going out in the backyard and throwing up a -- a sock and hitting it with a broom stick, and so.

But baseball, I think, through Jackie Robinson and through my parents, was really my number one sport as a child.

MOSS-COANE: Well, how did the major leagues hear about you? I mean, what was the process of you making it to professional baseball?

YOUNG: When I was in high school, it was like a -- baseball was really flourishing in South Central L.A. Several people came out of the neighborhood and scouts were really -- it was like a hotbed in the area, and scouts were all over the community looking for talent. People like Roy White (ph) and Reggie Smith that came before me -- Bob Watson (ph), Bob Toland (ph), Doc Ellis (ph) -- these people were like, you know, within three years of me.

And so, when I started playing ball at Mount Carmel High School, I could run and I was a little crude. And there was a player on our team by the name of Tommy Williams who was a catcher, switch-hitting catcher, who all the scouts would come to see. And he was a grade ahead of me, so by scouting him, they happened to notice me. And that's usually the way most kids get noticed. Scouts are going to see someone else, and they either see a teammate or a player on the opposing team, and that's -- they put it on the follow list.

MOSS-COANE: So you -- you made it, what, to the minor leagues. I guess you got -- you got picked for the minor leagues. What -- what was the process, I guess, of your career in professional baseball?

YOUNG: Well, I've had a very detailed career. I -- I like to think that I probably experienced many of the emotions or most of the emotions that a person can feel in the game. I've had several decisions to make. I was drafted out of high school by the Cincinnati Reds. And I was drafted about the 27th round, and they offered me $500, which at the time I thought was all the money in the world.

MOSS-COANE: Five hundred for the season?

YOUNG: Signing bonus.

MOSS-COANE: Oh, a signing bonus.

YOUNG: And $500 a month, and that's just for the four or five months of the season.

MOSS-COANE: Right.

YOUNG: And here is one of those decisions that my dad assisted me with. Well, I don't know if it was assistance. He said: No, you're not going to do that.

MOSS-COANE: And that was that, right?

YOUNG: That was that. And I had a scholarship to go to Chapman College. Went to college, and I really developed as a player.

MOSS-COANE: Mmm-hm. Did college, though, give you some time to just mature as a person? And I imagine the difference between a 19-year-old or 18-year-old or maybe, even, 17-year-old playing professional ball, and someone in their early 20s?

YOUNG: Yes, college did more for me, I think, than anything to prepare me for pro ball. Not only did I develop my physical skills by playing in a winter program, by playing more games and by really concentrating on just baseball. Also, it allowed me to grow up. It was, you know, my first time away from home.

Another thing that really assisted me -- I was -- there was two African-American players on the team. So, coming from South Central, it was the first time I had been a minority on a -- on a sporting team. And as I get into my career, you know, later professional career, my first year of pro ball, I was the only African-American on the team, you know, playing in the South. I think it prepared me for some of the things that happened, you know, when I was playing pro ball, but also it had me -- I just grew up a little bit. I became more responsible. I became more confident with my baseball skills. And I think that had I went out and played my -- right out of high school, I don't think I would have lasted long.

MOSS-COANE: We'll talk more with John Young after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

John Young is our guest, and he played professional baseball from 1969 to 1978. He was a batting instructor and a scout for the Detroit Tigers. He currently works with the major league as a consultant, and in the late '80s, he began a program called "Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities" or "RBI."

You work as a scout for the Detroit Tigers, and when did you begin to notice that -- that baseball was disappearing from some of the inner city neighborhoods around the country, including the one that you grew up in South Central L.A.?

YOUNG: The first week I was -- I became a scout. I was living in Alabama at the time -- Montgomery -- and I was with the Tigers. And I had the -- had four states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida -- And Georgia -- five states. And as I would travel into Birmingham, New Orleans, Atlanta, all the major cities, you know, in those states, and scout the high school players, I really noticed a difference in the participation with African-Americans, and the quality of the programs in the inner city schools.

As we scouted the colleges, we would notice that, unless it was a historically black school, there weren't many African-Americans playing college baseball. So, right away, we -- it was just so noticeable.

MOSS-COANE: What was the concept, then, behind the program that you started -- again, this is in the late '80s -- this program called "RBI"?

YOUNG: I moved up to Detroit as director of scouting. And I really -- as we would attend baseball organization meetings with other scouting directors, you know, the subject would still come, oh, we've got to find talent. We've got to find another resource for talent. We've got to do something with the inner cities. We've got to do something to get more athletes involved.

And then I moved back to Southern California, and I was working for the San Diego Padres as a scout. And same thing -- I'm -- I'm talking -- this is like '84, '85 -- and I'm talking to the same subject with a different group of scouts.

So finally, in 1987, I got together with Roman Heman (ph) who was the general manager of the White Sox and general manager of the Orioles, but in between that, was working at the commissioner's office, and expressed my concerns. And he suggested that I write a proposal and send it to, at the time, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth. And that's exactly, you know, what -- what we did -- sent the proposal to Peter Ueberroth. He gave us funding for the first year, and RBI appeared to be off and running.

MOSS-COANE: Well, you began in -- in South Central L.A., where you grew up. What happened the first day of tryouts?

YOUNG: Prior to the first day of tryouts, we went into the local junior high schools. And we had a -- we had some really impressive alumni, you know, with us. And when we went into one junior high school, we went in with one of the former alumni, Eric (ph) Davis. We went to another junior high school with Darryl Strawberry, with Hubie Brooks (ph). And it was very impressive. And the kids were all fired up about, you know, this -- this new league. And we were -- we gave the kids the first-year jackets to wear, and everybody was excited. And when we told them the location of the parks, you know, it was just silence.

And we didn't really pick up on it, you know, and we just -- we just didn't pick up on it. And the problem was the kids were concerned that with the locations, over -- crossing over gang territory. And so it was concerned, and we met with the recreation and parks people. And -- who incidentally -- RBI does not get off the ground had it not been for the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. They provided facilities and, really, the manpower.

But we went to the supervisors and they provided rangers -- you know, they have park rangers that were there. And we assured the kids that security would be no problem.

We also, you know, went to the community police stations and made them aware of what we were doing. So they would, you know, they would drive by and then they would, like, you know, get out and they would walk the park, and their presence was felt.

MOSS-COANE: Interesting. Well, I'm curious to whether you ever talked with any gang members there -- if you were at a park and there was -- I don't know -- kids hanging around -- whether you ever went over and talked to them?

YOUNG: Well, you know, actually, prior to the start of RBI, part of the research, you know -- I had a cousin that was a gang-banger. And, you know, I talked with him about this. You know, this is one problem we've -- you know -- I was just saying, well, why would the gang-bangers, you know, prevent these kids from doing something positive?

See, a lot of scouts are afraid to come into South Central because of this problem. And one of the things I was telling him, I says, you know, this is something that if you have -- if the scouts are afraid to come into the area, you're hurting the community. You're hurting the kids in the area, because that's going to limit their opportunity to -- to be exposed to, you know, professional baseball, to college baseball, to what have you.

And what he told me was that the gang-bangers really don't bother the activity at the park. Most of the activity at the park is done at night. And that it would not be a problem.

MOSS-COANE: And has it -- has it ever been a problem?

YOUNG: Knock on wood, it hasn't. One thing that we -- in Southern California -- the big gangs are the Crips and the Bloods, which are with the red and blue colors. So we had to outfit our league the first couple of years, you know, without using red or blue.

And you know, if you've been involved in -- with your youngsters -- try to outfit a 24-team league -- baseball -- without using red and blue, it becomes very difficult.

MOSS-COANE: You probably don't want too many of those pinks and other kinds of colors.

YOUNG: Exactly.

MOSS-COANE: So, what can baseball teach young people, even apart from other sports? I mean, I think all sports teach winning and losing and good sportsmanship. But what do you think is distinctive about the game of baseball and what it can teach -- especially a young person?

YOUNG: The thing about baseball that I think is unique from every other profession, every other sport, is that it teaches you to really deal with failure. You look at a 300-hitter, who's a star -- he fails seven out of ten times.

MOSS-COANE: Right.

YOUNG: And I think that's the number one -- you know, it teach you to, you know, deal with adversity, dependency on the other members, and I think it teaches you humility. And I think those are really the key, key points.

MOSS-COANE: There's another part of this program which I think is very interesting, which is to link baseball, to link athletics, with learning. And I know that's a very important part of this RBI program. How do you make that link for a young person? Do they have to make sure their homework is done, or have certain kinds of grades in order to be part of the team?

YOUNG: Well, let me kind of give you a little background on how the educational component was devised. When -- when I wrote the commissioner, Peter Ueberroth, the first time to get the program started, one of the points that I made with Peter Ueberroth was that in 1986, from the draft, the June free agent draft, of the players that were signed from America -- through the draft, not counting the Dominican Republicans -- but through the draft -- 82 percent came from college, as compared to, when I signed in the late '60s, most of the players that were signing came from high schools.

MOSS-COANE: Interesting.

YOUNG: So my thinking was that for the workforce that -- that, as major league clubs cut back on minor league clubs, for economics, that eventually baseball is going to use the colleges similar to the way the NBA and NFL use the colleges -- really, to cut back on scouting and player development. That's a trend that we're taking.

Also, I noticed that when we did our survey, that the players from America that were in the major league -- on major league rosters, 45 percent of them came from Southern California. That's from Fresno to San Diego. Then we did a survey on who was attending colleges. So we did -- we did a survey on the rosters from San Diego to Fresno, California. And we found that less than two percent were African-American, less than three percent of the players were Latino.

So that told me that, if this is going to be our trend, and that if there's only two percent, you know, minority participation at the colleges, in -- 10 years from now, we won't have any American minorities playing baseball. So we felt that it was important to get the academic component in place.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I'm thinking about Tiger Woods. And I wonder whether baseball needs a Tiger Woods. And by that I mean, a young and charming, gifted, articulate player to really ignite interest, 'cause it seems to me there is no more white or suburban sport than golf these days. And yet, in the last couple of weeks, it seems as if everyone's talking about golf.

YOUNG: I think so. I think we've got our stars. And I think that baseball has really stepped up the pace on marketing the players. And I think that's going to be taken care of. I think what baseball needs is more volunteers at the, at the youth level, more quality coaches to teach the game and to be role models.

MOSS-COANE: Is there a kid you think that really exemplifies what this RBI program is all about, a kid that really, I don't know, uses this experience to his own betterment?

YOUNG: Well, I think the one kid that I -- he's always been my favorite. In fact, he played, I think, day one -- by the name of James Lofton (ph). Came into the program at 13. Horrendous home life. Mother was on drugs. You know, very low self-esteem -- very small in stature -- came in at 13. Played on every RBI team that we had. I always kid him saying that he probably has more RBI uniforms than we do.

But he got bigger. He got stronger. He got, you know, more self-confidence. And when he graduated from high school, he was, like, the city player of the year. And he attended L.A. Community College. And that really surprised me, because I didn't think that when this kid first came in the program, that he would do the things that he's accomplished.

He signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds and he's currently playing in their minor league system. I don't know if James is going to play in the major leagues, but the day that he entered L.A. City Community College was probably the proudest day for me, and the program -- to see how far he had come.

And here's a kid that played in the program, never paid one dime to play in the program. So, we were able to -- to give this -- this youngster a great experience -- uniforms, trophies and for absolutely free. And I really believe that this is a life that we've saved.

MOSS-COANE: Well, John Young, it's been a real pleasure to have you with us today on FRESH AIR, and I thank you for joining us.

YOUNG: Thank you, Marty. It was my pleasure.

MOSS-COANE: John Young established RBI in 1989 to encourage youngsters to play baseball and stay in school. Today, there are 75 RBI programs in cities across the country.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: John Young
High: Former major baseball league scout John Young is currently special assistant to the general manager of the Chicago Cubs. In 1988 he began a program in South Central Los Angeles to get inner city kids playing baseball. Known as RBI, "Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities," the program has since expanded to include 51 cities and 40,000 youth.
Spec: Children; Baseball; Cities; Drugs; Education; Families; Lifestyle; Minorities; Race Relations; Sports; Youth
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: John Young
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 08, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 080803np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: African Music Great Remembered
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:55

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: Nigerian singer Phalo (ph) was considered one of the most popular and innovative musicians in Africa. He died last Saturday of complications from AIDS at the age of 58. Phalo was a songwriter and bandleader who played the sax and keyboards.

Music critic Milo Miles remembers the life and work of a performer who made every album and every show a celebration of ordinary people and an attack on authority.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, MUSIC BY PHALO)

PHALO, SINGER, SINGING: Everybody run, run, run
Everybody's gotta, gotta
Some people lost some bread
Someone nearly died
Someone just died
Police they come
At me, they come
Confusion everywhere
Aaah
Seven minute later
All down cooled and all that
Police done go away
I mean, done disappear
Them leave sorrow, tears and blood

CHORUS: Them regular trademark

PHALO: Them leave sorrow, tears and blood

CHORUS: Them regular trademark

PHALO: Them regular trademark

CHORUS: Them regular trademark

PHALO: That is why
Everybody run, run, run.
Everybody scatter, scatter
Someone nearly died
Some people lost some bread
Someone just died
Police they come at me, they come
Confusion everywhere.

MILO MILES, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Phalo Anikalapo Cootie (ph) was usually just called Phalo, like Elvis or Madonna. This was only right because he was the first African rock star, still the grandest.

He did not play rock and roll as such, but he was a rock star because he understood the role and lived it to the hilt. The music he did play was a unique blend of African high-life with James Brown and soul jazz. Phalo called it "afro-beat."

His father was a minister and a music teacher, so Phalo preached to both his bands and his fans non-stop. His mother was a prominent crusader in Nigeria's nationalist movement, so Phalo was a political fighter too. After he was exposed to the Black Panther philosophy and the soul-power funk of James Brown on a visit to America, Phalo began to attack tyranny wherever he found it, whether international corporations, the Nigerian military, or the school system.

As his long rambling jams advocated pride and independence, Phalo behaved as he wanted. He became a blatant pot smoker. He became an outspoken polygamist with more than two dozen wives. He owned a nightclub and lived in an armored mansion he called "The Kalacuta (ph) Republic."

He would release a half-dozen albums a year, each one selling hundreds of thousands. His songs grew into wild intoxicating extravaganzas, half party and half oration. The best of them bristled with tough horn licks and irresistible layered percussion.

Once he became a pop celebrity, Phalo always seemed to be in trouble. The military stormed his mansion in 1977 and burned it. He was thrown into jail on trumped up charges in 1984 and served 18 months. He never relented and continued to make his big enemies look small. But in the end, he was brought down by the same virus that finished his only true rival in popularity throughout Africa, Soukous inventor Franco (ph) from Congo.

There can be no replacement for Phalo. He will endure as an African radical artist, carved out of monolithic bedrock.

MOSS-COANE: Milo Miles is a music writer living in Cambridge. He remembered Nigerian musician Phalo who died last week at the age of 58.

Dateline: Milo Miles, Cambridge; Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Music critic Milo Miles remembers the life and work of a performer who made every album and every show a celebration of ordinary people and an attack on authority.
Spec: Music Industry; Africa; Politics; Government
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: African Music Great Remembered
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.

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