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Asperger's Diagnosis A Life-Changer For 'Outsider'

For most of his life, music critic Tim Page felt like an outsider. Restless and isolated, he was uneasy around others. Finally, when he was 45, Page was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.

21:02

Other segments from the episode on September 24, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 24, 2010: Interview with Tim Page; Review of the television show "Dexter"; Interview with Nick Hornby; Review of the film "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."

Transcript

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Asperger's Diagnosis A Life-Changer For 'Outsider'

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting
in for Terry Gross.

Today's first guest, Tim Page, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic
who found out in middle age that he had the autistic disorder Asperger's
Syndrome. That diagnosis helped explain the lifelong unease he
experienced and why his pervasive childhood memory was an excruciating
awareness of his own strangeness.

Page's memoir, called "Parallel Play: Life as an Outsider," is now out
in paperback. It's about how his condition affected his life and his
relationship with music. Page won the Pulitzer in 1997 for his work as
chief classical music critic at the Washington Post. That was three
years before his diagnosis.

Before joining the Post, he was a music critic at the New York Times and
at Newsday. He is now a professor of journalism and music at the
University of Southern California. Tim Page spoke with Terry Gross in
2009.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Tim Page, welcome to FRESH AIR. What did they tell you when they gave
you the diagnosis of Asperger's? What did they tell you that meant?

Professor TIM PAGE (University of Southern California): Well, I'm now
allowed by my middle son to tell the circumstances where I was
diagnosed.

We had taken my son Robbie in because he was having some social
difficulties, and that's when he was diagnosed, and he has just given me
permission to talk about this, because he's 19.

That was when I was diagnosed. I'd never heard of it. It turns out it's
terribly hereditary. It turns out that a good amount of adults are
actually diagnosed when their children are diagnosed, and my own guess
is that my father had it, too.

So you know, the doctor just gave a long and thoughtful explanation of
the condition and then diagnosed my son and then said you have it too.
And so I went out and I went to see my own doctor, and I read up on it,
and I was pretty sure that I had it, as well.

GROSS: What year and how old were you when you were diagnosed with
Asperger's?

Prof. PAGE: I was 45 years old, and it was in the fall of 2000. So it
was either - I believe I was then still 45, but I turned 46 that fall.
I'll give you a good description from David Mamet, who wrote in his book
"Bambi vs. Godzilla" about Asperger's Syndrome, and he wrote that it's
not impossible that it helped make the movies.

The symptoms of this developmental disorder include early precocity, a
great ability to maintain masses of information, a lack of ability to
mix with groups in age-appropriate ways, ignorance of or indifference to
social norms, high intelligence, and difficulty with transition, married
to a preternatural ability to concentrate on the minutiae of the task at
hand.

I had all of that. I continue to have all of that. I can remember all
sorts of trivia, but I don't notice what somebody has on. I neglect my,
you know, my shirt tails, and you know - I guess it's sort of like your
absentminded professor times five, if that makes any sense.

And it's somewhere, at least most experts agree, it's somewhere along
the autistic spectrum, which means somewhere in the zero to 100 of, you
know, zero having no autistic traits and 100 being completely isolated,
I'm somewhere in the middle.

GROSS: Usually when you get a diagnosis, the goal is to get some kind of
medication or therapy to help fix it. With what you have, which is, you
know, Asperger's, is there something you're trying to fix, or is the
diagnosis just helping you define certain behavior patterns and help you
figure out who you are and how to make the most of who you are?

Prof. PAGE: I would say that the diagnosis helped me realize that there
were certain things that were part of my nature and that were pretty
much fixed, that were not very changeable, much as I would like them to
be changeable, and it helped me avoid things, I would say, for the most
part. But I was already on all sorts of palliative things for people
with Asperger's.

I mean, I've had my own little prescription for Valium since I was 15,
and I've been on antidepressants, and I've been on - you know, I
meditate. I do everything I can to sort of get through a day, and most
days I get through pretty well.

And I know when I need to just escape and get rid of whatever
overstimulation I'm feeling and sort of calm myself, and that's the big
struggle for me during the day, and you know, before the one at night,
which is getting to sleep one way or another.

I'd like to think that there's a utopia someplace where kids who are two
and three, it's explained to them gently what they have, and they're
given some therapy that helps them to deal with parents, teachers,
peers, and maybe the depression and the anxiety will go away. But
certainly depression and anxiety were concomitant states that I've had
since I came to consciousness.

GROSS: You write: From early childhood, my memory was so acute and my
wit so bleak that I was described as a genius. I wrapped myself in this
mantle as poetic justification for behavior that might otherwise have
been judged unhinged. Like what? What kind of license did your
eccentricities give you?

Prof. PAGE: Well, I don't think they really gave me a whole lot of
license, but the school kind of had to put up with me, and it was a
small town, so they promoted me to the next grade.

I was either asleep, looking out windows when the teacher was talking
about something that I wasn't interested in, or I was acting out and
making faces and, you know, answering with ridiculous questions or just
basically showing my contempt for the class all through my childhood.

And I couldn't get this out of my system. I would - you know, I was
aggressive, and I'd push people out on the playground. I mean, I wasn't
really a bully because I was inept as an athlete, but I got D's and F's
and an occasional C. I was thrilled when I got a B.

It was really one of those things where I simply couldn't concentrate
except on the stuff that I could concentrate on very well, and back then
the idea that somebody could be articulate and could actually still have
an autistic disorder, they didn't compute - the idea of somebody who was
autistic was somebody who rarely spoke and maybe banged his head.

And I was sort of doing my own version of head-banging, although it was
not quite in the same way. And so I just - the thing that was really
nice was some teachers, recognizing that I was overstimulated, would let
me go to the nurse's office, where I'd calm myself down.

And the nicest teachers would actually let me stay in at recess, where
I'd always get in trouble and get myself punched out or something, and
I'd just stay in and I'd read through the World Book Encyclopedia, and I
basically memorized it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. PAGE: It was a strange brain, you know?

GROSS: Looking back, how do you think Asperger's Syndrome affected your
interest in music and how you listened to music when you were coming of
age?

Prof. PAGE: I have this theory that Asperger's Syndrome has been hugely
important for me with music because it was the first world that made any
sense to me.

I didn't really understand what was going on around me. I didn't
understand what people really wanted me to do, what kind of expressions.
You know, I was a very lost little kid.

But my mom had this record player and she was kind enough to let me ruin
her record collection by just playing records over and over and over
again, and I'd memorize what all the music was, and it allowed me
passage into a world where everything made sense and where I felt this
profound sense of being at home in the world. And I - it was always very
easy for me to talk about music.

I mean, I couldn't identify chords or anything technical, but I could
make at least enough sense out of it for me that it showed me that there
was kind of another dimension out there and I wanted to be in that
dimension as much as I could because the real world didn't make any
sense to me.

GROSS: You write in your book, that when you first heard Philip Glass
and his patterned, minimalist music, that you felt - I forget the words
you exactly use - but you felt like you were listening to the inside of
your very essence, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. PAGE: Yeah, yeah, pretty much.

GROSS: Describe what you felt when you first heard minimalist music.

Prof. PAGE: Well, I'd heard a little bit of it beforehand because there
were a couple of records that came out in the late '60s. Terry Riley and
Steve Reich did some fairly early recordings. So I knew a little bit
about it.

But the - 1976 was a huge year for me because there was the world
premiere of Steve Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians" and then later in the
year, the U.S. premiere of "Einstein on the Beach" by Philip Glass and
Robert Wilson.

And especially with "Music for 18 Musicians," it had me so incredibly
excited by all that was going on in the music that I went up to my room,
and I started writing what I consider my first more-or-less mature
criticism.

GROSS: We cued up - because you mentioned it in your book, we cued up
Steve Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians." I want to play the first minute
of it, and then I want you to talk about it and tell us, if you
remember, what you wrote about it, because you say the first real,
serious piece of music criticism that you wrote was about this piece
after you heard it.

Prof. PAGE: Sure.

GROSS: So let's give it a shot for a minute, and then we'll talk.

(Soundbite of song "Music for 18 Musicians")

GROSS: That's the opening of Steve Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians,"
and...

Prof. PAGE: So wonderful.

GROSS: Isn't it wonderful? Yeah, I know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So Tim Page, what does that music do for you when you hear it?

Prof. PAGE: Well, I thought I'd read you a little bit of what I wrote
that night.

GROSS: Oh, terrific, terrific.

Prof. PAGE: In April of 1976, as a 21-year-old having absolutely no idea
that anybody would ever publish me. But I spent the whole night trying
to describe that music in words, and I said:

Imagine concentrating on a challenging modern painting that becomes just
a little bit different every time you shift your attention from one
detail to another, or try to impose a frame on a running river, making
it a finite, enclosed work of art yet leaving its kinetic quality
unsullied, leaving it flowing freely on all sides. And then I said: It
has been done. Steve Reich has framed the river.

And I still have that same sort of feeling for this music. I guess I
would add, now, that it's music that's not so much about going places
and arriving somewhere and big crises and climaxes, as it is about the
actual journey rather than arrival or leaving from someplace.

You're just fascinated by what's going on at the moment, just
surrendering yourself to speed and jostling and, you know, gorgeous
sensations that overwhelm you. And I love the sort of patterning of it
all.

GROSS: And, you know, the patterning is very repetitious, but at the
same time, it's constantly shifting in perceptible and almost
imperceptible ways. Does that speak to you?

Prof. PAGE: Very, very much, and that really is what I think my insides
feel like, but it calls to mind this kind of ecstatic quality, which I
have occasionally felt. One of my very few visual, you know, ecstasies
is watching clouds change slowly over the course of an afternoon.

I love process. I love patterns. I love seeing things just change
slightly but also still catching you up in the whole process. And that's
something that I remember from being very, very young, and I love the
fact that there are some wonderful musicians who are exploring that now.

BIANCULLI: Tim Page, speaking to Terry Gross in 2009. More after a
break, this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2009 interview with author and
Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page. His memoir, "Parallel
Play," about discovering he has lived his life with Asperger's Syndrome,
is now out in paperback.

GROSS: As a teenager, you tried LSD several times, and you say the trips
were nightmarish. And I'm wondering if you think your symptoms were
magnified by the LSD and if that contributed to the bad trips?

Prof. PAGE: Anything in the world that makes me more self-conscious is
the enemy, and LSD and marijuana, both of which I tried and tried and
tried to like in my mid-teens - you know, college campus and a lot of my
friends doing them - were really sort of nightmarish for me. I had a
great time on marijuana for a while, but it started to induce panic
attacks, which continued. And I think they may have had something to do
with the LSD that I took.

All of this stuff I did before I ever, you know, drank wine civilly. It
was so much easier, in those days, especially on a college campus, to
find drugs than it was to, you know, split a six-pack of beer.

And so I think, probably, my anxiety level was not going to be helped by
these, you know, very much internalizing drugs. And with LSD, in one
case, I just took such a huge dose that I just lost myself entirely, and
it's - you know, I thought that taking LSD would be like swallowing a
movie, and I'd just be watching it on a screen, and I'd see some nice
things and some frightening things.

But what happens, of course, is that your whole brain is so screwed up,
and you're so lost by it that all that it did for me was just made me
want to scream and run and escape from all this terror that was in my
system, which I think is there, pretty much, to begin with, but
certainly those kind of drugs make it much, much worse. And it's, you
know, they've been something that I've avoided, you know, very strongly
for, you know, 35 years.

GROSS: I want to bring up something that I don't think you write about
in the book, and this had a big impact on you professionally. And I
think it's possible it relates to what we were talking about in terms of
inappropriate behavior that you've...

Prof. PAGE: I think I know where you're going.

GROSS: Yeah, you know where I'm driving.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: A couple of years ago, when you were a music critic at the
Washington Post, you were - you wrote a very inappropriate email to one
of Marion Barry's aides, and you were on their, like, email list for
their press releases and stuff, and you wanted to get off of it. And do
you mind if I just quote the line that you wrote?

Prof. PAGE: I don't love it, but I don't mind.

GROSS: Okay. You demanded to be taken off their email list and wrote:
Must we hear about it every time this crack addict attempts to
rehabilitate himself with some new and typically half-witted political
grandstanding? I'd be grateful if you would take me off your mailing
list. I cannot think of anything the useless Marion Barry could do that
would interest me in the slightest, up to and including overdose.

So you apologized for that, after the fact, and...

Prof. PAGE: Yeah, I mean, well, I felt terrible that I'd done it, but
there was a story behind that. I had asked to be taken off the email
list before, and the - his flack had actually called me all sorts of
four-letter words and said things about my mother and, you know, just
was really impossible about it. And so this happened to come in on a
very, very bad day, and I thought well, they don't seem to take my word
for it, so I'm going to zing it to them.

I never expected they'd turn it into anything, but - and you know, if I
were Marion Barry, I don't think I'd want everybody in the world to
remember that I had been a crack addict or a crack user.

But they seemed to want to turn it into something, and they seemed to
want to blame the Washington Post for it, and they seemed to want to
make me out as a racist. And I was very crude there, but I felt that it
was, you know, something which I should apologize for, and I did. And
the Post agreed with me, and the Post stood by me.

And so, you know, he wanted to publicize it. He got his moment in the
sun, and you know, it was very embarrassing for me. I was miserable. I
had just been through a split-up with somebody I loved dearly, and I
overreacted. I feel badly about it, but I still sometimes overreact to
things.

GROSS: You know, I've worn glasses since kindergarten, and you write in
your book that you rarely wear your glasses now because they make you
aware of too much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. PAGE: Yeah, yeah, I know.

GROSS: It's an interesting choice.

Prof. PAGE: Well, it's a quirk, and I should be wearing them, but I
don't drive, and I see well enough to read. And I found that when I
started trying to adapt to glasses, two things happen. Number one, my
ability to read without glasses seems somewhat impacted; but number two,
I all of a sudden felt that I was being intimate with everybody on the
street.

You know, I'd just look at somebody. I'd look at them looking back at
me, and it began to feel very invasive and somewhat anxiety-provoking.
And so, since I don't drive, I haven't really had to wear glasses
because I can see close up front.

But I guess, in general, I like the fact that I kind of put the world
together by sensation and sound and, you know, patterns, and I find it
strangely invasive to be out there. It's one of the reasons I don't
drive too. I don't want to compete with people, and I think if I could
I'd like to be invisible.

GROSS: Tim Page, it's been great to talk with you. Thank you very much.

Prof. PAGE: Oh, thank you.

BIANCULLI: Tim Page, speaking to Terry Gross in 2009. Tim Page is a
Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic and a professor of journalism and
music at the University of Southern California. His memoir, called
"Parallel Play: Life as an Outsider," is now out in paperback. I'm David
Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
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'Dexter' Is Back, With Just What We've Been Dying For

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm TV critic David Bianculli.

There's something wrong with broadcast network television, and this week
makes it glaringly obvious. This is Fall Premiere Week, when ABC, CBS,
NBC, Fox and the CW are trying their best to impress us with their new
and returning shows, yet their thunder continues to be stolen by cable.
Last Sunday, it was the premiere of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," which did
so well after one showing - with critics and viewers - that it already
has been renewed for season two. AMC's "Mad Men" continues to serve up
fabulous first-run hours on Sundays. And now, beginning this weekend, a
third cable network is competing for bragging rights as having the best
prime-time drama series on television. That's because Showtime is
presenting the fifth-season premiere of "Dexter," one of the most
inventive and exciting shows on TV.

Michael C. Hall, who played the uptight gay undertaker on HBO's "Six
Feet Under," stars as Dexter Morgan, a blood-spatter forensics expert.
He helps solve murders and track down serial killers as a member of the
Miami Police Department.

But he has a deep, dark secret: He's a serial killer himself, and
channels his murderous impulses by hunting and capturing other serial
killers - and serving, secretly, as judge, jury and especially
executioner. Yes, it's a twisted idea for a series. But "Dexter," over
its first four seasons, has explored those twists with breathtaking
imagination.

We've learned, and witnessed in flashback, the childhood trauma that
made Dexter into the emotionless shell that he is. And over the years,
we've watched him go from faking emotions to experiencing some real ones
- and even finding love. Rita, played by Julie Benz, was a battered
woman with two young children when Dexter met her, and they found peace
simply by being together. Eventually, they got married and had a baby of
their own, and Dexter seemed happy.

But after years of spilling blood in secret, Dexter had his unexpectedly
normal life shattered in just as bloody a fashion. He had a showdown to
the death with another serial murderer, called the Trinity Killer, and
played all last season by guest star John Lithgow. Dexter was
victorious, then returned home to find that the Trinity Killer
previously had claimed his final victim: Dexter's wife, Rita. The series
ended for the season, Lithgow won an Emmy for his performance, and
Sunday, we finally find out what Dexter will do next, with his wife
gone, his world shattered and three young kids in tow.

Season Five begins exactly where season four ended: at the crime scene,
with Dexter cradling his baby, whom Dexter found sitting and crying in a
pool of his mother's blood. Where do you go from there? Well, to some of
the obvious places: police reports, funeral preparations, conversations
with coworkers and in-laws. But it's the non-obvious places that make
this character and this series so daringly original.

From the start, "Dexter" the TV series has relied on the same crucial
narrative gimmick introduced in the original novels by Jeff Lindsay. We
see things through Dexter's eyes and hear his thoughts - which, in the
TV version, come through in a variety of ways. Sometimes, he sees and
talks with the ghost of his late foster father. Other times, he has
vivid flashbacks. And always, he's dropping in quick bits of voice-over
narration to tell us what he's really thinking, even after one of his
own flashbacks.

That's what happens here, in a scene from Sunday's season premiere, as
Dexter is recalling a phone conversation the night he first met Rita: We
hear their conversation, then, returning to the present, we hear
Dexter's final thoughts as he revs up the engine on his boat and drives
away. Julie Benz plays Rita, Michael C. Hall is Dexter.

(Soundbite of Showtime's, "Dexter")

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. JULIE BENZ (Actor): (as Rita) Yeah, I know I should hang up right
now, but I just need to say it. I don't why exactly, but you make me
feel good, like things can different.

Mr. MICHAEL C. HALL (Actor): (as Dexter) So do you, make me feel that
way, too. I mean...

Ms. BENZ: (as Rita) I'm glad I called. I know I felt up in the air the
way things ended. You know, like, we never said a proper goodbye. So...

Mr. HALL: (as Dexter) Good-bye, Rita Bennett.

Ms. BENZ: (as Rita) Good-bye, Dexter Morgan.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HALL: (as Dexter) Good-bye. I'm sorry.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of boat engine revving up)

BIANCULLI: So where is Dexter driving his boat, and where does his life
go from there? I'm not telling. But I will tell you that, like almost
every episode of "Dexter," it's a surprising, sometimes jaw-dropping
journey. Long-time "Dexter" fans have come to expect moments that have
you all but screaming at your TV set in disbelief, or wondering how
you'll be able to wait a week for the next installment. I've previewed
this season's first three episodes, and I had to pick up my jaw twice.
And at the end of episode three, I was angry at Showtime that they
hadn't sent number four. "Dexter" is that good.

(Soundbite of music, "Blood Theme")

BIANCULLI: Coming up, author Nick Hornby. This is FRESH AIR.
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Nick Hornby, Talking 'Bout 'An Education' (And More)

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR.

Nick Hornby is best known for his novel, "High Fidelity," about a guy
who owns a record store and is obsessed with pop music. Hornby returned
to the world of music obsession in his latest novel, "Juliet, Naked,"
which just came out in paperback.

The new novel introduces a British couple, Duncan and Annie. Duncan is
an expert on singer-songwriter and guitarist Tucker Crowe, who suddenly
gave up recording and performing decades earlier. Duncan has since
become an expert on Crowe's music and runs a website devoted to every
known detail of Crowe's life and work. There's big news in Duncan's
world when Crowe releases a collection of demos from his most famous
album. Annie posts a negative review on Duncan's site and Crowe responds
to it. Annie and Crowe meet, and a weird triangle is formed.

Terry spoke with Nick Hornby last year and asked him to start with a
reading.

Mr. NICK HORNBY (Author, "Juliet, Naked"): (Reading) It wasn't as if
Duncan didn't have other interests. He had a specialist's knowledge of
1970s American independent cinema and the novels of Nathanael West, and
he was developing a nice new line in HBO television series. He thought
he might be ready to teach "The Wire" in the not-too-distant future.

But these were all flirtations, by comparison. Tucker Crowe was his life
partner. If Crowe were to die, to die in real life, as it were, rather
than creatively, Duncan would lead the mourning. He'd already written
the obituary. Every now and again, he'd worry out loud about whether he
should show it to a reputable newspaper now or wait until it was needed.

TERRY GROSS: That's Nick Hornby, reading from his new novel, "Juliet,
Naked." Why did you want to focus a novel around an artist who stopped
recording and someone who's devoting much of his life to analyzing that
musician's body of work and figuring out what elements are
autobiographical, having a website devoted to this artist? And then,
also, the girlfriend of the guy who's obsessive about the singer-
songwriter? And the book rotates between the points of view of each of
these three characters. Why did you want to focus around the artist who
could no longer make art and the people who are obsessing on him?

Mr. HORNBY: Well, I think this book started with an article I read in a
magazine three or four years ago about Sly Stone, in fact, who at the
time was a recluse. And the journalist had managed to fix up an
interview with him, and eventually, he turned up for it. And there was
such a sort of narrative thrill in that, somebody appearing after a long
absence and a fan's excitement meeting this person. Something about it
stuck in my mind, and there was also something about those guys'
relationships with, you know, the Dylans and the Springsteens, the
people who lecture on those people, and that idea of Annie meeting
Tucker and possibly there being some kind of flirtation involved, I like
the idea of what Duncan would think about that. I mean, half of those
Dylan guys, if Dylan met their wives on the road, those guys would want
their wives to sleep with Bob Dylan rather than not, if you see what I
mean, because...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It would make them more valuable.

Mr. HORNBY: Well, more valuable, and also the information that you would
get out of somebody.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Oh, true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORNBY: So there was something about that that appealed to me, too.

GROSS: Children play a very interesting role in the book. You know, the
couple in the book doesn't have children.

Mr. HORNBY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And she's at the point where she's decided she really wants
children and wondering if it's become too late for her. And at the same
time, the musician, Tucker Crowe, he has children by women he barely
remembers. He's having a grandchild through a daughter he's never met,
but he's now raising a six-year-old who's the center of his life. And so
for all the people in the novel, having a child or not having a child is
nothing the way it once was. Like, there's a whole new calculus now.

Mr. HORNBY: Yes. Well, first of all, families are a lot more
complicated, I think, for more or less everybody.

GROSS: Absolutely.

Mr. HORNBY: Partly, I wanted to dramatize that thing that probably all
parents know, which is that you are not human if you don't spend a
moment in your life fantasizing about having no children, and people
without children, of course, spend parts of each day fantasizing about
life with children. And there are these two parallel universes, and each
looks equally attractive to the other.

GROSS: Has having a son changed your relationship to music and books and
movies? You probably have less time, but how has it changed your
relationship to that?

Mr. HORNBY: Well, I have three sons.

GROSS: You have three sons. I'm sorry.

Mr. HORNBY: Yeah. That's okay. And now I've got my 16-year-old, and I
have two little ones, a six and a five-year-old. The little ones in
particular, yes, have changed my relationship with things. We are now
devoted watchers of a program called "X Factor," which I don't know if
you have here, but it's basically the same as "American Idol." And I
completely see the point of this program now in a way that I didn't a
year or two ago.

And it's interesting things like that. They pick up on music. They
listen to a lot of music. I watch movies with them. We go and see all
the animated movies. In some ways, I'm less in touch with the things
that used to mean a lot to me and more in touch with things that didn't,
but it's still - I still have very much a relationship with contemporary
popular culture through them.

GROSS: So give us an example, I guess maybe you just did, of stuff that
you've watching or listening to that would not have meant anything if
you didn't have children.

Mr. HORNBY: Well, I was going to say as we speak, but not quite, but
certainly the last two weeks have been completely dominated by a band
called The Plain White T's, who my little boys discovered through a
program called "iCarly," which I also didn't know about before. And it's
not music that means an awful lot to me, but it's pretty
unobjectionable, and it's not a million miles away from things that I
like. So, you know, it's a common ground that we have.

GROSS: Do you ever despair that your children like things that you think
aren't good?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORNBY: Actually, they do - they like pretty good things most of the
time. But no, I don't despair about that at all. I think that I would
despair if they didn't like things. And I think as I've got older, I've
come to realize that the most important thing is that we have emotional
connections to music or movies or books, and it doesn't matter what
those things are.

GROSS: May I ask? I know one of your sons is autistic. How old is he?

Mr. HORNBY: Yeah, he's 16.

GROSS: Yeah, so has he developed an ear or an eye for music or film or
books, the kinds of things that you're so passionate about?

Mr. HORNBY: Well, no, not books. He doesn't read. Movies, he quite
enjoys when we take him to see a movie. He won't often stick it out all
the way through. He's very honest in a way that adults and, indeed,
other kids aren't. He'll reach a point and just stand up and walk, and
you have to follow behind.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORNBY: He can't be persuaded to watch the rest of the movie if he's
decided he's had enough. Music is an important part of his life. He just
asks for music. And it's difficult to tell - he's quite severely
autistic, so it's difficult to tell what he's responding to, and he
doesn't ask for anything by name, but he needs it on journeys, and he
has his own iPod and things like that.

GROSS: Now Annie dislikes the way that her boyfriend, Duncan, listens to
music because he writes about it. He considers himself, you know, like a
pop-culture scholar, and she thinks that he uses his scholarship
sometimes as, to bully her.

She says: (Reading) Listening to music was something that she did,
frequently with great enjoyment, and Duncan somehow managed to spoil it,
partly by making her feel that she was not good at it.

Talk about that line, that feeling that somebody is making you feel like
you're not good at listening to music.

Mr. HORNBY: Well, I agree with you when you use the word scholar about
Duncan, I kind of conceived him as a scholar. If his obsession had been
with, you know, Marlowe or Gerard Manley Hopkins, he would have been
gainfully employed in a university somewhere. But because it's somebody
that very few people have heard of, and, of course, he has to do another
job.

But I think scholars can be particular bullies, in fact, and they are
quite often the people who are telling you that you are reading
something the wrong way, listening to something the wrong way. Of all
people who are not so keen on a plurality of response, I would say it's
the world expert in something.

GROSS: In your new novel, "Juliet, Naked," you write a little about
sexual relationships or about people wanting or not wanting sex. It's
not explicit in any way, but I guess the point I'm getting to is that
one of the characters in this - the singer-songwriter who hasn't
recorded or performed in many years -he's in his late 50s and sex for
him is different. He's older. He's had a medical problem. I don't want
to go into too much, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But anyway, so you've had to deal with what a sexual relationship
would mean for him at his stage in life, which is really different than
the younger characters that you're famous for creating. And so I'm not
sure what my question is exactly, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORNBY: How's my sex life now I'm getting old?

GROSS: No, no, no, that's not the question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But the question is...

Mr. HORNBY: Okay, good.

GROSS: ...is - yes - but the question is more about, like, writing
characters - writing about a character's sexual life and sexual desires
or lack of desire - who is older.

Mr. HORNBY: Well, it would be very hard for me to write "High Fidelity"
now, I think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORNBY: I'm proud of the book, but it was a younger man's book. And
I think turning 50 was quite a big thing for me. And I think it was the
first time I actually did realize that I was going to get old and die.

GROSS: Did that change your life, that sense that you are going to get
old and die?

Mr. HORNBY: Not as much as it should have done, I don't think.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORNBY: But you know when you turn 20 or 30 or 40, you go around
making all the same jokes about oh, my God, I can't believe I'm so old.
And - but when you're 50, you don't say it anymore because you just are
old. So it's not so funny anymore. And there is a lot about mortality
and regret, I think, in this book, and Tucker's six-year-old son has a
real problem with the idea of mortality. And that was lifted out of my
own six-year-old and a stage he went through - which was pretty
interesting and quite distressing, actually.

GROSS: A fear that you would die because you're older than the other
parents - that you would die before he was grown-up.

Mr. HORNBY: I don't think he was too worried about that, even. And I was
45, I guess, when he was born. So it wasn't, you know, it wasn't like I
broke the world record or anything. No, it was more him dying, everybody
dying. It was just clocking that it was going to happen. And what I
found hilarious in retrospect was how quickly I resorted to orthodox
religion as consolation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORNBY: Even though I am atheistic in my own beliefs. And then the
moment he said, and you're going to die, and mum's going to die, and I'm
going to die, and everybody's going to die. I said yeah, but it's okay
because you'll see us all in heaven.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: How do you feel about that, about telling him stuff that you
don't believe in? Is it more like telling him about Santa Claus, or are
you going to start actually telling him more about it and starting to
believe it, too?

Mr. HORNBY: I think as one gets older, one realizes the value of
pragmatism with children. And obviously, I'm telling him something I
don't believe, but very soon, he will be able to work out that belief
for himself. And I think you cannot go around confronting children with
the brutal truth at every stage in their lives.

At the moment, my six-year-old's convinced he'll play for Arsenal, which
is our local football team, and he won't. He won't be good enough. But I
don't really see the value of telling him that he's never going to play
for Arsenal. He'll work it out for himself

GROSS: It's been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

Mr. HORNBY: Lovely to talk to you again, Terry.

BIANCULLI: Nick Hornby, speaking to Terry Gross last year. His new
novel, is "Juliet, Naked," is now out in paperback.

Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews Oliver Stone's sequel to
"Wall Street."

This is FRESH AIR.
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'Wall Street' Sequel: A Bull Market, A Bear Of A Film

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Over the years, director Oliver Stone turned down several offers to make
a sequel to his 1987 hit "Wall Street." Its star, Michael Douglas, won
an Oscar for his role as hostile takeover king Gordon Gekko. Then the
economy plunged and the markets collapsed, and Stone decided it was a
good time to revisit his old anti-hero. Michael Douglas is back in the
new film, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."

Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" sequel, "Money Never
Sleeps," is a mixed bag, but unlike most sequels, it has a good reason
for being. At the end of the 1987 melodrama, Michael Douglas' takeover
titan Gordon Gekko was destined for prison, set up by his guilt-ridden
protege, Charlie Sheen's Bud Fox. In the decades that followed "Wall
Street's" release, Stone and Douglas were surprised they'd created not
just a classic monster, but a role model.

They shouldn't have been. Although Stone had essentially put leftist
critiques of capitalism into the mouth of his capitalist villain as
boasts, many would-be masters of the universe loved his easiness with
avarice, his lack of shame.

Bringing Gekko back makes sense. After eight years in prison - which, by
the way, far exceeds the terms served by his real-life models, Michael
Milken and Ivan Boesky - what will Gekko make of our new breed of
predator, who makes a killing off bad mortgages and puts the world
economy in peril? More important, has he changed?

Seven years after getting out of prison, Gekko has partially
rehabilitated himself by writing a book called "Is Greed Good?," in
which he questions the foundation of the current boom. He tells
interviewers the core of the American economy is now finance, not
production and services, which is no way to run an empire.

But Gekko is off-screen for most of the first act, set in 2006, in which
we meet Sheen's clean-cut successor, Jake, played by Shia LaBeouf, who's
determined to make contact with the disgraced financier. For one thing,
he's engaged to Gekko's estranged daughter, Winnie, played by Carey
Mulligan.

More than that, he's out for revenge. He worked for a venerable firm
modeled on Lehman Brothers, and it collapsed, along with its chief
partner, a Jewish care bear played with incomparable gravity by Frank
Langella. It was Josh Brolin's wicked Bretton James - who works for a
firm inspired by Goldman Sachs - who brought Langella's character down,
and now Jake wants Bretton's blood. And who could help him get it better
than his future father-in-law, with whom he shares a subway ride?

(Soundbite of movie, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps")

Mr. MICHAEL DOUGLAS (Actor): (as Gordon Gekko) What are you, some kind
of energy freedom fighter?

Mr. SHIA LABEOUF (Actor): (as Jake Moore) No, Mr. Gekko. I'm in this
game to make money like anybody else is.

Mr. DOUGLAS: (as Gordon Gekko) So what about money, Jake? You like her?

Mr. LABEOUF: (as Jake Moore) Do I like her?

Mr. DOUGLAS: (as Gordon Gekko) Yeah.

Mr. LABEOUF: (as Jake Moore) I've never - I mean, I never thought about
money as a she.

Mr. DOUGLAS: (as Gordon Gekko) Oh. She lies there in bed at night with
you, looking at you, one eye open. Money never sleeps. It's just
jealous, and if you don't pay close, close attention, you wake in the
morning and she might be gone forever. And I think you want to be in the
family business.

Mr. LABEOUF: (as Jake Moore) Which is what?

Mr. DOUGLAS: (as Gordon Gekko) Payback - except I'm not in that business
anymore. The one thing I learned in jail is that money is not the prime
answer in life. Time is, and your time is about up. You know, there's
fortunes to be made, hundreds of millions of dollars betting against
this bubble. Just wish I had a million.

EDELSTEIN: That's a juicy scene, and there are more, leading up to the
economic collapse of 2008. Stone brings his full bag of tricks to the
film: split screens, flash inserts of speeding subway trains to show
that events are moving fast. It's laid on thick.

In dark-toned boardrooms, the country's course is plotted by dark-suited
men, with Brolin lit from below, pitching his voice somewhere between
street thug and silky satanic overlord. In a wonderful scene, he sneers
at Gekko, saying: Nobody needs inside information anymore to get rich.
That's what amuses Gekko, that all the plunder is out in the open.

There might be a great movie buried in "Wall Street: Money Never
Sleeps." Stone's pessimistic vision has weight. The problem is that the
movie is so overloaded with characters and cross-currents and big ideas
that it might have been better as a 13-hour cable miniseries instead of
a two-hour-and-13-minute mess.

The revenge plot falls by the wayside, and then comes back, ludicrously.
And Stone spends way too much time with Winnie Gekko and her sad
feelings, her disappointment with Jake for colluding with her dad. Carey
Mulligan is a gifted actress, but how could this simp be Gordon Gekko's
daughter? When she and LaBeouf start hashing out their relationship, the
movie comes to a dead stop. It has about five endings, the last so corny
that it plays as if it were tacked on after bad test screenings.

Douglas, though, is terrific. He brings new shades to Gekko, once a one-
dimensional villain, but now torn in several different directions: He's
outgrown the man who said greed is good. But the movie is so poorly
shaped that his final moral contortions have no kick. "Wall Street:
Money Never Sleeps" suggests that Stone wants to go beyond melodrama, to
explore the way empires crumble from within. But this unwieldy movie
crumbles under the weight of those laudable ambitions.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
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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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