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David Bowie On The Ziggy Stardust Years: 'We Were Creating The 21st Century In 1971'

It's been more than 40 years since David Bowie created the gender-bending Ziggy Stardust and released the now-classic album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. With it, Bowie helped invent glam-rock. In conversation with Fresh Air's Terry Gross from 2002, Bowie was in the midst of making the following year's Reality, and here talks about leaving characters in his songs, his love of Tibetan horns, and his childhood desire to write musicals and play saxophone in Little Richard's band.

30:48

Other segments from the episode on September 19, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 19, 2003: Interview with David Bowie; Interview with Harry Shearer; Review of the new Woody Allen film "Anything Else."

Transcript

DATE September 19, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Interview: Harry Shearer discusses his folk music mockumentary, "A
Mighty Wind"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) watchin' all the fish swim
away. He don't work, he just sleep and play, sitting here on the sand.

BIANCULLI: Three folk music groups from the '60s reunite for a concert that
will be broadcast live on public television. That's the premise of the satire
"A Mighty Wind," now out on DVD. The movie proved so appealing and successful
that many of the film's performers subsequently went out on a live concert
tour.

Our guest, Harry Shearer, co-stars as the bass player and bass singer of the
trio The Folksmen. The two other members of the group are played by
Christopher Guest, who also directed and co-wrote the film, and Michael
McKean. These three actors also starred in the heavy metal mockumentary "This
Is Spinal Tap." They first performed as The Folksmen 18 years ago and have
even opened for Spinal Tap, delighting some people in the audience and
confusing others.

Here's a song from the soundtrack CD of "A Mighty Wind," a song that isn't
included in the film but which they perform on stage, The Folksmen's cover
version of a Rolling Stones hit.

(Soundbite of song)

THE FOLKSMEN: (Singing) If you start me up, start me up, if you start me up
I'll never stop. If you start me up, start me up, if you start me up I'll
never stop. I've been runnin' hard, runnin' hard, you got me tickin', gonna
blow my top. If you start me up, start me up, if you start me up I'll never
stop. You make a grown man cry, cry, you make a grown man cry, cry, you make
a grown man cry.

Spread out the oil, the gasoline. I walk smooth. She's a mean, mean machine.

If you start it up, start it up, kick on the starter, give it all you got...

BIANCULLI: When he's not playing a bizarre musician in the movies, Harry
Shearer also does many of the voices on "The Simpsons," including Mr. Burns,
Smithers and Ned Flanders. And he hosts "Le Show," a public radio program of
political and cultural satire. Terry Gross spoke with him recently and asked
him what groups The Folksmen are modeled on.

Mr. HARRY SHEARER (Actor, "A Mighty Wind"): The Folksmen is a trio. We're
hirsute in all the wrong places. And we fancy ourselves probably the most
purest of the second or third wave of folk acts that actually hit the charts.
Everybody in this film is of the era of folkies that actually were trying to
make hit records, as opposed to going down and recording field hollers in
Alabama. So we look down on the--probably on everybody else in this film.

The obvious guess that most people make is Kingston Trio, but there's a
little bit of Peter, Paul & Mary in this, there's a little bit of Brothers
Four, although we're missing a brother. Groups like that, you know? We're
trying to straddle a line between good-timey and `No, we're really saying
something,' but of course we're really saying nothing. And it's not that good
a time.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Now as you were saying, The Folksmen just, you know, think of themselves as,
like, the non-commercial band, the more real folk band.

Mr. SHEARER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And they do...

Mr. SHEARER: And, of course, the public agrees with them.

GROSS: Right. So I thought we'd play two versions of a song that you
co-wrote called "Never Did No Wanderin'."

Mr. SHEARER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: We'll have The Folksmen version, and then we'll have, like, the more
commercial version by the new...

Mr. SHEARER: Yeah, the toothpaste commercial.

GROSS: Yeah, the New Main Street Singers.

Mr. SHEARER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So, but first, tell us the story of writing the song.

Mr. SHEARER: Well, the writing process was really, as every other part of the
process of making this movie, totally different from the normal Hollywood
scheme. Chris, being the director, didn't have a list of songs he needed and
then call us up and just go, `I need this, this, this and this,' and we did it
to order. We really were, like, kind of makin' up the songs based on what we
thought, you know, groups needed and what was funny about this kind of folk
music.

So Michael McKean and I were at my house one day, and I dug up an old record
of the "Hootenanny" program. It was a prime-time series on ABC featuring folk
music--that's how commercial it got--hosted by that old folkie himself, Jack
Linkletter. And we were listening to a track by--tell me how folkie this
group name sounds--The Yachtsmen. And something in the song triggered us to
start saying, you know, we need a song about ramblin'. Everybody's got a
ramblin' song. We need--that's--one of the great cliches of folk music is
ramblin'. I've been ramblin', I've been goin' here and there. And I started
doing a little bass riff and Michael and I started playing. And then we just
thought, you know, the comic twist on this is a guy who never did no ramblin',
never did no wanderin'.

GROSS: OK, which leads us right into the song. So first The Folksmen
version, the pure version, and then the commercial sell-out version, New Main
Street Singers. And this is from the soundtrack of "A Mighty Wind."

(Soundbite of song)

THE FOLKSMEN: (Singing) My mama was the cold north wind, my daddy was the son
of a railroad man from west of hell where the trains don't even run. Never
heard the whistle of a southbound freight or the singin' of its drivin' wheel.
No, I never did no wanderin', never did no wanderin', never did no wanderin'
after all. Wanderin', never did no wanderin'.

NEW MAIN STREET SINGERS: My mother was the cold north wind, my daddy was the
son of a railroad man from west of hell where the trains don't even run.
Never heard the whistle of a lonesome freight or the singin' of its drivin'
wheel. No, I never did no wanderin', never did no wanderin', never did no
wanderin' after all.

GROSS: That's two versions of "Never Did No Wanderin'," co-written by my
guest, Harry Shearer, one of the stars of the new folk music mockumentary "A
Mighty Wind."

Did you every go through a folk music period yourself?

Mr. SHEARER: Not really. Christopher played folk music. Christopher played
bluegrass as a youngster, which is, I guess one of the purest forms of folk
and/or country music. It just really relies on very good playing, among
other things.

But, you know, I remember this music sort of swirling around me when I was in
college, but I was sort of a diehard Frank, Ella, Mel Torme guy. So I'd hear
this music and every once in a while I'd hear, like, a weird chord in a
Kingston Trio song and go, `Hmm, they've been listening to The Hi-Lo's.'

GROSS: Right.

Mr. SHEARER: But aside from that, you know, this wasn't my music.

GROSS: Yeah, well, the New Main Street Singers have some very Hi-Lo's kind
of harmonies.

Mr. SHEARER: Yes, they do. Well, John Michael Higgins, who performs as the
leader of it and is also the vocal arranger of that, has that kind of ear. He
grew up listening to--he said to me once--it was the first person who ever
said to me, his experience being the same as mine--`I just listen to
arrangements. If I heard a good arrangement, I didn't care what kind of music
it was.' So he has this ear for great arrangements, and he just throws all
these sixth and seventh chords in where they don't belong, just for the fun of
it.

GROSS: Well, you weren't used to singing folk harmonies. I mean, that's not
the kind of harmonies you'd sing in Spinal Tap.

Mr. SHEARER: No. But, you know, they're sort of in everybody's head, I
guess, or at least they were in all of our heads. That wasn't nearly as much
work as--you know, everybody in this movie, or almost everybody, either picked
up a new instrument or had to relearn--Gene Levy hadn't played a guitar in 30
years. Higgins had never played a tenor guitar. Catherine O'Hara had never
played the Autoharp, and Parker Posey learned the mandolin for this movie. So
there was a lot of pickin' and learnin' goin' on. And, you know, a lot of
trust by Christopher to believe that everybody would--'cause he recorded the
music live in the concert sequences--to believe that everybody would be ready
on that day, to be in concert form. It's emblematic of the trust he showed us
all through the making of the picture.

GROSS: OK, time for another song. Here's another song by The Folksmen. And
this is called "Old Joe's Place." And this is the song that actually charted
for them.

Mr. SHEARER: Bizarre hit. It got to number 17.

GROSS: You co-wrote this song.

Mr. SHEARER: Yes.

GROSS: Tell us about writing it.

Mr. SHEARER: This was, I think, one of the first Folksmen tunes we wrote
when we did this piece on "Saturday Night Live." And the premise was this
washed-up folk group was, for some reason, getting a chance to appear on
"Saturday Night Live." And so you see them backstage before the show trying
to decide whether they should do their Spanish Civil War song or some, you
know, song about a real tragedy, a train wreck in a coal mine, you know, keep
resisting the idea of doing the obvious song, which was the only one
everybody's ever heard of us. And then of course we get on stage and do "Old
Joe's Place." So that was the gag. And it's a typical kind of good-timey
folk song where every time the chorus comes around, it gets longer.

GROSS: It struck me as very Burl Ives.

Mr. SHEARER: Yeah, I guess so. It's Burl something.

GROSS: OK, this is The Folksmen with my guest Harry Shearer, "Old Joe's
Place" from the soundtrack of the folk mockumentary "A Mighty Wind."

(Soundbite of Song)

THE FOLKSMEN: (Singing) Whenever I'm out a-wanderin', chasin' a rainbow
dream, I often stop and think about a place I've never seen, where friendly
folks can gather and raise the rafters high with songs and tales of yesteryear
until they say goodbye.

Well, there's a puppy in the parlor and a skillet on the stove and a smelly
old blanket that a Navajo wove. There's chicken on the table but you gotta
say grace, there's always somethin' cookin' at old Joe's place.

Now folks come by around evenin' time, as soon as the sun goes down. Some
drop in from right next door and some from out of town.

Pick it.

Well, there's a puppy in the parlor and a skillet on the stove and a smelly
old blanket that a Navajo wove. There's popcorn in the popper and a porker in
the pot, there's pie in the pantry and the coffee's always hot. There's
chicken on the table but you gotta say grace, there's always something cooking
at old Joe's place.

GROSS: That's "Old Joe's Place" with my guest Harry Shearer doing bass voice
and playing bass as well. It's from the soundtrack of the film "A Mighty
Wind."

What else did you listen to? You mentioned going back and watching old
episodes of "Hootenanny."

Mr. SHEARER: Yeah.

GROSS: What else did you try to immerse yourself in to prepare for your role,
to get into character?

Mr. SHEARER: We watched--there's a wonderful documentary about The Weavers,
which focuses around a Weavers reunion. And since we were going to be
reuniting after a long absence, we all looked at that as sort of a template
for, you know, the behavior of these guys.

I listened to a lot of--I, sadly, in my extremely eclectic and
never-surrendered LP collection, have a lot of folk records that I'd never had
occasion to listen to till now for, you know, singin' style and things like
that. But in terms of character, it was--I didn't do--yeah, I guess I did a
little bit of research on guys in groups and just saw what their career
trajectories were after the folk music scare, as Martin Mull calls it,
evaporated, just to see, you know, how paths went before I kind of contributed
my little bit as to what Mark Shubb, the character I play, what his life had
been since The Folksmen broke up.

GROSS: Well, Harry Shearer, it's been great to talk with you. Thank you so
much.

Mr. SHEARER: Terry, it's always a pleasure.

(Soundbite of song)

THE FOLKSMEN: (Singing) If you start me up, start me up, if you start me up
I'll never stop. If you start me up, start me up, if you start me up I'll
never stop. I've been runnin' hard, runnin' hard, you got me tickin', gonna
blow my top. If you start me up, start me up, if you start me up I'll never
stop. You make a dead man come, come, you make a dead man come, come, you
make a dead man come, come, you make a dead man come, come, you make a dead
man come, come, you make a dead man come, come, you make a dead man come,
come, you make a dead man come ...(unintelligible).

BIANCULLI: Harry Shearer spoke with Terry Gross earlier this year. "A Mighty
Wind" will be out on DVD next week. Tonight, the cast begins a four-day tour
in Philadelphia, New York, Washington, DC, and Boston.

Coming up, a review of the new Woody Allen movie. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New Woody Allen film "Anything Else" is another
treadmill comedy
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Another year, another Woody Allen movie. The director's newest comedy, his
33rd theatrical feature, is called "Anything Else" and stars Jason Biggs as a
comedy writer learning the way of the world from a mentor played by Allen.
The object of the younger writer's affection, and his derangement, is played
by Christina Ricci. David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:

After Woody Allen's last three unfunny comedies, I found myself in the bizarre
position of hoping he'd make another heavy drama, not out of longing for his
lousy Ingmar Bergman imitations, but out of boredom with his lousy Woody
Allen imitations.

His newest movie, "Anything Else," is another treadmill comedy, clearly
churned out by someone who, at this point, is afraid not to write. It's a
rehash of old themes, only even more vinegary than usual. It's misanthropic,
misogynistic and ugly. It's the reductio ad absurdum of Woody Allen
relationship comedies. Every woman I know despises it. Yet somehow I enjoyed
it more than most of Allen's movies from the last decade.

"Anything Else" feels driven in a way that those other films didn't. It's
like a rant from a therapist's couch: angry, unmediated, free-associational,
unleavened by sentiment or compassion. And it's something else Allen hasn't
been in a while: funny.

Imagine "Annie Hall" with the addition of a paranoid one-man Greek chorus, an
aging comedy writer named Dave Dobel, played by Allen himself. Dobel is
mentor to the movie's protagonist, Jerry Falk, played by Jason Biggs. On
walks through Central Park, Dobel tells the ingenuous young comedy writer that
Jerry's analyst is worthless and his agent a joke; that everyone hates the
Jews; that he should own a Russian assault rifle for protection; and that
there's no cosmic justice and no God.

Dobel is obviously a frothing whack job, and by the end of the film he's
totally self-destructed. That said, Dobel is pretty much right about
everything.

He's especially right about the Annie Hall character, an aspiring actress
named Amanda, played by Christina Ricci. Well, she's not a lovable, dingy
neurotic like Annie. She's an insane, duplicitous narcissist with a mother
played by Stockard Channing, who's even crazier.

There's never a honeymoon in this movie. Almost from the start, Jerry and
Amanda's courtship and romance are undercut by lies and delusions. And by the
end, it's a mercy for Jerry to flee New York for LA, which has to be a first
in a Woody Allen movie.

After Amanda stops having sex with Jerry, Dobel says it's obvious she's having
an affair. He urges Jerry to tail her to her acting class, where, of course,
Jerry sees what Dobel has told him he'll see.

(Soundbite of "Anything Else")

Ms. CHRISTINA RICCI (Amanda): What?

Mr. JASON BIGGS (Jerry Falk): Yeah, that's right. I saw you.

Ms. RICCI: How?

Mr. BIGGS: Well, I was spying on you.

Ms. RICCI: You were spying?

Mr. BIGGS: Yeah, that's right. I saw the three of you. Yeah, you, your
acting teacher and your diaphragm.

Ms. RICCI: My diaphragm.

Mr. BIGGS: Your diaphragm, yeah, because it's not here, so where could it be?
There's no such thing as a diaphragm repair shop.

Ms. RICCI: Jerry...

Mr. BIGGS: I was there, Amanda. I saw it all.

Ms. RICCI: OK. OK, I slept with Ron Keller(ph). But I didn't do it because
I care about him.

Mr. BIGGS: No? What then, to punish him?

Ms. RICCI: No, I did it because I had to find out if there was something
wrong with me, you know, because I can't sleep with you, with the person that
I love. I had to know if I was some kind of freak or frigid. I had to know
if I could even get aroused anymore and have an orgasm.

Mr. BIGGS: And can you?

Ms. RICCI: Yeah, it's good news, I can.

EDELSTEIN: A couple of years ago, Christina Ricci played Elizabeth Wurtzel in
the still unreleased film "A Prozac Nation." And her Amanda seems deliriously
pickled in Wurtzelesque self-absorption. Her face gets my vote as the most
freakishly beautiful in movies. With that lollypop head and those pop-out
eyes, she's like some martian mad scientist's version of a little-girl
temptress. It's a potent version, too. She's poison. But is there a man
alive who wouldn't risk a sip or three?

She's too much woman for Jason Biggs, who isn't very inventive here. He looks
like they guy they'd focus the lights on while Adam Sandler is still in his
trailer. But he does read his lines at the right quick tempo, and he gets his
laughs.

Allen stages mot of the scenes at a frantic pace. The characters babble at
each other, they're insanely oblivious to anyone else. And just when you
think the picture can't get any busier, he throws in a split-screen phone call
with more babbling lunatics on the other end.

In one scene, some big, thuggish guys steal a parking space from Dobel and
then mock his righteous anger. As the shattered older man drives away, Jerry
says that he and Dobel will have the last laugh, that they can now go to a
deli and write a biting satire of those guys. And it's a mighty moment when
Dobel turns the car around and whips out a crowbar.

The whole movie feels like a crowbar coming down on everything Allen despises,
which, at this point, must be pretty much everything. At times, it's a
horrible spectacle, but his demolition timing, at least, is back.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.

(Credits)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
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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