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Disney's Town, "Celebration."

New York Times reporter Douglas Frantz and his wife, journalist Catherine Collins. They've collaborated on a new book about their two years living in Celebration, the city Disney built from scratch in Florida. Their book is "Celebration U.S.A.: Living in Disney's Brave New Town" (Henry Holt & Co.)

42:08

Other segments from the episode on September 9, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 9, 1999: Interview with Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins; Commentary on puns and country music.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: SEPTEMBER 09, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 090901np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: The Town That Disney Built
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: On today's FRESH AIR, the town created and owned by Disney. It's not a theme park, it's a real community called Celebration, located in Florida just a few miles away from Disneyworld. Disney hopes it will be a model new town, offering alternatives to some of the problems of suburban life, like isolation and over-dependence on cars. We'll talk with journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, who investigated the town by living there for two years. Their new book about the town has just been published.

Also, linguist Geoff Nunberg shares some of his favorite country music song titles.

That's all coming up on FRESH AIR.

First the news.

(NEWS BREAK)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Disney theme parks are highly controlled fantasy lands, so many people were skeptical when Disney developed a new town called Celebration. It's not a theme park, but a real community meant to be a model new town offering alternatives to some of the problems of suburban life. The town of Celebration has its own shops, hospital and school. It's located in central Florida just five miles from Disneyworld. It opened in 1996 and now has over 2,000 residents.

My guests, Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, are the authors of the new book "Celebration U.S.A." They bought a house and lived in the town for two years with their two school-age children. Douglas Frantz is a reporter for "The New York Times." Catherine Collins is a freelance writer.

I asked how they think Celebration fits into the larger "new town" movement.

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

DOUGLAS FRANTZ, CO-AUTHOR, "CELEBRATION U.S.A.": The part that Celebration reflects out of that "new town" movement is -- you know, in general, it's about finding an alternative to the anonymity and isolation of the suburbs that have sprung up in the last 50 years in this country. And Celebration reflects many of the tenets of new urbanism or neo-traditionalism.

You know, they've tried to look backward at small-town America and take the best of those planning elements -- you know, houses close together, sidewalks, front porches, tree-lined streets, easy, non-automobile-dependent access to the town center and to your neighbors and to the school and the other institutions that are vital. And they've tried to take some of those ideas and update them and come up with a livable, workable place where people can go and rekindle the sense of community that seems to be missing from suburbs all across the country.

GROSS: Now, of course, a lot of towns were built up organically and grew slowly, and these new towns, including Celebration, are designed kind of whole as towns. And so it's like a from-scratch type of design.

So give us a sense of how this new town, Celebration, was designed. Let's start with the streets, like, what the larger plan of the streets and the town center is.

CATHERINE COLLINS, CO-AUTHOR, "CELEBRATION U.S.A.": There's a slight departure from the new urbanist planning in Celebration, I think. It's a mod -- what they call a "modified grid." But the streets do run into each other, and you have corners that stop the traffic and allow people to get around.

FRANTZ: And the general plan -- they built -- they first built the downtown right on the center of this man-made lake, and it's the town center. And the rest of the community now grows out in a radius of four main streets from there that go out at an angle.

And then within those sort of pie-shaped main streets, we have these grids, where we have, you know, narrow, tree-lined streets and, most interestingly for us, alleys behind all of those streets. And the garages are all placed to the rear of the house. That's another important element of neo-traditional planning. And so you get this sense of an alley -- you get a real alley through there, which adds to the sense of community there.

And houses are all very close together. We were just 10 feet apart from our neighbors on either side of us, and that's pretty much the standard for the town. So you have houses that are close together, houses that surround open areas. They have a lot of big parks, a lot of common areas. The theory is that you're willing to sacrifice your private yard space -- you don't need a quarter of an acre or half an acre -- if you have a public area where you can go and enjoy the facilities there and, most importantly, you can interact with your neighbors. That helps to create this sense of community that's so important to many of these "new town" developments.

COLLINS: There are two other interesting aspects of the design of the town, and one is that in most communities, new communities, today you see the schools put out on the very fringe of town, on the least expensive property, right next to the highway, that sort of thing. In Celebration, they placed the school smack dab in the center of town, so children from all over the community could walk to school, walk to friends' homes or walk downtown for a soda after school and to do their homework outside in a park, that sort of thing.

And the other interesting thing about Celebration is that it began from the very first day with a full downtown. Most new towns have to wait three, five, sometimes eight years before they can support a downtown. Disney, on the other hand, felt very strongly that to be a real town, they needed a downtown, and they opened it up from the very beginning.

GROSS: I have to stop right there because there's something that strikes me as this huge paradox about the downtown in Disney's Celebration. Disney, which, of course, has its own Disney chain of stores, forbade any chain stores from opening in the Celebration downtown. And what a mixed message!

FRANTZ: (laughs) Yeah, it sure is. It's "Do as I do, not as I say," I guess. They didn't -- they didn't want it to be a cookie-cutter downtown. They tried to bring in a lot of stores that are unique to the Florida area. A lot of the stores are second stores or sister stores with stores that are on Park Avenue in Winter Park, which is another really -- it's a nice community, an existing community within the Orlando area. And they've brought a lot of those stores out there.

But they're generally very high-quality, high-lined stores that were there to attract tourists from Disneyworld and from other regional attractions and bring them in to provide enough -- enough money to have this downtown operating before there were enough people in Celebration to support a downtown. And it's been -- it's good, on the one hand, because we've got these stores. We can walk there. There are four good restaurants, and there's always a steady nightlife downtown.

It's bad and caused some conflict for a lot of residents because these are not stores that are geared toward satisfying the needs of the people who live in Celebration. There's no hardware store. Until recently, there was no hair salon. There's really not a book store there. There's no video store. You know, there's no gas station. The things that people need as part of their everyday lives are missing from this downtown now.

GROSS: Although Celebration is not supposed to be a theme park, it's supposed to be a town, I think a lot of people really see it as a town theme park, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Some kind of weird combination of the two. Let's talk a little bit about the architecture of the houses. I mean, there was, like, a design bible that each of the houses had to follow, kind of begging the question, in a way, of whether it's a, you know, part theme park. Just describe what the -- what the specifications were that the houses had to architecturally fit into.

COLLINS: Well, they worked from something -- or they've resurrected something called a "pattern book," and that pattern book would dictate how far back the houses could be set from the street, the width of the front porches, anything from window size and door size to colors. They worked from a palette of colors, I suppose to guarantee some sort of esthetic values. And that pattern book governed the construction of all these houses.

FRANTZ: Well, and the pattern book was more -- more important than that, even. It set forth the six styles of house that can be built in Celebration. All of these styles had to be existing within the southeastern part of the United States before the 1940s, which was sort of the arbitrary cut-off that Disney's planners decided was the death of small-town life in America. You know, so all of these houses have to fit generally -- or not generally, specifically within the parameters of those six design styles. And then you have -- you have variations in color. You have variations in facade. But they're all controlled by the pattern book. And what looks on the surface, I think, like a cute and sort of pleasing town got -- it wore a little thin on us after a while. Remember, Cathy, that trip we took to Toronto and how we felt when we came back from that.

COLLINS: Yes. It was a nice relief to see cracks in the sidewalk. And it did create a funny air of unreality at times. And at one point, I was on Main -- on one of the main streets downtown, and I was stopped by a tourist. And he said, "Excuse me. Can you -- are those real houses over there in the distance?" And I was a little puzzled. You know, what an odd question. I said, "Well, of course they're real houses." And he said, "Well, if they're real houses, where are the real people?" And I looked at my watch and said, "Well, it's 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, and the real people are at their real jobs in order to pay for the mortgages for those real houses."

GROSS: Right. So -- but to outsiders, it has the sense of unreality.

COLLINS: Yes. So sometimes it can be a little too neat.

GROSS: You know, this whole sense of, like, "It's going to be a new town, but we're going to do it with a sense of nostalgia for the past so nothing can be designed past what existed in the 1940s" -- it seems -- it just seems a little contradictory. And some of the designs from the 1940s didn't really transfer that well into the '90s. Like, a lot of the houses had porches. And what were some of the problems with the porches in south Florida?

FRANTZ: Well, aside from the ones that fell off...

GROSS: Or central Florida, I should say. Yeah.

FRANTZ: Aside from the ones that fell off because of poor construction or...

GROSS: Yeah.

FRANTZ: ... or in our case, the one that -- of our neighbors that was built onto our property, and we had to have them remove it. Aside from that, what Disney expected with these front porches, what the planners envisioned was it would create "front porch culture," that people would be out on their porches talking to their neighbors next door and to people walking down the street or people riding their bikes, and there would be this culture that, you know, either existed or existed in somebody's imagination, you know, 30, 40, 50 years ago.

But that really has been one of the failures that we observed during our two years in Celebration, and people don't spend very much time at all on their front porches. There are a couple things going on. One is it's central Florida, and it's hotter than hell a good part of the year, and sitting on your front porch, even if you have a fan going, can be a very uncomfortable thing. People prefer to be inside in the air-conditioning.

The second thing is, and the thing that no designer really has found a way to counteract yet, and that's the pull of the television. You know, we'd ride our bikes around town most evenings as part of our -- part of our ritual and, you know, we would rarely see people on the front porch, but you could always see in people's family rooms and see the glow of the television set. And I think that proved a little too much for Disney to counteract with its social engineering here.

GROSS: Well, my guests are Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins. They're the co-authors of the new book "Celebration U.S.A." about the time that they spent living in the Disney new town in central Florida. And Douglas Frantz is a writer for "The New York Times." Catherine Collins is a freelance writer. And they are married and have three children.

Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk more about your lives in the Disney new town Celebration.

This is FRESH AIR.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

(ID BREAK)

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

GROSS: Back with Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins. They're the co-authors of the new book "Celebration U.S.A.: Living in Disney's Brave New Town." That's about the time they spent living in the Disney new town in central Florida. They're married, and they have three children.

A lot of new communities now are like condominium communities or communities that have home owners' associations, and the home owners' association has a lot of rules and regulations that everybody who lives within this area has to agree to. The Disney new town is a kind of interesting amalgam of things. It's not a gated community. Anyone can enter or leave. Anyone can enter, I should say. Anyone can leave a gated community!

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: But if there is a home owners' association, you write that Disney has veto power, that the Disney Corporation could veto anything that the home owners' association agreed to. Was there a home owners' association while you were living in the Disney community?

FRANTZ: Oh, yeah, there was, and there still is. But it's a powerless home owners' association at this point. I mean, all new towns and planned communities around the country lay out a basic legal structure which gives the developer control to a certain point in the build-out. It may be 50 percent. It may be 75 percent. And after that percentage is reached, the home owners take complete control over their community.

Disney, which is one of the most control-oriented corporations in history, was loath to do that. I think there were a couple reasons. One is it's just because of the nature of the company and their desire for control. Second thing is that they're always going to be neighbors of Celebration, and they realize Celebration is always going to be associated with their name.

And so Disney wrote into the legal charter of this town that as long as they own a single building or a single piece of land within Celebration, they will have the right as a corporation to veto any major changes, and that includes changes to the architecture. Say somebody wanted to come in and home owners wanted to tear off the front porches or they wanted the right to paint their houses purple or to plant red and yellow trees where Disney wanted them to be only green and brown trees. Disney has a right in perpetuity to come in and veto that.

And I think that's a reflection of the fact that Disney is just so control-oriented. And people didn't question that because so many of the people who moved to Celebration, particularly in the first wave, believe that Disney could do everything better. That was one of the draws. They really thought this was going to be an extension of the Magic Kingdom. And Disney knew what color to paint Cinderella's castle, so they knew what color to paint these houses and take care of most other details in their lives.

GROSS: What were some of the rules you had to live by in Celebration? And did any of those rules bother you?

COLLINS: Well, Doug and I have different feelings about rules. His feeling is -- now, if I can summarize his feelings for him -- that you move in there knowing the rules, and if you don't like them, you shouldn't move in. I have a few -- some problems with rules. I just sometimes like to break them. And they just bother me because they're in existence.

But the rules sometimes were silly and sometimes weren't. They dictated what color your curtains could be facing the street and actually asked a woman with red curtains to remove them.

FRANTZ: They dictated where you could park your car.

COLLINS: And for how long.

FRANTZ: And for how long. They dictated any sort of thing you could attach to your house. You couldn't attach a satellite dish to your house. They dictated forever the color of your house. And they dictate how often you have to repaint your house. They've tried to go a step further and remove plastic flowers and plastic furniture from those all-important front porches. You know, there's -- there are rules, and then there are rules that seem to go a little too far.

But yeah, my point of view as that you know coming in that you're going to have to live by these rules, and if you don't like it, there are lots of other nice places to go live. I mean, I think there's a reason for most of these rules.

COLLINS: But as far as the plastic on the porch goes, that was not a rule, it was just a suggestion. We had a monthly newsletter written by the town manager, and it was a well-done newsletter, but it was also a source of great fun. And my favorite newsletter was entitled "The Appropriateness of Plastic." And he suggested rather politely that perhaps plastic flowers would not be appropriate, and wicker would do better than plastic or macrame furniture and plant hangings and that sort of thing.

GROSS: What's the penalty for breaking any of the regulations?

FRANTZ: The penalty can be as severe as the Celebration Company, which is Disney's development arm in Celebration, putting a lien on your house and making it -- making it so that you can't sell that house, if you're violating an important rule. They also -- one of our neighbors is trying to -- one of our former neighbors is trying to sell her house now, and she's put up "For Sale" signs in her yard, which go against the Celebration rules, and she's being fined $50 a day.

GROSS: It's a lot of money.

FRANTZ: Yeah, it is. And that's one of the ways that they're trying to enforce these rules. You know, and that may be a little Draconian, but that's the possibility. And certainly, there is the potential for having a lien on your house.

GROSS: What about -- say you repaint your house a color that's not in the pattern book or you don't maintain your yard to the proper standard or, you know, you use the tacky plastic flowers on your porch. What are the penalties for things like that?

COLLINS: Well, there are no penalties for tacky plastic flowers. There are plenty of those. But there was a procedure that they'd follow, and I believe it began with a phone call, and then there'd be a letter. And then maybe there'd be a visit. I don't know. But there were -- they had a series of steps that they would follow before any liens were placed, so you'd know, I guess, exactly what your transgression had been and what you had to do to correct it.

FRANTZ: And then they'll come and repaint your house an acceptable color and charge you for the repaint.

GROSS: I think, you know, a lot of people move to new communities to get away from crime. I'm wondering if crime was much of an issue in the Disney new town. Considering you're in a fairly rural area, with the exception of Disneyworld, it sounds like there probably wasn't a lot of crime around there in the first place.

FRANTZ: Yeah.

COLLINS: Well, when you look at the design of the town itself, it would be pretty hard to commit any major crimes, I think, because everyone was so close to each other and so involved. Everyone looked out at the street, and they looked out at their neighbors' homes. But the real impact of the bricks and mortar, you know, whether or not we can engineer a more civil place to live or whether or not, in fact, we have to roll up our sleeves and slug it out and learn to get along -- you know, that remains to be seen. But right now, as far as bike thefts and robberies and burglaries and that sort of thing, you're not seeing very much of that.

GROSS: The idea with the Disney new town was to create a good town, a good neighborhood not only visually, to have a kind of cohesive unit of people living there. And I'm wondering if you feel, after your time there, that the design of the new town helped or not in bringing people together.

FRANTZ: Oh, I think it helped enormously, Terry. I mean, it's one of the -- it's so easy to criticize Disney, particularly if you -- you know, intellectuals love to bash Disney.

But if you look at this town objectively, if you do as we did and live there and experience it for two years, you come away thinking that here, at least, Disney did do one thing right, and that is they designed the infrastructure, the physical nature of Celebration very efficiently and very effectively to bring people together in the sense of a neighborhood. I mean, you've got the town center, where you see people all the time. You see your neighbors out walking their dogs or just out for a stroll or going to the grocery or going out to dinner. We knew all of our neighbors all up and down both sides of our block there because the houses were so close together.

And you know, part of that was just the physical way this town was laid out. It was laid out so that you had to work hard not to get to know your neighbors. You had to work hard not to see people as you were coming and going every day. And that part of it was one of the big pluses of Celebration, from our perspective.

COLLINS: And children are probably a good gauge of how well a community is working. It is the only place that we have ever lived where our kids could walk to school unattended, where they could walk to friends' homes and to parties or to homework dates. They could walk downtown and buy a quart of milk.

GROSS: And they liked that?

COLLINS: They did like that. And with all that came an enormous sense of independence and freedom. And we kept track of them. We didn't expect the community to take care of them, and we didn't think that they would be protected just because they were living in a Disney town. But within those -- those restrictions -- you know, calling home, letting us know where they were at all times -- they had enormous freedom, and it worked really well for them. I think it was a good experience. And they miss it.

GROSS: And that must have freed you up because you didn't have to be the chauffeur.

COLLINS: Exactly. One of the first things we did after moving to town was to get rid of one of our cars and buy bikes.

GROSS: Catherine Collins and Douglas Frantz are the authors of the new book "Celebration U.S.A.: Living in Disney's Brave New Town." They'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

(BREAK)

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, author of the new book "Celebration U.S.A.: Living in Disney's Brave New Town." It's a look at the town that Disney developed and owns in Florida just five miles from Disney World. Disney hopes it will be a model new town, offering alternatives to some of the problems of suburban life, such as anonymity, isolation, and dependence on cars.

Frantz and Collins lived in Celebration for two years with their two school-age children.

One of the real selling points of Celebration was that it has its own school on the premises, and this school, you know, I guess was designed by the people who designed this new town, and it was supposed to be a real state-of-the-art school, very progressive school, which is kind of interesting, because the town itself is built on a sense of nostalgia for the small town of the past, and yet the school started off embracing the most experimental educational values.

CATHERINE COLLINS, "CELEBRATION U.S.A.": Oh, they call them "best practices." And several universities consulted with the developer to come up with these things, anything from authentic assessments, translation means no grades, the neighborhood concept, putting 100 children in a classroom with four teachers, individual learning plans, multi-discipline approach to education, in other words, incorporating math and science and language arts all into a single project.

DOUGLAS FRANTZ, JOURNALIST: And the multi-age neighborhoods...

COLLINS: Oh, I forgot that.

FRANTZ: ... the multi-age classrooms, which was, for our daughter, Becky, was the biggest shock of all. She was going into fifth grade when we moved to Celebration, and instead of finding herself with big kids, she found herself in a classroom that contained K through 5. You get kids from the age of 5 to 11 in one classroom.

And she came home from school the first day, and she said, "Mom and Dad, this is like unpaid baby sitting. I can't stand it."

COLLINS: But, you know, in all fairness, by the end of the year, she had learned a lot about getting along with people of different ages and different abilities, and in some ways, while the school wasn't in place, wasn't ready to go right from the get-go, some things tended to work themselves out. And I became sort of a fan of some aspects of multi-age...

Doug's making faces.

FRANTZ: I worry about how much else she learned that first year, especially. I mean, we've talked about this. The lack of grades, while on its face we try not to measure our kids by their grades, it's a way for parents to track the progress of their children. It's a way to see how they're doing, the same way that textbooks are a concrete way to see what your child's learning, and for the kid to have something in front of him.

And the absence of those two things, particularly, were troubling for me, and they were troubling for a lot of parents. I mean, you made a reference to it, Terry, in the question. People came here to this town, which was sold on the basis of nostalgia and a return to small-town America and old-fashioned values.

I think they were looking for, and our interviews certainly showed this, they were looking for a very traditional school. And when they got every progressive idea ever imagined thrown into one brand-new school all at once, you know, it really flummoxed everybody. It flummoxed the parents, it flummoxed the kids, and it flummoxed the teachers and the administrators.

And as a result, it got off to a very rocky start, and getting that school up and running smoothly has been the most difficult problem of all in Celebration, I think.

GROSS: What were some of the changes made in the school after things got off to such a rocky start?

COLLINS: Well, when they discovered that the high school children needed grades in order to get in -- to apply to universities -- many of the universities that had helped devise the program actually didn't accept the portfolios as part of their administration -- their admissions process. When they discovered that, they started to give grades in the high school.

Certainly the neighborhoods began to work from a curriculum, and they acquired textbooks. All these things helped make the parents feel much better, I think.

FRANTZ: Yes, I mean, if there was an interesting thing -- we used this that -- what happened with the school as an illustration in our book of the way democracy has put down roots and begun to grow in Celebration, because we do have a town that's still under the control of a corporation, and we have a school that was designed by a corporation and the people it hired, albeit a public school.

And here was the chance for parents, who are really the -- and for students to, who are the consumers of this particular product, to come in and make the thing work for them.

And we had in our sec -- our first -- our second summer there, we got a call one evening from a man in Celebration, Scott Bieler (ph), who said that the parents were organizing a small meeting to talk about reforms and how they were going to get some practices that they could live with in the school.

And he said, "Nobody will have it in their home, because they're all too afraid of the reaction of Disney." And so they'd rented a hotel ballroom across the street. And about 50 people showed up for that first meeting. It was in June. But by the end of the summer, discontent had been focused and had grown so public that they had the last meetings in the school cafeteria with the school administrators and teachers present.

And you saw people really literally working things out and finding ways to take the best of the best practices and make them work in real-world way that would satisfy the parents and students.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, co-author of the new book "Celebration U.S.A.," and it's about the time that they spent living in the new town, the Disney new town, Celebration, which is located in central Florida just about five minutes away from Disney World. And Frantz and Collins are married, they have three children. One of their children was in college while they were living in Celebration. Two of the children were living with them there.

I mean, I think the big question about Celebration is, you know, does the town work? And if it does work, is it a model that other new towns can follow? Or is it a model that is so built on a kind of theme-parkness that -- is it a model that's built on isolating itself from the rest of the world, as opposed to a model that could work within the rest of the world?

So I guess my question is, how isolated, how cut off was it from the rest of the world? How self-contained and theme park was it like to live there?

COLLINS: Celebration is located in the far end of Osceola County, and it's a county where the human population has just recently outgrown the cow population. So in that sense, it is physically isolated to some degree. But the community doesn't have gates, and the surrounding area is growing quite quickly, as the town is also.

So I don't think it will remain isolated.

FRANTZ: But it still is an oasis within this very rural, sometimes backward Florida county, because you -- it's literally -- you drive off of Highway 192 into Celebration, and you pass these very distinctive white picket fences as you drive into town, and you come in there, and there's a sense that you've come into -- to -- to a community that -- that is apart from everything around it.

Now, we've seen efforts over the two years to reach out to the larger community, but we've also seen elements within -- within the community, particularly recently, that say, you know, We want to keep this for ourselves, and we really don't want to see so many other people come out. That came out recently when there was talk of building a regional high school within Celebration, to draw kids from outside the town, to bring the larger numbers in.

And so we see sort of there is a little bit of us-versus-them that looks outward at the rest of the community too, I think.

COLLINS: I'm sorry, I'm going to disagree with that. I think that part of the controversy around the high school was, again, dealing with the best practices of the school. Disney had presented the town as a marketing device, actually this state-of-the-art public school, which was supposed to be K through 12 and incorporating all these best practices.

Now suddenly they're talking about a high school for which they're going to break off half the school population. So you really will no longer have a K through 12 institution. And that's -- you know, that was a big change to the community, something they didn't expect from the get-go.

And I think that was a lot of the controversy. It's not so much trying to keep people out, but trying to maintain the school and what they felt was its strength.

GROSS: My guests are Catherine Collins and Douglas Frantz, authors of the new book "Celebration U.S.A."

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, co-authors of the new book "Celebration U.S.A." It's about the time that they spent living in Celebration, which is the Disney new town located about five minutes way from Disney World in central Florida.

One of the issues that I'm sure came up for you, and as you -- I know you address in the book, is the lack of diversity there. It was a very predominantly white, middle class population. And another thing that I think is probably very, like, self-selecting about the population is, it's made up of people who will be comfortable living in a Disney town. I mean, a lot of people wouldn't dream of living in a Disney town, for whatever, you know, prejudicial or appropriate reasons they might have.

So what was it like to live with this decided lack of diversity?

COLLINS: Well, the lack of diversity is something that troubled us and confused us for the entire time we lived there. We couldn't quite put our finger on why the town was not attractive to more minorities. Certainly Orlando has a black middle class, and it is quite a diverse city. What we decided finally, perhaps, is that the community was populated by boomers, and boomers grew up with the -- with Disney movies.

And when you think back several decades about those Disney movies, well, there weren't an awful lot of minority characters. Perhaps you have to wait to the more recent movies to see that. And also, perhaps minorities don't have the same feelings about small town America that white boomers do have these days.

FRANTZ: Yes, but it was also one of the things that -- about which we're most critical of Disney, and that's the lack of affordable housing. You know, Disney, in creating Celebration as a new town, came up with a lot of concepts that they wanted to see replicated elsewhere in new towns, the centralness of the school, the K through 12 concept, you know, the whole idea of new urbanist planning on this kind of scale, because it's going to wind up being the largest new urbanist community in the country.

You know, it was our belief, and it still is our belief, that Disney could have been equally innovative in finding a way to provide affordable subsidized housing for the people who lived elsewhere in Osceola County who just can't afford to live in Celebration.

COLLINS: And by subsidized housing, he doesn't mean housing projects. What -- there are a number of ways in which a creative company like Disney could have handled this issue. You could have provided, perhaps, tax relief for older citizens, or special assistance for getting a mortgage for first-time buyers. These are things that we're not talking about huge housing projects, but ways to keep people within a community or get them in there initially.

GROSS: What impact do you think Celebration is having on the new town movement?

FRANTZ: I think it's having a big impact, because of its profile, you know, because of Disney's involvement. Obviously Disney was a lightning rod for press attention, and Celebration is, I think, the most ambitious and largest of these new town developments in the country today.

And, you know, people look at this, and hopefully they'll see, from our book and from other things written about it, what does work and what doesn't work. And this will affect the new town movement, and hopefully it'll propel it forward.

One thing, in a very concrete way, Terry, that Celebration is showing is that people are willing to pay the extra money that you often have to pay to buy a house in a new town development. Celebration is the fastest-selling development in central Florida, which is a very booming area. And the prices there are 25 to 30 percent higher than surrounding subdivisions.

But Celebration is supporting those prices because people really believe that they're buying not just a home but a whole town, and they're willing to go out and spend the extra money to get a community.

GROSS: When you moved into Celebration, everyone basically there was brand-new. It had just opened, everybody was, like, the first residents in their home? No one had ever lived there before? And I'm sure there was this sense of a shared adventure. You were all going through the same thing at the same time in this new community.

Now that the community is still very new, but it's a few years old, is it attracting different kinds of people? Is the sense of We're sharing this adventure together changing?

COLLINS: Exactly, you've hit it right -- you've hit the nail on the head. There have been significant changes, I think, in the population. We went to an early meeting there, an orientation meeting. And the woman running the meeting asked the question, Who in the room can list the five cornerstones on which the town was built? And to a man and to a woman, every single person in the room threw up his hand, and they listed together, out loud, Education, technology, wellness, community, and place.

And it was a little strange. It did give me pause. And I was talking to this woman, Cathy Johnson (ph), oh, a year, a year and a half later, and asked if she still held those meetings and still asked those same questions. And she said, yes, she did, but they had changed dramatically, that when she asked that question about the cornerstones, no one in the room could answer the question. And someone might, just to be helpful, put up a hand and say, Well, you know, if I were to guess, maybe technology would be one, or education.

But they couldn't name all five. And I think that reflects a sort of healthy change in the population. You had the initial wave of the people who believed, and they were buying on the basis of a hope and a dream. There was nothing there but a swamp and a few drawings. But people buying and moving to Celebration today are doing it on the basis of the town itself. They can see the design, they can see how it works, the school, the downtown, the ability to walk everywhere, to know their neighbors.

And that's the reason they're buying, and it's a different crowd.

GROSS: For the two years that you lived in Celebration, you were doing research on the town, and you told your friends and neighbors that. You didn't want to keep it a secret. What was it like for you to be conducting your life as research and to be writing about your neighbors as you were getting to know them and to have them know that you were doing that?

FRANTZ: It created a lot of opportunities for tax write-offs.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANTZ: But Cathy did something very smart, and Cathy did a lot of the primary research for the book, because my job takes me away a lot. For the first three months we were there, we lived there, we didn't do any interviews. We told people we were writing a book. Cathy got to know them, she got involved in the school, she got -- you know, got to know neighbors. And we tried to build within -- with them a sense of trust and tried to become not the authors down from New York but just neighbors, and people, you know, to whom they would tell not what they thought we wanted to hear, but the truth about their lives.

And that's the advantage of this immersion journalism. You can go in and you spend enough time to really know and understand what's going on in a place.

GROSS: Cathy, do you feel...

COLLINS: And we...

GROSS: ... do you feel, in a way, like the pressure's off, like you could just...

COLLINS: But, you know, it's funny, when you ask that question, I just heaved a great sigh of relief. Perhaps that was it, that not -- that I don't have to worry about every day being interesting to other people, and I can just sit around in my slippers and be lazy and read a novel.

It was important, I think, as Doug said, to take that time to establish trust. And everyone knew what we were doing, and if they didn't want to talk to us, they didn't have to talk to us. It was very, I hope, low pressure and low key. We found, I think, that most people were more than willing to share their stories. And it's sort of a compliment to have someone just sit down in front of you and say, "Talk, I want to listen."

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both very much for talking with us about your two years in Celebration. Thank you.

COLLINS: Thank you very much.

FRANTZ: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins are the authors of "Celebration U.S.A.: Living in Disney's Brave New Town."

(AUDIOTAPE: SONG EXCERPT, "BE OUR GUEST")

GROSS: Coming up, our linguist, Geoff Nunberg, on the puns in country music.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Douglas Frantz, Catherine Collins
High: "New York Times" reporter Douglas Frantz and his wife, journalist Catherine Collins, discuss their new book about their two years living in Celebration, the city Disney built from scratch in Florida.
Spec: Disney; Lifestyles; Celebration, Florida; "Celebration U.S.A.: Living in Disney's Brave New Town"

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 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: The Town That Disney Built

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: SEPTEMBER 09, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 090902NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: The Puns in Country Music
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

GROSS: Our linguist, Geoff Nunberg, is a country music fan and has been listening to the latest George Jones album, "Cold, Hard Truth." Like all of Jones' albums, it has a few songs that involve puns in the title, like, "You Never Know Just How Good You've Got It Till You Ain't Got It No More."

That punning is a characteristic of country music that makes it hard for some people to take the music seriously. But as Geoff points out, Shakespeare would have had no problem with it.

GEOFF NUNBERG, LINGUIST: The best movie about country music I know of is a gritty little 1972 film called "Payday." Rip Torn plays a fading second-tier country star touring the South from roadhouse to roadhouse on an out of control drunken binge. The movie's much more genuine than Robert Altman's overblown "Nashville," which came out a few years later, and one reason is that it took pains to get the music right, both the best and worst of it.

There's one scene in particular that sticks with me when Torn's character is obliged to stand in a parking lot listening to a young dishwasher who wants to work as a country singer sing a composition called "I'm Loving You More but Enjoying It Less." It's the perfect example of an awful country song from that period, down to its punning title.

Pop singers like the Beatles and Elvis Costello may have visited word-play from time to time, but country music lives there. A lot of it involves outright puns, like the Bellamy Brothers' "If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me?" or LeAnne Womack's (ph) "Am I the Only Thing That You've Done Wrong?" There's Gary Nicholson's (ph) "Behind Bars," which is about saloons, and Randy Travis's "On the Other Hand," which is about wedding rings.

And then there are all those other titles that involve word-play of one sort or another, like Dolly Parton's "It's All Wrong, but It's All Right," or Johnny Paycheck's "I'm the Only Hell My Momma Ever Raised."

When I think of songs like these, though, the singer that comes first to mind is George Jones. I don't know if he's done more of them than anybody else. The honors there probably go to Roger Miller or Johnny Paycheck. And a lot of the punning titles that Jones does are just routine joke songs, like the recent "She Took My Keys Away and Now She Won't Drive Me to Drink."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GEORGE JONES (singing): I saw those blue lights flashing over my left shoulder. He walked right up and said, "Get off that driving more (ph)." I said, "Sir, let me explain before you put me in the tank. She took my keys away, and now she won't drive me to drink."

(END AUDIO CLIP)

NUNBERG: But Jones has also made a specialty of using puns and word-play in the plaintive ballads that he sings like no one else. There are songs like, "A Man Can Be a Drunk Sometimes, but a Drunk Can't Be a Man," or "At Least I've Learned to Stand on My Own Two Knees," or the recent "Hundred Proof Memories."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JONES (singing): "Love on the rocks," that's all he said as he sat there beside me shaking his head. I said, "Mister, you look like you're taking it rough. The next round's on me." He said, "I don't touch the stuff, because these hundred-proof memories are stronger than wine. It don't take but one taste to send you out of your mind. No, I don't want the whiskey, but I could sure use the rye, because with 100-proof memories, lord, you don't think in (ph) dry."

(END AUDIO CLIP)

NUNBERG: For some people, of course, this sort of punning just confirms a sense of country music as a linguistic trailer park. Since Tennyson's time, punning has been deprecated as the basest form of humor, to the point where it's usually a kind of veiled aggressiveness nowadays.

Habitual punsters live for groans the way violinists live for applause. Sophisticated people may make exceptions for the literary puns of Joyce or Nabokov or the urbane word-play of '30s show tunes, but they have trouble finding a place for somebody who makes puns in earnest, particularly in a sentimental ballad.

But maybe that's simply because most people have forgotten how to take puns seriously. The word-play in Cole Porter or Nabokov is dazzling but usually superficial. The word-play in country songs is pedestrian but sometimes profound. It has a rueful irony, as the innocent reading of an ordinary expression reveals a new meaning that makes it more sad and knowing.

You think of Charlie Pride's "She's Too Good to Be True," or George Jones' recent "Tied to a Stone."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JONES (singing): I woke up this morning and prayed to God, Oh let this be (inaudible). Her side of the bed was cold, and laying there beside me was her ring, with the note that she had left for me laying where she used to lay her head, and I felt the world fall in on me, for this is what she said.

Tied to a stone ain't no way to be (ph). I can't go on living like this. I'd rather...

(END AUDIO CLIP)

NUNBERG: It's a fitting device for these ballads, particularly when they're tackling their favorite themes, the fragility of happiness, the loss that's always imminent in love and family. There's a joke that sums up the genre very nicely. What do you get if you play a country song backwards? You get your wife back, you get your dog back, you get your truck back.

And the sense of loss and estrangement is implicit in the language of the lyrics too, as the ordinary expressions we use to talk about our lives break down to reveal darker meanings.

It's a kind of word-play with antique roots. It owes a lot to the language of sermons, particularly in the Baptists and Evangelical traditions, with their attentiveness to the multiple meanings of scriptural passages. But it has earlier antecedents in the sermons and poetry of the metaphysical poets like John Donne and George Herbert. And even earlier than that, you can find its secular echoes in Shakespeare.

Take Hamlet's bitter pun about his uncle, "a little more than kin, and less than kind." When you think about it, that would make a great George Jones title. Like Jones, Shakespeare knew that there was more to word-play than just fooling around.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University and the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

FRESH AIR's interviews and reviews are produced by Phyllis Meyers (ph), Amy Sallett (ph), and Naomi Person, with Monique Nazareth and Anne-Marie Boldonado. Research assistance from Sarah Scherr (ph).

I'm Terry Gross.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JONES (singing): ... fall face down on the floor. Well, all I do now is just bemoan the blues and dream about what I had before. Hey, you never know just how good you've got it till you ain't got it no more. Hey, you never know just how good you've got it till you ain't got it no more.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Geoff Nunberg
High: Linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the puns in country music.
Spec: Music Industry; Humor; Lifestyles

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 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: The Puns in Country Music
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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