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Eugene Hutz, Gogol Bordello's Gypsy Punk Hero

Eugene Hütz is the charismatic front man of the gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. The multinational, multiethnic group includes a violinist, guitarist, accordionist and bass player. Hütz himself hails from Ukraine; he appeared in the film Everything is Illuminated alongside Elijah Wood. Gogol Bordello's new album is Super Taranta.

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Other segments from the episode on August 15, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 15, 2007: Interview with Eugen Hutz; Interview with Michael Harvey.

Transcript

DATE August 15, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Eugene Hutz, front man of the band Gogol Bordello, on
his life, his music and being in "Everything Is Illuminated"
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave DAVIES, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

You may know our guest, Eugene Hutz, from his memorable performance as a
Ukrainian translator in the movie "Everything Is Illuminated." But Hutz was
just moonlighting as an actor. Really, he's the front man for the gypsy punk
band Gogol Bordello. Tricia Romano of The Village Voice wrote: "For those
who lament that their life is unexciting and worthless, I would prescribe
Eugene Hutz for just about any malady you may be experiencing." Gogol
Bordello's wildly energized concerts mix gypsy abandon with the driving force
of rock. There's a band of musicians on stage with two masked go-go girls who
dash around the stage singing and playing washboards and drums.

Hutz grew up in Ukraine and came to the US with his family as a teenager.
Here's the song "Ultimate," from the group's new CD "Super Taranta!"

(Soundbite of "Ultimate")

GOGOL BORDELLO: (Singing) If we are not here to do
What you and I wanna do
And go forever crazy with it
Why the hell we are living here
Yeah!

There were never any good old days
They are today, they are tomorrow
It's a stupid thing we say
Cursing tomorrow with sorrow
Doh!

Well, we stand here in a row
Looking like a bunch of heroes
I know that deep inside
Nothing more than bunch of zeroes
Yeahh!

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: Eugene Hutz, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, your band is described
as gypsy punk. If I wanted to convince my friends to come to me...

Mr. EUGENE HUTZ: Ah-ha.

DAVIES: ...with a Gogol Bordello concert, what should I tell them to expect?
What are they going to see?

Mr. HUTZ: Complete orgasmal hysteria.

DAVIES: OK. You want to fill that in a little bit? What does the act look
and sound like?

Mr. HUTZ: Well, I guess, I mean, you can tell them whatever the hell you
want to tell them, really, but it's only going to end up a peak experience of,
I guess, emotional kind for them. And show is a show, but the show would
never work that well without the music and its foundation, which is gypsy
music, you know, of my origin.

DAVIES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HUTZ: And the power of that music is quite known to its fanatics, but
for me it was always obvious that gypsy music can become very much appreciated
in subculture, you know, because it was always marginalized in this world
music kind of marketing and all these things that I can't stand, really. You
know, it just was basically locked up all these years, when in its spirit it's
basically rock 'n' roll. It's probably the closest thing to rock 'n' roll you
can find in the history of music before rock 'n' roll as we know it appears.

DAVIES: Traditional gypsy music, you're saying, is rock 'n' roll?

Mr. HUTZ: Yes.

DAVIES: Yeah.

Mr. HUTZ: Absolutely. And it's probably the most passionate, the most
flamboyant, the most merry and gay music that there was before rock 'n' roll.
It's a scientific fact, basically.

DAVIES: Somebody described a Gogol Bordello concert as something like
standing next to a 747. And I can see you sing every syllable of every song
with your body. I mean, you just don't stop moving. Have you always
performed that way?

Mr. HUTZ: Basically. I mean, basically that's why I'm not a real singer,
because I never learned how to sing just with that one mechanism. And I never
really was schooled in any way, really, either, and it all kind of came from
just growing up around music that's basically acoustically made by my own
family. Well, my father was quite a, you know--and still is--quite an
entertainer. Just give him a guitar and a party and...

DAVIES: Uh-huh.

Mr. HUTZ: ...there you will have it--prototype of Gogol Bordello, you know?
He is still pretty much an entertainer of refugee community, where he resides
now, you know, with my mom in Vermont.

DAVIES: As a kid, did you perform for your parents?

Mr. HUTZ: No, not really. I mean, my dad always stole the show. It was not
until in school--I think it was about sixth or seventh grade there some school
competition where--you know, where they have these things where the school
competes against the school...

DAVIES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HUTZ: ...in wit and skits and all these kinds of things? Anyhow, we had
those things back in the Soviet Union. I wasn't even participating but our
team was losing and they just decided to throw me out on stage, like a last
reserve because I was into punk rock and I had green hair, and they thought
with that I might do some good. And along with that I did some improv, and
that's how we won, basically. So that was my, like, a first taste of little
stage victory, and that's kind of basically--from then on I decided that's a
pretty powerful place to be, and that's where it all kind of makes sense to
me.

DAVIES: And where was that that all this happened? Was this in Kiev?

Mr. HUTZ: Yeah. It was in Kiev, it was in my school...(foreign language
spoken).

DAVIES: And you were--you had green hair back then?

Mr. HUTZ: Yeah, actually, we put on medical...(unintelligible)...this thing
that supposed to put on your wounds. And so it, you know, was green, so I put
it in my hair. Almost burned my skin a lot.

DAVIES: Some kind of medicine, to color your hair?

Mr. HUTZ: Yeah.

DAVIES: What was it like to wear your hair green then and have all
those--have that lifestyle? Did you get in trouble?

Mr. HUTZ: Well, it was Perestroika time so Gorbachev just came to power and
it was considered to be OK, suddenly. So we get away--I mean, in school I
didn't get much trouble for it, but I would get beat up on the street a couple
times by other youth organizations called...(foreign language spoken)...and
all these pro-Soviet, idiotic, body-builder neo-Nazi kids who would basically
pull us in the alley, hit us once in the face and we were done. It didn't
take that much effort to put us away back then. We were like 15 years old.
Just one hit in the head.

DAVIES: So when you formed a band--I know that you immigrated to Burlington,
Vermont, which is a college town, and there is a music scene there...

Mr. HUTZ: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...and you formed a band, and then you came to New York and started
playing this, for lack of a better word, fusion of punk and more traditional
gypsy music and all the other influences that you had. Were your audiences
just American kids who were turned onto this, or were you finding gypsies
everywhere?

Mr. HUTZ: No, actually. When I first came to Vermont, to the States, I
played in a, you know, basically in hardcore metal bands before I formed my
own and in bands that were much more straightforward punk rock, and the
process of getting back into my own, you know, DNA music, it took us some
years, I tell you, and I also didn't want to do it in a stupid way, as some
bands do it, you know. I didn't want it to be exploitation of stereotype on
any race. So that had, you know--it was quite a process to find an angle of
what it's going to be like and actually the turning point was for me music of
Bela Bartok, of Hungarian composer who worked with a lot of ethnical music,
turning it into his own symphonic avant-garde music. So after getting kind of
of load of how does he process that information, I was able to step up to it
without quoting and without just reusing the tunes, you know what I mean?

DAVIES: Mm-hmm. Do you want to pick another song from "Super Taranta!" to
listen to and tell us about?

Mr. HUTZ: I don't know. "American Wedding."

DAVIES: I was thinking "American Wedding." Tell me a little bit about this
song, then we can hear it.

Mr. HUTZ: Well, you know, I'd been here for a couple years already--to be
exact, 12--and I've gone to some of them, American weddings, and it just was a
pretty amazing experience. I mean, I just could not believe it. People
actually would celebrate, would even call it celebration. And the funny thing
is that I wasn't even going to put this song on the album. I just literally
wrote it to entertain somebody in 10 minutes on after party. I just polished
up some rhymes later on.

But the funny thing about it is that it's the Americans who get the biggest
kick out of it, because once it was done it was they're like `you have to put
in on the album. Everybody can relate to it.' It's just--it is what it is. I
can't believe nobody wrote it before.

DAVIES: And the thing is...

Mr. HUTZ: How can we do it like that?

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. HUTZ: It just was such a contrast to me because the wedding in Eastern
Europe is three day long experience, you know, just going to conference room,
rent it out till 1 in the morning in a hotel, you know, like being in a hotel
is like ugh.

DAVIES: It's lame by contrast. All right. So let's hear the song. This is
"American Wedding," by Gogol Bordello.

(Soundbite of "American Wedding")

GOGOL BORDELLO: (Singing) Have you ever been to American wedding?
Where's the vodka, where is marinated herring?
What of the musicians that got...(unintelligible)
Where is the supply that's going to last three days
where is the band that lights on fire
Going to keep it going 24 hours
Laa la la la la la laa

Dah de de de dah de dah
Dah de de de dah de dah
Dah de de de dah de dah

(Unintelligible)... 1 in the morning
Deejays punching out the chords
Everybody's full of cake
Staring at the bar
(Unintelligible)...start to rumble
Then it's time to go
People got to get up early
Yep, they got to go
Dah de de de dah de dah
Dah de de de dah de dah

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: And that was the group Gogol Bordello. Singing was my guest, Eugene
Hutz, and the song was "American Wedding."

Mr. HUTZ: Yeah, man.

We'll talk some more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: We're speaking with Eugene Hutz. He's the leader of the gypsy punk
band Gogol Bordello. He grew up in Ukraine, and his family immigrated to
Vermont when he was a teenager. The band has a new CD. It's called "Super
Taranta!"

Your life was affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, right? I mean, how
close were you to the accident? How did it affect your family?

Mr. HUTZ: Oh, Kiev was 60 or 65 kilometers away from Chernobyl, so thousands
and thousands of other people, it's like, of course, were affected by it in
every way--in mental way, in geographical dislocation way. And, you know, I
feel always hesitant talk about it because there are people who suffered from
it much, much, much more. I mean, it was close, but, you know, we still had
our things together enough to listen to BBC radio promptly and receive a
message that we need to get out. Other people stayed there for weeks and
weeks later on and, you know, that's how Soviet government was working, you
know?

DAVIES: You mean, it wasn't the government that informed you? You picked up
a BBC broadcast and knew to hightail it out of there?

Mr. HUTZ: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. There was no official news for six days
after the thing. There was nothing. I mean, kids kept going to school, and
my dad and I, being rock 'n' rollers, since we are, you know, always tuning
into BBC, listening to music programs, in a Russian language, you know, that
was basically a forbidden thing to do and eventually my dad was busted for
that. And it's actually one of the things that helped us to get out but...

DAVIES: Your dad was busted for what?

Mr. HUTZ: For listening to that.

DAVIES: Huh.

Mr. HUTZ: To BBC. He was busted for it several times during his youth.
They actually caught him listening to that in the army, and I mean, there is
nothing--it's just the cultural programs, just in the Russian language
broadcasted from London by this deejay...(unintelligible)...and my dad and
other young kids all the time was tuning into that and just listening to, you
know, Rolling Stones...

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. HUTZ: And eventually somebody ratted on him that he tunes into this
stuff...

DAVIES: Wow.

Mr. HUTZ: ...and the file started, and the file continued for a couple
decades until there's so much stuff accumulated that, you know, that he was
interrogated a couple of times. And we threw a bunch of other stuff together
and said, `Listen, we can't stay here anymore.' It's like, what's next? They
going to lock him up, or--we've got to get out of here.

DAVIES: And that's what led to your family moving to Vermont, as political
refugees? It wasn't simply fleeing the Chernobyl accident, right?

Mr. HUTZ: All of it was like accumulation, because once we were left Kiev
because of Chernobyl, it was already--even when we came back to Kiev, it
wasn't like we were kind of unsettled there. It was like the move was done.
We came back, stayed a couple of years and basically those years were spent on
making sure we're getting out for good.

But the thing about, you know, when we were evacuated, as bizarre as it
sounds, that's actually led me to a major discovery, you know, for my life,
because I was little kid and, as I said before, I didn't think anything about
the fact that, you know, my grandmother is gypsy and you know, my uncle is
complete fanatic of gypsy music. And when we left and stayed with our
relatives, that's where I was actually submerged in the full-on Romany
environment for the first time in my life. So after a year of living with
them, it had a lot--I mean, maybe because I was so young and impressionable,
but I think, you know, your DNA is going to play part in it, too. My
identification like psychologically changed, actually. And it's an important
age for anybody, 13, 14, 15 years old, you know? And suddenly I was hanging
out with different kinds of kids with other things on their minds.

And when I lived with them, I experienced different things, just the feelings
they never had because the general intelligence and emotional life of gypsies
is very different. I mean, everybody talks about like gypsy spirit and it's
kind of became this cliche, but more important thing is gypsy psychology, and
it's something that nobody really who is not--nobody can really describe it
because gypsies wouldn't care to describe it to you, and other people just
can't understand it.

DAVIES: Well, I guess I have to ask you to describe it. What do you mean by
gypsy psychology?

Mr. HUTZ: Well, I don't even know if I could fully describe it, but it's
something have to do with immediacy of their perception. You know, it's an
interesting thing that in gypsy, for example--something I found out, they have
no--the word for--their word for "today" and...(foreign language spoken)...and
then there's word for--the word for "tomorrow" and "yesterday" is the same.
It's...(foreign language spoken).

DAVIES: Hm.

Mr. HUTZ: You know, it's like because it's just not today. In a way what
you see in Gogol Bordello is it's me recreating what I saw when I lived with
them. It's our spirit. It's how we survive. It's our rising above the
pressures and contradictions of life.

DAVIES: Well, I wanted to play a song from your new record, "Super Taranta!"

Mr. HUTZ: Sure.

DAVIES: And the one I was going to play was the third track, "Zina-Marina."
This song really rocks, and I liked it a lot. But then...

Mr. HUTZ: Oh, thank you.

DAVIES: When I got clued into what it's about, it had a whole different feel
to me. Tell us about the lyrics and what the song is about.

Mr. HUTZ: You know, I mean, it's about sex trafficking, and Ukraine is the
center of that. You can actually--it's as obvious as walking through the
streets because even five, six, seven, eight years ago I would go back and
there will be still tons of hot girls on the street, everywhere you look.
That's Ukraine. You know, now you go there and it's like, where did they all
go? Where did they all go is that they're all busy working in Dubai and
Istanbul and other places where they're all tricked in. And most of these
girls, they're actually from rural areas and they're not educated about
anything. They just answer an ad about `Do you want to be a model?' which
is--any girl in Ukraine will do in a second.

DAVIES: So let's here Gogol's Bordello song about sex trafficking. This is
"Zina-Marina." Eugene Hutz will be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Zina-Marina")

GOGOL BORDELLO: (Singing) Zina Marina
That's a valentina
that's a...(Unintelligible)...
(Unintelligible)...

It's easier to see
Evil as entity
Not as condition
Inside you and me
I did not invent it
I'm just in charge of it
Simple businessman
With simple practical plan
So do you want to be a model?
Yeah!
All you got to do is show up
Whoa!
We'll be leaving soon
For the breaking ground
For there will forever be slavery
There forever be
Cruelty

Zina-Marina...(singing in foreign language)

There forever be wretched of earth
Crawling up round driven by last semen drop
Factory that makes you, they say it never stops
Factory that makes them, I know it never stops

(End of soundbite)

(Announcements)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies sitting in for Terry Gross.
We're speaking with Eugene Hutz. He starred in the film "Everything Is
Illuminated," but he's mostly a musician. His gypsy punk band, Gogol
Bordello, has built a following for years with their wildly live shows. The
group has a new CD called "Super Taranta!"

We should talk a little bit about the film "Everything Is Illuminated," which
a lot of Americans were introduced to you by that movie.

Mr. HUTZ: Uh-huh.

DAVIES: It's the story of--it's based on a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer.
It's the story of a young American man going to Ukraine to trace his roots, to
track down who saved his grandfather from the Holocaust, and your character,
Alex Perchov, is his translator, and I thought we'd listen to a little cut of
the film. And this is early in the film, and you're sort of introducing
yourself to the audience. Let's listen.

Mr. HUTZ: Sure.

DAVIES: This is my guest, Eugene Hutz, in the movie "Everything Is
Illuminated."

(Soundbite of "Everything Is Illuminated")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HUTZ: (As Alex Perchov) But now I must tell you more of myself. I am
unequivocally tall. I do not know any women who are taller than me. The
women who are taller than me are lesbians, for whom 1969 was a very momentous
year. For me, America is a first-rate place. Most of all, I am beloved of
American movies, muscular cars, and hip-hop music.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HUTZ: (As Alex Perchov) I also dig Negroes, most of all Michael Jackson.
He is a first-rate dancer--just like me.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HUTZ: (As Alex Perchov) Many girls want to be carnal with me because I'm
such a premium dancer.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: And that is my guest, Eugene Hutz, from the movie "Everything Is
Illuminated." You know, it's a very funny cut, but this is more than just a
comical role. I mean, you were kind of the dramatic fulcrum of this movie.
You're the translator between the American and the Russian.

Mr. HUTZ: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: A lot of quirky characters. How did this role find you?

Mr. HUTZ: Liev Schreiber, who directed the movie, has been--I guess they
were casting for a long time for that role--and his interest in music and
knowledge that band Gogol Bordello exists led him to basically track us down
and see if we can do the soundtrack for the movie. And the whole--I ventured
to the negotiation basically for the music to the meeting to meet him. There
on a meeting, he actually had this spontaneous idea, that--`Wait a second.
Maybe they can do more than music.' And, you know, I said, sure, you know. I
mean, he just started basically asking me, Am I familiar with the book? And
actually, it was--somebody just gave me the book. I was reading it. I was
reading, I was on page 80 or--and he said, `Do you think you could do that
guy, Alex?' And I said, `Yes, of course.' And...

DAVIES: You had no doubt, hm?

Mr. HUTZ: If he would ask me to do grandfather, I'd say yes, too.

DAVIES: Well, the interesting about, you know, the character--I mean, the cut
we heard is very funny and comical and there are a lot of funny moments in the
film. But there's also some real dramatic, you know, moments when you really
have to carry some pretty heavy stuff...

Mr. HUTZ: It's a tragi-comedy.

DAVIES: Yeah. But you know, what's interesting to me is, having seen a
performance of Gogol Bordello, where there is just so much intense manic
energy on stage, and a lot of what you have to do on this is much, you know,
much quieter.

Mr. HUTZ: Mm.

DAVIES: Did you have to struggle to control your performing impulses here?

Mr. HUTZ: Actually, while it was new territory for me, even though I was
encouraged a lot that I'm natural and I'm natural and all that, but actually
Liev helped me, walked me through quite a few things, and that was great. I
mean, just I think, company of Liev and Elijah both stabilized me in a way,
because I'm quite certain that without their company, I would overdo it
possibly. You know, I think that from the combination of Liev's and my kind
of rumble-tumble is what the role is really is, because I was pushing for much
more aggressive delivery. That's just my nature, and I think he led me on to
discover other ways, other shades, you know.

DAVIES: I read that you've been acting in a film that Madonna is directing.
Is that right?

Mr. HUTZ: Sure.

DAVIES: Tell us a little bit about that.

Mr. HUTZ: Well, it's--the filming of it is basically done, and that was done
in April and May, yeah, right before this tour. And the film's called "Filth
and Wisdom," and I play a lead role. And the band is also in it, the whole
Gogol Bordello as Gogol Bordello. And I basically play a singer of Gogol
Bordello...

DAVIES: Well, that shouldn't be...

Mr. HUTZ: ...you know, who also likes to dress up as a woman once in a
while.

DAVIES: Oh, really?

Mr. HUTZ: Yeah. Yeah.

DAVIES: And is that accurate?

Mr. HUTZ: Maybe.

DAVIES: Ooh, that sounds interesting.

Mr. HUTZ: Let's give people something to talk about.

DAVIES: Do you want to keep acting? Do you want to do more of it?

Mr. HUTZ: I think one movie in two years is kind of a good speed for me.

DAVIES: About right, right.

Mr. HUTZ: But it's still--I am just pretty certain that I was put on this
earth to do gypsy rock 'n' roll live and recordingwise.

DAVIES: And...

Mr. HUTZ: That's where I get most of my kicks.

DAVIES: And that led to Madonna bringing you onto the stage at Live Earth and
doing a little performing. Has that opened any doors for the band or given
you, you know, a wider public audience?

Mr. HUTZ: Sure. Everything--I mean, of course. I mean, come on, every
third person on the planet saw us, you know? It was televised to three
billion people. But it was, you know, it's like--it's been seen as such a
massive publicity stunt and something that's was--but it's really was just a
spontaneous thing, because when we were making a movie, you know, I was
always--I had my guitar, and I was playing songs, gypsy songs, other songs,
and she really liked some of them, and eventually, you know, we're both
singers, we're both entertainers and eventually we created a little skit on
the scene where these two songs, our song and her song became one song.

DAVIES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HUTZ: And next thing you know, it was like 10 days before the Wembley,
and she just said, `How do you feel about performing it and--with me at
Wembley?' And I was like--you have to like realize what doing something like
that is a major step, not only for a band and like it's, you know, exposure
and so on and so forth, in terms of perception of Romany culture, that's a
pretty massive thing to be part of Live Earth for example and for Romany to be
seen as a positive force along with other forces on that front...

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. HUTZ: That's like--I mean, literally after that concert, I had all my
gypsy friends calling me from Ukraine, from Russia, from France, saying like,
`I can't believe this. This is amazing, I mean, like, I can't believe Madonna
was singing with you in Romany, in our language, that's like--that's totally
insane.' And that's kind of what we do. We entertainers create things that go
and bewilder spectators' minds and tell them new things.

DAVIES: Well, Eugene Hutz, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. HUTZ: Yeah, of course, thanks for having me.

DAVIES: Eugene Hutz of the band Gogol Bordello. Their new CD is called
"Super Taranta!" Here's Gogol Bordello performing with Madonna at the Live
Earth concert in London on July 7th.

(Soundbite of music)

MADONNA and GOGOL BORDELLO: (Singing in foreign language)

MADONNA: (Singing) I fell in love with San Pedro
Warm wind carried on the sea, he called to me
Me dijo te amo
I prayed that the days would last, they went so fast

GOGOL BORDELLO: (Singing in foreign language)

MADONNA and GOGOL BORDELLO: (Singing in foreign language)

MADONNA: (Singing) Tropical the island breeze
All of nature wild and free

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: Coming up, the creator of "Cold Case Files" has a new detective
novel. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Interview: Michael Harvey, author of "The Chicago Way" and
co-creator of A&E's "Cold Case Files" on the novel and the show
DAVE DAVIES, host:

My guest, Michael Harvey, is a first-time crime novelist who spent years
exploring real crimes as an investigative reporter and as the co-creator and
executive producer of "Cold Case Files" on the A&E channel. It was one of the
first TV programs to focus on solving crimes with forensic science.

Michael Harvey earned a law degree from Duke and practiced briefly before
getting a master's in journalism and becoming an investigative reporter and TV
producer. His novel focuses on a former cop and private eye named Michael
Kelly who gets pulled into an unsolved rape and battery case that leads to
revelations of police corruption. The story involves complex relationships
between cops, crime victims, prosecutors and journalists on the streets of
Chicago. It's called "The Chicago Way." A warning to listeners. One of the
real crimes Harvey describes in our interview includes some disturbing
details.

Well, Michael Harvey, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, the main character in
your book who tells us the narrative is a guy named Michael Kelly. He's a
private detective and a former cop. He's also a guy who loves the classics.
He has...

Mr. MICHAEL HARVEY: Yes.

DAVIES: ...Plato and Aeschylus around. And I know that you studied classics
as an undergraduate.

Mr. HARVEY: Yes.

DAVIES: Is that a bit of you in this guy?

Mr. HARVEY: Yes. Definitely. I mean, I think when you go to create a
character, you bring kind of a toolbox with you. And in that toolbox are,
among other things, your lifetime experiences, and when you start to look at
what these guys really talk about, they're some of the great observers of the
human condition in Western civilization. I mean, you're talking about Homer
and Aeschylus and Sophocles and Plato and Euripedes, and often writing about
greed and murder and lust and revenge and all of these things that are also
in, you know, modern crime novels.

DAVIES: So the cop that sort of sees the worst society has to offer draws on
the wisdom of the ages, in a way.

Mr. HARVEY: Exactly, exactly. And, for example, in the book, there's a lot
from Aeschylus in the Agamemnon, and the Agamemnon and that trilogy of plays
is really about revenge. It's about taking the law in your own hands and
these blood cycles of, `You killed one of my relatives; I'm going to kill one
of yours,' and this goes on for generations and generations in the plays that
Aeschylus wrote, and he eventually supplanted that with a system of laws and a
system of justice where you could go to society and get justice and you didn't
have to take the law into your own hands. And when you flip it forward
thousands of years to, you know, "The Untouchables" and to "The Chicago Way,"
you have people that are not happy with that system and are now going back to
`Let's take justice into our own hands.'

DAVIES: You know, it did strike me that--I mean, because I also noticed that
in the book vigilante justice is a real theme here, and not just among victims
of crime but among people who are supposed to enforce and uphold the law.

Mr. HARVEY: Mm-hmm. Right.

DAVIES: I mean, cops who actually think about administering the ultimate
vengeance on someone. Did you know cops who you thought would do that? I
mean, would...

Mr. HARVEY: I didn't know cops who would...

DAVIES: ...plug somebody rather than take them to court?

Mr. HARVEY: Yeah. I didn't know cops who would actually do it. I think I
know cops that would like to do it and would, you know--if you're in the
system long enough and you see somebody walk, a lot of these guys, you know,
they get upset about that. I don't know anyone that would actually do it, but
it's interesting to think about it, and what would push you to take that extra
step. And that's what makes for an interesting story.

DAVIES: You know, one of the themes of this book is rape...

Mr. HARVEY: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ...in its many forms and lasting consequences. Was this a particular
interest to you...

Mr. HARVEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...exploring what rape does to its victims?

Mr. HARVEY: Yes. Yeah, it was. You know the crime of sexual assault, you
have--honestly, everyone thinks of the crime of sexual assault as the
stranger-on-stranger rape where some woman is walking down an alley and is
confronted. But you also have a woman who's raped in the context of a 20-year
marriage by her husband, a woman who's a sophomore in college who's raped in
the context of a date, the uncle who rapes his 10-year-old niece. All of
these wide range of crimes are all called sexual assault, and yet they're not
at all similar. The motivations aren't similar, the crime patterns aren't
similar. They're just not similar. So it's a very complex crime with a lot
of different strains to it and a lot of different types of crimes, and yet we
call them all sexual assault.

And one of the things that I wanted to do was bring out the effects of sexual
assault on women and talk about what a complex crime it is, and you do that in
the context of a novel, you have to keep the novel moving forward, but every
now and then you like to try and bring a couple of these social issues sort of
to the surface or let them just bubble underneath the surface, and that was
sort of what I was trying to do.

The other issue in sexual assault that was very interesting to me is the
backlog of rape kits that we have in this country. I've walked into evidence
lockers all over this country where there are thousands of rape kits sitting
up on the shelf. Never been looked at. Never been looked at. Massachusetts
just last week found 16,000 rape kits, evidence kits that they didn't even
know they had, and these are crimes that...

DAVIES: And when we say rape kits, we're talking about the evidence that's
gathered, the physical evidence gathered from a woman immediately after the
crime.

Mr. HARVEY: Exactly. Exactly. And a lot of, you know, a lot of states,
they just don't have the money or the manpower to get into test all of these,
and that doesn't help the women who have been sexually assaulted who are
waiting for answers, and it doesn't help the fact that these guys might still
be out there. In fact, they are. Some of them are for sure. When you have
10,000 rape kits, you definitely have some hits in there, and you definitely
have some offenders who are out there probably still offending.

And that is a unique circumstance to me, because there aren't many times in
the criminal justice system where you know you have the answers there and yet
we just don't have the money and the manpower to dig them out. And we know we
have the answers that are bulletproof answers, because you're talking about
DNA.

DAVIES: You ended up co-creating and being an executive producer of "Cold
Case Files" on the A&E channel, which, you know, focused on long, unsolved
crimes which were eventually solved, and I guess it was the first "Cold Case
Files," and certainly one of the most dramatic, that I saw, involved--I think
it was called "The Boy and the Monster," and it really begins with the
discovery of a body of a 15-year-old girl. What condition was her body in
when it was found?

Mr. HARVEY: Right. Well, her body was found abandoned--I can't remember the
town--but it was abandoned in a field, and the fingers had been cut off. And
one of the reasons why the fingers were cut off, the police knew immediately,
was because whoever killed her didn't want this person identified, and what
that tells the police is that if we identify this girl, we're probably going
to find the killer because it's probably somebody she knows, and that's a for
sure thing when you see a body like that.

DAVIES: So she's buried without identification. And then...

Mr. HARVEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...there's a break in the case, right?

Mr. HARVEY: Yeah, there is. They reconstructed a photo of this girl and
they were able to link her to Milwaukee. And they believed that she had been
a prostitute, and the first person that they looked at was a person who they
believed to be her pimp. And so they go to his house and they find his young
son there, and they start talking to him and are actually rolling tape while
they're talking to him, and he starts telling them a story about Daddy keeping
a monster in the cellar, and they're like, `What are you talking about?' and
he's kind of telling the story as if it's almost a fairy tale. And they're
like, why don't you take us down in the cellar and show us where the monster
is?

And so this boy walks them down the cellar and says the monster was right
there, and he points up to some pipes near the ceiling. And he starts talking
about how Daddy had the monster hung up in the cellar from these pipes, and
then the cops are like, `What happened? What did Daddy do to the monster?'
And the boy says, `Well, Daddy cut off all the fingers of the monster,' and he
starts, you know, pointing to his fingers, saying, `He cut off this finger and
this finger and this finger and this finger,' and he's basically describing a
homicide, and he's describing the exact wounds that were suffered by this
girl. And, you know, the police, obviously, when they hear this, they have
the link that they need to this guy, and that's pretty much how they broke the
case and put the case together.

DAVIES: Michael Harvey. His new novel is "The Chicago Way." We'll hear more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: We're speaking with Michael Harvey. He was co-creator and executive
producer of "Cold Case Files" on A&E. He has a new detective novel called
"The Chicago Way."

One of the things you had to confront as, you know, the producer of these
documentaries...

Mr. HARVEY: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ...is how graphic you want the depiction of the crime to be, and
there are crime scene photos and other...

Mr. HARVEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...depictions that are pretty disturbing to look at. How did you
make those decisions?

Mr. HARVEY: Well, that's a hard call. I mean, what we tried to do--one of
the first premises of the show was not to do recreations and not to use actors
or anything like that, which a lot of other nonfiction series use. And that's
OK, but we just wanted to use real cops and real evidence and sort of the real
thing. But we always tried to be--you know, what we always thought was the
first few seconds, the opening moments of the show, are often the last few
seconds of someone's life and we tried to always honor that and treat them
with the respect that they certainly deserve and that the family--if we're
talking about a homicide--and the respect that the family members of the
homicide victims deserve, because we would often talk to them as well. And we
talked to them about how we were going to use certain photos, and there are
lots and lots of photos we wouldn't use. But we would often talk to family
members about, `well, we might use this photo, we might use that. Have you
seen this before and are you OK with that?' And that was often a litmus test
for us in terms of what we would actually use.

DAVIES: When we look at most of the "Cold Case Files"--I mean, these are
cases where a crime has been solved...

Mr. HARVEY: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ...and the police have done hard work, and prosecutors have been
committed to the case and they get the credit...

Mr. HARVEY: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: ...they deserve for solving the crime and bringing justice to
victims.

Mr. HARVEY: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: But, you know, so many people who have contact with the criminal
justice system, both, you know, as victims of crime and in other roles, find
that, you know, find that it doesn't work well.

Mr. HARVEY: Yeah.

DAVIES: That cops don't sometimes get on the case, and things do get lost in
the shuffle, and legal technicalities screw things up, and people who ought to
be monitored on parole aren't. And, I mean, I know you're a storyteller and
not a policymaker but as you do these, I wondered, are there--are you ever
thinking that this system is in serious need of some reforms? Are there
priorities that you think--are there things that need to be done to make it
better?

Mr. HARVEY: One of the things--the name of my novel is "The Chicago Way,"
and what "The Chicago Way" is about in some form or fashion is taking the law
into your own hands and revenge. And that's what people resort to when they
feel like the system isn't working, and you kind of hear that a lot, that,
well, you know, the police aren't going to do anything. Or, even if this guy
goes to trial he's not going to get what he deserves. I think that the
system--you know, it's not a perfect system.

You know, I'll give you another good example. A cold case that we did with
Jeri Elster. This is a really good example of the system not working.

DAVIES: The rape victim, yeah.

Mr. HARVEY: Yeah, the system not working. Someone working within the system
to make it better. She was sexually assaulted, and I think six-plus years
after she's assaulted, she gets a call saying that `we have identified the
person who raped you. We have a DNA match to this guy and he's just about to
get out of jail but he's going back in jail because we're going to charge him
with your rape and put him away, you know, forever or for a long time.' And
she's, you know, she's ecstatic.

And it was like a week or a month later, she gets another call and they tell
her, `Oh, you know what? We can't prosecute this guy because the statute of
limitations has run on the crime, and so it's too late to prosecute him and,
in fact, we have to let him go.' So they've identified the guy. They've told
her they've identified the guy. And now they're telling her, `we're going to
release him back into society.'

And she, instead of getting angry, instead of getting bitter--I'm sure she had
some initial anger--but instead of just hiding in her room, she decided to
change the laws, and Jeri Elster was instrumental in changing not only
California's laws but laws across the country so that now, in most states,
they have a DNA exception to the statute of limitations in sexual assault
cases, which essentially says that anytime you get a forensic match, a DNA
match, on a rape, even if it's 20 years after the crime is committed, you have
a period of time, usually a year, in which to bring the case. And so now that
will never happen again. It doesn't help her. It didn't help her with her
case, but, you know, she took matters into her own hands, worked within the
system and helped to change it. And she's a remarkable person, and those are
the kinds of stories that, you know, you just love to do.

DAVIES: The stories that you tell are really dramatic ones, and Americans
have sort of seen a lot more shows which depict the criminal justice system as
it really happens. And then there are the cop shows that actually follows
police on what they do. And I'm wondering, do you think this whole realism
and look at actual law enforcement and courtroom dramas, have changed the way
Americans view crime and law enforcement?

Mr. HARVEY: That's a good question. I do, in the sense that I think they
think it's a lot easier than it is, in many ways, because of "CSI" and because
of a lot of the fiction that's out there. As I said, you have to telescope
events to create a dramatic premise often, in "CSI" and in novels as well, and
so they think it's a lot easier that it is. It's very painstaking. It's a
lot of legwork. It's a lot of patience. And it's a lot of take one step
forward and two steps back before you actually make the case. And people
don't want to hear about that because it's kind of boring, but that's really
the way it is.

DAVIES: And sometimes you don't find them.

Mr. HARVEY: And sometimes you don't find them. Right. And sometimes you
find them and you can't prosecute them. That happens, too. And that's very
frustrating for people, but it's like, you know what? I know--this happens a
lot--the cop will say, `I know this guy did it but I just don't have the case
and I have to wait.' Because you only get one bite at the apple when you
charge somebody, and you'd better have the best case you can. So sometimes
they'll have enough, they think, to maybe get a conviction, but they're not
quite sure, and yet they don't want to charge somebody because, if they charge
them and they lose, they don't get a second chance if some stronger evidence,
for example, some stronger forensic evidence comes along. So often they'll
sit on a case, even though they know that they have the guy, or they're pretty
sure that they have the guy. It takes a lot of discipline to not only bring
the right case but to bring it at the right time.

DAVIES: Well, Michael Harvey, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. HARVEY: OK.

(Credits)

DAVIES: Next week on FRESH AIR we'll feature an interview with saxophonist
Harry Allen, whose new CD of music from "Guys and Dolls" also features singers
Rebecca Kilgore and Eddie Erickson. Erickson will also join us for that
interview. Let's close with some music from that CD.

For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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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