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Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy

Randall Kennedy is a Harvard Law professor. His new book, Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word (Pantheon Books) is based on a series of classroom lectures he prepared exploring the history and use of the word "nigger." He found the word in literature, political debates, cartoons and songs. And he explores the use of the word from a hateful slur to a term of endearment. Kennedy is a Rhodes Scholar and he served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Kennedy also the author of Race, Crime and the Law.

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Other segments from the episode on January 7, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 7, 2002: Interview with Randall Kennedy; Interview with Jerry Goldsmith; Commentary on Pianist Bebo Valdes.

Transcript

DATE January 7, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Randall Kennedy talks about his latest book, "Nigger:
The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Randall Kennedy has written a new book about one of the most hateful
epithets in our culture, a word that many people can't even bring themselves
to say, and instead use the euphemism `the N-word,' but the title of Kennedy's
new book doesn't give you that option. The book is called "Nigger: The
Strange Career of a Troublesome Word."

Kennedy is a professor at Harvard Law School. His book raises many questions.
Should a person be ousted from their job for using the word? What methods are
useful in depriving the word of its destructive power? And should African
Americans be able to use the word in ways forbidden to others? For example,
many African American comics and rappers use the word repeatedly in their
performances. Here's one of many examples Kennedy cites, a track by rapper
Beanie Siegel.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BEANIE SIEGEL: (Rapping) Hey, yo, from Boyz II Men to the end of the
row, yo, we boys to the end never been in the cold. You got me. I got you.
For our souls grow old. He shot you. He shot me. How we supposed to roll?
I take a shot for my nigger. Give me two to the ribs. Run a spot for my
nigger while you doing your bit. (Censored) ...(unintelligible) know who you
is. I can ...(unintelligible) to your whiz that it's due to the kids. For my
dog, I swear to God, I sit in a box. Give me three hots and a cot before I
snitch to the cops, six-foot ditch, pine box covered with rocks, tombstone
ready, die for the love is block. Know what I want in my life, I want for my
brother? Know what I want for my wife, I want for my mother? It ain't a
question of what I would do for my squaw. Ask yourself if you're really true
to your squaw.

I'm going to ride with my niggers, die with my niggers, get high with my
niggers, live high with my niggers till my body gets hard, soul touch the sky,
till my memory gets called and God shut my eyes. I'm going to ride with my
niggers, die with my niggers, get high with my niggers, live high with my
niggers till my body get hard, soul touch the sky till my number gets called
and God shuts my eyes. We going to ride 9 to 5...

GROSS: That's Beanie Siegel.

I asked Randall Kennedy why he wrote his book, "Nigger: The Strange Career of
a Troublesome Word."

Professor RANDALL KENNEDY (Author): I wanted to write the book because
telling the story of nigger, talking about the history of the word, the
etymology of the word, the many, many, many controversies that have been
generated by the word, telling that story is a useful vehicle by which to
explore some very interesting terrain regarding race relations in American
life.

GROSS: But paradoxically I think the place where you hear the word used the
most is in rap music, where African American rappers are calling each other
niggers. And I thought I would just read a list from CDNow of some of the
song titles with the word in the title, and this is just a list with the word
where it's spelled N-I-G-G-A-Z. There's a completely different list for
N-I-G-G-A-S. OK, so here's the beginning of the list. "Niggers," "All
Niggers Die,"(ph) "To My Niggas," "For My Niggas," "All My Niggaz," "Anythang
Niggaz," "Background Niggaz," "Bitch Niggaz," "Broke Niggaz," "C'mon, All My
Niggaz," "All My Niggaz," "Cash Money Niggaz," "Chillen Wit, My Niggaz," "Cold
Young Niggaz," "Day The Niggas Took Over," "Dead End Niggaz," etc., etc., etc.

Prof. KENNEDY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What do you make of that, that it has become such a widely used word
in rap? And maybe you could talk about how you think what the meaning of it
is when it's used in rap.

Prof. KENNEDY: Well, I think that the meanings vary. I mean, one of the
things that attracted me to this project was nigger is a fascinating word. It
can have many, many meanings, depending on the context, depending on who's
speaking, depending on the inflection of voice. Sometimes the rappers and
others are attempting to use the word as a sort of boomerang word, a word
that's being thrown in the face of racists.

Sometimes rappers and others are aware that nigger for most of its history has
been used as a racist put-down, and so what they're doing is taking this word,
embracing it, saying that instead of running away from the word, instead of
fleeing from the word, instead of feeling ashamed by the word, they're going
to take the word, embrace it, dust it off and make it their own.

With some of them, it's ironic, ironic play on the word. They know that the
word has a menacing history, but they're attempting to play with this menacing
history and sort of use playfully a word that has often been used in a
hateful way. So there are lots of things that are going on.

Sometimes people are just using the word, not with any of those ideas in mind,
but they're simply using the word woodenly. They've grown up hearing nigger
this and nigger that, and they're very unthinkingly just spouting off a word
that they've grown used to.

GROSS: Now in your book about the history of the word nigger you trace the
words used in pop culture, in comedy. In comedy you trace it back to Richard
Pryor, as being the first comic to work it in on a pretty regular basis.
Let's listen to a track from his album from '73 or '74, his album "That
Nigger's Crazy." And this is the track "Niggers vs. The Police."

(Soundbite of "Niggers vs. The Police)

Mr. RICHARD PRYOR (Comedian): Cops put a hurtin' on your ass, man, you know?
They really degrade you. White folks don't believe that shit, don't believe
cops degrade you. `Oh, come on, those beanies, those people are resisting
arrest. I'm tired of this harassment of police officers,' 'cause the police
live in your neighborhood, see? And you be knowing them as Officer Timson.
`Hello, Officer Timson. Going bowling tonight?'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRYOR: `Yes. Nice Pinto you have. Ha, ha, ha.' Niggers don't know them
like that. See, white folks get a ticket. They pull over. `Hey, officer.
Yes, glad to be of help. Here you go.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRYOR: Nigger got to be talking about, `I am reaching into my pocket for
my license...'

(Soundbite of laughter; applause; cheers)

Mr. PRYOR: `...'cause I don't want to be no (censored) accident.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRYOR: Police degrade. I don't know. You know, it's often you wonder
why a nigger don't go completely mad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRYOR: No, you do. You get your (censored) together, you work all week,
right? And then you get dressed. You may--make ...(unintelligible) make
$125. We get $80, if he lucky. Right? And he go out and he get clean and be
driving with his old lady, going out to a club, and police pull over. `Get
out of the car! There was a robbery and the nigger looked just like you!'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRYOR: `All right, put your hands up, take your pants down and spread
your cheeks!'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRYOR: Now what nigger feels like having fun after that?

GROSS: My guest is Randall Kennedy, author of the new book, "Nigger: The
Strange Career of a Troublesome Word."

Randall Kennedy, what did you think when you first heard this Richard Pryor
routine? Were you surprised to hear him using the word?

Prof. KENNEDY: I was fairly young at the time. I was not surprised. I
clearly remember listening to it and just loving it, and I still do. One
thing I would say is that Richard Pryor certainly used the word `nigger' in a
way in which it had previously not been used, and he used it openly, he used
it before mixed audiences. He showed the wide variety of ways in which nigger
could be used--nigger as insult, nigger as window on racism, nigger as a sort
of an ironic play on race relations, nigger as term of endearment.

GROSS: I want to play another comedy routine that you refer to in your book.
And this is by Chris Rock. This is much more recent. And it's called
"Niggers Vs. Black People." Let's hear it.

(Soundbite of "Niggers Vs. Black People"; applause)

Mr. CHRIS ROCK (Comedian): Now we got a lot of things--a lot of racism going
on in the world right now. Who's more racist, black people or white people?
Black people. You know why? Because we hate black people, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: Everything white people don't like about black people, black people
really don't like about black people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: There's some (censored) going on with black people right now.
There's like a civil war going on with black people, and there's two sides:
there's black people and there's niggers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: And niggers have got to go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROCK: Every time black people want to have a good time, ignorant-ass
niggers (censored) it up.

(Soundbite of laughter; applause; cheers; whistles)

Mr. ROCK: Can't do (censored) without some ignorant-ass niggers (censored) it
up. Can't do nothing. Can't keep a disco up for more than three weeks.

(Soundbite of laughter; applause; cheers)

Mr. ROCK: Grand opening, grand closing. Can't go to a movie the first week
it come out. Why? Because niggers are shooting at the screen. What kind of
ignorant (censored) is that? `Hey, this is a good movie. It's so good I got
to bust a cap in here.'

Hey, I love black people, but I hate niggers, boy. Oh, I hate niggers. Boy,
I wish they'd let me join the Klu Klux Klan. I'd do a drive-by from here to
Brooklyn.

(Soundbite of laughter; applause)

Mr. ROCK: Tired of niggers, man. You can't have (censored) around niggers.
You can't have no big-screen TV. You can have it, but you'd better move it in
at 3 in the morning. Paint it white, hope niggers think it's a bassinet.
Can't have (censored) in your house. Why? Because niggers will break in your
house. Niggers who live next door to you break in your house and come over
the next day and go, `I heard you got robbed.'

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

GROSS: My guest is Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy, author of the new
book "Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word."

What do you think of that Chris Rock routine? And what's he doing with the
word?

Prof. KENNEDY: I thought it was a brilliant routine. And what he's trying to
do, again like Richard Pryor, is to illuminate African-American life. One of
the reasons why this routine took off is precisely because it resonated. It
wasn't as if he was saying things that other people had not said; it was just
that he was saying them out in public.

GROSS: Do you remember the first time you heard the word?

Prof. KENNEDY: I do not remember the first time I heard the word. And the
reason for that is because, frankly, this word has been around me all my life,
and it's a very familiar word to me.

GROSS: What kind of context did you hear it in? I mean, was it used against
you as a racial epithet when you were growing up?

Prof. KENNEDY: Well, the answer to that is yes, I've been called a nigger by
people who sought to hurt me. I've been called a nigger as a term of
endearment. `This is my nigger. This is my main nigger.' I have heard the
word used by people who were attempting to, in my family, dramatize racism and
bring home to me how terrible racism is and has been. I've heard the word
used by relatives who were using it in a self-hating way, black people who
were using the word `nigger' in such a way as to drive home how much they
distrusted or disliked their fellow black Americans. So I've heard the word
used across the spectrum.

GROSS: What advice did your parents give you when you were young about how to
handle it if someone used that epithet in describing you?

Prof. KENNEDY: I got diametrically opposed advice. My father said, `If
somebody is attempting to hurt you by calling you nigger, you have my
permission,' he said, `to go to war against the person or persons.' He said,
`Make sure you're not outnumbered. But if you're not outnumbered or if at
least you're not outnumbered too badly, go to war. And, you know, look
around, pick up sticks if you need to, pick up rocks, and hurt them.'

My mother, on the other hand, thought that my father's advice was wrong. And
her advice was, `Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never
harm you.' `Ignore the bigots.'

GROSS: Which advice did you follow?

Prof. KENNEDY: I followed both. I have fought people who've called me nigger
on the playground. And I have ignored people who called me nigger. So I
followed both.

GROSS: I want to say something about how I sometimes feel on the air when the
word comes up. Like, for instance, when it came up in the O.J. case, should
the word be allowed to be used in the courtroom when quoting Mark Fuhrman? So
I don't mean that I'd be using the word as a racial epithet to express my
feelings, but rather in quoting, say, a court case or in quoting a lyric.
Because I have sometimes gone with `N-word' on the air. But the truth is,
I've heard the word used so much in comedy routines and in rap music that it
doesn't have either the meaning or the power that it used to, because the
meaning has kind of been changed as it's been appropriated by
African-Americans in pop culture. And so I almost feel hypocritical or
dishonest when I use the `N-word' version of it, because the whole sound of
the word has been changed for me because African-Americans have taken the word
and changed it.

Prof. KENNEDY: I think that many people feel that way, and to a large degree,
I think that's a very good development. I think that the appropriation of the
word by African-Americans has defanged the word, has taken away some of the
punch. This is an idea, by the way, that was championed by Lenny Bruce, a
great comedian. In the 1960s, in one of his comedy routines, he explicitly
said, `Listen. Let's use the word nigger a lot, and thereby get rid of the
power that comes with any taboo.' And there have been some other people that
have...

GROSS: Well, I'm actually going to stop you here...

Prof. KENNEDY: Sure.

GROSS: ...because we have that Lenny Bruce routine standing by.

Prof. KENNEDY: Ah.

GROSS: So why don't we hear an excerpt of this? This is Lenny Bruce,
recorded, I believe, in or around '62 or '63.

(Soundbite of Lenny Bruce routine)

Mr. LENNY BRUCE (Comedian): Are there any niggers here tonight? What did he
say? `Are there any niggers here tonight? Jesus Christ, he have to get that
low for laughs?' Phew. Have I ever said--have I ever talked about the
(unintelligible), or spoke about the Moulan Johns(ph) or predicated to some
Southerner by absence of voice and you rant and rave about nigger, nigger,
nigger. Are there any niggers? I know that one nigger that works here. I
see him back there. Well, there's two niggers, customers. And, ah, but
between those three niggers sits one kike. Whew. Thank God for the kike.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRUCE: But two kikes. That's two kikes and three niggers, and one
spick.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRUCE: One spick, two, three spicks. One Mick. One Mick, one spick, one
hick, fick, funky, spunky, boogie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRUCE: And there's another kike. Three kikes. Three kikes, one Guinea,
one greaseball. Three greaseballs, two Guineas. Two Guineas, one hunky,
funky lace-curtain Irish Mick.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRUCE: That Mick, spick, funky, hunky, boogie. Five more niggas. Five
more niggas. I pass with six niggers and eight Micks and four spicks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's Lenny Bruce.

Randall Kennedy, what do you think he accomplishes in that?

Prof. KENNEDY: Well, he's accomplishing a variety of things. One thing is
he's showing that the American language is filled with slurs, with various
ethnic racial slurs, and, of course, those racial ethnic slurs are monuments
to a very ugly aspect of American culture, namely various sorts of bigotries.
And so in his comedy routine, what he was doing was getting people to think
about bigotry in American life, and that was a good thing. He was revealing
something about American life, which Americans, all too often, try to forget
about.

He also had a theory that these slurs could be made less harmful if people
stated them and if they were heard. And there have been other people who
have embraced this theory as well. There was a gentleman in California who
tried to change his name to Mr. Nigger, so that when he was describing himself
or introducing himself or filling out various forms, he would have to use the
word nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger over and over again to describe himself.
And he actually took this to court, because the California courts were not
willing to officially change his name. They said that he could do it himself,
but the power of the state would not be used to effectuate his purpose. And
when he described what he was attempting to do, he was attempting to defang
the word, to get people used to hearing the word and thereby making the word
less powerful. I don't...

GROSS: And he was African-American?

Prof. KENNEDY: And he was African-American; yes.

GROSS: Let me tell you the next dilemma I think I'm going to face. I hope
sometime in the next few weeks to interview Ice Cube, the rapper and actor.
And he used to be in the group Niggers With Attitudes, and he uses that word a
lot, and he has used that word a lot in his music. If I want to quote a lyric
of his, if I want to quote one of his own raps, I'll have to decide, `Well, do
I use the word "N-word," or do I use the word that he used, nigger?' And I
think it's such a complicated dilemma, because, on the one hand, I'll feel
like I could be misinterpreted even though I'm quoting his lyric if I actually
use the word; on the other hand, if I use the word `N-word,' it seems so
disingenuous to have to tone down his own language when talking to him
directly about it. I mean, he's the one who used it.

Prof. KENNEDY: Are you asking for my advice?

GROSS: Yeah.

Prof. KENNEDY: My advice would be to go on and use the word in the way in
which he uses it. As for misunderstanding, yes, there will be
misunderstanding. And what I would say to that is anybody who ventures on to
the sort of topic that we're talking about has to recognize that there's going
to be misunderstanding, that there are going to be some people who are going
to be angry at you. If you don't want people--if you want to avoid
misunderstandings totally, if you want to avoid people being angry with you
totally, then you should stay clear of any discussion of nigger or any other
provocative subject.

GROSS: Now you're a law professor. You raised several legal questions in the
book, including: Should the law view the word as a provocation that reduces
the culpability of a person who responds violently to it? And under what
circumstances, if any, should a person be ousted from his or her job for
saying the word `nigger'? Would you describe one of the more perplexing legal
cases involving the word that you came in touch with?

Prof. KENNEDY: Sure. Let me back back a moment and say that I think that the
moment that this project really caught fire was when I put the word `nigger'
into the LexisNexis database and asked for LexisNexis to give me a citation to
every federal and state court case where this word appeared in a reported
decision. And LexisNexis indicated that there were in excess of 4,000 cases
where `nigger' appeared. And I started reading through those cases, and
that's when it really became clear to me that I was on to something by trying
to write a series of pieces that would explore controversies generated by this
word.

Now to answer your question directly, one set of cases that I found
particularly interesting had to do with the following: How should the law
respond if a defendant claimed that his culpability should be reduced because
he responded violently to the word `nigger'? This arose, for instance, in a
case in Washington, DC, where a janitor at the National Cathedral was
apparently called `nigger' by a secretary. He slapped the secretary in
response. She screamed. To stop her from screaming, he choked her,
ultimately killed her. He was tried for first-degree murder.

His lawyer, a very great attorney, Charles Hamilton Houston, the man who was
the great teacher of Thurgood Marshall--Charles Hamilton Houston argued that
the man should not be sentenced to death for first-degree murder, but rather
the charge should be reduced to second-degree murder, because he lost his head
when he heard this word `nigger.' The man said that he simply was not used to
having white people call him nigger; that when this woman called him nigger,
in a way, it drove him almost temporarily insane. That was the nature of the
argument that was made.

This case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. A
number of justices thought that Charles Hamilton Houston's argument for the
defendant should have been presented to the jury, that the jury should have
been able to reduce the culpability of the defendant. Ultimately, the
defendant lost and he was, in fact, executed.

But this whole idea of should the law, to some extent, excuse a person who
responds violently to this epithet, that's an interesting issue, and it still
pops up, by the way. A couple of years ago in Washington, DC, two black men
got in an argument. One of the black men called the other a nigger. The one
who was the target of the slur assaulted the other one. And the defendant
again tried to say, `Listen, my culpability should be reduced.' The Court of
Appeals of the District of Columbia said, `No, that in the District of
Columbia, as in many jurisdictions in the United States, mere words, no matter
how insulting, do not excuse violence.' So this is an ongoing issue.

GROSS: Now some college campuses have speech codes now which regulate hate
speech, and there's a punishment for using words like nigger. Is there such a
code on the Harvard campus where you teach?

Prof. KENNEDY: The code at Harvard, as I understand it, essentially says that
Harvard University--that speech at Harvard University shall be governed
according to First Amendment standards. And so to the extent that the First
Amendment provides protection for speech, to that extent, Harvard University
will provide protection for speech.

Let me go back to your earlier question about interesting cases and note, I
think, one of the more interesting cases that I discuss in the book. It has a
legal dimension, but actually I'm not so much interested in the legal
dimension as the political dimension. That's a case that arose at Central
Michigan University, the Dambrot case. This is a case in which there was a
white coach of a predominantly black basketball team, and the team was losing
at halftime. And during halftime in the locker room, this white coach says to
the players, `Can I use the N-word with you all?' And the players nod,
saying, `Yes, you can use the N-word with us.' And the coach says, `Well,
I've heard you say amongst yourselves--you say that "To be a nigger on the
basketball court is to play with heart, is to play with intensity, is to play
with verve." Now you're losing this game, and one of the reasons why you're
losing the game is because you're not playing like niggers.'

And then this coach went around and pointed to a couple of the players--in
fact, he pointed to one of the white players and said, `Now so-and-so here's
playing like a nigger.' And then he pointed to one of the black players and
said, `Now so-and-so here's playing like a nigger. But the rest of you all
are not. The rest of you all are not playing tough. You're not playing with
intensity.'

Well, first of all, it should be noted that the team ultimately lost the game.
But worse for Coach Dambrot is that a student who had actually been cut from
the team earlier, a black student, wrote a letter to school authorities,
telling them about Coach Dambrot's statement to the team at halftime in the
locker room. The school authorities alert the athletic director. The
athletic director tells Dambrot to never use that term again. Dambrot says,
`OK, I won't.' But the story doesn't end there.

The story gets out, there's some publicity, there are demonstrations, and
Dambrot is suspended for a while. And the team is told to undergo sort of a
sensitivity session. The story doesn't end there. Ultimately, Dambrot is
fired from his job because of this half-time talk that he gave. At that
point, Dambrot sues to get his job back, and the team sues to strike down that
institution's hate speech regulations, because one of the reasons why Dambrot
was fired from his job was because his use of the word nigger in that context
was said to have violated the hate speech regulations.

Ironically, the team prevailed. The hate speech regulations were struck down
by a United States district judge. Dambrot, however, did not prevail, for
various legal matters that we needn't get into here. The judge ruled that the
school authorities were within their rights in firing Dambrot.

My take on this was that Dambrot was certainly imprudent in his use of nigger
in that context. It was simply too great a risk of misunderstanding. I
thought that he was imprudent. But I also thought that the school authorities
went way overboard in firing this man from his job, since it was quite clear
that he was not intending to insult anyone. But that, too, was an interesting
case, along with many, many other interesting cases that I came across in
exploring nigger in court.

GROSS: Randall Kennedy, one more question before we have to wrap up, and that
is: You've put your readers in the position of going to bookstores and
saying, `Excuse me, but do you have that new book "Nigger" in stock?' And
that's going to make a lot of people really uncomfortable, the people asking
the questions and the people being asked the questions. Have you witnessed
any of that yet?

Prof. KENNEDY: Yes, I definitely have in a variety of ways. Reporters who
have interviewed me about the book have come to my office, taken the book out
of their briefcase, and I've noticed that a cover from another book was over
the cover for this book. And I've asked them about it. And they said, `Jeez,
you know, I felt, frankly, uncomfortable being on a subway or being on a bus
reading this book with "nigger" in big letters on the cover.' This has come
up in other ways as well with people making a reference to `the book,' but in
all sorts of ways that enable them to evade having to mention the title for
the book. So I'm sure that there is going to be a certain amount of
awkwardness that arises in bookstores and other places where this book is at
issue.

GROSS: Well, Randall Kennedy, thank you so much for talking with us.

Prof. KENNEDY: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Randall Kennedy is the author of "Nigger: The Strange Career of a
Troublesome Word." He's a professor at Harvard Law School.

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

Interview: Jerry Goldsmith talks about a new CD collection of his
music, "The Film Music of Jerry Goldsmith"
TERRY GROSS, host:

My guest, composer Jerry Goldsmith, has written many great movie scores
including: "Chinatown," "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," "Patton," "A Patch
of Blue," the original "Planet of the Apes" and "L.A. Confidential." He also
wrote the TV themes for "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," "Dr. Kildare," "The
Waltons" and "Barnaby Jones." He's received one Academy Award, 17 additional
nominations and five Emmy Awards. A new CD called "The Film Music of Jerry
Goldsmith" features him conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in
performances of many of his movie and TV themes.

Let's start with his score from "Patton," the World War II movie starring
George C. Scott as General George Patton. This version is from the soundtrack
of the film.

(Soundbite of "Patton" theme)

Mr. JERRY GOLDSMITH (Composer): People talk about "Patton" as a war film. I
never viewed it as a war film. I viewed it as a personal documentary or a
biography of a man who was a warrior, yes, but there are two other aspects of
him, which I did capture in the music. He was a very religious man, in spite
of his profane personality, and he was also a total intellectual and a deep
believer of reincarnation and history, and he spoke fluid French, he was
cultured musically; I mean, the dichotomy of the man and, you know, how
profane he was, but yet there was this depth, though.

So he was a complex personality, and I tried capturing these three levels of
his personality in music by the fanfare, which has become sort of well-known,
is meant to represent the archaic part of him, the historical, the
intellectual part of him; the chorale was to represent the religious aspect of
him and, of course, the military aspect of him. It was designed
contrapuntally so that all three could be played simultaneously or
individually or two at a time, whatever.

GROSS: Now I want to talk about another theme that you wrote, and that's the
theme for "Chinatown," which I think is really just one of the great scores.
Let's talk about the opening theme. Is there a specific part of the movie or
a specific emotion within the movie that you wanted that opening theme to
evoke or address?

Mr. GOLDSMITH: The story was that the picture had been scored by someone
else before and they previewed it, and actually the previews in the picture
were evidently--from what I was told, were not very successful, and the music
was not very good either. I mean, I must say that when I did see the picture,
I had heard a little of the music and it was Chinese, so it seemed rather
inappropriate for the film.

So anyway, I was called in to do it, and I had to do the score in 10 days,
which is a very short period of time to do it. And the producer, Robert
Evans, had said to me, `We should have a period feel in the music,' period
feel being the style of the '30s. And I said, `Well, you've got that in this
Bunny Berigan recording you're using as--you know, it was coming off the radio
and all that.' And you see that in the cinematography, in the costumes, the
wardrobe and--the whole feel, look of the picture was '30s Los Angeles, and I
grew up here as a young kid in the '30s. I knew what it looked like and felt
like, and that was the amazing thing about this picture was that that feel was
so true. I said, `So musically, I want to try and go for the tragedy of the
story.'

I finished recording it, and the movie came out like three days later, so we
were really right down to the wire on it. So I didn't have a lot of time to
think. I just had to sit down and write a theme for this movie and get on
with it.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear your opening theme from "Chinatown"?

(Soundbite of opening theme from "Chinatown")

GROSS: That's Jerry Goldsmith's theme from the movie "Chinatown."

Now you've written the themes for several TV shows--"Dr. Kildare," "The Man
from U.N.C.L.E." Both of those are on your new CD.

Mr. GOLDSMITH: Mm. And "The Waltons."

GROSS: "The Waltons." Why don't we hear the theme that you wrote for "The
Man from U.N.C.L.E."?

Mr. GOLDSMITH: OK.

GROSS: Anything you want to say about it?

Mr. GOLDSMITH: I guess during the late '50s and '60s, we all had to be
versatile, so we had to have jazz influence in our music, and so that was what
I sort of tried to do. But to make it more interesting, I originally wrote it
in five-four, which, except for Dave Brubeck, was not really a meter that was
particularly common in jazz.

And an interesting side note of this whole thing was after the first season,
they wanted to save money, and I had written it for a larger group. It was 20
players, and they wanted to cut it down to a little like four or five piece,
because they had to pay each year to rerecord the theme, so they wanted to
save money. So I was unavailable, so they hired Lalo Schifrin and Lalo did a
very hip arrangement of it for a very small group, and that's really what they
used for the years for however long the show was on the air was Lalo's
arrangement of the theme.

GROSS: Jerry Goldsmith, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. GOLDSMITH: Terry, it was great. It was a great honor to be here.

(Soundbite of theme from "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.")

GROSS: The theme from "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." Jerry Goldsmith conducts the
London Symphony Orchestra, performing his movie and TV themes, on the new CD
"The Film Music of Jerry Goldsmith."

Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews a new CD by Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes.
This is FRESH AIR.

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

Profile: Pianist Bebo Valdes makes a comeback
TERRY GROSS, host:

In Havana in the 1940s and '50s, pianist Bebo Valdes was one of the pioneers
of mixing Cuban popular music with jazz. After the Cuban Revolution, he
settled in Sweden and worked a lot of hotel gigs. Meanwhile, back home, his
son, Chucho Valdes, went on to become one of Cuba's best-known jazz musicians.
Then came 1999's Buena Vista Social Club. Suddenly, older Cubans who could
play in prerevolutionary styles were a hot ticket, allowing Bebo to make a
comeback. In 2000, Bebo Valdes came to New York to appear in the documentary
"Calle 54" and recorded Trio CD. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it's
low-key but is likeable as a suave grandfather.

(Soundbite from pianist Bebo Valdes)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD reporting:

Think of Latin jazz and you probably picture a big band with lots of screaming
trumpets and crisscrossing percussion. Bebo Valdes' music seems to come from
an earlier time when the Havana vanguard was just loosening up their parents'
stately ballroom steps. Because a small band is easier to maneuver than a big
one, this parlor trio can sound like a folklore group one minute and a jazz
combo the next. This is not a bad combination.

Valdes' compadres on his new CD for "Blue Note" are two mainstays of New
York's Latin scene. The congas of Carlos Patato Valdes--no relation--have
graced a zillion Latin and jazz records since the '50s. On bass is mambo king
Israel Lopez, aka `Cachao.' He always favors a dignified dance beat and keeps
his bow in hand even while plucking the strings, just in case.

(Soundbite from Bebo Valdes music)

WHITEHEAD: Cuban music has closer ties to West African polyrhythms than most
North American music, but where Latin big bands stack different rhythms on top
of each other. In his solos, Bebo Valdes will string out various rhythmic
figures, one after another. He'll also toss in quotes from the light classics
and twinkling octave runs that recall flashy pianists of yore, like Carmen
Cavallaro or Liberace. But the rhythm section and his own good taste keep him
from going too far.

(Soundbite from Bebo Valdes music)

WHITEHEAD: Most of the tunes on Bebo Valdes' "El Arte del Sabor," the art of
flavor, are older Cuban songs. The one item from the American repertoire is
Bobby Troup's classic "Route 66." Valdes takes his little rhythmic side trips
and nods toward a few well-known jazz tunes, and I like how Patato Valdes
implies a swinging cymbal beat on congas. His dry sound gives the Trio its
own rugged profile.

(Soundbite from Bebo Valdes music)

WHITEHEAD: When this music was recorded, Bebo Valdes and Cachao were both
well into their 80s, and once in a while, the piano sounds like he's back in
the hotel lounge. But this date has enough charm to make up for any lapses,
and Paquito D'Rivera adds saxophone or clarinet to three pieces for variety
and a little extra snap. The core Trio don't sound like kids, but that's the
hook. They breathe life into the old music, playing it the way it should be
played, modernizing just enough to keep it from sounding archaic. Works for
me.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead reviewed "El Arte del Sabor," the new recording by the
Bebo Valdes Trio on "Blue Note." I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite from Bebo Valdes 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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