DATE June 18, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy discusses his career
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for The New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.
Jazz musician Steve Lacy, considered by many to be the best soprano
saxophone player of his era, died earlier this month. He was 69. Lacy was
born in the Upper West Side of New York City as Stephen Lackritz. He
studied clarinet originally, but switched to soprano saxophone after hearing
Sidney Bechet on a 1941 recording of a Duke Ellington song, "The Mooche."
His work on soprano sax would later inspire John Coltrane to pick up the
Steve Lacy apprenticed with jazz traditionalists like Pee Wee Russell and Hot
Lips Page. But early in his career, he also found a home in modern jazz and
the avant garde, playing with Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor. He moved to
Europe in the mid-'60s, living mainly in Paris. Two years ago, Lacy moved
back to the US and started teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music.
He died in Boston of cancer. Terry spoke with Steve Lacy in 1997. Before we
hear their conversation, let's listen to a 1961 recording of Thelonious Monk's
"Who Knows?" with Steve Lacy on soprano saxophone and Don Cherry on trumpet.
(Soundbite of "Who Knows?")
TERRY GROSS, host:
You've said that certain parts of the soprano's range are inherently out of
tune with the rest of the horn. What part of the range is that and why is
Mr. STEVE LACY (Soprano Saxophonist): Well, there are notes here that are too
flat and others that are too sharp. It's a little bit maybe because it's
conical rather than cylindrical. And it's sort of a bastard instrument, in a
way, that--it needs to be doctored personally. You have to really favor
certain--but, I mean, this is true of a lot of instruments, really. Alto also
has funny regions that you have to favor, that you have to, you know, push up
and push down and compensate for the inherent difficulties in the instrument
GROSS: Does this mean that you need to have a really good ear for pitch in
order to play the soprano?
Mr. LACY: Well...
GROSS: And did you have to work hard to develop your ear?
Mr. LACY: You have to suffer, or I had to suffer, really, some really hard
periods where it was really out of tune, where I just couldn't fix it, really.
This was years and years ago in the '50s when I was struggling with the
instrument. It was very difficult at that time to get it in tune. And now,
after all these years, it's much easier, but I have to watch it all the time.
GROSS: Now the soprano has a naturally nasal and shrill sound in its highest
notes. Is that something that you feel like you fight against or try to
Mr. LACY: It doesn't have that at all, really. It doesn't need to have that
at all. I mean, that's just poor playing, you know? Even John Coltrane, when
he first played the instrument, he had trouble up there and it sounded--it
came out nasal and all that. But after a while, it opened up. It's just like
your nose, really. If you breathe through your nose--it's all about
breathing, really, and it's also about conception. And when you have
experience of the horn, it opens up and it doesn't have to be nasal there at
all. But that's one of the reasons I don't play the other saxophones, because
I really want to just be faithful to that one, really.
GROSS: A few years ago you did a kind of exercise book with a series of short
Mr. LACY: Uh-huh. Right, yeah.
GROSS: ...that elaborated some of your thinking about studying the
Mr. LACY: Yeah.
GROSS: You have one exercise you call the `No, baby' exercise. Would you
explain that for us?
Mr. LACY: Well, that comes from a piece that I wrote, oh, a long time ago. It
was originally intended as a portrait of Sidney Bechet, who I imagined was
talking to his girlfriend and he was saying, `No, baby. No, baby. No, baby.
No, baby,' like that, and that's how that piece began, really, and then I
wrote a melody to go with that, which was a sort of a blues and in unusual
harmonies. And we played that for years and years and recorded it and
everything. And the idea of the exercise coming from that is the dynamics,
the way of saying something each time louder and the way of corresponding your
saxophone to your own speech.
GROSS: So, in other words, learning the things we already...
Mr. LACY: Language.
GROSS: ...intuitively know about speech...
Mr. LACY: It's about language.
GROSS: ...and applying that to the instrument.
Mr. LACY: It's about language. My fundamental thing is about language,
really. I deal with language. And jazz is language. The saxophone is
language. And a lot of the music I write is based on literature and text and
GROSS: You recommend trying to sing and play whatever you hear.
Mr. LACY: Yeah.
GROSS: Do you sing a lot as part of your exercise?
Mr. LACY: Well, yeah, that's very important. The connection with the voice,
the ear and the saxophone is fundamental. It's something I learned in Japan,
actually, from a Zen master, a flute player, who gave me a couple of lessons.
And that was the first lesson he gave me--was the connection with the ear, the
voice and the instrument and the breath. And that was a huge revelation for
GROSS: What was the connection that he made clear that you hadn't thought of
Mr. LACY: That my own voice was my own ear, was my own breath, was my own
sound, that it was all one, and the conception that it is just one thing.
It's got to be like one thing.
GROSS: What was your role in inspiring John Coltrane to try soprano
Mr. LACY: Well, I was sort of the model. In other words, he heard me play
it and he thought it was like he was shopping and I was modeling. See, he
heard me with--I was playing with Jimmy Giuffre at the Five Spot and he
came in and he heard me play and he was intrigued by the instrument. And he
asked me what key it was in. And when I told him it was B flat, he said, `Oh,
yeah?' And then a couple of weeks later, Don Cherry called me from Chicago
and he said, `Listen to this.' And he held the telephone up and I could hear
'Trane playing the soprano.
GROSS: What did you think of what you first heard of his?
Mr. LACY: Well, I had to laugh, really. But, wow. I thought, wow, it's nice
to have some company.
GROSS: You're not saying what you thought of the playing.
Mr. LACY: Well, no, I mean, it sounded intriguing to me. I liked it really.
It sounded good. I mean, you know, if Don Cherry calls you up and says,
`Listen to this,' it's probably going to be good.
GROSS: Steve Lacy, who else was playing soprano when you started to play in
Mr. LACY: Nobody, really. It was in complete disuse. It had gone out of
phase, like the musicians had considered it, you know--people played in it the
'20s and the '30s and it went--by the '40s, I mean, even Johnny Hodges stopped
in 1942. And it--from that point on, it disappeared because it had a
reputation for being out of tune and arrangers didn't know what to do with it
and it just fell into disuse.
Mr. LACY: So I think the only person that I knew of playing it was a student
of Bechet's, who was Bob Wilbur, and he was playing exactly like Bechet,
really. And that's all. Nobody else was playing it.
GROSS: And what were the pros and cons of feeling like you had the field to
Mr. LACY: Well, the advantages were many. I didn't compete with anybody. I
didn't threaten anybody else's job, so that I was welcomed into all these
traditional bands that I played with. And my teacher, Cecil Scott, took me
around and had me sit in with the likes of Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell and all
these people. And after a while, I started getting hired and working with all
these original masters who were at the peak of their form, really. They were
in their 50s and 60s. I was 19, 20. And that's how I cut my teeth, really.
I learned from playing with these people. And it was the New Orleans school
and the Chicago school and the Kansas City school.
GROSS: And the disadvantages?
Mr. LACY: And the disadvantages were that nobody hired me after a while.
GROSS: Well, because they didn't know what to do with you?
Mr. LACY: Well, the traditional--yeah, I stopped playing the clarinet, see.
I was working with Max Kaminsky regularly and I was playing soprano and
clarinet and it was very--it was working very well. And I decided to
concentrate only on the soprano at that point, because I think I was starting
to play with Cecil Taylor also. And when I told Max `I'm not going to play
the clarinet anymore,' he said, `You're crazy. You won't get any work at
all.' And it was true. Those people--I stopped working with them and I
started to play with Cecil Taylor.
GROSS: I'm going to play something that was part of your recording debut.
This was made--I think it was 1954 when you were, I believe, 20 years old in
kind of a, you know, traditional jazz group led by Dick Sutton. And you
played both clarinet and soprano in this. We'll hear you on soprano on a
recording of "Liza." Do you want to say anything about this session before we
Mr. LACY: Well, that was a young band. They called it progressive Dixie
then. It was Dick Sutton's conception and it was influenced by Mulligan and
by Bix Beiderbecke. It was like--and Miles. And it was like a hybrid
movement. It had some freshness to it. It was good.
GROSS: An interesting concept and interesting music, as well. So this is
"Liza" with my guest Steve Lacy on soprano saxophone, recorded in 1954, his
(Soundbite of "Liza")
BIANCULLI: Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy on a 1954 recording of "Liza."
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: Back with more of soprano saxophonist and composer Steve Lacy. A
couple of years after playing modern Dixieland in the mid-'50s, Steve Lacy
joined a group led by avant-gardist Cecil Taylor. Terry Gross asked Lacy
about that shift in his direction.
Mr. LACY: Well, yeah, it was a radical change, that's for sure. But Cecil
had very strong traditional roots also and we both had a shared interest in
the Ellington line, and that's like a line that covers a lot of ground,
really, and goes through--see, I was playing with Don Fryer(ph), Jim Eaton
Ryans(ph) when I met Cecil, and that was like the Ellington, James P. Johnson
line, all that; that's traditional. And Cecil also comes from, like,
the--Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, and this is another
tradition but, in a way, they're the same. It's the same story. It's just
one ocean of jazz, really, with a lot of different strains to it.
GROSS: You--Cecil Taylor took you to hear Thelonious Monk and that, I think,
really changed your music, too. When you heard Monk and became very excited
by his harmonies and his rhythms, his odd rhythms, I'm wondering how you
translated some of that to soprano. For example, a lot of Monk's music is
based on these really unusual, interesting harmonies, very often dissonant
harmonies, and you're playing a single-line instrument. You can't make chords
on a soprano saxophone, so how did you--is there a way you feel you were able
to apply some of his harmonic thinking into your horn?
Mr. LACY: Well, first of all, I played the piano as a laboratory and I
learned all his tunes at the piano, really, with, you know, the chords and
everything, with the sounds, with the intervals and the voicings, as much as I
could. And then working on my horn, you can't play a chord all at once but
you can delineate it. You can outline it. You can express it. There's a way
to express everything on everything, if you can find it. It's a question of
GROSS: Monk invited you to join his quartet, making the group a quintet for
the four months that you were there. Do you have any idea why he asked you to
join? I mean, obviously, he liked what you were doing.
Mr. LACY: He was familiar with me. He knew me and all that and he knew I was
really not an expert but an aficionado of his music, and maybe he thought I
needed the experience. That's what I like to think. I like to think that he
gave me that opportunity to really see what was happening from the inside.
GROSS: You've been recording Monk compositions throughout your career. And I
want to play one of the duets from a recent album called "Five Facings." And
it's a series of duets with five different other jazz musicians. And I want
to play one of the duets that you recorded with Misha Mengelberg, a Dutch
pianist, who's also very influenced by Monk. Let's hear your recording of
Monk's "Off Minor," a duet with Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg. And this was
recorded in 1996. It seems to me on this, it's as if you on the soprano
saxophone are playing the right hand and Misha Mengelberg, on piano, is
playing the left hand.
Mr. LACY: Well, that's--yeah, in a way, I mean, I am a melodic instrument.
All I can do is a single line of melody. And Misha has all the harmonic
equipment down there, the armaments; he's armed to the teeth, really. He can
do all that stuff but he's got the taste and the discretion and the knowledge
of Monk to complement what I do. And we always hit it off well together.
GROSS: OK, well, this is "Off Minor."
(Soundbite of "Off Minor")
GROSS: And what did you learn seeing the music from the inside? What were
some things you got from actually playing with Monk and talking with him?
Mr. LACY: I learned to stick to the point and to not lose the point and not
get carried away, and to play with the other musicians and not get all wrapped
up in my own thing and not to just play interesting notes just to be
interesting, you know, or weird notes just to be weird. He mostly told me
what not to do. He never told me what to do, but he told me what not to do
when I did something that bothered him. For example, when I played--when we
were playing together, sometimes he'd play something on the piano and I would
pick that up and play that on my horn. I thought I was being slick. You
know? And he stopped me and he said, `Don't do that. That's--you know, I'm
the piano player. You play your part. I'm accompanying you. Don't pick up
on my things.'
You know, I--he got me out of the thing of trying to be too hip. I was trying
to be too hip and it wasn't swinging, sometimes, you know? Then he told me
`Make the drummer sound good.' Because I was playing some things that
confused the drummer because I was confused myself. And so the drummer was
not swinging, you know? And Monk told me `No, make the drummer sound good.'
And that was an enormous help to me, really. It stopped me cold, really, and
changed my focus. And Monk's thing--he told me `Let things go by. Let
certain things go by. Don't play everything. Just play certain things. Let
other things go by.' It's what you don't play that's very important, really,
and that's extremely important.
GROSS: Kind of intervals of laying out, of the space...
Mr. LACY: Space.
Mr. LACY: Using the space as time and using time and digging time as space.
BIANCULLI: Steve Lacy speaking to Terry Gross in 1997. He died earlier this
month at age 69. I'm David Bianculli and this is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: Coming up, are we asking too much of our pets? Are dogs taking
the emotional place of friends or family? We talk with journalist and dog
trainer Jon Katz. In his latest book, "The New Work of Dogs," he explores the
relationship between people and their dogs. Also, David Edelstein reviews the
new Steven Spielberg film "The Terminal."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Jon Katz discusses his book, "The New Work of
Dogs: Tending to Life, Love, and Family"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in Terry for Gross.
Despite his name, Jon Katz is a dog person, and he's concerned about the roles
pets play in our lives. Do we ask too much of our pets? Do we rely on them
for the company and emotional support we're not getting from friends and
family? Do we ask things of them that go against their nature?
Katz discusses these questions in his latest book, "The New Work of Dogs," now
out in paperback. His previous book, "A Dog Year," was about the death of his
two Labrador retrievers and how he raised and trained two border collies.
Katz also is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. But, yes, he
does have a life apart from his dogs. He's the author of 12 books, including
a series of suburban detective novels. He's written for The New York Times,
The Wall Street Journal and Wired, and he's a contributing editor to the
public radio program "Marketplace."
Terry spoke to Katz last year. He was at a studio in New Jersey with his two
border collies sleeping at his feet. Terry asked him about the new ways dogs
figure into the lives of humans.
(Soundbite of interview)
Mr. JON KATZ (Author, "The New Work of Dogs"): In the last 25 or 30 years--I
really date this to the rise of television and the decline in the extended
family and the rise in divorce rates, more people living alone, and work
becoming unstable for many people. People have begun to use dogs in a more
intensely personal way, as either human surrogates, substitutes for people in
cases where they're lonely or disconnected or fragmented, or as members of the
family. Dogs are getting human names. They're sleeping in bed. I kind of
joke sometimes that, you know, the boomers created the gifted and talented
child, and now they're working on the gifted and talented dog, where--you
know, one woman came to me at a reading and said, `Well, you know, Mondays we
do agility and Tuesdays we do obedience and Wednesday we go herding. And what
can I do on Thursdays and Fridays?' I said, `Well, maybe the guy should just,
you know, sit in the yard and, you know, sniff some other dog's butt or
something, you know? Let him relax.'
On the other hand, I found the subject to be a little darker and more
complicated than I thought when I entered it. I think the culture kind of
glorifies the human-dog bond for good reason. It's quite wonderful. But
sometimes it's a bit unthinking and uncritical to the extent that there aren't
a lot of people really wondering whether this view of dogs as humanlike is
really good for them or whether--I guess I ended up wondering myself whether
it's really good for people.
TERRY GROSS, host:
So you're seeing this, like, new relationship between people and their dogs as
being troubling because of what it says about people's people-to-people
relationships. Are you watching dogs become more neurotic as people are
relying on them more for love and companionship and telepathy and mysticism
and all these other things?
Mr. KATZ: Yes. I think there's enormous evidence, and I think any trainer
would agree with me--for one thing, last year in the United States, 400,000
children were bitten severely enough to require hospitalization, which is a
staggering rise. You see dogs are increasingly just under pressure, neurotic,
chewing up the house, jumping on people. You have the new element of the
rescue dog, the abused dog, dogs that certainly exist, but this all becomes an
element in our ability to do what I think is our primary responsibility with
animals, which is to show them how to live in the world, which means training
them, which means thinking about how we get them, thinking about the kind of
dog or cat that we get, whether it's right for us, and then doing the work to
help it acclimate to an increasingly hostile world. So I do see behavior
that's very, very increasingly neurotic as the dogs are being pressured to do
things dogs really can't do.
GROSS: Like what? What are some of the things dogs are being pressured to
Mr. KATZ: Well, people perceive dogs as loving them unconditionally and
uncritically, and to some extent, that's certainly true. But dogs really
can't understand when we're depressed or when we had a bad day at work
or--they really can't give us the kind of emotional support that human beings
can give us. We sometimes...
GROSS: No, they can't say, `Your boss was wrong; you're right.'
Mr. KATZ: Well, I had a great--you know, my first shocking introduction to
this, actually, was when I took my border collie, Orson, who had a lot of
problems, out to a trainer in Pennsylvania named Caroline Wilke(ph). And I
said, you know, `Caroline,' I said, `I'm having terrible trouble with this
dog. You know, the problem is, he's so attached to me, I think if anything
happened to me, well, you'd just have to shoot him 'cause he couldn't live
with anybody else.' And I remember her getting right in my face and saying,
`Listen, pal, if anything happened to you, I would buy a can of beef liver,
and in two days this dog would forget that you ever walked the earth. And
don't you forget it.'
This was a bit of a shock to me, but it was something I really needed to hear
because I could see the truth of it. It doesn't mean that he doesn't love me
or that I don't love him. But it means it was a reminder to me that I was
beginning to project onto him things that were mine, attitude about authority.
I saw him as being rebellious and devious and willful. And these were things
that were much more true of me than him. The problem was I just didn't now
how to train him.
GROSS: Breeds often have--you know, different breeds of dogs often have
special skills, a special type of intelligence and special needs. You have
border collies that you've gotten from breeders.
Mr. KATZ: Right.
GROSS: What are the unique qualities of border collies?
Mr. KATZ: Well, these dogs have to have work to do or they go nuts, you know.
They're very intense. They're very energetic, so we do all kinds of work. We
clear geese out of neighborhood parks and school yards. We go do sheep
herding three or four times a week. We go for lots of walks a day. You know,
this is a good example of a breed--they're great dogs, but if you don't have
work for them to do, they're not good dogs to have. And you see them all over
the place in cities now ever since the movie "Babe" came out. And it's a good
example. I mean, it's the same with dogs like Labs and retrievers. They're
wonderful dogs, but they need to have work. They need to have exercise. A
lot of breeds have very distinct characteristics. Springer spaniels, for
example, have a reason why they're called springers.
And there's a whole number of breeds, you know, Bichons and Westies and other
dogs, that really like to be in apartments, that don't need a lot of exercise
and don't mind being left alone. You know, there are very good breeds for
people in almost every circumstance if you do the work: dogs that are fine in
apartments, dogs that don't mind being left alone for hours if they get some
exercise. But the marketing of dogs in America, the emotionalization of them,
sort of is leading people to, you know--it's, like, the bigger and more
energetic the dog, in the suburbs, the more likely people are to get it. So
you see Labs and retrievers all over the place, these big hundred-pound dogs,
with no chance to run anywhere, no exercise and who are not trained.
GROSS: Well, you know, you said that you got your border collies and that
they need to work and you take them to sheep herd a few times a week. Do you
have a lot of farms within your area that have sheep?
Mr. KATZ: There actually are more than you might think. I actually go to
Pennsylvania, which is only an hour from me, and we actually take care of a
couple hundred sheep. We graze them several--three or four times a week, and
I've come to love that quite a bit. I'm probably the least likely person on
the planet to be doing that, but have really come to love doing that with a
dog. You don't have to go--there's other kinds of work you can do, from
utility work to just going to parks and throwing balls and frisbees around.
But it's been quite extraordinary for me to be involved with the dogs and with
sheep, because you sort of see why there are dogs when you do something like
that. And the dog people are quite wonderful, you know. The dog lovers will
do almost anything for their dogs once they figure out what it is they ought
to be doing.
BIANCULLI: Jon Katz speaking with Terry Gross last year. His latest book,
"The New Work of Dogs," is now out in paperback. More after a break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2003 interview with Jon Katz.
(Soundbite of interview)
GROSS: How did you get your border collies?
Mr. KATZ: A breeder in Texas read "Running to the Mountain," which was not
about dogs but had two dogs in it, two Labs, my previous dogs.
GROSS: This is about a six-month break you took from your real life to live
alone on a mountain with your dogs.
Mr. KATZ: Right. That's basically right. And it was somewhat a book about
Thomas Merton and some of his writings about solitude and experience with
solitude, I guess, and it was part of the book. And I went with two Labs,
without whom I don't think I could have survived, you know, the experience.
They kept me company and they were quite great. One of the dogs, whenever he
wanted to play, he would come up and nip me on the butt and get me moving, and
I recounted this in the book. And this breeder, Deanne, in Texas read it, and
she said, `Now that's a person that could have a border collie.' And she had
this very troubled dog--at the time, his name was Devon--who was a sort of
failed obedience dog and had been confined for several months in a crate, and
it was just a mess. And she shipped him to Newark and said, `You know, I have
this feeling from reading your work that you will keep faith with this dog and
you'll do whatever it takes to work things out with this dog.'
And he was a nightmare. He was--practically destroyed my neighborhood and my
house and dented my marriage pretty good. He was jumping through windows,
hurting school buses. He was just out of his mind. And that's what began
this whole journey of sort of understanding and--I loved him right away, of
course, and identified with him. And in order to keep him, I knew I was going
to have to learn a lot more about dogs than I knew, and that's what started
the whole turn towards dog writing. And the fact that he can lie here like
this is a miracle, really.
GROSS: So you had this ornery dog that wasn't behaving and you had to train
him in order to be able to live with the dog and have the dog live in your
community and in order to remain married.
Mr. KATZ: That's right, yeah. That's pretty--right.
Mr. KATZ: And in order to not have windows and all that sort of thing.
GROSS: And there's a difference, I think, between training a puppy, where all
the puppies' behaviors are just kind of like puppy behaviors, but they haven't
really learned a lot yet--you don't have to unteach them a lot of
things--compared to an adult dog that's had something of a life and you have
to totally refashion their behavior. Where did you start?
Mr. KATZ: This was one of the most difficult things I'd ever done in my life.
It's still ongoing. I think it will never be quite finished. But I don't
think I've ever taken on a harder thing for me because it spoke directly to my
own problems as a human: you know, impatience and anger and frustration and
short attention span and distraction and all of the things that get in the way
of doing what he needed. And I loved him, of course, right away, and was
confronted with this very simple drama: either I learned about dogs--and I
was surprised, by the way, how little I knew about dogs. I thought I knew
more than I did when I started hanging around with trainers. I did take a
training course and became a trainer to research "The New Work of Dogs." I
don't train dogs, but I learned enough about it so that I could know a little
bit about what I was writing about.
I was stunned that most everything I thought about dogs was wrong. Everything
I thought was going on in his head was wrong. The way I was communicating
with him was wrong. My tone of voice was wrong. The repetition of commands
was wrong. My whole understanding of what he was about was wrong. And when I
realized how essentially simple, how food-driven, how attention-driven he was,
it became--I wouldn't say easy--very, very manageable to do. And in order to
do that, I had to acknowledge, you know, repeatedly that almost every
assumption I had about dogs was not right.
GROSS: What's one or two of the things that you were doing wrong?
Mr. KATZ: Well, the first thing, of course, is the most common. I was
anthropomorphizing him. I was attributing all sorts of humanlike emotions to
him. I was--you know, he being devious; he was being rebellious; he was being
willful; he was being stubborn; he was jealous; he was all these things that
humans are that are not really dog traits. What he really was was confused.
You know, he couldn't tell friend from foe. He didn't understand what people
were asking. I mean, he didn't make sense of the world. This is why I
started with the sheep. I mean, I'm not a person who's naturally inclined to
spend time with sheep, but--it's just not in my repertoire. But everything I
read about border collies, including this trainer in Ireland who I was
e-mailing with, said, `Look, this dog will not make sense of the world until
he does what he's supposed to do and gets around some livestock for a while.'
And that was true. I mean, that--you know, he's not much of a sheep dog, he's
much too schizy and intense for that. But the world is beginning to make
sense to him, and that was very good advice. But I think this whole idea, the
less I saw him as a human version of me and the more I saw him as a dog, the
easier it was to train him, the better behaved he became and the happier he
and I are and the more likely I was to remain married.
GROSS: Did you do the whole reward and punishment approach?
Mr. KATZ: I came into the hands of a positive reinforcement trainer who does
not do punishment. She does--and this is Carolyn--she's very tough about
that. You basically give the dog the chance to succeed and praise it with a
combination of food and verbal and physical reward. And you don't yell at it
or scold it or correct it or throw things at it or put electronic devices on
it. You just praise them when they're doing the right thing.
GROSS: Why no punishment?
Mr. KATZ: Well, the positive reinforcement, which is a growing training in
the dog world, really holds that yelling and throwing things and criticism
makes them more stressed and that they end up having displaced aggression and
displaced neurotic behavior, that they don't--any more than kids--they don't
like being yelled at and they don't like having things thrown at them and they
don't like having people scream in their faces. And that, you know, like a
kid, you can get a dog to do anything by scaring it. But as also with a kid,
that's not the best way to do it.
And, you know, I'm embarrassed to tell you that a new dog arrived in my
household last week, a puppy from Colorado named Rose. And I'm training her
in this positive way from the beginning. And it's amazing to me; in 24 hours
this dog comes and sits happily and lies down and is housebroken. I'm a great
believer in that. Now I'm not a hundred percent positive person, you know, so
I sometimes will lose it, as we all will, which is fine. But I think it's a
great training method. I think it really works. I think the dog responds
very quickly and, best of all, you have this great grounded relationship with
the dog that's born out of real positive affection and not out of terror or
intimidation, which I think is great.
GROSS: OK, so housebreaking a dog--I mean, when I was growing up, I didn't
have a dog, sadly, but the people who I saw training their dogs, what they
would do is if the dog, like, pooped in the house, they would bring the dog
over to the poop, basically stick the dog's nose in it, spank him a little bit
and then put them either on the newspaper or outside, wherever it was that
they wanted to direct the dog to be pooping in the future. That's negative
Mr. KATZ: Yeah, that's a great--I did that with my Lab. I mean, I do that
with many dogs. The way I housebroke Rose or Homer in a day or two was I got
a crate. I put the puppy in the crate, fed the dog in the crate, waited 30
minutes, carried the dog outside. The dog immediately went to the bathroom.
I danced around in the moonlight yelling and whooping and throwing food
around. And three times and the dog was housebroken. I didn't drag her. I
didn't stick her nose in it. I didn't scream at her. I didn't do any `bad
dog.' And it worked in 24 hours. I've done that with two dogs now. And...
GROSS: Wait, wait. So you put them--you feed them in a box, and then 30
minutes later, when...
Mr. KATZ: You just feed them in the crate. You get a kennel crate, and they
like it. It makes them feel safe.
Mr. KATZ: You give them their food in the crate. You just put the bowl in
the crate. You close the crate. You go, you know, read the paper, watch
television. In a half an hour or so, you come back, you open the crate, you
pick the dog out, take the dog outside. The dog will almost immediately go to
the bathroom because puppies go quickly after they eat. And then you just
praise the dog. You make a lot of noise. You give it a treat. You tell how
good they are. You get excited and dance around and look like a jerk. And, I
mean, twice now I've housebroken dogs in about a day. Now you'll have
occasional accidents or something, but they're happy--you know, this is
part--you know, this is an interesting thing to talk about, Terry, because it
goes to the heart of why I wrote the book. It's a good example of why the
more you understand what dogs are like and treat them as dogs, the easier it
is to do these things. Housebreaking is really very simple. Dogs prefer to
go outside, and they don't like to be yelled at. It just makes them more
nervous and more likely to pee all over the place.
So this is such a simple thing. I mean, the way I learned to teach my dogs to
come to me--before, I used to yell and scream and throw chains and jump around
and make a lot of noise, to no effect. Now I just get--I put a bunch of
meatballs in my hand and I walk backwards. There's not a dog on the planet
that won't come running towards you. And when they come to me, I give her the
meatball and say, `Good girl. Good come.' And she knows how to come. And,
you know, there's no yelling or throwing or stomping or, you know, shock
collars or any of this dreadful stuff.
I sometimes think when I spent this year with people and their dogs that what
I saw was a country--as much as we love our dogs, we're almost having a civil
war with them because we all know people like this who, `I'm sorry my dog
jumped on you, but he was abused, so I can't chain him,' or `She's always been
aggressive with people' or `She's always hated female dogs' or `She's always
chewed up the house.' People live with these awful behaviors and are
constantly yelling and tugging at their dogs and scolding them and clucking
about them. And it's too bad because it doesn't need to be like that. And it
was frustrating, really, to see.
GROSS: Well, Jon Katz, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. KATZ: Thank you. I appreciate it, Terry.
BIANCULLI: Jon Katz, speaking with Terry Gross last fall. His latest book,
"The New Work of Dogs," is now out in paperback.
Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews the new Steven Spielberg movie,
"The Terminal." This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: New Steven Spielberg film "The Terminal"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Tom Hanks played a lovable simpleton in "Forrest Gump" and an executive
marooned on an island in "Cast Away." In "The Terminal," he plays a lovable
simpleton marooned in a New York airport. The film is his second
collaboration with director Steven Spielberg and also stars Catherine
Zeta-Jones and Stanley Tucci. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.
In 2002, with the one-two punch of "Minority Report" and "Catch Me If You
Can," Steven Spielberg seemed to purge all the mawkish and synthetic strokes
from his filmmaking. "Catch Me" was a special treat. It was larky and sad in
the same breath, and it hummed along with a finger-popping mid-'60s cool that
was candy for the eye and the ear. It had wonderful scenes in airports, and
the prospect of Spielberg making a whole movie in a terminal, exploring it top
to bottom as a kind of ecosystem through the eyes of a non-English speaker
who's marooned--what a big, fat, juicy premise. And what a big, fat letdown
"The Terminal" is. Not a disaster, no; but a good movie that congeals into
something icky and fake before your eyes.
Tom Hanks is Viktor Navorski from the fictional Eastern European country of
Krakozhia. He looks heavy and pasty in his ill-fitting suit, and he hands his
passport to the customs officer like a guy who made his peace long ago giving
papers to men in uniforms. He doesn't even seem put out when he's taken to
see the airport security official, Frank Dixon, played by Stanley Tucci, and
his uniformed aide, played by Barry Shabaka Henley.
(Soundbite of "The Terminal")
Mr. STANLEY TUCCI: (As Frank Dixon) I have real bad news. It seems that
your country has suspended all traveling privileges on passports that have
been issued by your government, and our State Department has revoked a visa
that was going to allow you to enter the United States. That's it in a
nutshell, basically, all right? Anyway, it seems that while you were in the
air, there was a military coup in your country. Now most of the dead were
members of the presidential guard. They were attacked in the middle of the
night. It was a terrible firefight. They got it all on GHN, I think.
Anyway, there were very few civilian casualties, so I'm sure your family is
Mr. BARRY SHABAKA HANLEY: (As Aide) Mr. Navorski, your country was annexed
from the inside. The Republic of Krakozhia is under new leadership.
Mr. TOM HANKS: (As Viktor Navorski) Krakozhia. Krakozhia.
Dixon ends that scene by informing Viktor, who, of course, doesn't understand
a word except `Krakozhia,' that he has fallen into a void. He can't fly back
and he can't enter the US. He is, quote, "unacceptable." The airport--it's
obviously JFK--will be Viktor's home.
It sounds implausible, but there was an Iranian stranded in France's Charles
de Gaulle under similar circumstances. He's still there, in fact, and has
possibly lost his mind. And there's an irresistible movie theme here:
adaptation, a hero who's hopelessly out of his element, yet through doggedness
and smarts and a primal survival instinct, becomes a master of a new
We're more used to adaptation stories in the Robinson Crusoe mode. And Hanks
did one of those, too, in "Cast Away." Here his island cave is a gate that's
under construction. He breaks up some seats for a bed. He cuts the fuse on
those awful fluorescents and the MUZAK--the song is "Stranger in Paradise."
He figures out that returning luggage carts to their racks will generate
quarters, which he uses to buy fast food. He picks up some English; he gets
to know the employees. He learns how things work at a capitalist airport. So
far, so intriguing. Hanks does good, subtle, physical comedy, and Spielberg
treats the airport as a multilevel toy store teeming with exotic people. And
there are fun scenes with Viktor playing hide-and-seek with security cameras.
But the film begins to edge into a very tiresome brand of melodrama. First,
Tucci's Dixon becomes a villain, not just callously indifferent to Viktor's
plight, but actively malevolent, driven mad to know what the Krakozhian
carries in a rusty peanut can. And then Viktor turns into a populist folk
hero among the immigrants, minorities and minimum wagers. Now he facilitates
the romance of a food service worker and a Customs agent. Now he rescues a
Russian trying to carry medicine from Canada to his sick father. Now he makes
peace with a misanthropic janitor played by Kumar Pallana from "The Royal
Tenenbaums." Now he woos the unlucky-in-love flight attendant played by
Catherine Zeta-Jones. This saintly Chaplin-esque innocent warms the hearts
of everyone but that meanie Stanley Tucci.
And what's in that can? It had me rolling my eyes. Spielberg has learned to
soft-pedal the schlock, and not every subplot ends picture perfectly. But
most of the payoffs are cheap. And for all the lip service it gives to
homeland security, "The Terminal" misses the chance to explore the divided
feelings that airports and air travel and the arrival of foreigners have on us
post-9/11, in which everything romantic and open-ended has become permeated
with dread. The world explodes, but delusional Hollywood sentimentality,
that's a comforting constant.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for Slate.
BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.