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Remembering Madeline Kahn.

Actress Madeline Kahn died Friday of ovarian cancer at the age of 57. We remember her with a scene from the film "Young Frankenstein."

03:23

Other segments from the episode on December 6, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 6, 1999: Interview with Frederick Barthelme and Steven Barthelme; Review of the Meat Puppets' album "Meat Puppets: Up on the Sun"; Commentary on Madeline Kahn.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 06, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 120601NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: "Doubles Down": An Interview with Two Gambling Victims
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

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

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

My guests, Frederick and Steven Barthelme are brothers, college professors, and writers. They became gamblers too in 1995 after casinos opened in Mississippi, where they live. By the end of the following year they had lost both their parents and started gambling harder, losing lots of money.

In the process of gambling away about a quarter of a million dollars, including their inheritance, they were charged with felony conspiracy to defraud the casino. The charges hung over them for nearly three years, until last summer when they were dismissed without a trial.

Now the Barthelmes have collaborated on a memoir called "Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss." They teach at the University of Southern Mississippi, where Frederick directs the writing program. Their brother, the late Donald Barthelme, was an acclaimed writer.

Let's start with a reading from "Double Down." Here's Frederick Barthelme.

FREDERICK BARTHELME, "DOUBLE DOWN": "A hundred dollars is a lot of money. Think of it outside the casino, and it translates into lots of things, lots of goods and services, shirts, dinners, hamburgers, movie tickets, tire repairs, shots for the dogs or cats, computer software, sets of bed sheets. A hundred dollars is still a fair amount of money in this world.

"But in the casino, it was a single bill. In chips, it was one black one. If you played quarters, four greens. Either way, the hundred looked damn small out there in the betting circle. It looked weak, as if it wanted some friends, some other chips to play with. It looked as if it didn't have a chance in hell of anything but a quick dance into the dealer's rack.

"When you had enough stacks of black, the idea was that each of them represented so much food, so much rent, so much car payment. That idea escaped, along with the rest of ordinary reality. This was true whether you had chips or bills. Many times we walked around the casino with $5,000, $8,000, or even $10,000 in hundred dollar bills stuffed in our pockets.

"When we had the money in our hands, it wasn't $10,000, it was just playing time, time at the table or in front of the slots. You don't care about it as you would at home. You don't feed and nurture it. When we had cash in our pockets, the temptation to dump it into a slot machine was strong. The slot machine rewarded you right away, just for putting your money in. It made attractive binging noises as it counted the money into whatever unit you were playing -- $1, $10, $25 units.

"With each punch of the button, you knew that you could win a fortune. We had seen it happen, maybe not a hundred times, but plenty of times. And even after months of play and months of losses, even after years of losses, we still thought we might win.

"Rick once said we would walk out of the casino one morning, and one of us would stick a $5 or a $10 into a machine and punch the button and win $100,000, and all the debits would be wiped out with a single sweep, a single roll, a single twirl of the reels.

"That was the way luck worked, he said. That was the way the world worked. Things would suddenly and inexplicably turn in our favor. A hurricane of money and love.

"When Rick's landlord told him she'd hit $25,000 on a slot -- especially when that happened -- it seemed that the same thing was bound to happen to one of us. Steve's wise old red-hair car mechanic said he had made $60,000 on the slots the year before. We kept the faith, and the money kept flying out of our pockets."

GROSS: Frederick Barthelme, thanks for reading that excerpt of "Double Down." And I want to welcome you and Steven Barthelme to FRESH AIR.

What's it like for two writers, two university professors, who understand motivation and self-delusion -- I mean, you create characters with that in your fiction -- to then manage to gamble away a quarter of a million dollars? I mean, (inaudible)...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Well, you get -- you...

GROSS: Yes.

STEVEN BARTHELME, "DOUBLE DOWN": Understanding self-delusion doesn't cure you of it.

GROSS: I guess, I guess.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: But it makes it entirely possible to delude yourself at great length, and which we did.

GROSS: Frederick, you'd written a novel about a gambler called "Bob the Gambler." Did it make you even more aware of what you were doing when you were writing that?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: No, I wrote the book after I had -- we had already started gambling, and we weren't necessarily in the thick of it, but you could see -- I guess you couldn't see what was coming, but you could see that, you know, you know, trouble was that way, and we were gambling -- I started writing about the gambler because gambling was an interesting thing to write about, the pressures, the threads that run through the imagination as you're gambling, the possibility of winning seems strong.

And it's also extraordinarily seductive in a casino. So that's really what motivated me to write "Bob the Gambler," and then it turned out to be me. (laughs) Something which I was not prepared for.

GROSS: Gambling came to Mississippi in 1992, and "Bob the Gambler," Rick, you described the Mississippi town where he gambles as "the outlet mall version of Las Vegas." And in "Double Down," you say that gaming interests want casino gambling to seem harmless, fun for the whole family.

Would you describe the casinos that you gambled in in Mississippi?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Yes. We were playing mostly in the Grand Hotel and the Grand Casino in Gulfport. We also played at the Grand in Biloxi, the Casino Magic, and a few other casinos. They're very gaudy, sort of Disney-esque -- you know, lots of -- sort of slathered with neon and that sort of thing. And inside it's, you know, real noisy because all the slot machines are going off at once, it seems.

So as soon as you get into the place, you're in a sort of different world where there's a din, and it's just -- you know, binging and plinging and banging, and people are, you know, running hither and thither. And it's quite an exciting sort of a setting to be in. It's a little, you know, seedy, but if you don't mind seedy, it's quite pleasant.

GROSS: What would you like about that world?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Well, it took us away from ourselves, you know. I mean, we live in a college town, we teach at the university where everybody is very quiet and...

STEVEN BARTHELME: Mild.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Mild. That's exactly the word I was looking for, Steve. Mild. Well, it's a little dull, you know. I mean, we'd been teaching at the university for years and years, and this was a way to sort of be bad without hurting anybody, you know. I mean, most people take as their vice something like, you know, alcohol or drugs or, you know, new partners and so and so. And this way, we could just -- all we lost was money, and the money wasn't even ours, had been sort of dropped on us from above when our parents died.

GROSS: (inaudible) an inheritance. Well, you write in the book, you know, "As college professors, we were automatically in an out-of-harm-way's subculture." So did it -- was it exciting to put yourself at risk through the artificial environment of gambling?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Yes, very. It's quite extraordinary when you don't have a lot of money, I mean, when you're not used to having a lot of money. I suppose for somebody like Larry Flynt, who I saw on television lost a million dollars one night and then won $2 million the next, it's not quite as much fun.

But for us, you know, we don't -- we never had very much money, and we had a regular sort of middle-class amount of money. And you go to the casino and you bet $4,000 on a hand of blackjack, it's quite extraordinary. I mean, you feel quite extraordinary. You're shot through with adrenaline, and the cards seem to come out very slowly, and it's -- there's something quite magical and almost religious about it, I...

STEVEN BARTHELME: There's also a different relationship to money that you have when you're in the casino, and most of the time -- most of your life -- most of my life, money is pushing me around. And when I'm in the casino, I'm pushing money around. You know, and eventually it leaves, of course...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Eventually it gets you.

STEVEN BARTHELME: No, it runs away.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are writers and brothers Frederick and Steven Barthelme. They've written a new memoir called "Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss."

Now, what's the difference in how you were treated after you became regulars at the casinos and started playing for higher stakes?

STEVEN BARTHELME: They loved us. They actually loved us. They loved us a great deal.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: They didn't love Steve so much, but they loved me, (inaudible).

STEVEN BARTHELME: They loved Rick a lot.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Well, you know, you get the -- you get the...

STEVEN BARTHELME: Yes, everybody knows your name, and they say hello to you when you show up. "Did you just get here?" And...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Ask you how you're doing and how you did last time you were down, whether you were winning or losing...

STEVEN BARTHELME: Can I get you anything? Do you need a marker?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: They always want to give you a marker.

STEVEN BARTHELME: Here, take a marker. Here's $1,000, here's $2,000.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: A marker's a check.

GROSS: Were you flattered by this kind of special treatment?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: I'm afraid the answer to that is yes.

STEVEN BARTHELME: Rick was certainly flattered.

(LAUGHTER)

FREDERICK BARTHELME: I'm afraid the answer to that is -- You know, I mean, you try not to be, of course. You try to think, Well, (inaudible), this is their business, this is the plan. But you can't help but be affected a little bit by it.

GROSS: How about a little psychoanalysis? Would you describe -- would you compare your styles as gamblers and what you think that said about you as people and as brothers?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Yes, there's a -- the book goes into this at some length. I mean, we really played in quite different ways. Steve is a careful gambler. He guards his money, bets carefully, strategizes, and so forth. I'm more of what's called in the trade a lunger, which is that I play reasonably for awhile, and then I get bored, and throw all the money in at once, basically saying, you know, Either pay me now or let me go.

STEVEN BARTHELME: Generally, the psychological patterns operate on everybody. They just operate at different paces. I mean, in other words, most of what Rick does, I do four, five, six hours later.

GROSS: Did you ever get into gambling quarrels about, you know, whether one of the brothers was gambling too much, or not enough or whatever?

(LAUGHTER)

STEVEN BARTHELME: No. No, I don't recall that, do you?

(LAUGHTER)

FREDERICK BARTHELME: You want to ask that again, Terry?

GROSS: No, I want an answer. I don't want to ask it again, I want to hear you answer it.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Well, yes, the answer -- what happens is that when you're -- when we went down together, your progress goes at a different rate. And it often happened that one of us, come 8:00 in the morning, would be ahead by a few thousand dollars, and the other would be behind by three or for thousand dollars. And so the one who's ahead is, of course -- you know, it's morning, and wants to go home...

STEVEN BARTHELME: Yes, oh, well, sure, (inaudible).

FREDERICK BARTHELME: ... and the one who's behind, you know, can't go home because he's behind. And in consequence, the one who's ahead ends up behind as well, more often than not.

STEVEN BARTHELME: But you were asking whether there were quarrels about gambling too much and that sort of thing.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Oh, yes.

STEVEN BARTHELME: There (inaudible)...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: I always told he was gambling too much.

STEVEN BARTHELME: There was not very much of that, although many times I would be standing, you know, across the table from Rick drawing my hand across my throat, as saying -- suggesting that maybe he not push that $4,000 out there this time. (inaudible)...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: I thought you were telling me to cut my throat!

STEVEN BARTHELME: Well, you did that. No, but other -- that's about as far as the quarrels got, gentle suggestions that maybe we're going a little too fast here.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: There was always a sort of an effort on Steve's part to help me or on my part to help Steve. If -- I remember, you know, one time when I was extremely angry and I had lost something extraordinary and was throwing money on the table in great, you know, large sums. And, you know, he would come by and say, you know, Come on, don't do that, you don't need to do that.

And it didn't make any difference, I did it anyway, and same thing happened in reverse (ph). I mean, of course, if you get up next to Steve and you say, you know, Don't do that, he snarls at you so bad that you, you know, you fall over and stuff (ph).

GROSS: You say that, you know, you'd read enough to know that you were both acting as enablers and co-dependents when it came to your gambling obsessions. So what's it like to, like, understand that, to know about it, to know the language about it, and still do it anyways?

STEVEN BARTHELME: Well, the language proves remarkably, you know, unsubtle on the one hand, and really not accomplishing what it, you know, promises. It made little difference to have jargon to apply to it.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Yes, I think we -- you know, knowing that we were doing that didn't have any effect in terms of helping us to stop doing it. We only stopped doing it eventually, when legal troubles happened and we ran out of money, just ran out of the inherited money.

STEVEN BARTHELME: We tend to operate at a very high level of self-consciousness anyway, so that the psychiatric terminology and so forth just was fancier language for what happens every day.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Also, it's sort of like a joke. I mean, to -- when we say to each other, you know, We're enabling each other, we're actually making fun of this language, this jargon, because it's sort of -- you know, often that stuff is used, and you think by naming it you...

STEVEN BARTHELME: Yes, (inaudible).

FREDERICK BARTHELME: ... you help it or you solve it or you resolve it or you heal it. And I don't think that's the case at all. By naming it, you don't do any of that, you just name it. And so in the book, where -- you know, that sort of thing is mentioned, and -- I mean, it's the same sort of thing. Eventually we ended up calling ourselves the...

STEVEN BARTHELME: Mile and Eric (ph).

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Mile and Eric, that's right, after the Menendez brothers.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: My guests are Frederick and Steven Barthelme. Their new memoir is called "Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

GROSS: My guests are Frederick and Steven Barthelme. They're brothers who are also both writers and teachers at the University of Southern Mississippi, where Frederick directs the writing program. Their new memoir, "Double Down," is about their two-year gambling streak, which coincided with the loss of their parents.

Now, you started gambling much more seriously after your parents died within 16 months of each other. And as you say in the book, because you didn't have children, family always meant your parents. Did you feel lost when they died, even though you were already middle-aged when they passed?

STEVEN BARTHELME: Yes. We were sort of extremely close to both Mother and Father and to the family, and there's a sense in which when they left, the whole family just disintegrated. Donald had died, my brother, my older brother Don, had died a few years before, and there isn't any family, you know, to replace Mother and Father and the five children, and 11 Wyndon (ph) Drive, where we used to live in Houston, and, you know, the way things were.

So when Mother died, that was sort of a horrifying thing for us, since she was really the glue that kept the family together. And then a little bit later Father died, and the whole thing was gone, and...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Well, I don't know that I felt lost, exactly, but there is a sort of powerful sense of purposelessness or pointlessness with the disintegration of the family, which -- I'm sure when anyone dies, their survivors feel this. But it was doubly potent because the family was such an important part of our lives.

GROSS: You describe how your father charted stocks, kept elaborate calculations, devised obsessive budgets, worried compulsively over every arcane financial detail. And then he left each of you $150,000 when he died. It seems like what you did is exactly the opposite of what he did. If he was so careful with his financial planning, you took the money that he'd saved and kind of gambled it away in this kind of -- you know, high-risk obsession that you developed.

Was that in some ways like a comment on your father, do you think?

STEVEN BARTHELME: I couldn't say it was a comment. Our father was fascinated with money and numbers and so forth, and I don't know that he was -- I mean, he wasn't really stingy or anything of that sort. He -- and I don't know that he -- Money held this terrible fascination for him, and, you know, beat him up his whole adult life.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Less so us, I think, and when he left us this money, you know, it may be that there was some, you know, reaction to the way he had treated money. But there -- it's also the business about, you know, where this money comes from and what it is, what it represents, and, you know, what it's standing in place of.

And for me, there was always something about, Well, you know, you're gone, what do I want with this money? you know. And I've got enough money to, you know, pay my rent, to buy my peanut butter sandwiches, to keep clothes on my back. I don't need your money, and if I can't have you I don't want the damn money.

That's (inaudible).

GROSS: Do you think it's a rationalization, or the way you really felt?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: I think it's the way I really felt. It's also a rationalization, but I think it's -- I think it's the way you feel, and we were exceedingly close to Mother and Father, and the money just didn't signify in the way that it ordinarily would. I mean, money we earned at the university had a different edge to it, had a different meaning for us. We certainly don't spend a lot of money, you know, going around to stores and buying things, that sort of stuff, except for computers. (inaudible) computers.

But it just didn't, you know, register that this was a lot of money and we needed to sort of take care of it (inaudible). It was like on fire, mostly.

GROSS: It probably really meant a lot to your father to know that he could pass on money to you. How do you think he would have felt knowing that you kind of gambled it...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: He would have laughed. I'll tell you what he would have done, he would have laughed. He would have sat there and said, You did what? (laughs) And then he would have laughed.

GROSS: Is that what you think too, Steven?

STEVEN BARTHELME: I think probably he would have laughed at first. After that he probably would have wept. But...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Well, we're presuming he's gone, so he has no use for the money. No, I think he would have thought that -- you know, he often said things like, you know, you know, once you give the money to somebody, it's their money, so they can do with it what they want, and he respected that, I think. I mean, I think he would have thought we were damn fools -- favorite expression of his -- but at the same time, he would have thought it was (inaudible).

That's the other point that's made in the book, which is that, you know, we -- he would have been proud of us for never giving up, which is something he taught us at great length.

GROSS: Your father is a really interesting character in the book. He was an architect and teacher, and he built the house that you grew up in. Why don't you describe the house and some of the ways it changed over the years.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Well, he built in 1939 a very modernist house, sort of based on some of Corbut's (ph) work and some of Miess's work. And he built it out on sort of a grassland prairie outside southwest of Houston, which later became Post Oak Road and the Galleria (ph) and that area.

It was a very sort of open-plan house, high ceilings, and it was just chock full of '40s and modern furniture, Saarinen and Alto (ph) and that sort of thing.

GROSS: (inaudible) work you'd find in the furniture displays in museums.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Right, right. In fact, we still have some. Steve and I argue -- Steve has a particular Alto chair I've been trying to get back from him for about four years.

STEVEN BARTHELME: There were two of these Alto chairs. In his youth, my brother -- I don't know what you do, you...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: I had it covered purple. I don't know why...

STEVEN BARTHELME: (inaudible) purple...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: ... it was purple, I just (inaudible)...

STEVEN BARTHELME: (inaudible) eggs up (ph) or something.

GROSS: That classic color. (laughs)

STEVEN BARTHELME: In any case, there's one of these chairs remaining, which is in somewhat -- in disrepair in my house at the moment, and Rick has been trying to get it from me for 15 years.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Yes, that's true.

GROSS: So what -- what...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: If I can...

GROSS: ... what was swell and what was ridiculous about this house to you as kids when you were growing up in it?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: There was nothing ridiculous about it, I don't think. I mean, I don't -- you know, it was just -- it was fabulous, it was -- you know, the -- it sort of set the tone for the way we lived, the whole family was this way, you know, and the whole spirit of it...

STEVEN BARTHELME: The modernist architecture was a sort of religious crusade...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Exactly.

STEVEN BARTHELME: ... so it wasn't ridiculous, you know, it was (inaudible) devout.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Yes. And I think the -- it speaks to the way the family ran. It was very -- you know, the family was very literate, lots of reading and talking. You -- when these things were highly prized in the family. I think all of the sensibility -- I've often said regarding Don, when asked questions about Don, that the sensibility really is derived straight from the family.

I mean, Mother and Father were both, you know, wicked with the language, wicked wits, and, you know, could cut you down and put you back together. It's sort of like that classic Samurai thing where the sword goes through you and nothing moves. That was the way they worked with the language.

GROSS: Frederick and Steven Barthelme are the authors of "Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss." They'll be back in the second half of the show.

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

(BREAK)

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

My guests, Frederick and Steven Barthelme, are brothers, writers, and college professors who teach at the University of Southern Mississippi, where Frederick directs the writing program. Their new memoir, "Double Down," is about the two years, 1995 and '96, when they were obsessed with gambling after casinos came to Mississippi.

Their parents died during this period, and the brothers managed to gamble away their inheritance and then some, a total of about a quarter of a million dollars.

As if this long losing streak wasn't bad enough, they were hit with a surprise, a frightening one.

Let's get to the legal problems that you had with gambling. You were busted. Tell us -- you were busted on charges of conspiring to rig the blackjack game, yes?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: That's right, yes. Well, I mean, at the -- when we were busted, we didn't know that. We were just kicked out of the casino. Later that was what we were charged with.

STEVEN BARTHELME: We were heavily losing money one morning...

(LAUGHTER)

STEVEN BARTHELME: ... to the tune of about $10,000...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: That's true, that's true.

STEVEN BARTHELME: ... and, you know, three guys who came to the table who -- they were wearing suits...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: They were wearing suits.

STEVEN BARTHELME: ... and broken noses and so forth...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: It was all that hair on the arms that was the problem.

STEVEN BARTHELME: It was -- they were -- Anyway, it was split lips and broken (inaudible)...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Came out under the cuff, you know.

STEVEN BARTHELME: (inaudible) -- anyway, they came to the table and said, "Pick up your chips and come with us," and then they took us out into a little, you know, cinder block room on the side of the...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: It was the way that one guy was scratching his...

STEVEN BARTHELME: They were all (inaudible)...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: ... thigh, that was what bothered me.

STEVEN BARTHELME: And, you know, interrogate us for half an hour. And they accused us of all manner of things, suggested that we were having -- you know, I don't know...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: How do you say this on National Public Radio?

STEVEN BARTHELME: ... affairs with the dealer, who we didn't even know. And told us we were 86'd. "You know what that means?" he's asked. And told us never to come back. And subsequently we found out that charges had been filed, and it was about eight months later that there was a grand jury indictment, although, I mean, we found out subsequently that the thing -- as they say in the legal business, is that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if the district attorney asks the (inaudible)...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Or a ham sandwich's friend, either one.

STEVEN BARTHELME: And we were the ham sandwich (inaudible).

GROSS: Well, you write in your book, and I keep quoting your book because I think the writing's so good, you write, "We were scared, probably more scared than necessary, because it was our business to imagine things thoroughly." What were some of the things you were imagining?

STEVEN BARTHELME: Well, we imagined picking up things by the side of the road in those striped pants as our future.

GROSS: (laughs)

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Dealing in cigarettes, you know, selling cigarettes to others...

STEVEN BARTHELME: Making friends, making new friends.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Did you think you'd be spending a lot of time in prison and on the chain gang?

STEVEN BARTHELME: We didn't think that, but we did imagine it.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Yes, I think it's -- in hindsight, it seems probably not so likely that that would have happened in any case. But while you're in it, when the pressure is on you, when they tell you they're indicting you, you begin to think all manner of things. And we (inaudible)...

STEVEN BARTHELME: (inaudible)...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: ... we had to go to jail to be booked, to the Harrison County Jail, and there's a whole chapter in the book about what it's like to be booked. We -- I mean, I suppose a lot of people have been booked, but we hadn't. And so getting booked was a big experience for us. And, you know, it's quite strange and terrifying. You're completely at the mercy of these other people. You cannot move until they say Jump! and when they say Jump! you say, Of course.

GROSS: After you both were indicted, this story of the charges against you hit page one of "The New York Times." Now, what did that feel like, as two, you know, two writers who teach at the University of Southern Mississippi, and here you are on page one, indicted on gambling charges.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: It was very annoying, principally because the report that the guy did, the "New York Times" gambling writer, who shall remain nameless, was rather seriously biased in favor of the casino, it seemed to us, that he had in fact stayed at the same casino, gotten most of his information apparently from the casino. And so the portrait of us was rather strongly leaning in the direction of guilt.

Whereas what we would have preferred, and what actually happened with some of the AP reports, when they rewrote the "Times" story, was a more balanced account which said we were charged but did not say we were guilty, which is, in fact, or de facto, what the "New York Times" piece said.

STEVEN BARTHELME: The "Times" piece was -- would say something, and then it would say, "According to court documents" -- or "people involved in the case"...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: People involved in it.

STEVEN BARTHELME: ... and in fact, "people involved in the case" were the same people who had prepared the court documents, who were in fact the security staff of the casino. That's where the information was coming from, although he didn't say that. It was "according to court documents" and "people involved in the case." And then when the stories were reprinted in other local newspapers, frequently it would drop "according to people involved in the case" and replace that with "according to `The New York Times.'"

GROSS: The evidence against you was videos that were made at the blackjack table. What did the casinos see in those videos, and what did you see when you looked at the same videos?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: The video -- the casinos all (ph) irregular behavior, which they then -- on the dealer's part, really, which -- I mean, she wasn't dealing strictly according to the book, the Handbook for Dealers, which was in the discovery materials which we looked -- we looked at all of this material at great length.

In any case, she wasn't dealing, you know, in a squeaky-clean, perfectly straight, according to the handbook way. The trouble is...

STEVEN BARTHELME: (inaudible)...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: ... there's a context, which is that no dealer deals that way after the first two or three weeks of their job, at least none of the ones I ever saw, except people who were trainees, followed every procedure to the letter.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: The dealers are charged with a -- by the casino with making friends with the players, trying to get players...

STEVEN BARTHELME: (inaudible)

FREDERICK BARTHELME: ... to come back, and this is literally in their handbook, you know, Make friends, be kind, know them by name, and address them by name, (inaudible)...

STEVEN BARTHELME: And guests like to be called by name. Try to learn their names, and use them. It's stuff like that.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: In the process of doing that part, they, you know, sort of personalize their style of dealing, and -- the dealers do, and this particular dealer had a kind of very loose, casual way of dealing, which they saw as irregular and extrapolated from that there was something going on. What we eventually did by showing the videotape of the dealer dealing to other people was demonstrate that she dealt this way to everyone.

STEVEN BARTHELME: It was a long time before we got a full set of the videotapes, and as soon as we did, it was really easy to find on two tapes on two days when we were not there, the same exact sort of things being done.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: That they were talking about, that the casino, or the gaming commission...

STEVEN BARTHELME: That they were claiming were some big conspiracy.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Though it is true also, it has to be said, and -- that they had erased most of the dealers -- they're supposed to keep the -- once they have a trouble with a dealer, they're apparently supposed to keep the tapes of 30 days of her dealing, or him dealing, and they had erased, apparently, most of those (inaudible).

STEVEN BARTHELME: They supposedly had a week of tape of her dealing, and what I saw was two hours...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Two hours.

STEVEN BARTHELME: ... on one day and two hours on another of her dealing to other people. And when eventually those tapes were -- got before the district attorney long enough for him to take a good look at them and check them with some expert that they hired, or something, then they just dropped the charges. Of course, in the meantime, there was a hum -- there was -- there was almost two years while we were sitting around thinking, you know...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: But it was (inaudible)...

STEVEN BARTHELME: ... about striped pants.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: ... when the -- when the district attorney said in a public statement (inaudible) to the newspapers and so forth that, you know, there's no evidence of any impropriety on the Barthelmes' part, that was quite a relief from our vantage.

STEVEN BARTHELME: Yes, and (inaudible) they had to do that (inaudible) appreciate it, (inaudible).

GROSS: The judge dismissed the case last August on the request of the district attorney. Did it change your gambling habit? You know, once -- going through this whole -- the whole thing of being indicted?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Yes, I think (inaudible) -- well, I mean, the pressure of being at law, I think, weighed heavily -- the fact that we had already gone through most of the inheritance, all these things sort of -- And also the distance from the parents' deaths, from -- in the sense that you've accommodated that information some years later.

I don't (inaudible) twice (ph) this year, once to take a visiting writer down, and once I went back in March to meet some guy from "The New York Times" magazine. But that's -- we -- so I've been twice this year, I think Steve is (inaudible) -- you've been twice?

STEVEN BARTHELME: I (inaudible) about a half-dozen times.

GROSS: My guests are Frederick and Steven Barthelme. They're brothers, they're both writers, they both teach at the University of Southern Mississippi, and they co-authored a new memoir called "Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss."

You both write, and your late brother, who was several years older than either of you, Donald Barthelme, he was, you know, famous for his short stories, his experimental fiction. He became well known before either of you were known.

Did you feel like you were in his shadow at all when you started writing? And Frederick, I should start with you, since you're the older of the two, I think are four years older than Steven.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Yes. Yes, absolutely. In fact, it was very hard to figure out what to do as a younger writer when Don was doing what he was doing. I -- we were both more or less trained by him in the sense that we studied with him, showed him manuscripts, worked over them with him.

Eventually I went to Hopkins to do a year with Jack Barth, to learn something about suspense and plot and story, which Don didn't sort of specialize in.

GROSS: (laughs)

FREDERICK BARTHELME: But even then, you know, having, having, having worked with Don so long, there was a -- and having come from the same family, there was a similarity to the voice. And so whenever I would send work to "The New Yorker" or someplace -- which was always, of course, the objective, sell it to "The New Yorker" -- you know, they would send it back and say, It's too much like Don.

And so it took a long time. Years later I figured out something else to do. And so, yes, very much in his shadow. Finally got out I guess in the early '80s, when, you know, I started doing a different kind of work. (inaudible)...

GROSS: Describe the difference.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Well, I mean, his work was principally voice-oriented, surface-oriented. He was interested in language and the juxtaposition of imagery, juxtaposition of words. And I started being interested in story and in character and, you know, people. And in fact, I remember this as -- I told this before, I was driving over this long bridge (inaudible) when you drive from Houston to Hattiesburg, you have to drive over this thing which is called Brow (ph) Bridge.

STEVEN BARTHELME: (inaudible)

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Yes.

STEVEN BARTHELME: Well, (inaudible)?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: (inaudible) swamp. And it's like a 20-mile bridge. And we were driving across it, my wife and I, and I sort of realized I was more interested in people than words, that people were more interesting than words. And that was -- you know, I had just written a story called "Shop Girls," which I had sent to "The New Yorker," and later Veronica Ging (ph), who was my editor there, she didn't take that story, but she wrote me a very nice letter that said, you know, "This is an interesting story, send us more."

I had previously been working with Roger Angell (ph) there, who was Don's editor. And what happened was, he was out doing his baseball reporting, and Veronica picked up the story, as she did with all of his mail, apparently, when he was out. And so that was the start of my sort of, quote, "career." She'd got the story, she said it was interesting, she said to send more.

I sent -- and I think they bought the next piece I sent them, which would have been "Safeway," (inaudible).

GROSS: Let me just ask you...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: (inaudible)

GROSS: ... what was it about the bridge that led to this realization that you were more interested in character and story than in words?

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Bridge is a very gorgeous sort of...

STEVEN BARTHELME: Bridge is quite a wonderful bridge, (inaudible)...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: ... thing that you (inaudible)...

STEVEN BARTHELME: ... (inaudible) there.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: It sort of puts you in a little bit of -- it's 20 miles long, and you're, you know, up over this swamp, you know, 20, 30 feet over this swamp for 20 miles, and it's -- you know...

STEVEN BARTHELME: It's all...

FREDERICK BARTHELME: ... it's two lanes wide and you're going 70 miles an hour.

STEVEN BARTHELME: All water and cypress stumps out there.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: (inaudible) -- chic-chic, chic-chic, chic-chic, chic-chic, you know, it's like that the whole time, and so it's -- you can meditate during that period, or you can reflect, which is what happened.

GROSS: Will I have a revelation if I drive over it? (laughs)

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Yes, yes!

GROSS: Oh, good.

STEVEN BARTHELME: Guaranteed.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Come, come, come, come, we'll drive over it together.

STEVEN BARTHELME: Over it together, as long as you pay the toll.

GROSS: Steven, did you feel like you were in two shadows when you started writing, older brothers Donald and Frederick?

STEVEN BARTHELME: Not really. The -- you know, I've been writing and publishing in a desultory way for, you know, a long time, and Don was 16 years older than I am, so I was, you know, unavoidably in his shadow. I don't really feel so much in Rick's shadow. I don't know why. We were very close as children, and I've always been in and out of the writing business.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: There's also the fact that I...

STEVEN BARTHELME: Twenty-five years.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: ... that I cast no shadow.

STEVEN BARTHELME: Is that what it was?

(LAUGHTER)

FREDERICK BARTHELME: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to...

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both for talking with us.

FREDERICK BARTHELME: Well, thank you for having us, it's been a pleasure being here.

STEVEN BARTHELME: Yes, thank you.

GROSS: Frederick and Steven Barthelme are the authors of "Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss."

Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward on why the Meat Puppets are one of the great bands of the '80s.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Frederick Barthelme; Steven Barthelme
High: Writers, professors and brothers Frederick and Steven Barthelme. They've written a new memoir "Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss." After both their parents died within a year and a half of each other, the two grieving brothers went on a gambling spree that lasted years, and cost them their inheritance.
Spec: Gambling; Lifestyles; Death; "Double Down"

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: "Doubles Down": An Interview with Two Gambling Victims

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 06, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 120602NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Review of "Meat Puppets: Up On The Sun"
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

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

GROSS: The Meat Puppets weren't big sellers when they started out in the early '80s, but they proved to have a lasting influence. They encouraged bands to get out of the punk rock rut and into new forms of self-expression. Among their fans was Curt Cobain.

Now that the band's early albums are being rereleased by Rykodisc, we can catch up with them. Our rock historian, Ed Ward, has the story.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, SONG, MEAT PUPPETS)

ED WARD, ROCK HISTORIAN: Now that we can hear the whole story, the Meat Puppets loom as one of the great American bands of the '80s.

At a time when the pressures of radio play were forcing many of their contemporaries to narrow their vision, the Meat Puppets grew in a dozen different directions at once. There were three of them. Brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood on guitar and bass, and drummer Derrick Bostrom, all rich kids from Phoenix with serious bohemian tendencies.

At first they seemed just another hard core band. But even on their 1981 debut album, it was obvious they were different.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, SONG, MEAT PUPPETS)

WARD: "Walking Boss (ph)" is a folk song popularized by Doc Watson, who got it from Clarence Ashley (ph), an old-timey singer who recorded in the '20s. The Kirkwoods probably heard it visiting their grandmother in North Carolina, where Watson and Ashley are from.

Touring, the band took an instant dislike to hard-core audiences, and by the time "Meat Puppets 2" appeared in 1983, they had radically rethought their music.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, SONG, MEAT PUPPETS)

WARD: Country music was an obvious influence by now in songs like "Lost." But they had other tricks up their sleeves, which a young songwriter named Curt Cobain heard while searching for a new approach for his band.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, SONG)

WARD: Years later, he would invite the Kirkwoods to perform "Lake of Fire" on the MTV "Nirvana Unplugged" show.

Audiences responded too as the band crisscrossed the country, and the band continued to revise its sound, with the next reference point being the Grateful Dead.

"Up on the Sun," the title track from their third release, shows it pretty well.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "UP ON THE SUN," MEAT PUPPETS)

WARD: The band was taking itself seriously. By now, Curt Kirkwood was the father of twin daughters, and the critical response to their albums and tours was heartening.

What wasn't so heartening was that they were on an indy label famous for hard core, SST, which meant no money for promotion or tour support, limited distribution, and being lumped in with bands for which they felt no affinity.

Their vision was expanding, with a distinct pop sensibility creeping in on their next album, "Mirage."

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, SONG, MEAT PUPPETS)

WARD: It was discouraging, and they vowed they wouldn't spend too much time recording their next release. They didn't. "Huevos" was recorded and mixed in three days, but it doesn't sound that way.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, SONG, MEAT PUPPETS)

WARD: By now, the influences were synthesized into a recognizable Meat Puppets sound. "Sexy Music" sounds like nothing which preceded it, nor does the rest of the album.

A strategy was devised in 1988. The band would make an album that would show they were ready for a major label. "Monsters" shows them walking a fine line, incorporating a sort of ZZ Top boogie and electric drums, but not giving up the patented Meat Puppets sound.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, SONG, MEAT PUPPETS)

WARD: It worked. In 1990, they were signed by London Records and put out three albums there, culminating in "Too High to Die," which went gold. The follow-up, "No Joke," didn't do as well. For one thing, the band wasn't playing live as much because Cris Kirkwood had fallen victim to severe drug problems, which his friends are now publicizing in an effort to help him.

Curt, meanwhile, has moved to Austin and is fronting a new Meat Puppets.

While we want to see what happens next, it's great to have the band's history so well documented on this set of CDs, a fitting tribute to a great American original.

GROSS: Ed Ward is a writer based in Germany.

Our thanks to Raoul Hernandez (ph) of "The Austin Chronicle" for his research help.

Coming up, we remember actress Madeline Kahn.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Ed Ward
High: Rock historian Ed Ward reviews "Meat Puppets: Up On the Sun" one of several early albums by the Meat Puppets that's being reissued.
Spec: Music Industry; Entertainment; Meat Puppets

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Review of "Meat Puppets: Up On The Sun"

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 06, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 120603NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Remembering Madeline Kahn
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:55

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

GROSS: Actress Madeline Kahn died Friday of ovarian cancer. She was 57. Let's listen back to one of her great comedic performances. This is a scene from the Mel Brooks film "Young Frankenstein," in which she played the fiancee of Dr. Frankenstein. Here she is with Dr. Frankenstein, played by Gene Wilder, and then with the monster himself, played by Peter Boyle.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN")

MADELINE KAHN, ACTRESS: Would you want me like this, now, so soon before our wedding, so near we can almost touch it?

GENE WILDER, ACTOR: Yes!

KAHN: (inaudible) -- or, or to wait just a little while longer, when I can give myself to you without hesitation, when I can be totally and unashamedly and legally yours?

WILDER: That's a tough choice.

KAHN: You're a tough guy.

Now, give me a kiss and say good night. No tongues!

Good night, darling.

WILDER: Um-hm.

KAHN: Good night, sweetheart.

WILDER: Um-hm.

KAHN: I love you.

WILDER: (inaudible)

KAHN: You love me?

WILDER: Um-hm.

KAHN: I love you, honey. Sweet dreams, darling.

WILDER: Sweet dreams.

KAHN: Good night, and let the bedbugs bite.

WILDER: All right.

(Door closes)

KAHN (singing): He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword, his truth is marching on. Da-da-ya da-da da-da -- Glory, glory hallelujah, glory, glory hallelujah...

Ooooh! Who are you? What -- who -- what -- what are you? What do you want? What are you going to do to me?

PETER BOYLE, ACTOR: (growls)

KAHN: Calm down. I'm not afraid of you. How much do you want to let me call my father? He's very rich. You would have the entire world at your fingertips. Listen. I have to be back by 11:30. I'm expecting a very important call.

BOYLE: (growls)

KAHN: Speak! Speak! Why don't you speak? (inaudible), oh, oh, you can't be serious!

BOYLE: (growls)

KAHN: I'm a -- I -- Oh, my God. Woof!

BOYLE: (growls)

KAHN: I'm engaged. And once he took -- but I didn't -- it was never (inaudible) -- all we...

Oh, oh, I -- ahh -- aaaah!

(singing): Oh, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you!

BOYLE: (growls loudly)

KAHN (singing): Oh, at last I know the secret of it all!

BOYLE: (shrieks)

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: A scene from "Young Frankenstein." Madeline Kahn died Friday at the age of 57.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our engineer is Audrey Bentham (ph). Dorothy Farabee (ph) is our administrative assistant. Anne Marie Baldonado directed the show.

I'm Terry Gross.

We'll close with Madeline Kahn from the sound track of the Mel Brooks film "Blazing Saddles."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "BLAZING SADDLES")

KAHN (singing): (inaudible), (inaudible), I've had my fill of love from below and above. I'm tired of saying (inaudible), tired of love uninspired. Let's face, it, I'm tired.

I've been with thousands of men again and again. They promise the moon. They're always coming and going and going and coming -- and always too soon. (inaudible), (inaudible), tired of playing the game...

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest:
High: Actress Madeline Kahn died Friday, December 3, of ovarian cancer at age 57. A look at some of her finest comedic performances.
Spec: Entertainment; Death; Madeline Kahn

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Remembering Madeline Kahn
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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