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Rock Historian Ed Ward

Rock historian Ed Ward profiles soul singer James Carr who died in 2001.

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Other segments from the episode on April 13, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 15, 2003: Interview with Gabrielle Glaser; Commentary on James Carr; Interview with Tony Bennett and K.D. Lang.

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DATE April 15, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Gabrielle Glaser, author of "The Nose: A Profile of
Sex, Beauty and Survival," discusses how the nose and sinuses work
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

Of all the facial features, the nose is perhaps the most maligned. It's the
most popular choice for plastic surgery and for jokes: Is that a nose, or did
a bus park on your face? And then there's the plumbing angle. The physiology
of the nose and the sinus passages is a subject most people would avoid in
polite company. But not today.

Throughout her life, journalist Gabrielle Glaser has had a troubled
relationship with her own nose. Now she's written a book about the history,
the culture and the biology of the olfactory organ. It's called "The Nose: A
Profile of Sex, Beauty and Survival."

Scientists are developing new theories about what causes sinus problems. When
Terry spoke with Gabrielle Glaser, she asked her to describe what the sinuses
are.

Ms. GABRIELLE GLASER (Author, "The Nose: A Profile of Sex, Beauty and
Survival"): Sinuses are little cavities that we have behind our noses, and
lining, actually, the back of our noses, that are really very similar to a
cluster of grapes, and nobody's really sure why we have them. Some people
theorize that they developed when we began walking upright and it allowed us
to hold our heads up more easily, which--just the brain taking up all that
weight and space.

TERRY GROSS, host:

So we don't really know what the heck they're supposed to be doing?

Ms. GLASER: Yeah. Well, they equalize barometric pressure. They act as
resonance for the voice. They humidify air that's going into the lungs. If
we're in a hot place, they cool it down, and if we're in a cold place, they
warm it up. But that's what they do today. Nobody's really sure how it all
started.

GROSS: Unfortunately, sinuses dysfunction a lot of the time. What happens
when sinuses go wrong?

Ms. GLASER: Oh, so much happens. Inside your sinuses, you have hundreds and
hundreds of little cilia, tiny little hairlike filaments that move mucus to
the back of your throat and down to your stomach, where pollen and bacteria
and viruses generally are swallowed without any notice. People who have
healthy sinuses don't even notice these functions, and actually, they
produce--if you can believe this--a pint to a quart of mucus a day. But when
sinuses dysfunction--and anybody who has a cold or who's had a cold knows
this. You know, your nose gets runny, your sinuses fill up and the cilia
become totally overwhelmed and they can't function anymore, and you get sick.
And in the case of 37 million people who have a disease called chronic
sinusitis, this is a daily--it's just how they live their daily lives.

GROSS: So when sinuses are malfunctioning, do the sinuses and does that whole
nasal area become the breeding ground for infection?

Ms. GLASER: Yes. The cilia become overwhelmed. You get sinuses that are
pocked with inflammation and little parts of bacteria get trapped, and
infection can breed there, and grow and make people really, really miserable.

GROSS: Now what's the difference between chronic sinus problems and bad
allergies?

Ms. GLASER: When you are allergic to something, you have cells in your nose
that react to pollen and they react by sending a fluid--that's what makes your
nose itch and you have a runny nose and your eyes water and your throat gets
scratchy. These cells, though, become overwhelmed with fluid that is really
literally trying to flush the pollen out, and it's easily treatable by a
simple antihistamine, and you feel better. And people with chronic sinusitis
are not that lucky. They have this dysfunction of their sinus someplace
within the cluster of their sinuses, and we have dozens of them. The biggest
one is the maxillary sinus. There are sinuses above your forehead that are
separated from your brain by one of the thinnest bones in the body; it's
really paper-thin--you can actually see through it. You can see through the
bone to the brain. And you feel just chronically run-down, you have a
headache, you have this kind of runny nose that's just constant.

I once spoke to a woman who had this disease, and she worked in the White
House. She worked in the Clinton White House, and she told me--she took me
aside and she said, `What do I do? You know, I've seen all these doctors and
I'll go to these meetings in the Oval Office and I can't--you know, the
president looks at you and talks to you.' She was actually his point person
on health reform, of all things, way back in the day. And she said, `The
president looks at you, and you've got literally a mouth full of mucus, and
you can't very well just take a Kleenex aside and say, "I'm sorry, President
Clinton, I've got to spit this."'

And really I think that, to me, was one of the most vivid portrayals of what
this is for people. They're self-conscious, their sex lives get ruined, they
become depressed. It's just something that's always there. And...

GROSS: Yeah. I was interested that you connect sinusitis with depression,
fatigue and a loss of sexual interest.

Ms. GLASER: Yes. People--first of all, your head hurts all the time, and
I'm speaking from personal experience, because, you know, I struggle along
with the ailment myself. And you're always aware that you never quite feel
quite right. There have been many studies done on this, because doctors are
really struggling to try and treat patients for the whole disease, which turns
out to be systemic. Many suffer from depression; they suffer from, as you
said, loss of sexual interest; they're fatigued all the time. They just feel
constantly run-down. And when you feel run-down all the time, I mean, who
knows what comes first, depression or the disease?

But at any rate, the majority of people with this disease--and it works out to
be about 13 percent of all Americans--really do report that they also feel
depressed.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Gabrielle Glaser. We're
talking about her book, "The Nose."

Let's look at some of the most common treatments for sinus problems, and
common treatments include inhalers, inhalers that often have some kind of
corticosteroid in them. What's the latest thinking on those inhalers?

Ms. GLASER: Well, the latest thinking is that, you know, they're fine to
use. You know, millions of people certainly use them, and they cut down the
inflammation which ultimately leads to an infection. But some doctors also
believe that they can potentially weaken the membrane, and who knows where
people will be, you know, 20, 30 years from now. So not everyone is a big fan
of them. A lot of doctors really, really like them, but you know, as with
most drugs today, nobody really knows what the outcome will be decades down
the line.

GROSS: What about antibiotics?

Ms. GLASER: Well, antibiotics are certainly used. You know, billions of
dollars are spent on antibiotics to treat sinus infections, and
ever-more-powerful ones are always coming out, and there's always some new
great antibiotic that's going to treat this bacteria or this bacteria or this
bacteria, but oftentimes, frankly, people with chronic sinusitis grow out all
kinds of crazy bacteria because they're constantly switching back and forth
from one antibiotic to another. They have literally chronic infections, and
they certainly are at risk for, you know, these killer bugs that we hear
about.

GROSS: So in other words, you think antibiotics can sometimes actually
increase the problem over time?

Ms. GLASER: Yes, indeed. Indeed. But on the other hand, they also have to
be used in these patients. It's not a matter of just getting over a cold.
These people literally have, you know, bad infections, their cilia are
disabled, they can't get over the infection by themselves, and if you don't
treat them, it can result--the ailment can spread to the brain, you can have
meningitis, encephalitis, you can have chronic ear infections and they have to
be treated. So, you know, they're looking at new ways to try to tackle this
disease without antibiotics.

GROSS: There are also various surgeries that are performed for people with
chronic sinus problems.

Ms. GLASER: Right.

GROSS: Maybe you could describe the thinking behind those procedures, and how
effective are they, really?

Ms. GLASER: Well, sure. Several years ago, I'd say about 15 years
ago--let's go back, maybe 20 years ago--the only way to reach the sinuses,
which are really very cramped and it's hard to get to them--the only way they
could reach the sinuses was to cut a hole through the roof of the mouth and
drain the maxillary sinus that way, or make an incision literally in the
eyebrow, and drain the frontal sinuses that way, and it was quite dangerous
and oftentimes it was disfiguring, and as you can imagine, patients were, you
know, really pretty beat up afterwards.

With the discovery--not the discovery, but with the invention of an endoscope,
which is a tubed scope that is lighted at one end, and it's attached to a
video monitor on the other end which magnifies what the doctors are seeing on
the inside, this gave doctors a new tool to stick the tube up the patient's
nose and peer into the sinuses and do, you know, microsurgery inside this tiny
little cramped space. And that seemed like that was going to be the answer
for people with this disease.

And by the way, the numbers are growing. In 1982--I just was reviewing some
of these statistics--I think the figure for people with chronic sinusitis was
27 million, and now the figure is 37 million; some doctors would put it at 40
million. So in 20 years' time, that's a significant bump up.

And at any rate, back to these surgical techniques. Doctors were thrilled
with these endoscopes. This was going to be the answer, and this disease
could be cured this way. And they got a little, I would say, too happy with
some of these procedures, and they started stripping away membranes that
shouldn't have been stripped away. They started cutting out something we have
called turbinates. You have three sets of them inside your nose, and they are
responsible for humidifying the air, which we discussed that earlier, and
they're also one of the first lines of defense against bacteria and viruses,
and they thought, oh, these swell and they get in a patient's way of
breathing; we'll just chop them out. And in fact, oftentimes the surgery left
people more impaired and sicker than they had ever been before, and doctors
are now revising their notions of surgery and who needs it and exactly when it
needs to be performed and they are really trying--they really have stepped
back in terms of the aggressiveness of their procedures. And some people are,
you know, dismayed by the whole notion of surgery altogether, unless a person
has an anatomical blockage and something really, really, really needs to be
done.

GROSS: You know, you described how some doctors were taking out the
turbinates, leaving patients more defenseless against germs. Is this what's
described as empty nose syndrome?

Ms. GLASER: Yes. This is what doctors call empty nose syndrome, and patients
are really impaired after this. They find they can't smell. They find they
have nerve damage. This is one of the most nerve-dense regions in the entire
body. You know, you're right next to your optic nerve. You're right next to
your olfactory nerve. There's so much that can go wrong with sinus surgery.
And people just simply didn't recognize that. When these endoscopes came into
view, they thought, you know, this was it. This was going to be the answer.
And, in fact, you know, thousands of people have lost their sense of smell as
a result of surgery. I got an e-mail the other day from a woman who does have
this empty nose syndrome, who's basically lived the last several years on
Vicodin, which is a very potent painkiller, and she said she's seen 15 doctors
who have tried to help her, and there's basically, you know, no hope for her.
She is going to suffer the rest of her life.

GROSS: Well, you've been very interesting in describing sinus problems and
some of the latest thinking about those problems. You write not only as a
journalist. You write from experience as well. What are some of the sinus
problems you've had?

Ms. GLASER: Oh, I was about--let's see, about 10 years ago, I couldn't
breathe very well when I slept, and it wasn't that I was snoring. I just
couldn't breathe. I would wake up feeling not rested. So I went to see a
doctor, and he said, `Oh, you have a deviated septum. It needs to be fixed.'
So I had deviated septum surgery, and unfortunately, I got an operating room
infection. He didn't treat me for the infection, which got worse and worse
and worse, and I became pregnant, and then nobody would really treat me, and I
was so ill. I had a sinus infection in every single one of my sinuses. I had
a white blood count that put me at risk for sepsis, and I wound up in the
hospital, and another doctor took pity on me and literally saved my life. And
I was about seven months' pregnant and wound up in the hospital for two weeks
on every IV drug you could possibly imagine. And since then, I've had three
sinus surgeries to try to clean up the damage from that first really awful
infection. And I'm what you call today a nasal cripple.

BOGAEV: Gabrielle Glaser talking with Terry Gross. Glaser's new book is "The
Nose." We'll hear more of their conversation after the break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Back now to Terry's interview with journalist Gabrielle Glaser. Her
new book, "The Nose," is about the history, the science and the cultural
history of the nose.

GROSS: Now you've also done a lot of historical research about the nose and
the sense of smell, and even about what certain medical beliefs used to be
about odors and their connection to disease. What are some of the interesting
now out-of-date medical theories about the connection between odor and
illness?

Ms. GLASER: Well, during the years of the plague, obviously, people thought
that a bad smell was a portent of the coming plague. And in many cases, it
was because, you know, people were decaying and dying all around, and the
smell apparently that had overtaken most of the continent of Europe in the
Middle Ages was really just an awful thing to even try to imagine. And the
nose's function--actually, some of the most astonishing and frankly hilarious
research that I ran across was what the nose represented in terms of illness.
The ancient Dr. Galen thought that whenever we had a runny nose, whenever
people had a runny nose, it was a sign of the brain percolating and that the
brain's, you know, percolating juices sifting down to the noses would, you
know, eventually cause the person's brain to seize and die. And in many
cases, obviously, a cold would signal the end of a person's life. If somebody
didn't get over it, and they got sick, they got pneumonia, they would die.

And certainly during the plague, people tried to ward themselves--ward the bad
smells of the decay and the death off by protecting themselves with
what--there are some anthropologists and sociologists who call this olfactory
bubbles. In other words, they would literally wash themselves with urine of
healthy people to try to ward off the disease. So you can just imagine how...

GROSS: Wait, wait, what's the point of that? So the urine would smell so
bad, it would crowd out the other bad smells?

Ms. GLASER: Right. It would ward off--precisely. It would crowd out the
other bad smells. And doctors filled--you know, I'm sure you've seen those
woodcuts of doctors in the Middle Ages. They wore a long black cape and a big
beak that was filled with rosemary and thyme and lavender, which was thought
to ward off the disease because it--you know, something that actually smelled
good.

GROSS: Well, the book that I want to see that you reference in your book "The
Nose" is an 1897 book called "The Relationship Between the Nose and A Woman's
Genitalia."(ph) What is that book about?

Ms. GLASER: Oh, that was Wilhelm Fliess' book. He was a contemporary and
friend of Sigmund Freud's, and he had this theory that women had
something--and men had something called genital spots in their noses, and that
if you didn't satisfy yourself sexually in the "proper way"--and the proper
way in quotes, which is to say if you used condoms, if you masturbated, if you
had too much sex or too little sex, your nose would--these genital spots would
become engorged and cause you no end of nasal grief. And his theory was that
if you operated on the nose and you took out the turbinates which got engorged
and apparently held these genital spots, then a person would be fine.

And one of Freud's early analytical patients was a woman named Emma Eckstein,
and she had many troubles. She had stomach problems. She had painful
menstrual periods, and she went to Freud, and in addition to her other
physical problems, Freud was convinced that one of her greatest ailments--she
had nasal problems, too. One of the greatest causes of all of her problems
was that she masturbated. So in order to stop this incredible vice, which is
what they called it in those days, he summoned Fliess to perform the surgery.
Fliess was in Berlin, and he summoned Fliess to Vienna to perform the surgery,
and Fliess left almost immediately afterwards, and this poor Emma Eckstein
became sicker and sicker and sicker and sicker, and finally, weeks after the
initial surgery, they pulled out--this is really gross, but they pulled out a
half meter of gauze that had been left in her sinus cavities in the initial
operation, and she had begun to stink. And Freud was...

GROSS: Oh.

Ms. GLASER: ...writing desperately, desperately to Fliess, `She stinks. What
can we do? She has a fetid odor.' And it turned out to be this gauze that
they left in her nose, which became very infected, obviously.

GROSS: Well, I'm sure the surgery succeeded in ruining whatever sex drive
that she had.

Ms. GLASER: Well, indeed. In fact, she had three more surgeries, if you can
beli--no, two more surgeries, if you can believe that, and the nasal
procedures that they performed on her ultimately--she was a really pretty girl
when she--she was, you know, just a young woman, 19 years old, I think, when
she first saw her--maybe early 20s, and the bones in her face really caved in
and she became disfigured.

GROSS: Wow. Terrible story. Now I just have to get back to something you
brought up very early in the interview, which is that we produce somewhere
between a pint and a quart of mucus a day. Where does all of it go and what
do we do with all of that?

Ms. GLASER: Well, if your sinuses work and everything is working, you don't
notice it. It's like saliva. You don't notice your mouth gathering saliva.
It just passes from your sinuses at the very back of your throat, and you
swallow it, and it goes into your stomach, and that's all there is. But you
do notice it if you're sick, and it pools up and you can't blow your nose
properly, or you do blow your nose all the time because you're trying to get
it out of your nose, and so the short answer is either in a Kleenex or in your
stomach.

GROSS: OK. Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us about the
nose.

Ms. GLASER: Oh, it's my pleasure.

BOGAEV: Gabrielle Glaser's new book is "The Nose: A Profile of Sex, Beauty
and Survival."

I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

BOGAEV: Tony Bennett says his favorite singer after Judy Garland is k.d.
lang. Coming up, we talk with Bennett and lang. The two have collaborated on
a new album of duets. And Ed Ward profiles the late soul singer James Carr.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Profile: Brief, but brilliant career of soul singer James Carr
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

It takes more than talent to succeed; it takes the ability to handle success.
Soul singer James Carr had more than enough talent to be one of the great
voices of his time, but he also had demons holding him back. Ed Ward tells us
the tragic story of a man for whom soul was not enough.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. JAMES CARR: (Singing) Hot lips like fire, ever burning mine. Eyes just
like the moonlight--yeah--that forever shines. You are admirable, so
desirable. What a loveable girl. What a loveable girl. Your loving arms...

ED WARD reporting:

When the soul singer James Carr died in 2001, a part of me was glad. Carr's
long struggle with himself was finally over, and so were the many frustrations
for his friend Roosevelt Jamison, who had devoted a large part of his life
trying to prove to the world that James Carr was one of the greatest soul
singers of all time. Few people, however, have ever heard of Carr, which is a
shame because probably the only male vocalist who was his equal was Otis
Redding. Carr never had access to the Stax Records family of musicians and
songwriters like Otis did, but he did just fine with what he had at hand.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. CARR: (Singing) These ain't raindrops in my eyes. Just look at me. I've
been crying because I love you. I wonder why can't you see me. Just one kiss
would do so much now; it would drive away all my fear. These ain't raindrops
in my eyes, but they are tears. Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

WARD: James Carr was born in 1942 in Coahoma, Mississippi, but his family
soon moved to Memphis, where James started singing in church at the age of
six. That's where Roosevelt Jamison, a budding songwriter, first saw him, and
he knew he had to get this guy recorded. In 1963, Quinton Claunch, a white
Memphis guitarist who'd recorded with Carl Perkins on Sun, started a soul
label called Goldwax to compete with Stax, and it was to his house that
Jamison dragged James Carr one night. He played Claunch some demos he'd made
with Carr, and Claunch called his lawyer and asked him to have a contract
ready the next morning. They hit gold with their third single.

(Soundbite of "You've Got My Mind Messed Up")

Mr. CARR: (Singing) I said I weren't going to tell nobody else, but I just
can't keep it, Lord, to myself now. For as long as I've been running around,
I finally met a little girl that really got me down now. Baby, you got my
mind messed up. Now, little girl, little girl, you sure got my mind messed up
now. I go to bed, Lord, and I can't sleep. I sit down at the table, ooh,
Lord, I can't eat. Somebody please, please help me now. Ooh, oh, oh, oh.

WARD: At the time, nobody realized quite how prophetic those lyrics were.
They were too excited about another track that they had released as soon as
"You've Got My Mind Messed Up" finally slid down the charts. It had been
written by Carr's engineer, Chips Moman, and another white kid, Dan Penn, who
wound up singing the harmony vocals on the chorus.

(Soundbite of "The Dark End of the Street")

Mr. CARR: (Singing) At the dark end of the street, that's where we always
meet; hiding in shadows where we don't belong, living in darkness to hide our
wrongs.

Mr. CARR and Mr. DAN PENN: (Singing in unison) You and me at the dark end of
the street. You and me.

Mr. CARR: (Singing) I know time...

WARD: Amazingly, although the song went into the soul top 10, it fizzled as a
pop hit in early 1967. Most people know it through Aretha Franklin's version,
which wasn't even a single. Carr's, however, remains one of the most perfect
soul records ever made, although several others of his come close.

(Soundbite of "Pouring Water on a Drowning Man")

Mr. CARR: (Singing) You push me when I'm falling and you kick me when I'm
down. I guess I missed my calling 'cause I should have been a clown. How
much more, how much more could I stand when you're pouring water on a drowning
man? I like that. Put me on the right track.

WARD: But after "Dark End of the Street," the hits stopped coming. Carr
himself was very unhappy with the fact that it hadn't done better, and this
seemed to make the occasional spells of depression he'd always had seem worse.
He began smoking a lot of pot and acting odd. He'd come to the studio, sit
down and not talk or move for a couple of hours, then suddenly stand up and
deliver a masterpiece.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. CARR: (Singing) If she seems cold and blue, I beg you just stop and
consider what my baby's gone through. Don't be quick to condemn her for the
things she said. Just remember, life turned her that way.

WARD: Finally, Roosevelt Jamison turned Carr's management over to Phil
Walden, who'd managed Otis Redding, and Quinton Claunch decided he'd release
him from his record contract. Walden managed to get him one more single on
Atlantic, but it wasn't very good and didn't go anywhere.

What happened next? Nobody's quite sure. When a British fan interviewed him
in 1987, Carr himself couldn't account for the years 1971 to 1977, although he
ended that period in a Florida jail, where Jamison found him and got him on
antidepressant medication. He also arranged for a Japanese tour, which ended
when Carr took much of his medication, walked on stage and just stared at the
lights.

Carr rallied for a while, but after he had a cancerous lung removed in 1997,
he stopped taking his medication again and one of his sisters had him
committed to a mental hospital. Finally, he moved to a nursing home and died,
and his mind was no longer `messed up.'

BOGAEV: Ed Ward lives in Berlin.

Coming up, Tony Bennett and k.d. lang. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Green Onions")

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

Interview: Tony Bennett and k.d. lang discuss their new CD, "A
Wonderful World"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

A New York Times review of "A Wonderful World," the new album from Tony
Bennett and k.d. lang, describes the pairing of these singers as a `vocal fit
so perfect it seems made in heaven.' The new album is inspired by the songs
of Louis Armstrong. It earned two Grammy nominations, and was named
outstanding music album at the GLAAD Media Awards in New York.

Bennett and k.d. lang have a history of collaboration dating back to 1994,
when they performed a duet of "Moonglow" for Bennett's "MTV Unplugged"
special, and the two toured together in 2001. On that tour, Bennett
introduced lang to audiences by saying, `Next to Judy Garland, k.d. lang is
my favorite.'

Terry spoke with the singers earlier this month. Here's a song from the new
album. This is "Dream a Little Dream."

(Soundbite of "Dream a Little Dream)

Ms. K.D. LANG: (Singing) Stars shining bright above you. Night breezes seem
to whisper `I love you.' Birds singing in the sycamore tree, dream a little
dream of me.

Mr. TONY BENNETT: (Singing) Say `nighty-night' and kiss me. Just hold me
tight and tell me you'll miss me. While I'm alone and blue as can be, dream a
little dream of me.

Ms. LANG: (Singing) Star's fading, but I linger on, dear, still craving your
kiss. I'm longing to linger till dawn, dear. Just saying this...

Mr. BENNETT: (Singing) Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you. Sweet dreams
that leave all worries behind you.

Ms. LANG: (Singing) But in your dreams, whatever they be...

Ms. LANG and Mr. BENNETT: (Singing in unison) ...dream a little dream of me.

(Soundbite of music)

TERRY GROSS, host:

Tony Bennett, k.d. lang, welcome to FRESH AIR.

K.d. lang, when you started singing with Tony Bennett, did you start phrasing
any differently? Did you start doing anything differently with your singing
to work with either the orchestration that was behind you, or to pick up on
his phrasing?

Ms. LANG: Absolutely. And I can't even describe to you the process because I
don't think it's something that I'm even aware of happening. But I totally
notice that I sing different with Tony. Even the timbre of my voice shifts
into a higher resonance. It's with Tony and also with his band and the way
he's constructed his sound amongst his quartet. It really, really is singer
friendly, and it really gives the singer room. And I love to back phrase. I
mean, I'm the worst back-phraser. In fact, I'm...

Mr. BENNETT: No, you're the best back-phraser.

Ms. LANG: Yeah, I...

Mr. BENNETT: There's nothing bad with back phrasing. That's the right way.

Ms. LANG: I am the best back-phraser because I can pull a band from here to
Hatchipee, you know. But it's...

GROSS: What do we mean by back-phraser?

Mr. BENNETT: Well, it's like Jack Benny. You know, he'd tell a joke and it
would last so long and everybody would wait for him to say the next thing, and
then when he said it, it was so good you couldn't believe it.

Ms. LANG: I pull the melody as slow as I can. You know, I think my name
should be `k.d. languid,' actually, because I just love to pull a melody as
slow as I can...

Mr. BENNETT: That's good.

Ms. LANG: ...and stretch the words out and just use every ounce of melody
that I can.

GROSS: And has that gotten more pronounced with Tony Bennett, or less so?

Ms. LANG: Actually, I think a little less because Tony has a way of
punctuating a phrase that I just love, and I have never been really able to do
that. And listening to him and watching him sing, you know, with his body
language and his animation and, I guess, his sort of theatrical body language
that he just does naturally, I've noticed the punctuation and I've notice that
it helps me shorten a phrase or turn a phrase in a certain way that I was
never able to do before. So it's been a very welcome, you know, sort of
enhancement to the way I approach a lyric now.

GROSS: The funny thing...

Mr. BENNETT: No, you know, it's...

GROSS: Go ahead, Tony. Go ahead.

Mr. BENNETT: I must say, you know, k.d.--you know, there's a famous story
about Ira and George Gershwin. They heard Ethel Merman and they said, `Do me
a favor'--she was auditioning for them. They said, `Don't ever go to a
teacher. Just sing and don't ever change. That's the way we want you to
sing. You sound perfect.' I really feel that way about you. I'm not
comparing myself to George and Ira Gershwin, but I'm just saying that it's a
wonderful lesson. You sing naturally, you sing from the heart and the mind,
and it's intelligent. And you don't have to change anything except just be
exposed and sing songs you love to sing. And it's so beautiful because it's
so pure, you know. I mean, outside of Judy Garland, I never heard anyone sing
as well as you.

GROSS: Well, k.d. lang, now that Tony Bennett has given you advice not to see
a singing teacher, let me ask you if you ever have taken singing lessons.

Ms. LANG: Actually, yes, when I left high school to go to college to study
music, and voice was my major. And it was interesting. It helped me a lot to
develop my upper range, but really, it is very--I didn't study that much. And
I didn't--certainly, I'm not a very studious person. So it is a very natural
process for me.

GROSS: Did your singing teacher have you singing in a range that you
considered too high for the singing that you do now?

Ms. LANG: Well, actually, it's a really interesting story, and if you don't
mind, I'd like to tell you.

GROSS: I'd love to hear it.

Ms. LANG: I walked in the room--this is in Red Deer, Alberta, by the way. I
walked in with my Concert Alberta softball jacket on looking completely dykey,
and I walk in and he goes, `What is your range?' And I went, `I'm an alto.'
And he goes, `Sing me a scale.' And he goes, `You're not an alto; you're a
mezzo.' I said, `I'm an alto.' He goes, `You're a mezzo.' And we'd fight.
And finally, he stops and he goes, `Look, I don't care if you're a lesbian,
you're a mezzo.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LANG: So it was actually really interesting because he--and I was, like,
maybe 18 at the time, and he established very early that there is no
distinction between sexuality, no distinction between spirituality and what
comes out of your voice. And actually, I found that a profound and lasting
teaching from him, and I think that that's been one of the secrets to my
success, is because I never have separated my sexuality or my spirituality or
anything from my voice.

GROSS: Now the funny thing is when you sing together, it sounds, Tony
Bennett, like you have the higher voice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BENNETT: There aren't any--(talking in a high-pitched voice)--sharks in
these waters.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: No, it just sounds like you're singing in a higher range. Am I crazy?

Ms. LANG: I think that was because of, you know...

Mr. BENNETT: The key changes.

Ms. LANG: ...the key changes, yeah. Like, we were at the top of his range
and at the very bottom of my range.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. LANG: So the keys could accommodate both voices.

Mr. BENNETT: But you know, that's--with good duets, you know, not just, you
know, what we performed with on this record. But when you have a contrast of
two different voices for a recording it's wonderful. I mean, the difference
between Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong singing...

Ms. LANG: Or Ella and Louis, yeah. Yeah.

Mr. BENNETT: Yeah, Ella and Louis. You know, you just have two different
voices going. And it's becoming. I made a record with a great friend of mine
who sounded just like myself because we were both doing Louis Armstrong at the
same time. So you need a contrast; you need two different sounds. And then
it kind of becomes becoming to the audience and to their ears.

GROSS: I think I should thank you both for not doing any medleys on the CD,
because like duets so often go along with long, terrible medleys.

Ms. LANG: (Laughing) Yeah.

Mr. BENNETT: And thank God, I don't remember one of those.

GROSS: Your album together is an album of songs that Louis Armstrong recorded
at some point or another during his career. And some of these are songs he's
famous for; others are lesser-known recordings of his. Tony Bennett, it was
your idea to do Armstrong. Why did you want to do Armstrong-associated songs?

Mr. BENNETT: What you find out about Louis Armstrong, once you get hooked on
his music, is he's the original source of popular music in America. He's the
creator, the biggest one of all. He created a thing called swing. It's not a
fashion. It's an American style that's really our deep tradition, and it was
the best era that we ever came through. And to this day if someone's
`swinging,' they're with it, you know. It's like--Fred Astaire wrote a song
toward the end of his life, said, `If it doesn't swing, I'm outta here,' and
that's one thing. But then whether it's pop or hip-hop or rap, you name
whatever category you've got, and bebop, you'll find that Louis Armstrong did
it all. He's the source. He's the master. He's the ultimate master of music
in America.

Ms. LANG: And you grew up in the same area as he did?

Mr. BENNETT: Yeah. Yeah. We lived in the same neighborhood.

GROSS: Did you get to know him as a friend?

Mr. BENNETT: I did, yes. It was great, just great. Everything we--he and
Jimmy Durante had two things in common. They said something very profound,
but very humorous at the same time. Like, to give you a quick example, Bobby
Hackett, the great cornet player who played for Glenn Miller--he was his
guitarist, originally, but then played cornet behind Sinatra and became very
famous on the Jackie Gleason records--"Little Girl Blue" and "My Funny
Valentine," all these great records with strings. And Bobby was a beautiful
white musician, and they were great, great friends. And that's how I met
Louis Armstrong, through Bobby Hackett. And on the first meeting, at the end
of the night when we were saying goodnight, he said, `And don't forget, I'm
the coffee.' He says, `Bobby is the cream.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

BOGAEV: Tony Bennett and k.d. lang, speaking with Terry Gross. They have a
new album together, "A Wonderful World." We'll hear more of their
conversation, and more music, after the break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Back with Tony Bennett and k.d. lang. Their new album is "A
Wonderful World." Before we go back to Terry's interview, let's listen to
k.d. lang singing "You Can't Lose a Broken Heart."

(Soundbite of "You Can't Lose a Broken Heart")

Ms. LANG: (Singing) Don't lose your head, lose your love. You can't lose a
broken heart. If you ever break up, then try to make up. It's tough to make
a brand-new start. Take a walk; think it over while strolling 'neath the
moon. Don't say things in December you'll regret in June.

Weigh your remarks before you speak, for you may be sorry soon. Don't be
erratic, be diplomatic to keep your hearts in tune. Cool, harsh words often
spoken will upset the apple cart. So don't lose your head and lose your love
'cause you can't lose a broken heart.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: K.d. lang, I'm wondering if the collaboration with Tony Bennett has
led you in different directions in terms of your listening, if you, in the
last few years, have been listening to things that you might not have heard if
it wasn't for starting to collaborate with him.

Ms. LANG: Well, there's no question, starting with the Louis Armstrong stuff.
Absolutely. My understanding and my appreciation for that era has completely
ripened. And I'll tell you one thing: recording with Tony has completely
changed--like I said earlier, my approach to recording forever will be
different. I can't do this thing where, you know, you do the beds first and
then you're stuck in a room by yourself and everyone's staring at you and you
have to do your vocals. It's just so not my style. I have to sing with the
musicians while it's going down. And I don't think I'll ever return to that
sterile way of recording anymore.

GROSS: And you didn't do these duets the way the Frank Sinatra duets were
done, where people were sending tracks back and forth and Sinatra and the
people he duetted with weren't in the room together.

Ms. LANG: Oh, no. We were right there on the stage with the musicians. No
monitors, just handheld mikes. No headphones. Just sitting there on two
chairs about two feet apart and singing to each other.

Mr. BENNETT: Also, I have to mention this before we finish this conversation,
is that outside of Julie Andrews, who I read in the Alan Jay Lerner book about
his life--that she was the quickest learner that he ever ran into, she and
Maurice Chevalier. He hailed both of them as being great, great professional
people. I couldn't believe that when we finally decided on the songs to sing
that by the third day I noticed I was still reading the music and memorizing
them and a slow learner, and she had her eyes closed and she had memorized all
of the songs already. In two or three days, she had them all memorized and
knew exactly what she was going to do. She's a very quick, intelligent
learner, and it's such a professional thing to see that happen.

Ms. LANG: I don't know if my teachers would agree with you, Tony.

GROSS: K.d. lang...

Mr. BENNETT: Well, shame on them.

GROSS: ...what's your style of approaching a song? How do you learn a new
song?

Ms. LANG: First of all, I listen. I mean, I'll just give you the real actual
physical rundown. I listen a few times and then I actually physically write
the lyrics down on a piece of paper. And then I stop listening for about a
day, but while I'm walking the streets or, you know, driving or doing chores
around the house I practice. I sing them over and over, and then pretty much
I have it. I think the sort of the graphic--seeing my handwriting and seeing
the letters graphically on a piece of paper really somehow that makes a big
connection for me. I'm very sort of attached to seeing things on a piece of
paper.

GROSS: So when you're walking the streets singing to yourself, for the people
who don't recognize you, do they look at you kind of funny 'cause your lips
are moving as you're talking? Do they think maybe you're talking--your lips
are moving as you're walking, I mean. Do they think maybe you're talking to
them, or...

Ms. LANG: Terry, I'm quite used to the fact of people looking at me funny.
It's been sort of the norm since day one. So I am sort of oblivious to it by
now.

GROSS: Tony Bennett, do you ever sing walking down the street?

Mr. BENNETT: Yeah, a lot.

GROSS: You do?

Mr. BENNETT: Yeah, I like it.

Ms. LANG: It is good.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both so much, and...

Mr. BENNETT: Thank you.

Ms. LANG: Thank you.

GROSS: Thank you.

BOGAEV: Tony Bennett and k.d. lang, speaking with Terry Gross. Their new
album is called "A Wonderful World."

(Credits)

BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

(Soundbite of "You Can Depend On Me")

Ms. LANG: (Singing) If you need a friend, I'm yours till the end, and you
can depend on me.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BENNETT: (Singing) Now I wish you success, loads of happiness.

Ms. LANG: (Singing) Oh, but I must confess...

Ms. LANG and Mr. BENNETT: (Singing in unison) ...I'll be lonely, I'll be
lonely, I'll be lonely.

Mr. BENNETT: (Singing) And if you need a friend...

Ms. LANG: (Singing) ...I'm yours to the end...

Ms. LANG and Mr. BENNETT: (Singing in unison) ...and you can depend on me.
You can depend on me.

Mr. BENNETT: (Singing scat)
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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