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A Talk With Frank Conroy

Writer Frank Conroy died April 6, at 69. He had colon cancer. He was the longtime director of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. His 1967 memoir, Stop-Time, became a classic. In 1993, he published his first and only novel, Body & Soul. His other books were a collection of short stories, Midair, and his last book, the nonfiction Time and Tide: A Walk Through Nantucket. Conroy also worked as a jazz pianist in Greenwich Village and Nantucket for many years. (Originally aired Sept. 29, 1993)

14:09

Other segments from the episode on April 7, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 7, 2005: Obituary for Saul Bellow; Commentary on language; Interview with Lewis Black; Obituary for Frank Conroy.

Transcript

DATE April 7, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Commentary: Pros and cons of adjectives used to describe the
president's Social Security proposal
TERRY GROSS, host:

`The personal is political,' people say, but the debates over the president's
Social Security proposals have given that phrase a new meaning. Our linguist
Geoff Nunberg has these thoughts about the dueling adjectives that supporters
and opponents of the plan have been using.

GEOFF NUNBERG:

Not many people are in a position to evaluate the administration's Social
Security plan in all its gnarly details, so a lot is hanging on the way it's
branded. The White House has been insisting that the media should use the
phrase `personal accounts' to describe the proposal, which allows people to
divert a portion of their payroll taxes into the stock market, rather than
talking about `private accounts' or `privatization.' President Bush says that
privatization is a trick word that's simply intended to scare people. And the
National Republican Congressional Committee has called it a false and
misleading term.

The campaign has clearly had an effect on the media. As of last month, the
proportion of stories that describe the accounts as personal rather than
private had doubled since November.

What makes this awkward is that advocates of the administration's plan were
talking about privatization and private accounts themselves, until recently
when polls and focus groups showed that the words made voters nervous. That's
created some delicate moments for the administration, particularly since old
habits die hard. A few months ago the president corrected a Washington Post
reporter who asked a question about the administration's privatization plan.
`You mean the personal savings accounts?' Bush said. `We don't want to be
editorializing.' But when the reporter pointed out that the president himself
had talked about private accounts and partial privatization just a few months
earlier, Bush said, `Maybe I did. It's amazing what happens when you're
tired.'

Some critics have described this linguistic recall campaign as Orwellian, but
that really isn't fair. This isn't a question of using a deceptive euphemism
in place of an honest description, after all. The administration's merely
swapping one vague tag for another when the first one turns out not to poll so
well. And with the wisdom of hindsight, supporters of the administration's
plan are happy to explain why privatization was actually the wrong word all
along. `Privatization means you're going to take the program out of the
federal government and put it in the hands of private individuals totally,'
said Republican Jim McCrery, the chairman of the House Ways and Means
Subcommittee on Social Security. `Whereas with the president's plan,' McCrery
said, `people's investment choices are very limited, and they can't use the
money for anything but buying an annuity when they retire.' Critics respond
that private is an apt term for a plan that has people turning over their
payroll taxes to Wall Street mutual fund managers.

But even if Republicans can fight the definition duel to a standoff, their
real problem is how to disown private without bailing out on the time-honored
Republican rhetoric that goes along with it. Back in 2001, for example,
President Bush was saying, `I want to give younger workers the opportunity to
manage some of their own money in the private markets.' That reference to
people's own money is the sort of language that comes with the Republican
system disk, along with words like `individual,' `ownership' and `choice.'
But it's hard to square that language with the recent assurances that people
won't actually have much control over their accounts.

You could hear the strain in the president's remarks at the White House
Economic Summit in December. `People are not going to be allowed to take
their own money for their retirement account and take it to Las Vegas to shoot
dice,' Bush said. But normally when a Republican starts a sentence by
talking about people's own money, you don't expect him to finish by saying
what they're not allowed to do with it.

The rhetorical challenge here is to find language that suggests the idea of
ownership without actually implying possession. And no word splits that
metaphysical seam more neatly than `personal' does. The president can talk
about `your own personal account' without creating any of the unease that
`your own private account' might engender. After all, `your own personal' is
the phrase that marketers use when they want to convey pride of possession
without suggesting that they're conveying title in the bargain, as in, `not
your own exactly but just for you.'

Do a Google search on `your own personal,' and you come up with a staggering
two and half million hits: `Create your own personal coat of arms';
`MovieTickets.com, your own personal box office'; `choose from thousand of
tunes to select your own personal ring tone.' I got a letter from my bank
once telling me that I'd been assigned my own personal banker. I thought that
was pretty cool, until I realized that all it meant was that there was
somebody I could reach at an 800 number without always having to drill down
through the phone menu.

`Your own personal retirement account' seems to fit the pattern to a T. As
the Republican pollster and language consultant Frank Luntz puts it, when you
personalize something, whether monogrammed towels or Social Security, you
enhance ownership by allowing the owner to leave his or her mark on it. The
comparison seems fair enough, though I don't know how far Luntz has thought it
through. I mean, the thing about personalized towels is that they're not
returnable if it turns out they don't keep you dry.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a Stanford linguist and author of "Going Nuclear:
Language, Politics, and Culture in Confrontational Times."

Billie Holiday was born 90 years ago today. Here's how she sounded in 1935
when she was 20. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. BILLIE HOLIDAY (Singer): (Singing) Ooh, ooh, ooh, what a little
moonlight can do. Ooh, ooh, ooh, what a little moonlight can do to you.
You're in love, your heart's a-fluttering all day long. You only stutter
'cause your poor tongue just will not utter the words `I love you.' Ooh, ooh,
ooh, what a little moonlight can do. Wait a will a while till a little
moonbeam comes peeping through. You'll get bored. You can't resist him at
all, you said, when you have kissed him as--ooh, ooh, what a little moonlight
can do.

(Soundbite of music)

Announcer: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, the always exasperated comic Lewis Black. We'll get to
hear what he sounds like when he isn't angry. Black is a regular commentator
on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and he has a new memoir. Also, we
listen back to a 1993 interview with the writer and teacher Frank Conroy. He
died yesterday at the age of 69.

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Interview: Lewis Black discusses his new memoir, CD, his career
and childhood
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Lewis Black is a stand-up comic and commentator on "The Daily Show with Jon
Stewart," the nightly show of political satire on Comedy Central. Black's
political and social commentaries always seem fueled by his anger and
exasperation. The cartoonist Jules Feiffer has said, `Lewis Black has to
shout because he knows that no one who counts is listening. We, who do not
count, depend on and are grateful for the common sense behind his comic rage.
When power corrupts, Lewis erupts.' Now Black has a new memoir called
"Nothing's Sacred" and a new CD released by Comedy Central Records.

Let's start with a commentary he gave on "The Daily Show" last month.

(Soundbite of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"; music and applause)

Mr. LEWIS BLACK (Comedian and Commentator): With our troops overextended,
intelligence reform bogged down, gas prices at an all-time high and millions
of kids without health care, it was comforting last week to see Congress take
on the most pressing issue of all: Do baseball players use steroids?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLACK: Here's a hint. Yes!

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Mr. BLACK: On Thursday, seven former and current big-leaguers spoke before
Congress in testimony far more riveting than an actual baseball game. The
star attraction, 6'5", 220 pounds, able to bench press the mezzanine at Busch
Stadium: Mark McGwire. He'll be staring down a tough opponent: the truth.

Mr. MARK McGWIRE (Former Baseball Player): Well, sir, I'm not here to talk
about the past.

Mr. BLACK: Strike one!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McGWIRE: Like I said earlier, I'm not going to go into the past and talk
about my past.

Mr. BLACK: Strike two!

Mr. McGWIRE: I'm not here to talk about the past.

Mr. BLACK: Strike three! No one came off worse than Big Mac. At one point
the strain of not answering anything even made him start crying. Crying?
There's no crying in baseball testimony!

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

Mr. BLACK: Fortunately, Congressman Mark Souder wasn't letting him off the
hook.

Representative MARK SOUDER (Republican, Indiana): If the Enron people come in
here and say, `Well, we don't want to talk about the past,' do you think
Congress is going to let them get away with that?

Mr. BLACK: A fascinating hypothetical.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLACK: What would happen if the Enron guys got dragged before Congress?

Unidentified Man #1: I must respectfully decline to answer, on Fifth
Amendment grounds, all the questions of this committee and subcommittee.

Unidentified Man #2: Will you invoke your Fifth Amendment rights in response
to all questions here today?

Unidentified Man #3: Yes, I will. I respectfully decline to answer the
question based on the protection afforded me under the Constitution of the
United States.

Mr. BLACK: OK. But if the subject had been steroids, they really would've
let him have it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Lewis Black, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. BLACK: My pleasure.

GROSS: Can you talk about how this commentary was written, like what the
genesis of it was?

Mr. BLACK: Well, I'm going to burst a bubble here. I don't write the
commentary, so--I perform it. Essentially for a long time my segment was an
island unto itself, and then Jon, once he had a vision of the show, began to
bring me into the fold by giving us other kind of topics he wanted us to do.
And then we would--so that was already narrowed down. We would do the same
sort of thing; I would write, kick it back. And then my career kind of took
off, and I began to travel more. I wasn't there as much as I could be, and
so--and then by the time, which--now this is just about a year and a half, I
guess, now, two years maybe, the writers at the show were writing me, you
know--they're writing a better me than I can.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So when the writers write a piece for you, do you have a chance to
make any changes you want to?

Mr. BLACK: Oh, yeah. I can throw stuff back to them. I mean, what happens
is they write it, and they send it to me. I look at it, but usually they--it
goes immediately back to the staff there--you know, the guys in charge. They
look at it again. They rework it and then they send it back to me, and then
they rework it again. And when I get it--the last time that I get it is
usually when I'll throw some things in.

GROSS: How would you describe your persona on stage?

Mr. BLACK: Just basically a very deeply frustrated individual who expresses
his frustration through anger.

GROSS: And does that describe you off stage, too?

Mr. BLACK: No, I don't have the energy for that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLACK: People always ask me, `Are you like that all the time?' And I
said, `If I was like that, I'd be dead.'

GROSS: How did you create this on-stage persona of the deeply frustrated,
angry guy?

Mr. BLACK: It's always been a part of my personality, and I'd always kind of
had that. And I never really thought I'd become a comic. I thought I was
going to be a playwright. And so I was doing it on the side for fun, and I
would kind of work on, you know, ways to approach it. And I never--nothing
was working. And then Dan Ballard, who's a very funny comedian who works out
of Michigan, was watching me one night and came up and said, `You know, the
next time you go back on stage,' he said, `you know, you start yelling, OK?
Because, listen, you're angry. I yell on stage,' he said, `all the time. I'm
not angry, and I'm yelling. And I shouldn't be yelling. And you're angry,
and you should be yelling.' And that was it, and that really released it all.

GROSS: Did you model any of your approach on your father or on older people
in your family?

Mr. BLACK: I think I modeled it a little bit on my mother and a bit from my
grandfather, who was--Wow!--he was Mr. Angry. He was...

GROSS: What would he get angry about, and how would he sound when he was
angry?

Mr. BLACK: Everything. I mean, you know...

GROSS: Ah, great.

Mr. BLACK: ...he was in a constant state of complaint. But he seemed
to--like my mother--it's like I've said about my mother: As long as there's
something--you know, as long as there's something to be angry about, she will
live forever. And my grandfather pretty much had that going. I mean, he
would just go--the Vietnam War, he goes--he was like--you know, he sat there
in the living room. We were watching the 6:00 news, and he goes, you know--he
said, `If I knew it was going to be like this, I could've stayed in Russia.'
And I go, `You don't want to be there.' I said, `You're crazy.' He says,
`No.' And he'd go on: `This is crap.' And he would bitch, and I would find
it funny.

GROSS: In your new book, you write a little bit about what you were like as a
kid, and you say, `For a time I was a square squared. My mother dressed me in
irregular clothing, and my pants were always way, way too baggy. When I asked
why they were so big, my mother replied, "Because you have a big crotch." The
top button of my shirt was always buttoned, and I wore big tortoise-shell
glasses, so I looked like a dump truck in heat.' (Laughs) So were you a nerdy
kid?

Mr. BLACK: Yeah. I really hit that period of, like, 11, 12, which--those
years which are difficult and fragile at best. I was pretty nerdy.

GROSS: Did having big glasses even when you were a kid affect your social
life?

Mr. BLACK: Oh, yeah. You know, you--and especially since--as I look back at
the pictures, I go, you know, `Was nobody fashion conscious?' My uncle was an
optometrist, and so I was going, `What was he putting these glasses on my face
for?'

GROSS: (Laughs) Now you say that your parents weren't observant Jews, except
for like the High Holy Days. But what--you went to a Yom Kippur service,
which is the Day of Atonement for Jewish people, and it really shook you up.
What happened?

Mr. BLACK: Well, when I was really young, my--the first--I'll never forget
the first Shim Kippur(ph), Yom Kippur service, because at first they'd play a
piece of music that is--it's, I say, all the music that Alfred Hitchcock has
in his films. The scary music is based on a thing called the Kol Nidre, where
this organ kind of plays--for a kid, it was too spooky for words. It's
supposed to, I believe, inspire awe, but when you're, you know, five to eight,
it inspires panic. And you almost sense that there should be bats flying
around.

And my--and then the idea of it is that that is the day in which God writes
your name in the Book of Life or the Book of Death. And that was a concept,
death, that had not crossed my table. No one in the family had died as of
yet. I had never thought of it as something that was hooked up with God; that
there was some sort of a power figure that I was supposed to make sure that I
kept at bay because he might decide to kill me. And it really had a big
effect on me. It scared the hell out of me.

GROSS: So you started praying compulsively. What were your prayers like?

Mr. BLACK: I did start praying compulsively. It began with--my idea was that
if I had--because what you do is when you get in there, you apologize for all
the bad things you did during the year. And, you know, I was not respectful
of my parents, I wasn't nice to my friends, all of this stuff. So whenever a
thought or an action that I thought was a red-line situation crossed my desk
after this, I would immediately respond by having to say something to the
effect of `I'm sorry, God.' And that started slowly, and then it built up to
I'd say 10 `I'm sorry, Gods.'

And then it grew as--thoughts kind of became a little worse because I think
what occurs when you get into that tape as a child is that it's an
obsessive-compulsive behavior. So the thoughts became worse, and then the
prayers became--so then I'd have to say `I'm sorry, God.' And then after I'd
say, I'm sorry, God,' I had to thank him. So it was `I'm sorry, God. Thank
you, God.' Then I began to add breaths in between. So it'd be, `I'm sorry,
God' (inhales). I'd have to breathe in. Then I'd go, `God,' breathe out.
And then I'd have to breathe in, `Thank you, God,' and then breathe out. I
had, like, breath patterns, too, that I got. It was an elaborate system that
I had developed that I'm glad isn't on film today.

GROSS: (Laughs) So did the rabbi know about this?

Mr. BLACK: Nobody knew about it. I never mentioned it to anybody. It was
between me and my Maker, me and my God.

GROSS: So how did you stop?

Mr. BLACK: My grades started to fall because--I've asked my parents; they
don't remember--they never caught me doing it. My friends at school, because
of the breathing patterns, they would--there were kids sitting around me
looking at me going, `What is the matter with you?'--you know, because I'd
stop in the middle of a test and go through this. And they took--my parents
took me to some sort of a counselor or psychiatrist at the University of
Maryland, and I went once. And I knew I didn't really want to talk about it,
so I'd better stop it. And I really did; it stopped me on a dime.

GROSS: Well, Lewis Black, great to talk with you. Thank you so much.

Mr. BLACK: Well, this was really a pleasure. It's--I really had a good time.

GROSS: Lewis Black has a new memoir called "Nothing's Sacred." Tomorrow
we'll hear from "Daily Show" correspondent Stephen Colbert.

Coming up, we listen back to a 1993 interview with the writer and teacher
Frank Conroy. He died yesterday at the age of 69. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Profile: 1993 interview with Frank Conroy, who died yesterday at
age 69
TERRY GROSS, host:

The writer and teacher Frank Conroy died yesterday at the age of 69 of colon
cancer. For 18 years he directed the Writers Workshop at the University of
Iowa, where he helped shape the early work of some now-important writers. He
also wrote a 1967 memoir called "Stop-Time" that is now considered a classic.
In Conroy's New York Times obituary today, Charles McGrath describes
"Stop-Time" as `a lucid and evocative memoir that has been a model for
countless young writers, the sort of book that is passed along like a trade
secret.' But after "Stop-Time," Conroy's life fell apart. It wasn't until 18
years later that he completed his second book, a collection of short stories
called "Midair."

I spoke with Conroy in 1993 after the publication of his novel "Body & Soul,"
the story of a young music prodigy who lives in poverty but finds a wonderful,
dedicated teacher and goes on to become a great musician. I asked Frank
Conroy if there were any parallels between him and his character.

(Soundbite of 1993 interview)

Mr. FRANK CONROY (Author): I've played the piano all my life. In fact, I
played professionally as a jazz pianist for about five years and sort of
bush-league for another five years. I played jazz, and I don't--the hero of
this book is a prodigy and is a very, very good pianist. I'm a competent jazz
pianist. I didn't have a teacher. In a way, that's probably--you know, every
novel contains fantasies, I think, and this one's fantasies about teachers and
father figures. And I didn't have a father. I didn't have a teacher, but
Claude does, you see?

GROSS: Your father left the family when you were about three or something.

Mr. CONROY: That's right. He was a manic-depressive, so he was
institutionalized most of the time. They didn't have lithium in those days.

GROSS: And what about not having a piano teacher? What was the reason for
that?

Mr. CONROY: Well, there was a boarder in our apartment who was a
professional musician, and there was an attempt at--there was an attempt at
him giving me some lessons. But he was a sadistic psychopath, and it turned
me off. It turned me off very rapidly. The whole idea of piano lessons--you
know, he used to squeeze my neck with his fingers and say--and he really was,
he was nuts. But--so I went back, and I learned myself--I learned very
slowly. At first I learned the blues, boogie-woogie, which I picked up, you
know, off the radio from Harlem uptown. And I just stuck with it.

In fact, in this book--in the writing of this book, I had to go back and
really re-educate myself about music from the beginning on. And I had to
learn some new stuff, some stuff that I didn't know. The twelfth-tone, in
particular, was a challenge.

GROSS: It's funny. Coming out of a background where you had no father figure
and no teacher, you kind of went on to, among other things, become a very
well-known teacher as the head of the Writers Program at the University of
Iowa.

Mr. CONROY: Yes, and I also have three sons.

GROSS: We're listening to a 1993 interview with writer Frank Conroy. He died
yesterday. Conroy's influential memoir "Stop-Time" was published in 1967, but
it was 18 years before his next book was published.

(Soundbite of 1993 interview)

GROSS: I'm sure you've been asked this a lot, but what happened in the
interim?

Mr. CONROY: A certain amount of trouble in my life, sort of serious trouble:
the end of my first marriage; I had to leave my two kids, which was difficult
for me because, you know, my father left. My mother died a very long, slow
process, and there was, really, nobody else to look after her, except me, and
that was very draining. And it was a difficult time. Also, I didn't have any
money, and I'd spent so many years writing I didn't--you know, I wasn't--I
really didn't have the training to do any kind of ordinary job. So it was
tough. It was a tough time.

GROSS: What was it like for you to be looking after your mother? From your
memoir "Stop-Time," you get the feeling your mother didn't always do such a
good job looking after you.

Mr. CONROY: That's true. I hope I did a better job (laughs).

But, you know, I mean, good heavens, I mean, the woman was dying. I mean--and
I had to--you know, I went to the--first of all, getting her into a hospital
was hard. She was in and she was out, and then I took her back in the last
time. If you've read my story "Midair," there's a story in there where it's
autobiographical, and it's one of these things--it really happened, but it's
one of those things you can't put into a story because it's too convenient.

I was driving her to the hospital for what I knew would be the last time down
the Merritt Parkway from Connecticut into New York. And we had both been so
preoccupied with this that we forgot. And as we were driving along, suddenly
it got dark, and everything changed in the exterior world. It's because there
was an eclipse of the sun, you know? And that actually happened. So I put it
in the story.

GROSS: Boy, that is the kind of thing I think you might have been afraid to
put in the story because it seems like it's too much of a metaphor.

Mr. CONROY: Yes, but it happened. I mean, not that that's really any
defense. You know, students will often say that to me: `But it happened,'
you know. And I say, `Well, I don't care if it happened. It isn't any good.'
But there I just couldn't stop myself from doing it. I put it in, and I
thought it worked.

GROSS: Frank Conroy recorded in 1993. He died yesterday at the age of 69.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Fund Drive).

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our 1993 interview with the writer Frank Conroy.
He's the author of the now-classic memoir "Stop-Time." For 18 years he
directed the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. Conroy died
yesterday of colon cancer. He was 69.

(Soundbite of 1993 interview)

GROSS: Your father was a drinker, and you went through a period when you were
drinking a lot, too. Did that make it even worse? Did you have this fear
that you were picking up some of the habits of a man you barely knew?

Mr. CONROY: Well, I don't think I felt I was picking up his. I mean,
whatever sins or stupid things or self-destructive things I was doing were,
really, not modeled after anyone. They were...

GROSS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONROY: I found them myself, you know.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CONROY: But, yes, indeed--I mean, it's funny. I've noticed this about a
lot of artists: that, really, they have a very peculiar relationship to their
body, as you know, as if it's just some old suitcase you have to lug around
with you--some old, battered up suitcase. And so there's a--and I certainly
had that. I mean, I didn't take care of myself. I drank too much. I smoked
a lot. I finally stopped smoking. But, you know, yes, I didn't help matters,
I think, by the various methods that I used to escape the depression and the
confusion that I felt.

GROSS: Boy, I really like your description about how a lot of artists see
their bodies as...

Mr. CONROY: Yeah. It--well, we live in our heads so much, you know.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. CONROY: I mean, the important stuff really takes place in some kind of
hyperspace inside the brain or inside the imagination. And I know a number
of--Marilynne Robinson--I was talking to her. And it turns out that, you
know--I write in bed. I always have, ever since the beginning. I put up
pillows behind my back, and, you know, I put the legal pad across my knees and
write. And it's funny. I mean, I really need to do that. And I found out
that Marilyn also writes in bed, and I--we were laughing about it because what
we're trying to do, of course, is sort of deny the existence of our bodies at
all. You know, you get in bed...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. CONROY: ...as if, you know...

GROSS: And it's time to dream and just, like, lose consciousness.

Mr. CONROY: Yes. Yes. And, you know, it's--you do everything to sort of
minimize your physical awareness of your body while you enter the dream of the
work, you know, and you're concentrating very intensely. And, you know, you
see pictures and you hear sounds and smell smells, and you're doing all of
that. And your body seems to have nothing to do with it.

GROSS: Well, did that ever change for you? Did you ever get to feel that you
had to take care of your body and kind of...

Mr. CONROY: Sure it did.

GROSS: ...be a part of your physical self and all of that?

Mr. CONROY: Yeah, sure it did.

GROSS: What brought you around on that?

Mr. CONROY: Well, a couple of things. One, I went too far, and so, you know,
I finally woke up that, `Hey, Frank, you know,' I said to myself, `this is
crazy. You know, you could be--you'd better stop this stuff.' So there was
that. And then there was the birth of my third child, who is six years old,
and that changes things, and advancing age. You know, I'm 57. So I stopped
smoking. I didn't stop drinking. I still drink a little bit in the evening,
maybe a little bit too much sometimes, but it's very much under control. And
I live a very stabilized life and have for quite a while.

GROSS: Your memoir "Stop-Time" begins and ends with you in a Jaguar driving
very fast from London to about 20 miles south of the city, where you lived.

Mr. CONROY: Yes.

GROSS: And the prologue is about the release of that drive, the release of
driving really fast in a sports car.

Mr. CONROY: Yeah.

GROSS: The epilogue is the car crash, where you nearly get killed, and you're
miraculously saved because the car nearly gets wrapped around a fountain.

Mr. CONROY: Yes. That was prophetic, wasn't it?

GROSS: What do you mean?

Mr. CONROY: I mean, in "Stop-Time," that's a warning, and in a sense maybe I
was warning myself because I--you know, it wasn't a car and a particular
fountain, but I was living pretty dangerously later. And I was lucky to get
out unscathed.

GROSS: Do you still vividly remember the moment of the crash?

Mr. CONROY: No. I was pretty drunk, you know, and it was late. I remember
it, but I can't--you don't--I remember more what I was thinking than I have an
actual sense memory of the event, you know? I remember more what I was
thinking, which is that I was really--it seemed to me that, you know, I
clearly was--I could die. I mean--and I remember--it was interesting because
it didn't particularly frighten me, which I...

GROSS: You think that's 'cause you were drunk?

Mr. CONROY: No, it happened to me later when I was sober. I had a--at one
point about 10 years ago, I had a hemorrhaging duodena ulcer, and I, you know,
went to the hospital real fast. And the doctor told me later that I had--15
minutes, you know, I had tops. If it'd been 15 minutes longer, I would have
been DOA. But I knew when I was in that emergency room when--you know, when
you see that there are nine people around you, and every one of them is doing
something, you know that you're in trouble. And, of course, I was bleeding.
I was hemorrhaging. There was blood all over the emergency room, and I knew I
could die right then. And I didn't feel frightened, and that time I was
certainly quite sober. I felt--I didn't feel frightened. I felt like, you
know, sort of, `What a shame. I mean, this is too early. I've got stuff to
do.'

GROSS: Frank Conroy recorded in 1993. He died yesterday of colon cancer. He
was 69.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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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