May 20, 2015
Guest: Terry Gross
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest today is me - at least, I'll be the one answering the questions. Marc Maron will be asking them. Let me explain. This interview was recorded on stage May 6 at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as part of their RadioLoveFest, which they presented in partnership with public radio station WNYC. I'm kind of a private person. There's a limit to how far I'm willing to go when I'm interviewed, but I willingly went beyond that because of Marc Maron.
He's a writer, comic, actor and podcast host, and I'm a fan. On his TV series, "Maron," he plays a version of himself who, like the real Marc Maron, hosts a podcast from his garage in which he interviews comics, actors, directors and musicians. The TV series just started its third season on IFC. Marc's real podcast, "WTF," is not only popular, it's the first podcast that's been catalogued by the Library of Congress. As an interviewer myself, I love hearing him work, in part because of the ways he's different from me. He approaches his interviewees as a fellow performer, and he's really funny, but he's also very empathic. He can go deep, eliciting responses from his guest that you're unlikely to hear in other places. I've interviewed him a couple of times on FRESH AIR, but we were each in a separate studio.
The first time I met him face-to-face was at BAM. I'm used to seeing him on his TV show, in persona, usually looking resentful, bitter, beleaguered, angry or guilty. But sitting across from him during the interview, his expression was different. He occasionally looked a little nervous or frustrated when he thought I was unforthcoming or, worse yet, being dull. But, mostly, he looked emotionally present, curious and attentive, and he was funny. When I'd met him backstage before the show, I really wanted to talk with him, but we agreed, let's save it for the interview. So here's an edited version of what happened. The on-stage event was longer than we have time for in our broadcast. Marc will present an extended version of the interview on his "WTF" podcast tomorrow.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MARC MARON: I'm a little nervous, but I've prepared. I've written things on a piece of paper.
MARON: I don't know how you prepare. I could ask you that - maybe I will. But this is how I prepare - I panic...
MARON: ...For a while.
MARON: And then I scramble, and then I type some things up, and then I handwrite things that are hard to read. So I can, you know, challenge myself on that level during the interview.
GROSS: Being self-defeating is always a good part of preparation.
MARON: What is?
GROSS: Being self-defeating.
MARON: Right, so you do that?
GROSS: I sometimes do that.
MARON: How often?
GROSS: I try not to do that. I do that more in life than I do in radio.
MARON: Like today?
GROSS: Life is harder than radio.
MARON: Life is harder than radio.
MARON: That's true.
MARON: And I find that - like, how did you get up here? Did you take the train? Did you...
MARON: You drove a car?
GROSS: There was a car.
MARON: You have a car? You took a car?
GROSS: I took a car.
MARON: This is not the hard part, Terry.
GROSS: No, but I obsess about, like - say there's traffic. Say we're leaving too late.
GROSS: So, you know, I just kind of go through everything that can possibly go wrong.
MARON: You do that that? That's your way of preparing?
GROSS: That is my way of preparing.
MARON: To pretend like you have control of things?
GROSS: I was - I think I was really brought up thinking that there's some really positive value in negative thinking.
MARON: So you're Jewish?
MARON: I guess it's sort of shocking to me because my experience with you is only with voice. This is the first time I've seen you moving.
MARON: I think for a while there, pre-Internet, there was no pictures of you available anywhere. Like, when I - I didn't really know what you looked like, but just your voice made me want to be a better person.
GROSS: Have I...
MARON: Like, I...
GROSS: ...Accomplished that? Have I accomplished that?
MARON: Yeah, I think so. I get nervous. Like, you know, talking to you now is good. I feel like, you know - because, like, because I don't know why you interview, but for me, it's to get very deep emotional needs met.
MARON: So, like, I seem to be getting along with. We're connecting. That makes me happy. It doesn't feel difficult to me. I know you're wondering how this is going. I'm telling you from my point of view...
MARON: ...That I'm having a nice time. Now...
GROSS: So am I.
MARON: But when I'm in the studio talking you, I'm like - I'm standing up straight and, you know, I wanted to impress you. Like, one time I made you snort-laugh, and I was like, I win.
MARON: Like, I heard you laugh and snort and I'm like, I'm done with radio. I can wear that as a badge of honor. But it's sort of interesting to me somebody who is, you know, that aware of, like, you know, what you think people think about you or what you're saying, you know, that you didn't want to be seen, that, you know, your voice - you were brought up Jewish, right?
MARON: Where was it specifically?
GROSS: It was in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
GROSS: (Laughter) And for anybody who knows Senior's (ph) restaurant - what used to be Senior's restaurant, they were my backyard...
GROSS: ...On an apartment building, like a series of apartment buildings. And - yeah. And - what's interesting is that I grew up in a family that thought that we shouldn't share things about the family. Like, everything...
MARON: With the family or?
GROSS: No, outside the family. Like, you keep that inside. And so there was an article about me that was written for Philadelphia Magazine years ago and the gist of the article was, like - you know, she's, like, people don't know much about her. They don't know who she really is. One of the people on my staff was quoted as saying, like, she's really great. I really like working with her. I don't know a thing about her (laughter). And so my mother took the article and said, you shouldn't have told them all of this.
GROSS: And she says something like, I don't even want this in my house. And it was like, Mom, the article's about how, like, nobody knows anything about me (laughter). So it's kind of ironic that, you know, what I do for a living is I try to help people share things about themselves that might be of value to other people.
MARON: Did you always think about it like that, though? Before we get there, though, why were they so weary of people knowing something about the family? I mean, what, was your father running around yelling all the time? There was a...
GROSS: There was a little bit of that (laughter).
MARON: Yeah, how much?
GROSS: Well, he...
GROSS: He wasn't shy about his opinion, let's put it that way. But, I mean, among the things that I think kept them being - feeling like you keep things to yourself was - OK, anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, McCarthyism. My father, before he started his own - before he became involved with a family business, was a union leader - like a small part of a union, but...
MARON: Like in the '30s?
GROSS: This would've been in the '40s probably - '40s or early '50s.
MARON: So he was justifiably nervous on some level?
GROSS: So, like, there was a lot that, like, people weren't supposed to know about.
MARON: Right. But how did he lay down the law - your father - to - how was this weird, kind of, like, don't talk outside the house thing established?
GROSS: Well, like, I'll give you example. Like, on questionnaires that we get in elementary school, you'd have to fill out, what does your father do for a living? I don't know why we had to fill it out, but we did. So I put in millinery 'cause my father - his - he and his brother and brother-in-law had a company where they sold fabrics to milliners. They sold the fabrics to the people who made the hats.
GROSS: And my father said, no, don't say that. He said, say self-employed. And, like, I was a kid and I didn't understand - said what's the - why - what does self-employed mean? That's so, like, non-specific.
MARON: Why the hat shame?
GROSS: I don't know what it was. But I think he was proud - I think it was because he was proud he was a businessman and that they had a family business.
MARON: Right. And what did your mom do?
GROSS: She had been a secretary. She was probably one of the last people who really knew stenography.
MARON: Oh, really?
MARON: Like she could do that thing with the fingers?
GROSS: The shorthand thing.
MARON: Oh, the shorthand thing.
GROSS: The written shorthand thing.
MARON: Yeah, yeah.
GROSS: But when, you know, when the children were born, she, you know, gave that up and...
MARON: So it was you and your brother?
GROSS: It was me and my brother.
MARON: Is he older or younger?
GROSS: He's five years older, which was perfect because he got all, like, the new records first.
MARON: You need that guy.
GROSS: You need that.
MARON: That guy.
GROSS: He's the one who got the record player first and...
MARON: The pot.
GROSS: The what?
GROSS: Oh, no, no. He didn't do that first, I don't think.
MARON: No, no drugs?
GROSS: I don't think he did that first.
MARON: No, you did it first?
GROSS: Probably (laughter).
MARON: That's good to know. So you had to turn on your older brother?
GROSS: Well, no, we were...
MARON: I think you're not appreciating the music fully.
MARON: Yeah? No?
GROSS: With my brother?
GROSS: I don't know. We - you know, we lived in different places for a long time 'cause he was five years older. He went to out-of-town college and then I went to out-of-town college.
MARON: Oh, right, so - right, right. Is he still around?
GROSS: Yeah, we're actually very close.
MARON: But five years older is a big deal. And you grew up, like - you know, when I look at, you know, the slight age difference - I mean, you grew up in a sort of very kind of pivotal time of change and things were very exciting.
MARON: I mean, you were 19 in 1969 or so?
GROSS: Right. Yes.
MARON: Now, when you were younger, I mean, what was the dream? I mean, what were you doing?
GROSS: Well, when I was in high school, I wanted to be a lyricist.
MARON: Like, for songs?
GROSS: For songs.
MARON: What made you want to do that? What songs?
GROSS: Well, it's more like in Brooklyn - some of the audience here might remember or they might still do it. I don't know. Brooklyn schools - public schools - used to have something called SING, where you'd put on like...
GROSS: Right. You'd put on a show. Each grade would put on a show at the end of the year, and you'd write your own storyline. You'd borrow melodies from Broadway shows and write your own lyrics. So I was one of the lyricists for each year while I was there. And part of the time I was in high school, my friend shared this, like, interest in theater, and it was great. And I thought, like, if I could live that life, if I could live that life where there's, like, there's theater and there's song and there's music and there's people designing scenery and painting it and, like, that would just be super. And then I thought, yeah and how do you get there?
GROSS: Like, how the hell do you get there?
GROSS: But it was kind of thrilling if somebody sang a lyric that I wrote. Once I was walking down the street and I heard a couple of, like, the basketball players singing a lyric I wrote and I thought, like, that is really - that is just fabulous.
MARON: Yeah, it's great. Do you remember the lyric?
MARON: You don't (laughter)?
GROSS: I'm lying. I wouldn't tell you.
MARON: That's what you won't tell me? That's where you draw the line?
GROSS: That's where I draw the line.
MARON: At a lyric that some basketball players were singing? That's what you don't want America to know about you?
MARON: You're afraid they'll judge you - Terry Gross wrote that horrible lyric when she was 14...
MARON: ...I'm not listening to Fresh Air anymore.
GROSS: That's - you nailed it, Marc. You absolutely nailed it.
MARON: Why is that embarrassing to you?
GROSS: Because it is. Because it wasn't good.
MARON: You were a child.
MARON: OK, fine.
GROSS: We're listening to me being interviewed by comic and podcast host Marc Maron, as recorded at the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this month. There's more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to me being interviewed by comic and podcast host Marc Maron on stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this month.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MARON: What else did you do in high school?
GROSS: What else did I do in high school...
MARON: Not a cheerleader, I'm assuming.
GROSS: No, I was a booster, actually.
MARON: What does that mean?
GROSS: It means that you sit and holler in the stands. You do cheers. You get a cool jacket and you sit and holler in the stands and it was, you know...
MARON: Do you get a thing?
MARON: I don't - I just did that.
GROSS: You yell the cheers.
MARON: And you got a jacket, you said?
GROSS: You got a jacket.
MARON: But - so you're trying to fit in by being a booster, is that what was going on?
GROSS: Well, it seemed like fun.
MARON: So you knew how to have fun?
GROSS: That's a good question. Do I know how to have fun (laughter)?
MARON: Did you then and do you now? Sure, let's expand it.
GROSS: I don't know - yeah, it's not my - it's not probably what I'm most famous for.
GROSS: You know, I'm probably, you know, in some ways better at working than I am at like, relaxing.
MARON: Right. But do you know how to have fun and...
GROSS: Yeah, maybe.
MARON: What do you do for...
GROSS: For fun? I go to the movies, go to concerts. And can I get a chance to ask you a question?
MARON: In a minute. In a minute.
MARON: I know how that goes.
MARON: I'm trying to hold the line, Terry. These are professional boundaries. I'm the questioner.
MARON: But like, I'm sort of - so how are you with joy? Do you...
MARON: I'm asking this 'cause this is all I know. Look, you know, we do - you know, I became an interviewer for reasons that have nothing to do with interviewing. I ended up there. And you know, I know what my emotional - why I do it and how I ended up here. So like, right now, personally, I'm wrestling with - and I don't know if you feel this way, you call it - you say you work all the time, but you talk to people professionally. And you know, you elicit things from them and you draw people out, and for the reason you said before, is to make lives better by kind of letting people tell who they are. But do you get something out of that emotionally, 'cause I find in my life that I'm capable of almost deeper intimacy with...
GROSS: That was the question I was going to ask you.
MARON: Well, I'm asking you first.
GROSS: OK, yes.
MARON: Looks like I beat you to it, which just means that I'm learning. I just feel like I had one of these weird, kind of like, yes, I'm glad that I'm on the same - right track, if I came up with that question that you already had in your mind.
MARON: Do you?
GROSS: Well, it's a weird thing. You know, I'll give you an example. Like, I often ask people who have a history of illness or who were near death because I've interviewed people who are near death. I've asked them very intimate things about facing death and about their attitudes toward death. I ask people a lot how they want to be buried or if they want to be buried, if they prefer to be cremated. I had a friend a couple of years ago, who was also a neighbor, who died, and I spent a lot of time with her at the end of her life. You know, helping - like, shopping for food for her, making some food for her. And I knew she didn't want to talk about facing death and she was really not ready to do it. I mean, to the end, she didn't want to talk about it. And so here I am talking to people who I'm not in the room with - like you said - I don't know them, they don't know me, and I'm asking them about death. And here's my friend who's dying and I'm not talking with her about death. There was a reason for that. And I felt it would've been intrusive in a way that it's not with my interviewees because she was not ready to talk about it.
MARON: And also the experience you were having was, you know, you were there for her.
GROSS: I was there to be protective and to give her what she needed. And what she needed, or at least what she thought she needed, wasn't to talk about that.
MARON: Was your curiosity - like, did you have any of those interviews while you were going through that experience with her where - was it something you needed answered for yourself?
GROSS: I think about death, you know, a fair amount. I'm not obsessed about death or anything, but, you know, I mean...
MARON: Too busy?
GROSS: Well, I mean, part of the meaning of life is knowing that you're going to die. That's part of where you derive meaning is that knowing that life is a measured amount of time. So you have to use that time wisely.
MARON: Yeah, something like that, yeah.
GROSS: But I don't know if I actually did any interviews immediately in that time period when she was dying.
MARON: But by asking people about this, you know, are you curious for yourself, or do you want to know how they're handling it? I mean, how much of this is driven by your own curiosity for answers for your own life?
GROSS: A lot of it.
GROSS: A lot of it. You know, people always say they want to find out what makes other people tick. I always feel like, I want to find out what makes me tick. And I've just, like, learned about a lot about myself and about people in general by having the liberty of asking people very personal things. But I do it selectively. Like, I ask people personal things who I think are ready for it and who can handle it.
MARON: How do you determine that?
GROSS: Well, they're usually on the show for a reason and often the reason is that they've written a memoir, or they're someone like you who uses your life as the material that you've drawn in what you do - comedy. Your comedy comes so directly from your life. Your standup, your show, who do you play on your show? A version of yourself.
MARON: Yeah, that guy.
GROSS: So with you, I feel like I can ask you probably anything and you'd probably answer. And if you didn't, you'd know how to handle it. If you didn't want to answer it, you'd know how to get around it.
MARON: I don't know if that's true.
MARON: Well, I'd know how to get around it but, like, it would probably be, like, so blaringly obviously that I was just sort of like, I don't know if I want to deal with that.
GROSS: (Laughter). I'd accept that as an answer.
MARON: But would you cut that? You would cut that.
GROSS: It depends. We'd cut it - we would cut it if we were trying to protect you, but if you did it in a way that you want it out there, where we wouldn't feel like we were violating you by putting it out there, we'd put it out there as, like, you're proud to say here's what your limits are.
MARON: Have you had experience with that, where, you know, you've made that call and you were wrong and you violated somebody?
GROSS: I don't think so.
MARON: Is there anyone that won't do your show ever again or you won't - and won't talk to you?
GROSS: No, I don't - well, my producers are in the audience, so maybe they can think of somebody. No, we've had publicists who've said...
MARON: They're sitting there going like, she doesn't even know.
GROSS: Maybe. That is maybe true.
MARON: We don't tell her that. Why'd you bring that up (laughter)?
GROSS: But can I ask you a question? So a lot of your friends are comics, right? So I'm assuming, like, when comics get together that they don't share intimate thoughts and talk about their lives and - but you talk to people about really personal stuff on your show. When you're doing your podcast and you're interviewing people, do you go places you don't with your friends, you know, because it's...
MARON: Well, I - I know what you're doing.
GROSS: Do you mind?
MARON: Do I mind?
GROSS: Yeah, if I ask you?
MARON: No. No, I mean like, I - sometimes I don't know what's socially appropriate and what isn't, even with friends. And if I need to talk about something, usually my - the way I do it, like if you want to learn some tricks...
MARON: ...Is, you know, if I go ahead and volunteer some information, there's some part of the brain that's sort of like, oh, I can top that, or I've done that or - you know? So, like, I - comics do talk about life, they just talk about it in sort of a rough way or a crass way. But most of, you know, most of the comics I know, you know, we do talk about that stuff. And not unlike, you know, whoever your friends are.
MARON: You know, you know how to operate. You know how your friends work eventually.
MARON: And you know - you learn how to talk about those things with them and you know where their boundaries are. You know, there's no reason to - I've pushed a lot of people away by being, you know, needy and nervous.
GROSS: Oh really?
MARON: Yeah. You?
GROSS: You mean in real life, or on the air?
MARON: No, in real life. Do you have friends?
GROSS: Do I have friends? That's a more complicated question than you might think. After a break, you'll hear my answer, as we continue Marc Maron's interview with me recorded earlier this month at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the RadioLoveFest. I'm Terry Gross and this is an unusual edition of FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, continuing my role reversal. I'm the interviewee today, and the great comic writer and podcast host Marc Maron is asking the questions. He hosts the podcast "WTF" on which he interviews comics, actors, directors and musicians. He plays a version of himself in his comedy series "Maron," which is shown Thursday nights on IFC. We spoke on stage at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, earlier this month as part of the RadioLoveFest, which BAM presented in partnership with WNYC, listener-supported public radio. When we left off before the break, Marc Maron had asked me this...
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MARON: Do you have friends?
GROSS: I do, but it's almost, like, theoretical. It's almost like an abstraction 'cause I never seem to have time to see them.
MARON: You have abstract friends.
GROSS: I mean, I have people who I love in my life, and I have a husband who I love very much and we've been together, like, since, like, 1978.
MARON: That's a long time.
GROSS: The staff I work with - I mean, I work with people - like, our executive producer, we've worked together since 1978.
GROSS: Danny, yeah, and a lot of people on the show.
MARON: How'd you meet that guy?
GROSS: And a lot of people on the show I've worked with for years and I - they might disagree - I feel very close to them, and it's very satisfying.
MARON: How could you not? You're with them more than anybody.
GROSS: Yeah, we spent a lot of time together and it feels to me like a very close set of relationships.
MARON: Does your husband ever talk in this tone - how's Danny?
GROSS: No, no, he likes Danny a lot.
GROSS: No (laughter).
MARON: Does he talk your husband? Does he talk?
GROSS: Does he talk?
GROSS: Oh, yeah, he talks, he writes. He's a professional writer.
MARON: I thought - I know he's writer. He writes jazz critic, right?
GROSS: He's a jazz critic, yeah.
MARON: So he's writing about music, so...
GROSS: He writes about music and other things and...
MARON: Does this happen in your house? Does your husband - what's your husband's name? Francis, right? Your husband's name...
GROSS: Francis Davis.
MARON: Francis Davis - does he go - does he say, Terry, come in here and dig this swing? Does he...
GROSS: No, but he does say, I really want to play this track for you, yes.
MARON: Do you have time?
GROSS: For music.
MARON: No, that was the next thing he says - can you spare me a few minutes?
GROSS: (Laughter) No, one of the things we do Saturday mornings when we have breakfast is we choose a record that we want to hear.
MARON: And you just enjoy it.
GROSS: Well, while we're eating and talking and listening, yeah.
MARON: Like, you make - this is a routine you have.
GROSS: Yes, a routine every Saturday morning.
MARON: Music time.
GROSS: Yeah, well, we each have our own music time, too, but that's our, like, music together time.
MARON: But - and then you eat breakfast.
GROSS: While we're listening.
MARON: While you're listening.
MARON: Does Francis ever just sort of, like, go - not this - you know...
MARON: Like, I'm making a character for your husband. I don't know, but what I'm saying does he - is he ever like, I don't like this one?
GROSS: Here's what typically happens. He spends a lot of time in record stores looking for unusual and interesting things.
MARON: So he's a vinyl guy.
GROSS: Well, our house is, like - it's kind of like we're living in a record store and library.
MARON: Oh, so now we're talking. So he's got - there are just stacks of records everywhere 'cause I know the vinyl addiction.
GROSS: There's records and CDs and...
MARON: So do you walk around the house going are you kidding me?
GROSS: Yes (laughter).
MARON: I can't get into the bathroom.
GROSS: It is a little like that.
MARON: Oh, OK.
GROSS: It is a little like that.
GROSS: But anyways - so he's...
MARON: No, no, no, so...
GROSS: Is your house like that? Is your house like that?
MARON: Is my house - no - don't know. Let's stay at your house, so...
GROSS: My house is like a little apartment.
MARON: That's how I pictured it. Like, every time I talk to you on the air, I always picture you, like, in some weird bunker surrounded by books.
GROSS: It's kind of like that.
MARON: Like, you have your own ISDN line and you just...
GROSS: I don't have that.
MARON: You should get that. Why don't you get that? There's probably no room for that.
GROSS: Then I'll never - right, yeah, right.
MARON: So what do you have? So I picture you have, like, hundreds of book, hundreds of thousands.
GROSS: Well, we have a lot of books. We have - I try not to take home...
MARON: No, he has records. What do you have?
GROSS: I try not to take stuff home anymore.
MARON: From the station.
MARON: 'Cause it keeps coming.
GROSS: Because there's no room. There's just no - we're just like, we're maxed out.
MARON: Really? Are you like...
MARON: Wait, are you, like, hoarder maxed out?
MARON: Are you, like, doing this down the hallway?
MARON: Come on.
MARON: What, Terry?
GROSS: It's getting close.
GROSS: No, I mean, it - we have a lot of stuff - books and records and CDs - but anyways - so...
MARON: So no, so - like, what - how much time do you spend at work versus how much time you spend, you know, in the record pit?
GROSS: I'm usually in the office by around 8:30.
MARON: In the morning.
GROSS: In the morning and leave around 6.
MARON: And that's every day.
MARON: That's every weekday and then my husband and I usually go out for dinner.
MARON: Every night.
GROSS: Yeah, just about every night.
MARON: There's no cooking at home.
GROSS: I'm too tired to cook. He hates to cook. I mean, he doesn't know how to cook. It's not an issue.
MARON: He doesn't know how to cook.
GROSS: No, I mean, nothing.
MARON: He's just sitting at home listening to records all day.
GROSS: Listening, writing, reading.
GROSS: Not cooking - doing things that are not cooking.
MARON: Does he shop at least? I mean, come on. Like, does he...
GROSS: For food, we go to the supermarket together.
MARON: What can't he do it himself? What's he doing all day?
GROSS: Writing, listening.
MARON: All right, all right.
MARON: I don't buy it.
MARON: So you go out to eat every night and then you do the music thing on Saturdays. That's nice. It sounds like you have a nice time - nice relationship.
GROSS: We have a great relationship, yeah.
MARON: And no children.
MARON: And that's OK, right?
GROSS: That's intentional.
MARON: Yeah, OK.
GROSS: Yeah, well, that got - I, speaking for myself...
MARON: I don't have any either.
GROSS: I know you do and...
MARON: I don't.
GROSS: I mean, I know you do not.
GROSS: Yeah, I know you really do - no, I know you don't. No, growing up in Brooklyn - when I was growing up all of the women I knew were basically full-time mothers or they were in the few professions that allowed women at the time, you know, secretary, clerk, working in your husband's office, nurse, teacher. And I just knew I didn't want to be - I wanted a different life. I wanted out. I wanted out of the neighborhood. I wanted out of that life. I didn't want that life.
MARON: But at that time, why do you think that was?
GROSS: Well - why didn't I want that life?
MARON: What was it that, like, looked so unappealing? What did you realize at that time that many people don't even realize now?
GROSS: I wanted - I wanted interesting work. I wanted to fall in love with work and I wanted to fall in love with a person, and, you know, I'm lucky. I had both.
MARON: And was your husband your first love?
GROSS: Now that I really know what love is, I'd say yes, but...
MARON: What was the other thing?
GROSS: I mean - I mean, I - this gets really personal. I mean, I was married before and...
MARON: For how long?
GROSS: A short time, and we were very close and it was - a year maybe.
MARON: A year.
GROSS: I don't...
MARON: Right. How old were you?
GROSS: And it was a very close relationship and...
MARON: Let's relax a little bit.
GROSS: This makes me nervous to talk about.
MARON: How old were you with the first husband?
GROSS: I was very young. We were still in college.
MARON: Like 19-20.
GROSS: Yeah, it's the era - it was the era - yeah, I was 20 maybe, 19.
MARON: Where'd you meet that guy?
GROSS: We actually knew each other from high school.
GROSS: Yeah, but not well.
MARON: And you met him - he went to college at the same college as you.
MARON: And this was the '60s.
MARON: And you guys, you thought you fell in love.
GROSS: Well, we did, I suppose.
MARON: And you got married quickly or...
GROSS: We got married quickly. I don't know. We already had been living together for a while. It didn't seem that quick.
MARON: Oh, up there at college.
GROSS: You know, time seems different when you're young. Like, a year is, like, a really long time.
MARON: Yeah, yeah, how'd - did your parents know about that?
GROSS: Yeah, they did.
MARON: And they were OK with it?
GROSS: They were OK as OK as parents were at the time. My parents weren't OK with anything I was doing then. In my sophomore year, instead of going to college we hitchhiked cross-country.
MARON: You and this guy.
GROSS: Me and this guy.
MARON: Where's this guy now?
GROSS: In New York.
MARON: Oh, you know him still.
GROSS: We haven't been in touch in a long time, but...
MARON: Well, surprise, we happen to have him.
GROSS: No, he's a wonderful person. I mean, I have nothing but - he's really a wonderful person.
MARON: I know. I'm just, like - you have to understand that, like, you know, a lot of us have created a life for you, Terry, and this is all - this is exciting information. This is what we were - you know, I - you know, we can, you know, be funny and just brush over stuff all night long, but this is exciting stuff to me.
GROSS: Well, my parents, when I decided to hitchhike cross-country, they were very, very upset about it.
MARON: I'm upset now.
GROSS: Well, now that I'm the age that I am, I think, like, my gosh, no wonder they were so upset. But my attitude then was, you know, you're not telling me what to do. Like, you don't control me anymore.
MARON: Yeah, that's right. It's 1960-whatever.
MARON: Nine - and what do parents know? Like, that must've been part of your brain at that time - the culture shifting and parents representing what they were representing. It sounds like your parents were, you know, somewhat progressive, but definitely middle class and had expectations.
GROSS: Right, yeah, yeah, and this was not their expectation that I would, like, drop out or...
MARON: Was this a big deal for you? Was it against character?
GROSS: It was totally against character, and the fact is that I think my boyfriend wanted to do it probably more than I did because I'm really not the adventurous type.
GROSS: I think I'm kind of - I think I'm, like, intellectually adventurous. I'm adventurous in my musical taste, in my artistic taste.
GROSS: I'm not a physically adventurous person.
GROSS: I'm not - I'm not a risk taker when it comes to the outside world.
MARON: When it comes to being outdoors.
GROSS: When it comes to - yeah.
MARON: Right, no, I get it.
GROSS: Like, life itself.
MARON: But - so you know that about yourself now.
MARON: But this must've been a fairly powerful bit of business for you personally.
GROSS: It was, and it was weird. I mean, I hitchhiked rides with, like - there was somebody who was probably just out of prison and somebody else who was probably - had tuberculosis judging from how he was coughing and in the back of a truck with probably - they were probably migrant workers and there were axes all over. I don't think they planned on using them against us, but it is a kind of creepy feeling to be in the back of a pickup truck where there's axes. And if my ex-boyfriend-husband is listening this, I hope his memories jive with mine about these rides 'cause I can't swear to the accuracy of my memory, but it was just totally creepy.
MARON: I'm amazed at how vivid your memories are of this major event in your life that you were perfectly willing to toss aside a moment ago. Now...
GROSS: But it was very upsetting to me 'cause my parents were so upset, and I love my parents dearly. And it broke my heart to know how much - how distraught they were. They tried everything. They flew out to Buffalo before I left and begged me don't go.
MARON: On the trip.
GROSS: On the trip.
MARON: The hitchhiking thing.
GROSS: And I did this whole I've got to do what I've got to do, and you can't tell me and - but my heart was breaking because it's like, I don't want to hurt them, but at the same time, I felt like I had to cut the string.
GROSS: You know, and that - and that if I gave in that it would always feel to them like she's our good daughter. Everything's under control. And I just - I just had to do it. My parents had such good reasons...
MARON: Sure, no, of course.
GROSS: ...To be afraid.
MARON: But also in retrospect...
GROSS: But I have no regrets about doing it.
We're listening to me being interviewed by comic and podcast host Marc Maron as recorded at the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this month. There is more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to comic and podcast host Marc Maron interviewing me at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. When we left off, we were talking about how I'd dropped out of college for a semester to hitchhike cross-country with my boyfriend.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MARON: Once you got back safely, and you know, was it - did it get OK with your parents? Were they - or did you marry the guy right when he got back as part of the same momentum to sort of say, I'm my own person?
GROSS: I - we had our - I mean - I mean, we loved each other. It was a beautiful relationship. We were - you know, it was good. So, but...
MARON: It just didn't work out.
GROSS: Well, you know, at some point, we were living - even when we got married - we were living with a group of people. And - 'cause it was the '60s and '70s and like, it was, you know, people shared, you know, the housework and the cooking and at some point I thought...
GROSS: No - that's where it ended. Yeah.
MARON: For you - or in general...
GROSS: No, no.
MARON: ...It was not that kind of thing.
GROSS: No, it was not that kind of thing.
MARON: It was just a lot of people, you know, hairy people...
MARON: ...Probably not a lot of showering going on. Some - like, a lot of healthy food-ish.
GROSS: Healthy food-ish, yeah.
MARON: Yeah, yeah.
MARON: One really good-looking guy who was sort of the leader.
GROSS: Well, a couple of our roommates ran the health-food rest - the macrobiotic health food restaurant.
MARON: Oh, really?
MARON: So it was all connected? This was...
GROSS: It was all connected. But anyways, so at some point I realized, you know what I really need? You know what I really, really need? I need to live alone. I need to find out who I am outside of the group, outside of a marriage. I was too young to be committed, is what it really was.
MARON: You took care of yourself.
GROSS: And I needed to know myself, and I needed to know - and I think a lot of women go through this - and I think, coming of age, when I came of age, you know, when I started college in 1968, it was kind of understood, like, you grow up, you get married and you have children. And even if you have a job, that's the trajectory. And like I said before, I knew I wanted a different life. And I knew at some point that to have that life, I needed to know who I was, and without picking up on what other people wanted of me or asked of me or projected on me or any of that, and that required just having some room to live by myself, which I'd never had in my life. And this was pretty early in the renaissance of the women's movement, too.
MARON: So this was like...
GROSS: So all of this is coinciding.
MARON: ...Junior, senior year, we're talking now?
GROSS: Well, by the time I decided I've got to be - live alone, it was like, after I graduated.
GROSS: And I'd already gotten fired from my first job...
MARON: Which was what?
GROSS: ...Which was teaching.
MARON: What grade?
GROSS: Eighth grade. They hated me.
GROSS: I wanted to be the teacher who I wanted to have when I was in junior high, so I foolishly went to school dressed in my purple corduroy pants, work boots - how am I doing?
MARON: Oh, boy. So you walk in like, hey.
GROSS: Yeah, and they're like - it was terrible. It was so stupid. I was a child. I was like, 22. I was shorter than they were. And I didn't know how to be the authority figure.
MARON: Then why'd you do that? Did you just think, like, I guess...
GROSS: It was the default thing.
MARON: Yeah, I know.
GROSS: Because I, you know, I wanted to be a writer and then - OK, not that. And then I spent all my time in school basically outside of the classroom. I dropped out first semester. And then, you know, like, my college years, it was like, the women's movement, the peace movement, all kinds of extracurricular things. You know, like, including - you know, there was constant, like, jazz concerts and poetry readings and like, repertory cinema.
GROSS: So, I mean, there was a lot going on.
GROSS: And I got a great education, but it wasn't like, so much in the classroom. And when it came time to like, so, what's your life going to - what's your career going to be, it's like, I don't know. I'm an English major. I don't know. Sign me up to teach. And I didn't feel called to teach. I didn't feel like I'd be a good teacher.
MARON: Right. How long did it last?
GROSS: Six weeks.
MARON: Oh, wow.
GROSS: I got fired.
MARON: You got fired in six weeks?
GROSS: We're listening to me being interviewed by comic and podcast host Marc Maron, as recorded at the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this month. The interview continues after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the recording of comic and podcast host Marc Maron interviewing me on stage at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In this part, he's asking about how I started in radio at the NPR affiliate on the campus of the State University of New York at Buffalo working on a feminist program.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MARON: So what was your job at first when you got in there?
GROSS: Well, it was a kind of group-run program, so we'd all alternate, like, who was on the air and who was producing and who was editing and who was engineering and everything. But the first shows that I actually, like, wrote and voiced - one was on women in the blues. Like, early women and blues singers. One was on the history of women's restrictive undergarments - bras and girdles, who invented them and why. And one of the early shows I did was about sadomasochistic images of women in popular culture because I grew up with Westerns and women in Westerns were all always getting kidnapped and held hostage. And I could always tell that there was something kind of kinky going on with this. You know, like women would always, like - they would have their hands tied behind them and they'd be, like, wriggling around and everything. You could always tell, like, this is - you know, I'm a kid. I know this is kinky, like (laughter) you know?
GROSS: So I wanted to know, like...
MARON: I'm feeling something. This is kinky.
GROSS: Yeah, well, it was, like...
MARON: Just say it, Terry.
GROSS: No, it's just like, I know it's kinky. So, like, why is this - like, what is this about?
MARON: Did you deal with, like, that it was male-driven?
GROSS: You know, it was before I had the language of, like, the male lens through which all popular culture is seen.
MARON: But you were so close. You were almost - you were right there.
GROSS: So I was shopping around - I couldn't find anyone who could talk about it.
MARON: You know, you've mastered and defined something that is uniquely yours. That has been done by many people for centuries, probably. And you set the standard for what an interview is and how to put one together...
GROSS: Thank you for saying that.
MARON: ...You know, on radio or anywhere.
GROSS: Thank you.
GROSS: Thank you.
MARON: And, you know, you are, you know, what I think most people - you are home to most people when it comes to NPR. That, you know, your voice is, you know, more comforting than probably any voice in their lives I would probably say.
GROSS: That's really nice of you to say.
MARON: And I don't know why I'm tearing up, but...
MARON: Jesus Christ - all right.
GROSS: Can I just say something about you?
GROSS: I really - I just love your work so much. And I've learned from listening to you in your podcast 'cause you're just so present. You're so in the moment with people, and you have such interesting taste. You know, like, I love hearing you talk about the music that you love and, you know, your interest in, like, Kerouac and that you know who Herbert Huncke is and...
MARON: Yeah (laughter).
GROSS: You know, like, you know all this stuff and you don't do it in a know-it-all way. You just kind of slip it in to get more out of them, and...
GROSS: No, I mean that in the best sense. That's what an interviewer should...
MARON: No, no, no, I know, yeah. I'm just...
GROSS: And the other thing is, like, you're just no b******* in your comedy and you're no b******* when you're talking to other people.
MARON: I don't think you are either, Terry Gross.
GROSS: Oh, well, thanks.
GROSS: And I just want to say the reason why I was comfortable enough to tell you, and everyone else here...
GROSS: ...The things that I told you tonight is that I trust you and that you're no b******* and I couldn't look you in the eye and not tell you the truth.
MARON: Thank you. Terry Gross ladies and gentlemen.
GROSS: And Marc Maron, yay.
MARON: OK. Thank you so much for being here. We do have a few questions from the audience. Are you in?
GROSS: Sure, yeah.
MARON: Terry, you are my female crush. Who is your female crush?
GROSS: You know, also, I'll be really honest, I don't think in crush terms. It's just like - for some - I don't...
MARON: Well, what woman do you want to have sex with?
GROSS: I just, like - I don't - like, a lot of people go to, like, the movies, like, 'cause that guy is cute or, like, that actress is hot. That's not...
MARON: You don't do that.
GROSS: It's not...
GROSS: It's not - it's not the motivating thing for me.
MARON: What is?
GROSS: What is? That I think that when we - when I go to the movies and I see something great it takes me out of my life and into somebody else's but also...
MARON: No, but you're the person that, you know, correctly identified S&M in Westerns. I have a hard time believing...
GROSS: Right. I see your point.
MARON: ...That you don't go to movies sometimes.
GROSS: I see your point. Right, I see your point.
MARON: You see my point.
GROSS: I see your point.
MARON: So we're just going to let that...
GROSS: We're going to let that go.
MARON: OK, all right. What is...
MARON: All right, question for Marc Maron. Your early podcasts focused more on your guests' professional trajectory. Your interviews have evolved into discussion around your guests' personal journeys. How did that evolution happen? Was it a change in you that brought...
GROSS: Is that all one question?
MARON: Yeah, it's a lot. Your early podcasts focused more on your guests' professional - I don't know. I think that early on - right - and I don't want to take up any of the time...
GROSS: No, no, no, go ahead.
MARON: I think, really, if you listen to the first hundred or so episodes of "WTF," it's me inviting celebrities over to help me with my problems, so...
MARON: So talking about their professional was me learning how to not be bitter and jealous and learning how to listen and be happy for other people and then to maybe ask questions like, you know, how'd you get that thing? Who'd you call for that? So you know, like...
MARON: And then, eventually, I grew - I think that through the podcasts I did, like, get comfortable with myself and I had some self - I had some pride over, you know, about what I was doing. And I felt like I was doing something relevant with my life. And a lot of things definitely came together because of talking to people. And I did - I did get - you know, I found some self-esteem that I never had in a very genuine way. And now I just have to stop the personal growth there before I, you know, f*** myself out of a job.
MARON: Please, another round of applause for Terry Gross.
GROSS: And for Marc Maron.
GROSS: Well, that was fun talking with Marc Maron on stage in front of an audience. Although I do wish I'd gotten a chance to see the garage where Marc records the interviews for his podcast, "WTF." And speaking of his podcast, he's going to feature an extended version of this interview tomorrow on "WTF." You can see his TV series, "Maron," Thursday nights on IFC. My interview with Marc Maron was recorded at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, on May 6 as part of the RadioLoveFest series, a partnership of BAM and WNYC, listener-supported public radio.
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.