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Other segments from the episode on January 26, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 26, 1998: Interview with Peter Quinn; Interview with Jim Sheridan; Review of Victoria Williams' album "Musings of a Creek Dipper."

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Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 26, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 012601np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Banished Children of Eve
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

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

Tonight, public television begins a three-part series called "The Irish In America: Long Journey Home." America is a country of immigrants and the Irish, who were escaping the potato famine of the 1840s, were the first to arrive here in large numbers -- poor and hungry.

The anti-immigration movement of today has its roots in the anti-Irish sentiment of the mid-1800s. The TV series and its companion book follow the Irish in America, the discrimination they faced, and the institutions they helped build that transformed America.

My guest Peter Quinn is one of the people interviewed for the series and he's a contributor to the companion book. His novel, "The Banished Children of Eve," is about the Irish in New York City during the Civil War. Three of Quinn's grandparents were from rural Ireland. The schools he attended while growing up in the Bronx were founded by the Irish who arrived here during the famine.

PETER QUINN, AUTHOR, "BANISHED CHILDREN OF EVE": I've spent a large part of my life groping back to these -- my own roots in the Irish famine. My first ancestor arrived in New York in 1847 -- Michael Manning (ph) -- as a dispossessed Irish farmer. And we eventually after 50 years on the Lower East Side, moved to the Bronx and the great New York immigration upwards and out.

And then in 1970, I was a VISTA volunteer in Kansas City, intending to go to California and shake off the dust of the Bronx of New York from my feet forever. But it was at that point that I turned around and began to wonder about the whole experience of my family -- about where we had come from. I had the sense I'm at the end of a long process, and I didn't know what the process was about.

So that I eventually came back to New York and went to Fordham University in the Bronx to get a graduate degree in Irish history, to begin to explore this whole experience, which I knew very, very little about.

GROSS: What did you think it meant to be Irish before you started doing a lot of research about Irish history?

QUINN: Well, it was a very simple definition when I was growing up in the Bronx. It was: you voted Democratic and went to mass; you were -- to be Catholic and Democratic was the essence of being Irish. I never heard -- and my family, we were not talking about Yeats and Joyce and the Irish renaissance. I never heard my parents mention their names.

GROSS: Well you know, you mentioned in one of your articles that your family never seemed to have any artifacts or memorabilia or anything left over from Ireland. And in fact, none of the kids who you know had families that had anything remaining from their lives in Ireland. I thought that was interesting.

QUINN: Yeah, well anybody I knew from the famine immigration...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

QUINN: ... whose family had come in the 1840s, they didn't have -- I don't even have a village name, really. There was no stick of furniture. There was no -- there were no artifacts or relics or things passed down from one generation to the other. There were barely any stories passed down from one generation to the other.

And when I began to go back, you know, this -- the famine experience had been -- it's so central to the Irish psyche; to who the Irish are today on both sides of the Atlantic. And I began to see that there was this, you know, where had it gone? Where had the experience gone?

GROSS: What do you think it was? Do you think it was, like, so painful people wanted to forget about it?

QUINN: Yeah...

GROSS: I'm reminded, for instance I think in a lot of Jewish families, they came from Eastern Europe, you know. You don't talk about the old country.

QUINN: Yeah, there was a -- there was the necessity of getting on -- just -- you know, I'm not -- I don't think it was a conscious decision to "let's erase history," but it was the circumstances that people were under. They weren't educated. We're talking about the lowest economic levels of Irish society that wound up crowded together in American cities. It was a matter -- a matter of survival.

And I also think it was -- you know, was not something parents were passing on to their children. There was a great humiliation of the Irish that went on the famine. They couldn't feed themselves and the British government, at some point, decided that the best thing would be to clear the land; that this would -- the famine would become an instrument of social engineering; that there could be no economic progress in Ireland unless these people were cleared away.

The whole journey off the land -- many cases evicted -- into ships where they were mistreated; into cities where they were hated. You know, this is not something that becomes part of folk memory where you're passing it on and saying: "you should remember this."

GROSS: You know it's interesting, I think now Americans think of the Irish, Irish Catholics as being, you know, white Americans, and what's -- what's so distinctive about it? But there was a time when the Irish came here and they were seen as very different and very inferior and very, very much to be hated.

QUINN: Well, I think it's -- it's almost impossible for us. I remember going to California and giving a talk about -- there -- about my book and explaining this perception of the Irish Catholic. I mean, you're talking about a Northern European, white, Christian ethnic group in the 19th century who were regarded as racially different from the rest of America.

Now, that's almost hard to believe, but the Irish Catholics were perceived not as a kind of different religious group. They were perceived racially. You know, there were character -- racial characteristics.

You have Charles Lyon Brace (ph), the founder of the Children Aid Society in New York in the -- he writes a book in 1863 called "Races of the Old World." And he talks about Irish skull size, brain size; that their brain was between that of an Englishman and an African.

It seems almost laughable now, but you know, we have the bell curve. We've transferred the measurement from -- from measurement people's -- the size of their cranium to these absolute standards, supposedly, of IQ. But they always come up with the same result: that the poorest levels of society as not as bright as the richest levels of society. That's the iron rule of intelligence testing.

GROSS: Do you think another thing that kind of aroused the fears of people in America toward the Irish was that there were so many of them coming at the same time? Like, they're going to take over. They're gonna -- they're gonna change the complexion of the United States.

QUINN: Yes. Well, I think, you know, you -- I don't want to just become, say, that the people who reacted to the Irish were just making it all up. You had this sudden descent of rural people unprepared for urban life on American cities. Really, what you had -- and you have all these consequences of it: poverty, violence.

The essence of city life in American cities changes. In 1847, Boston's a city of 100,000 people. You have 30,000 people arrive in one year. So that they did change the nature of American cities. They did add all these different elements.

You really have two parallel, I think, experiences in American history
where -- where that happens: the African-American immigration to Northern cities and the Irish immigration. There are a lot of similarities between those two events. They do change the nature of American cities.

GROSS: When the Irish came to the United States after the famine, there were no self-help groups in place for them. There were no government programs to ease their transition to American cities. They had to help each other. What are some of the ways that they had of doing that? Some of the groups that they built to help each other?

QUINN: One of the -- one of the groups that they built on at the foundation of the United States is the American labor movement. The -- right away, they were organizing unions in cities. And the kind of -- they don't have any experience of entrepreneurial capitalism. They're not so-called entrepreneurs. They're not shopkeepers. The clochins (ph) don't have -- the villages they come from don't have shops. They don't have this business tradition. They have the tradition of sticking together, which rapidly translates into unions.

They also, with the Catholic institutions, the start of orphanages -- the Foundling Hospital in New York, the Catholic Protectory which -- in Westchester, which is now part of the Bronx. There's a movement in American society -- one of the things called the "placing out" system which begins in 1857, when they began to take children -- when children were brought to the courts, they're taken from their homes and sent west in these orphan trains which go on for years and years. In the beginning of these orphan trains, they're almost all Irish-American.

And it's really Catholic nuns who began to organize against that in New York City, and to start these orphanages and asylums that Catholic children will be tended for in their own institution. And it's these Catholic nuns who eventually, working with Irish politicians, begin to demand that there be support by the state for institutions for the poor.

GROSS: How did the Irish become so identified with the Democratic Party?

QUINN: The Republican Party tended to be the party of business and individualism. The Democratic Party, because of its position in the cities, some Democratic bosses like Fernando Wood (ph) in New York City was the first person to realize that, you know, these people have the vote.

Also, the Democratic Party adopts the position of pro-immigration. There were members of the Republican Party, like the Governor of New York -- Governor Seward who -- he toyed with the idea. He wanted to get the Republican Party to become more pro-immigration and try to attract the Irish, but that's not what happened.

GROSS: I think the schools that you went to as a boy in the Bronx were schools that were started by the Irish who came after the potato famine.

QUINN: The parish I'm from, St. Raymond's on Tremont Avenue, was started in 1848 and was a direct consequence of the Irish potato famine.

GROSS: So do you feel like, in retrospect, that a lot of the institutions around you when you were growing up related to the famine? To the people who came from the famine?

QUINN: I came to understand that -- that the institutions that formed, and we all tend to think that the institutions have always been there. And as I began this exploration of my own background, I was fascinated by the fact of the dates of the start of these schools that I had gone to. I was being taught, really, by institutions founded with the attitudes, with the sensibilities of the famine Irish. One hundred and twenty years later, it hadn't gone away. It was still there. It still had a presence -- an effect that I had never been able to judge before or realize.

GROSS: My guest is Peter Quinn. He's a contributor to the book The Irish in America and the companion PBS series which begins tonight. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Peter Quinn, one of the experts interviewed in the PBS series The Irish in America, which begins tonight.

Well you know, the biggest cliche about the Irish is that it's a drinking culture. You know, even like what's...

QUINN: Yes.

GROSS: ... an Irish dinner? A six-pack and a potato, or something.

QUINN: A seven-course Irish dinner is a boiled potato and a six-pack. That's what...

GROSS: There you go. Right. Thank you.

LAUGHTER

Anyways, but -- but how did -- how did that behind a stereotype? Drinking -- and the Irish saloons as the big gathering place? I should mention here I think your grandfather owned a saloon.

QUINN: My -- my grandfather owned a saloon on 11th Street and Drydock, which is now Scholl (ph) Place in lower Manhattan.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

QUINN: The effect of alcohol on the Irish -- part of it was the anesthetizing themselves against the pain that they went through. In the -- in the 19th century America, just a simple example, canal workers used to be given a ration of whiskey every day because the work was so brutal. And that was a part of the Irish experience of the trauma of Irish history -- you know, the self-medical help that alcohol is -- the way the poor today, you know, with drug abuse. I don't think it's much different.

But there's another element to saloon life in Irish culture, which is this accent on the Irish on sociability; on talk; on music. And that the saloon was that, too. It just wasn't a place to drink. It was a labor bureau. It was a social club. It was a place where people talked; where politics was done. Almost all the ward heelers in New York and probably Chicago too, although I'm not from Chicago, were saloon keepers.

They didn't have these other fraternal organizations. They didn't have these high-class clubs. They had the saloon, which was where they met and talked and sang and carried all these social habits that had existed in the Irish villages -- the clochen -- in Ireland.

One of the things, I think the Irish are the first immigrant group to do, and this has been done since by other immigrant groups, is they recreate the village in the city. They just don't come to cities and disappear and become lost and disoriented. They are like that when they arrived, but they quickly organize the village in the city; the parish and the saloon.

When I was growing up in the Bronx, nobody ever said they were from the Bronx or Metropolitan Avenue or Kingsbridge. They were from a parish. You were from St. John's, St. Nicholas of Tolyntine (ph), St. Helena's, St. Raymond's. That's how you identified yourself. And to an extent, people still do that.

GROSS: What do you know about your grandfather's saloon?

QUINN: I know that my grandmother wanted him to get out of it, but she didn't -- she said there was never an honest dollar made across a bar. And that he didn't make a lot of money at it, unfortunately. And that in a act of business astuteness which my family has always been good at, he sold the real estate he owned in Manhattan and moved to the Bronx. So, I still have a day job because of that kind of forward thinking.

GROSS: Really.

LAUGHTER

QUINN: But my great -- you know, my father was in politics. My father was a judge in New York. And his ambition for my brother and I was to get civil service jobs. That was the great accent in Irish families. I don't -- my family wasn't alone in that.

And in parochial schools, too, you know, there was the -- one of the consequences of the famine -- one of the consequences of this absolute lack of any security was this almost obsession with it. That -- I had a BA from college and my father -- I took the court officers' test in New York and he -- I became a court officer and I went to -- up to his chambers and I said I want to leave and go back and go to graduate school. And he said: "you never leave a civil service job. You stay in the civil service job and get the pension, then you do whatever you want. But you never leave a civil service job."

And that -- that sense of security was a very prevalent part of Irish urban experience; of seeking security; of ensuring you or your family will never starve again.

GROSS: And how did you explain to him that you were leaving the civil service job?

QUINN: Well, I -- I hate to admit this in my maturity, but I didn't explain to him. I stayed until he died.

GROSS: Really?

QUINN: Yeah.

GROSS: But...

QUINN: He died in 1974. I had this conversation with him in 1972. I said I want to go back to graduate school and study history -- Irish history. And he said -- that's when he told me absolutely not. You never leave a civil service job. And when he died two years later, I quit the civil service job.

GROSS: Had you stayed out of respect for him or out of trust in his opinion?

QUINN: Both. You know, his father had seen the tail-end of the famine in Tipperary, and then my father lived through the great Depression. And he would always tell a story to my brother and me when we were boys of being in Foley's (ph) Square and seeing 3,000 men lined up to take the court officer's test. That -- part of what the stories he had been told about the famine, he had transferred to the Depression that, you know, so...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

QUINN: ... there was not a -- and there was not a lot of accent in Irish families, at least any that I knew, about going out into the business world. My father and his father kind of regarded it as a very suspect activity.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Peter Quinn. And he's written about Irish history in America in his novel The Banished Children of Eve. He's a contributor to the new book The Irish in America, which is a companion to the new PBS series called The Long Journey Home: The Irish in America. And he's one of the people interviewed for that PBS series.

Your novel, The Banished Children of Eve, which came out a few years ago, is about a really interesting, but very obscure -- for most people -- chapter in American history, that has to do with the draft during the Civil War. Tell us a little bit about this because I think most people really don't know about these draft riots -- this draft riot.

QUINN: Well, the granddaddy of all American riots to this day is the draft riots in New York in July, 1863. Three times as many people died in the draft riots in 1863 as in Los Angeles in 1992. It remains the single greatest instance of American urban violence.

It spread all across the city. The police lost control of it. The militia lost control of it. Finally, they had to bring the regiments back from Gettysburg and they fought pitched battles in the New York Streets, on Second Avenue and Third Avenue -- not far from here. They had cannons lined up. If you look at the lithographs, it looks like the battle of the Paris Commune. It was an extraordinary event in American history.

GROSS: What was it about?

QUINN: It was about the imposition of the military draft that had happened in 18 -- the first time in American history that the government said: "we're -- we're not going to just rely on volunteers." They were gonna draft people.

And they created two exemptions to the draft. One was you could send a substitute in your place and be excused from any further drafts. Or, you could pay $300 and send a substitute and that would excuse you from that round of the draft.

In the Irish slums of New York and in other places, $300 was a working wage for a year. And, you were dealing with a people only eight years away from the end of the famine immigration. You're dealing with this mass of people who arrived in the eastern cities of the United States who perceived the Anglo-American aristocracy that was here as the same aristocracy they had dealt with in Ireland.

It's almost impossible to understand the draft riots outside the context of Irish history, especially the date that it starts. It starts on July 13, which is the day after Orangemen's Day, which was a day of great violence and still is in Northern Ireland, and a significant date in Irish history.

GROSS: So the -- the poor Irish were angry at this draft law, which said that people who had more money than they did could get out of the draft.

QUINN: Yes.

GROSS: Or people who had more connections than they did could get out of the draft.

QUINN: Yes.

GROSS: And they were -- they -- did they not also want to fight for a country that they'd just landed in and they were at the very bottom of?

QUINN: Well, large numbers of the Irish did fight. There was the Irish Brigade, which -- a regiment from New York. The Irish fought in large numbers in the Union Army. There was also this resentment in the Irish slums in July of 1863. The draft riots turned -- they are this social explosion. They are like the Paris Commune in some ways.

They're also a race riot. The Irish people in the city turned their anger to the people next to them, which are African-Americans who -- African-Americans are, you know, the oldest ethnic group in America -- in New York City, with the Dutch.

And in many cases, the Irish had, because they were so poor, they undercut African-Americans in the lowest jobs in the cities. They would work for less. But by the summer of 1863, their perception was: with abolition -- "we're being drafted to fight to free the slaves, and they're going to come and take our jobs." That was the kind of -- one of the bottom-line resentments of the riots.

Of -- you know, and it's not -- it's not the end of this in American history -- groups in cities struggling against each other for what's left at the bottom.

GROSS: You grew up in the Bronx. What's your old neighborhood like now?

QUINN: My old neighborhood is largely Spanish. The Catholic Church is still there. That's the institution that hasn't gone away. The public school is Spanish. It's another immigrant group replacing the Irish. I remember early on in writing the book, The Banished Children of Eve, I was down on Grand Street (ph).

And my ancestors had been at a parish there, St. Mary's, and the church is still there. And I was just kind of curious -- I had this, you know, this name of the parish. I had never been in it. And it's an immigrant area and I went into the church. It was built in the 1830s. And I went to the Easter Services and I sat there, and there were mostly people from the Dominican Republic -- poor people.

And I sat in the back of the church and I said: you know, these people -- this is what it looked like in the 1840s. It's not all that different here. It's another language -- they were speaking Spanish. They were dressed poorly. They looked different. And you know, I said: this is -- if somebody had wandered into this church 140 years ago, this is what they would have seen.

And my great hope -- people have said, you know, the book is a story of -- Banished Children of Eve -- of violence and rioting and this great urban upheaval. But to me, it gave me a lot of hope. I said if this -- if the famine Irish could go through all this, cause all these problems, survive all this misery, and come out the better for it at the end -- and New York City and American society come out stronger because of it, then we have tremendous reason to hope.

GROSS: Peter Quinn, I really want to thank you a lot.

QUINN: OK. Thank you.

GROSS: Peter Quinn is one of the experts featured in the PBS series The Irish in America, which begins tonight and continues Tuesday and Wednesday. He also contributed to the companion book. Quinn's novel about the Irish in New York City during the Civil War is called Banished Children of Eve.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Peter Quinn
High: Novelist Peter Quinn is the author of "Banished Children of Eve" about the Irish in New York City during the Civil War. He's also contributor to the new six-hour PBS series "The Irish in America: Long Journey Home." There's also a companion book "The Irish in America."
Spec: Books; Authors; History; People; Civil War; Irish-Americans; Peter Quinn
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Banished Children of Eve
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 26, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 012601np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Jim Sheridan
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:30

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

The troubles in Northern Ireland is the backdrop for the latest film by my guest, director and screenwriter Jim Sheridan. The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis, who also starred in Sheridan's films "My Left Foot" and "In the Name of the Father."

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Danny Boy Flynn (ph), a boxer and former IRA member whose just gotten out of prison after 14 years. He's now disillusioned with the IRA. In fact, his ambition is to create a non-sectarian boxing gym. He's still in love with Maggie, who he was in love with when he went to prison. And she still loves him. But during his long absence, she married his best friend and they had a son.

Now, her husband is in prison and the IRA expects prisoners wives to remain loyal and supportive no matter what. The pressures on her to stay away from Danny are especially intense because her father is an IRA leader.

Here's Maggie, played by Emily Watson, and Maggie's father played by Brian Cox.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE BOXER")

EMILY WATSON, ACTRESS, AS MAGGIE: My marriage was over before Liam was even born. I'm the prisoner here. Even your politics have made sure of that.

BRIAN COX, ACTOR, AS MAGGIE'S FATHER: All I wanted was for you to have a good marriage.

WATSON: Like you and my mother?

COX: Yes.

WATSON: Do you know how much it cost her to smile every time you walked through the front door? That she lived her whole bloody life worried to death? And for what? Will you look me in the eye and tell me for what?

COX: I suppose she believed in me, Maggie.

WATSON: She thought the ground that you walked on was sacred. So did I. I'm not going to lose Danny.

COX: Well, you'll have to tell him to go.

WATSON: Why?

COX: I can't protect him, Maggie. You'll have to get rid of him, or you'll find him in a pool of blood.

WATSON: God help you.

GROSS: I asked director Jim Sheridan if the IRA does pressure the wives of prisoners to remain loyal to their husbands no matter what.

JIM SHERIDAN, WRITER/DIRECTOR/PRODUCER: Especially when in such a small community as the nationalist community in Belfast and Derry. It is the -- you know, expected and, I mean, there's a lot of prisoners so there's a lot of people in the community who are related to them. And it's just a -- it's like a communal acceptance, you know. I think it would be true of a lot of societies, not just Catholic Northern Ireland, you know, that the women would be expected to be faithful, you know?

GROSS: But you wouldn't necessarily be punished as severely by your whole community if you weren't -- in other settings perhaps.

SHERIDAN: No, but it's -- you know, in this situation, it's like the morale of the army depends on...

GROSS: Right.

SHERIDAN: ... you know, faithful and loyal and secretive and, you know -- so if there's somebody who's disloyal, whether it's a woman or what, it kind of undermines the morale of the army. So, it's kind of looked upon as kind of a deeper betrayal than just a sexual betrayal.

GROSS: I understand that you initially planned to make a movie about Barry McWiggin (ph) who was, I think, world featherweight champion in 1985.

SHERIDAN: Yeah.

GROSS: You know, a real boxer who you were going to do a biography of. How did you get from there to the fictional boxer played by Daniel Day-Lewis in your movie?

SHERIDAN: Well, I think the difficulty with making Barry's story -- you know, Barry's a Catholic married to a Protestant -- all the cliches you can ever imagine, you know? And the difficulty is it's not really true that Catholics and Protestants have a difficulty marrying. It's more that they have a difficulty staying together in one or the other's society, you know? But it's not very dramatic. And when it is dramatic, it tends towards the sentimental.

So, we avoided that. And then there were so many issues in relation to Barry's true story that I just couldn't make. And I suppose in the end of the day, I was more interested in the love story of the -- you know, the prisoner's wife and the boxer than anything else. And I was interested in the -- in kind of drawing the line in the sand in relation to violence, you know.

GROSS: Daniel Day-Lewis plays the boxer in your movie. I know he's very obsessive when it comes to preparing for roles. What did he do to become a boxer?

SHERIDAN: He spent three years training with Barry McWiggin.

GROSS: The boxer whose story you were originally going to play.

SHERIDAN: Yeah, he spent a year with him, but he spent three years with a friend of mine who's out here in Los Angeles, called Michael Toll (ph), who is in the film as the Protestant lad who comes to the gym, or who he meets in the Protestant territory and goes to London with him.

And Mick Toll was like Irish fly-weight champion for six years in succession as an amateur. And he trained with Daniel for -- all through In the Name of the Father. And you know, they were great friends, and he started to train Daniel, and then Barry McWiggin took it over and trained him for a couple of years.

Then they got into intensive training for about a year before the film start -- was made.

GROSS: So I guess he had to be pretty sure you were really going to make this movie if he was training for that long.

SHERIDAN: No, he wasn't -- he's not like that, Daniel. He's very odd. He would never say to you: "oh, I have to make a boxing movie." He would just kind of intimate that he was interested in boxing by training away, you know. I knew he wanted to make a boxing film, you know, but that was about the extent of it.

GROSS: So did he know that you were making this movie before he started training?

SHERIDAN: No, not necessarily. I don't think so. He knew I was interested in a film about Barry, and he started training with Barry, you know, so it's like...

GROSS: Oh, I see. So he figured you were eventually going to do this, but he didn't know for sure, but he started training anyways.

SHERIDAN: Yeah, exactly.

GROSS: Just in case.

SHERIDAN: Now you have it.

GROSS: All right.

LAUGHTER

Now, you have a few boxing scenes. And of course, you know, like the greatest of the contemporary boxing movies is "Raging Bull." So, did you study Raging Bull and if so what did you get from that?

SHERIDAN: Well you know, I studied Raging Bull a lot. I mean, but -- you have to, you know? It's like probably the best film of the '80s in many ways, you know. Certainly the critics have said so. And you know, it's a very -- there are very powerful fight sequences in it and you know, it's about a kind of very aggressive boxer.

And when I watched it, you know, I think: "oh my God, he's done everything, Scorsese. I can't repeat any of that, you know." I went for a totally different approach, you know -- much more closer to the documentary reality of boxing.

And you know, there were -- there is probably very specific differences. I mean, in that film they were using the kind of brutalization to show you the -- you know, and almost an operatic style -- to show you the interior mentality of Jake LaMotta, you know. And they did it brilliantly and used a lot of slow motion.

I didn't actually use any slow motion. And, I just used it once in the film, at the end, and for a very different purpose, which was that I wanted to use the slow motion just to show nonviolence, you know, and...

GROSS: What do you mean, to show nonviolence?

SHERIDAN: Well, it's at the moment where he doesn't kill the guy that the slow motion is used. And it's to slow down the speed of the boxing and show the kind of his mental -- his thoughts, you know. The audience expects -- once you go into slow motion, the audience expects the guy to get killed, you know.

GROSS: Right. Just to explain here, there's a match going on and the other boxer -- the boxer Daniel Day-Lewis is fighting against, has been knocked out several times. He can't even barely stand up. He's obviously like lost. Yet, the referee insists that the fight continue. So Daniel Day-Lewis is expected to keep punching him, but he won't do it.

SHERIDAN: Yeah. I mean, I don't want to give away the film, but that -- basically that's it.

GROSS: Right. OK.

LAUGHTER

SHERIDAN: And he -- but it's like, you know, I think from thinking about it, and that -- and you know, like if there's a car accident in the road and people slow down to see it, you know, it's -- you wonder: "why do they do that?"

And I think many times it's just like a tribal thing of looking at the accident and seeing how you can avoid it. You know, it's somewhere deep -- to try and learn lessons. You know, and the kind of the certainty that you're still alive and the fear that the others may be dead.

And in the cinema, that happens a lot. You know, the audience seems to have a huge acceptance for people dying -- you know, and being shot apart and blown up. And I always try to figure -- I was trying to figure out: what is it? And the only kind of conclusions I could come up with, that it's kind of like -- us watching violence on the screen, especially in slow motion, is like a low-level quest for immortality, you know.

It's like we sit there thinking: "oh, they're all dying and now I'll watch it in slow motion." And we feel it -- never feel more alive. But it's a false feeling. It's a false feeling of immortality.

GROSS: My guest is director and screenwriter Jim Sheridan. His latest movie is The Boxer. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Jim Sheridan, director and co-writer of The Boxer, which stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a boxer and former IRA member whose just gotten out of prison after 14 years.

Let me ask you about another scene. There's the scene -- I won't give away any of the story here -- but I'll just say that there's a riot that breaks out...

SHERIDAN: Yeah.

GROSS: ... because of sectarian violence.

SHERIDAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And it's a riot that starts in the gym and spreads to the streets. And it's just chaos. And it's a -- it's an incredibly well-shot and directed scene, I think. And you really get a sense of being in the crowd and being, like, afraid and lost and out of control. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about directing that scene and creating that kind of chaos that -- where everything erupts and there's no way out.

SHERIDAN: Little guy and his girl, you know -- the smallest kid in the class kind of boy. You know, it's like when you're -- it's when you're small in a crowd, you know, especially as a kid. So I used a kid's perspective, you know, with -- his father picks him up and then puts him on his shoulders, and then the kid has a perspective above the crowd, you know, but it's only because he's in a weak position, and he falls.

So, I'm interested in that. You know, I really am. I'm interested in when the crowd becomes mass -- you know, mass -- a mass of violence, you know? I mean, I've been chased in Ireland in riot situations and that, you know, and it's kind of really is scary. And you just -- you know, everything goes except the immediate things around you, you know, like feet flying along.

So I was -- I was very interested in the way the violence has its own logic, you know. And you know, you see that every day. People lose their temper. You see it on the personal level and you know, the violence overcomes them.

Well, there's a mass thing that it happens like that, too, you know, and for very many different reasons. Sometimes, you know, (unintelligible) get people going sometimes. But we all have the little demon inner child with the rage ready to, you know, let loose.

GROSS: Did you ever get hurt in a riot, either by cops, or soldiers, or by just the crowd itself?

SHERIDAN: No, I saw a -- the funniest thing was, you know, I was being chased by the cops once, and you know, and the policeman fell and broke his leg, which was scary, you know.

GROSS: How do you know he broke his leg?

SHERIDAN: Because I went back to look, you know?

GROSS: Why did you go back?

SHERIDAN: Because like -- because the police then more or less stopped, and you know, had chased the crowd as far as they could go and batted a few on the head. And then, you know, we stopped and just walked back. It was just, I suppose, kind of (unintelligible) concerned. They were Irish police. It was outside the British Embassy, you know, in Dublin. And you know, it was suddenly your own police battering you. It's kind of a very weird situation, you know. It was.

GROSS: So you felt ambivalent about being in conflict with them in the first place.

SHERIDAN: Yeah, I felt ambivalent about being in the situation because we went to protest about Bloody Sunday, and then some idiot burnt the embassy, you know. They threw petro-bombs and the whole place went up, you know. And that -- that was my first example of where there's a protest that could lead to change being dissipated by, you know, a violence which is like a cheap, easy, lazy way of conducting dissent.

GROSS: Where are you from in Ireland?

SHERIDAN: I'm from Dublin.

GROSS: So, did the troubles have much of an impact on your family, growing up in the south?

SHERIDAN: Well no, but my mother was from the north and she was always very influential in my life. And you know, when first when the north blew up, she took in all these lodgers from the north of Ireland, you know, more or less refugees. And you know -- and it did have an influence, you know.

And you know, but I think basically it wasn't -- it's not like -- I think what happened in Ireland was that the television came along, and the television basically changed the Irish landscape. You know, first people saw Martin Luther King marching in America, you know, for civil rights. And then, the Irish copied it. That's what happened. That's how the trouble in the north started. We were copying you guys here, you know.

And -- and you know -- and that -- and the strange irony was people were marching for civil rights in Ireland in a country that didn't even have a Bill of Rights. So it was kind of contradictory, but people didn't care about that because it was on television, you know.

And television then had a huge influence on that. Once police battened the civil rights marchers, it became more violent and then Bloody Sunday happened and it became really violent.

And then, they closed down the television, you know, and wouldn't allow the IRA or anybody -- for their representatives on. And you know, they tried to control the war that way. Which you can understand -- I mean, they had great difficulty.

But I think one of the things which I haven't heard anybody comment on was that, you know, what they didn't have in Ireland in the civil rights -- not as far as I know; maybe there was one person who didn't -- couldn't rise to the occasion -- but they didn't have a leader like Martin Luther King who had the spiritual dimension that was inclusive of the other side -- the spiritual depth, or whatever.

And I think that was lacking in the Irish civil rights marches, which just were kind of like almost like an immediate response to what they'd seen abroad.

GROSS: Did you have friends in the IRA, and did their stories affect your view of the troubles?

SHERIDAN: Yeah, it would be hard not to have friends in the Republican movement. And this is not -- I'm not dissembling here when I have tried to think: do I -- did I have friends? I did have friends in the IRA who were arrested in the early years, and you know, because like thousands of kids were just picked up without trial, and you know, then they all joined the IRA, and I knew quite a few of them.

But as the conflict went on, it got down into a hard nucleus of very tough guys who I -- who by the nature of what they were doing were certainly were never going to tell me they were in the IRA. Do you know what I mean?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

SHERIDAN: Over the years, it became very secretive and very closed off, I think, and very wrong-directed. But yeah, their lives do -- did affect me. You know, the guy who I wrote the play with was interned, you know, in jail in Northern Ireland -- I wrote the film with -- was interned.

And all that stuff does affect you, you know, and I -- you know, it's like -- kind of like a joke, you know. Everybody's saying, you know, the IRA were criminal this that and the other. And you know, suddenly like what? It's as if, you know, you -- a cloud rained on Belfast one day and out of this rain, you know, everybody became a criminal, you know. And it's like just avoidance of the reality, you know.

GROSS: Your new film The Boxer has to do with the IRA. So did your film In the Name of the Father. I'm wondering if making art during the troubles has affected your view of what art should do -- what movies should do or what theater should do? 'Cause I know you've run -- run a theater group, too.

SHERIDAN: Mm-hmm. Well you know, I don't consider -- I, you know, what I do is artistic and sometimes people will turn it into propaganda on one side or the other, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

SHERIDAN: And I can't avoid that, really. But I also can't avoid that I have this position and you know, the ability to make films. And if I didn't make them about these subjects, I'd feel worse than I do, you know, because I think I'd be avoiding what's in front of my face, you know.

GROSS: Jim Sheridan -- he directed and co-wrote the film The Boxer. One of the songs heard in the film is "Danny Boy." Here's Rosemary Clooney's version.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, SINGER ROSEMARY CLOONEY PERFORMING "DANNY BOY")

ROSEMARY CLOONEY, SINGER, SINGING: Oh, Danny Boy
The pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountainside
The summer's gone and all the roses fallen
It's you, it's you must go and I must bide

But come ye back
When summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
Yes I'll be there
In sunshine or in shadow

Oh, Danny Boy
Oh, Danny Boy, I love you so.

GROSS: Rosemary Clooney, from her album "Demi-Centennial."

Coming up, Victoria Williams' first new CD in three years.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Jim Sheridan
High: Film director/writer/producer Jim Sheridan. His films include "My Left Foot" and "In the Name of the Father" both of which starred Daniel Day-Lewis. His latest film is "The Boxer," also starring Day-Lewis. The story is about former IRA member who returns home after 14 years in prison.
Spec: Movie Industry; Northern Ireland; The Boxer; Violence; Military; Prisons
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Jim Sheridan
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 26, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 012601np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Musings of a Creek Dipper
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Victoria Williams' "Musings of a Creek Dipper" is her first new collection of material in more than three years, during which time she struggled with an on-again, off-again battle with multiple sclerosis for which she had been diagnosed in 1992. Williams joined this summer's "Lilith" tour for 10 dates.

Rock critic Ken Tucker says that Musings of a Creek Dipper has a simple directness to its art that gives its music a special force.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "CASHMERE'S CORN" FROM CD "MUSINGS OF A CREEK DIPPER")

VICTORIA WILLIAMS, SINGER, SINGING:
Here's what happened

The other night I woke at four in the morning
I was at a friend's house
On the couch on the porch
And the moon was full

I walked over to the corral
There saw the magic
A horse was kneeling on the ground
Holding court with 15 rabbits

Cashmere's corn

KEN TUCKER, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: In the best of Victoria Williams' songs, as on that one called "Cashmere's Corn," she cobbles together an idiosyncratic combination of folk and country music, plus the sort of low-key rock and roll that Graham Parsons (ph) of The Byrds might have come up with.

She takes her time getting to her point, drifting off conversationally to abandon realistic imagery, to come up with visions of, as she sings on this song, "horses that kneel to hold court with 15 rabbits." In the past, the results have often been precious or coy, but on this album, they cohere as urgent messages from the heart.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "MUSINGS OF A CREEP DIPPER")

WILLIAMS, SINGING:

When I was a little kid
I'd have to sit like most kids did
Counting as the train cars passed
Waiting for the very last

Go to see the old man wave
In his overalls and his hair all bright
Smiling in the sun
Nowadays it ain't no use
There's no caboose

Can't understand
How they can
Take the job
From a kind old man
Feel the joys on a young child's heart
Just when it gets to the groovy part

Nowadays it ain't no use
There's no caboose

With the fields, they ramble
Or the mountains they cross
What it is to go to every town
One and all

TUCKER: Now, there's a whole song built around the idea that Victoria is really disappointed and kind of angry that most trains that run past her house don't have cabooses on them anymore. Lots of folk-based young singer/songwriters try for a kind of willed nostalgia to dramatize a regret they've never really experienced, because they know it makes for good drama. With Williams, the yearning for a caboose seems as heartfelt and intense as her desire in other songs for a good marriage and good work to do.

In the past, I must admit that Williams' high curling voice has sometimes driven me a little crazy with its cuteness and apparent affectations. On this album, I love the way she's playing around with that voice -- acknowledging its mannerisms and using them for emotional payoffs.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "MUSINGS OF A CREEP DIPPER")

WILLIAMS, SINGING:
Who's to bury the last man when he dies?
All the money in the world can't help you
If the world's on fire
And the world's on fire

You can just go on
(unintelligible)
And you would be ignored
I read in the Good Book someplace
It says
Every word you utter will be accounted for, yeah

What's the last word?
What's the password?
Anybody gonna say?
What's the password?
What's the password?
Anybody gonna say?

TUCKER: Raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, Williams launched her music career in Los Angeles, where she found a kindred spirit in mannered eccentricity with producer/composer Van Dyke Parks (ph) and with Peter Case (ph), leader of the terrific L.A. punk/pop band "The Plimpsouls" (ph). She married Case, but it didn't last.

Williams has relocated for medical and spiritual reasons to Joshua Tree, California -- not far from where Graham Parsons' ashes were scattered and where she now lives with her new husband Mark Olson (ph) of the bank "The Jayhawks." There, Williams is making music that uses what she calls the occasional flapping around of her hands to make precise, meticulous music about unruly, difficult to pin down, yet lyrically precise feelings.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed Musings of a Creek Dipper by Victoria Williams.

Dateline: Ken Tucker; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews "Musings of a Creek Dipper" the new release of singer Victoria Williams, who was part of this summer's Lilith Tour.
Spec: Music Industry; Victoria Williams; Musings of a Creek Dipper
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Musings of a Creek Dipper
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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