DATE August 14, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Nick Cook discusses the history of anti-gravity
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.
Last month a story in the Financial Times of London, written by my guest, Nick
Cook,??? reported that Boeing, the world's biggest aircraft maker, was
developing a new project called GRASP, Gravity Research for Advanced Space
Propulsion. With this news, anti-gravity, the taboo of the science and
aerospace communities, took a step in the direction of legitimate research.
My guest, Nick Cook, is a former aviation editor for the military affairs
journal Jane's Defence Weekly. Over a decade ago, he stumbled on an obscure
news article from the 1950s, which heralded the age of fuelless superplanes,
airships which would use anti-gravity technology to attain the speed of light.
He began to investigate covert defense programs funded by the US government in
the post-war era and secret research projects spearheaded by Nazi scientists
during World War II. His new book, "The Hunt for Zero Point," traces the
history of the quest of anti-gravity propulsion. I asked Nick Cook what he
knew about anti-gravity when he first came across that clipping.
Mr. NICK COOK (Author, "The Hunt for Zero Point"): Well, I knew absolutely
nothing about anti-gravity propulsion. I mean, it sounded like some sort of
kind of really cheesy expression from a science fiction comic or a kind of B
movie or something, but as I understood it, as it pertains to the culture of
science fiction and what have you, it was some means of propelling an air
vehicle without using fuel. If you can manipulate gravity, I guess a little
bit like pushing two positive poles of two magnets together, they sort of
repel each other, well, that sort of was my understanding at that stage of how
it could be used and put to use if such an impossible thing existed.
But, you know, slowly, as I looked into it, it became apparent that there was
some science underpinning it. And although I am not a scientist, I enlisted
some help, but I am a journalist, and I've covered programs, I've covered
secret programs for a very long time, and the signals I was getting back were
sufficiently interesting in the early days for me to want to continue pursuing
BOGAEV: What were the most promising theories for how anti-gravity machines
Mr. COOK: There are many different researchers working in this field, and
they all have different pathways to generating an anti-gravity effect. I
mean, for instance, what was interesting to me was that many of these
anti-gravitational experiments seemed to have a common thread. We have, for
example, this guy in Russia called Podkletnov, who's using spinning
superconductors. We have the German research, which involves the rapid
spinning of a kind of rather weird shaped turbine to produce an anti-gravity
effect. There was another German program I uncovered in southern Poland,
which again used spinning.
Now what, of course, these have in common is a spinning factor, which,
according to some theories say if you spin up this zero point energy field
that exists all around us, some weird and magical things start popping out,
one of which is an anti-gravitational effect. As I said before, there's no
single pathway to this anti-gravitational effect, but there do seem to be many
ways of triggering it. Most seem to involve spinning, and a lot seem to
involve the input of high doses of electricity.
BOGAEV: So at this point, you suspected that this kind of research had been
part of a secret black program that the government had supported in the '50s
or '60s, maybe. Where did the trail of this black program and anti-gravity
research lead you?
Mr. COOK: Well, the interesting thing about the pronouncements in the
mid-1950s, as I say, by this range of companies, was that a lot of people were
talking about it, and then suddenly--this is in about the 1955 time frame.
And then by 1956, 1957, the whole matter had been dropped. And when I looked
back over papers and the magazines and what have you from the period, it was
clear that by 1956, '57 it was as if this debate, which had been raging--I
mean, people in The New York Times were being quoted in 1955, and it was as if
it had never happened.
And, you know, there were two reasons for this, I figured. One was maybe it
was kind of all a big embarrassment; you know, people had sort of got all
carried away with this world-changing technology in 1955, and then suddenly
found out there was nothing in it, and it had embarrassed them. Or possibly
that it had been shown at that time to be practical and feasible, and someone
had realized its world-changing potential and had said to these individuals,
`Shut up about it.'
I mean, either way, I wanted to track that down. And that's really how I kind
of got sucked into the story. And then, surprisingly, although I went out and
I looked into kind of contemporary places, like NASA and contemporary
aerospace and defense companies, and sure enough there is evidence that stuff
is going on today, but what kept on pulling me back was historical data. Even
though I wanted to get my teeth into modern programs in the modern world, the
evidence was saying that you need to be looking even before 1955 for the
origins of this science.
BOGAEV: Well, you researched a 1920s scientist, Thomas Townsend Brown. Who
was he, and what's his significance in this story?
Mr. COOK: Well, Brown is a very interesting figure. He came from Ohio. He
was a physicist. He studied under a protege of Einstein. And he had some
pretty unconventional ideas. He came up with this experiment which showed
that if you charge a capacitor--that's a device that retains electrical
charge--positively on its upper side and negatively on its underside, this
thing will rise. It will rise in the direction of the positive charge.
Now science has no explanation for this, and yet you can log onto multiple Web
sites on the Internet today and they will teach you how to build something
called the Lifter, which operates basically on the Brown principle. And you
can go and do this in your home using materials like balsa wood, foil and wire
that you can and buy from a hardware store. But the intriguing aspect is, is
that science has no explanation for how it works.
BOGAEV: There is a German chapter to this story. Were the Germans involved
in World War II wartime experiments in anti-gravity?
Mr. COOK: Yes, they were. They were--the Germans were clearly involved in
the Second World War. And this is one of the kind of more disturbing aspects
of the story for me. I mean, it was certainly actually one of the more
intriguing as well, because my beat is 21st century technology--that's really
what I've been trained to do--but I found myself drawn back in time to the
Second World War. It's a period I've always been interested in, and it was a
period I felt I knew a little bit about. But as I started to uncover what the
Germans had been doing, I found that there were two aspects to advanced German
high technology during the war. There was the very publicized one; the one
that, you know, people like me who are interested in the field know about,
about what the Luftwaffe did, the German air force did during the war, and
that in itself is highly advanced.
The sinister aspect to the story is that most of the Luftwaffe's high
technology was taken over towards the end of the war by the SS. Now, of
course, the SS were instrumental in the horrors of the Holocaust. And it
became clear, though--it is very clear--that they also had a mandate from the
hierarchy--from the senior hierarchy--to get into high technology, to create
their own state within a state that would give them power within the framework
of the Third Reich.
BOGAEV: Well, one of the really interesting characters that you research was
a weapons scientist working for the SS named Kamler. Who was he and what did
he create during the war?
Mr. COOK: Well, Kamler is a very interesting figure, and he interested me
primarily from the outset because so little is know about him, and yet he was
one of the most senior individuals outside of the German Cabinet, Hitler's
inner circle, during the Second World War. His mandate towards the end of the
war was to amass all the high technology that Germany produced during the war
and not only develop it--I mean, for instance, the V1 and V2 missiles and
rockets that were developed and fired on the low countries and on England
during the war were under his control at the end of the war.
But the most fascinating aspect for me was that Kamler set up a secret
research cell in Czechoslovakia, which was ring fenced even from other
high-ranking Germans. And within this research cell, he went beyond--he
authorized research into weapons beyond the V1 and the V2, which in themselves
were highly advanced and, of course, became the basis of the rocket program
that took Americans to the moon.
So Kamler was this mercurial, incredibly unpleasant bureaucrat who had his
hands into the architecture of the death camps, for example. But he also took
over the German secret weapons as well. And, of course, it's significant that
at the end of the war, he disappeared off the face of the Earth.
BOGAEV: He built the largest underground facility in the world--built by
concentration camp prisoners--to work on these weapons. And you went there.
It's on the Harz mountains.
Mr. COOK: Yeah.
BOGAEV: What's it like?
Mr. COOK: The Midlevek is a huge underground facility. It's still there;
you can go and see it. It was built to construct the V2 rockets and other
weapon systems, and it was put underground so that US and UK, British
strategic bombing during the war, couldn't touch it. What is remarkable is
that Kamler not only built this facility, which was, as you say, the largest
underground facility ever constructed at that time, he also built a rat-run of
other facilities all across his protectorate, and his protectorate extended
from Austria through Czechoslovakia into parts of Germany and what is today
southern Poland. And I visited a lot of these facilities, and they are still
there. They are subterranean, dank, unpleasant. You can really get a feel
for the horrors of their construction, what happened to the people who worked
on those construction sites, the construction lines after these weapons during
the war. And they leave you with this terrible, sort of indelible imprint.
And that was a disturbing time of the research. You sort of--you come away
from it feeling that this stuff kind of sticks to you in a way, and you need
to kind of keep your feet on the ground in order to separate the salient facts
of the story. And the salient facts of the story are, of course, that Germany
developed this stuff, kept it incredibly secret, and then had it, if you like,
plundered by the victorious allies from them at the end of the war.
BOGAEV: The United States pursued Nazi scientists after the war, really
recruited them. Did they ever get their hands on Kamler's research? I guess
the question is what's the upshot of this World War II Nazi scientist story?
Mr. COOK: Well, the plant that Kamler oversaw, it was actually a sectioned
off site of something called the Skoda Works in Czechoslovakia--it was
designated to be overtaken by the Russians. It was in the Russians'
designated zone of influence at the end of the war. What is interesting,
though, is that Patton's army, right at the end of the war, in early May,
swept in and overtook the Scodaworks for a brief period of time before the
Russians got there. Now what evidence there is suggests that Kamler got a lot
of his research out. We don't know where that research went. Some of it may
well have gone to Russia. Some of it may have well gone to the United States.
The intriguing aspect is we don't know what happened to Kamler. There are
four conflicting accounts of his death; none of them stand up to scrutiny.
This was the most influential and most important guy, at the end of the Second
World War, who had all Germany's secret weapons research at his disposal, and
somebody like that, of course, would have had a great bargaining chip to deal
with any of the victorious allies that he cared to have chosen to deal with to
bargain for his life, because Kamler needed to bargain for his life. He was
the man who helped to build up the death camps. He had a bureaucratic vision
for how the death camps should be created. He was, if you like, an architect,
one of the architects of the Holocaust, so he needed very firmly to bargain
for his life, and this would have been a definite bargaining chip--all this
BOGAEV: Nick Cook is an aerospace consultant for the military affairs journal
Jane's Defence Weekly. His new book about the history of anti-gravity
research is "The Hunt for Zero Point." We'll talk more after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Nick Cook. He's a
former aviation editor for the military affairs journal Jane's Defence Weekly.
His new book about the history of anti-gravity research is "The Hunt for Zero
You followed up on these questions of what happened to the Nazi's wartime
research, and you found some interesting stuff. What did you find once you
dug around? Who was involved in anti-gravity research in the '50s in the US?
Mr. COOK: Well, the interesting thing about the 1950s research in the US was
that just about every aerospace company you've ever heard of was involved in
the field. In 1955, a range of companies, like Lockheed, Convair, Bell, these
big names from the US aerospace industry from the time, were all talking
about, you know, this coming revolution, the anti-gravity revolution, and that
all they needed was some input from the US government, in terms of support and
funding, and they could crack the science.
And to me what was intriguing was that there was an echo here of what was
happening, or what had been happening in the pre-Second World War years with
fision, with atomic science where the community was very much divided. You
had those saying that if you split an atom, you could get an enormous release
of energy, enough perhaps to make a bomb, and those in the field, physicists
working within the field, who said, `It's absolutely impossible.'
And of course in the mid-1950s, where these guys were talking about
anti-gravity research in the same light, the community was riven with the same
kind of dissent; those who said it was possible and those said it was
impossible. So there is this kind of intriguing echo, and again that gave me
some confidence that it was worth pursuing, because we know now the terrible
consequences of the atomic bomb.
BOGAEV: Why won't people talk to you about this now? I mean, we've been
hearing a lot about black programs in recent years on weaponry during the Cold
War, about the atom bomb and programs that were cloaked by the CIA, the
stealth fighter, for instance. Why hasn't this story surfaced? And why would
people still be reluctant to talk to you about it?
Mr. COOK: Well, I think there are a number of reasons why this story hasn't
surfaced. One of them is that the potential of this work is world-changing.
If you can crack the anti-gravity conundrum, you are not just into something
that will change the aerospace industry, you're into something that is going
to change our entire world. You can get, according to the people who work in
this field, anything to run off this technology. You are manipulating the
forces of nature. You are bending the fundamental forces of nature and
getting energy from it. Now that is powerful and it is limitless, so if they
can crack this technology, and the evidence suggests that they already have,
then it would be incredibly secret.
But, of course, there's another aspect, too, which is that there's been a kind
of giggle factor, because of its science-fiction type connotations for ages.
And, you know, you got to have some nerve to stick your head above the
parapet. And that is, undoubtedly another factor as well, which has kept this
below kind of the public--out of the public eye. So, you know, these things,
I think they all combine to have made it something which has not broken
through into the mainstream. But, of course, the real draw now is that people
are beginning to realize that we are running out of time when it comes to
things like fossil fuel, and we need to be looking at alternative power
sources if we're going to go through the 21st century and survive into the
BOGAEV: Could you give us the big picture then on this story? What's the
larger significance of anti-gravity research during the Cold War? Does it
tell you something about how once taboo and outlandish ideas in science then
Mr. COOK: Yes, very much so. I mean, I think, as I say at the end of the
book, even in the short, or relatively short period of time it took me to
write it, ideas and the acceptance of ideas--people have become much more
tolerant, I think, to ideas which--you know, previously people needed to be
kind of rooted in real things that they could touch and see and feel, and
science is very much like that. Scientists want, all the time, to have theory
underpinning work to enable them to remain grounded at all times. I, too,
have great sympathy with that. In my job I've always wanted to be grounded,
to go out and touch the things that I'm writing about like, you know, stealth
fighters or what have you.
But I think attitudes have changed and they are changing, and zero points is
always grounded in real work. And mercifully there are a lot of scientists,
scientists who are really working right on the cutting edge at the moment.
There is a great guy called Dr. Hal Puthoff, works down in Texas, who is
really pioneering this whole zero point energy field and coming up with really
respectable theories for how zero point energy, which is a kind of
all-embracing field of energy around us--it's proven to exist, it's simply
that we don't know what it can do for us. But Puttoff is one of those people
who believes that zero point energy could actually explain things like
gravity, which science has very little explanation for. And I think these
answers, very soon, are going to pop out of the woodwork. I think we're
really on the cusp of a whole new era in science and understanding, and if
nothing else that's what I'd like this book to do, is to get these principles
to be debated openly without fear of ridicule.
BOGAEV: Nick Cook, thanks. It's been an interesting time talking with you
Mr. COOK: Thank you.
BOGAEV: Nick Cook's new book is "The Hunt for Zero Point." I'm Barbara
Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.
BOGAEV: Coming up, the color of money; images on Confederate currency
depicted slaves in the field, just one part of the propaganda campaign the
Southern banks waged to legitimize the institution of slavery. We'll meet
John W. Jones, an artist whose paintings are based on the engravings on these
Also, rock critic Ken Tucker reviews "Instant Vintage," the first solo album
from Raphael Saadiq.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: John W. Jones discusses his paintings based on the
slavery images on Confederate bills and his art exhibit
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.
In the mid-19th century, slavery was such an integral part of the fabric of
our culture that images of slaves at work, picking cotton on plantations and
loading it on to railroad cars, were emblazoned on the very currency issued by
Confederate banks. In early America, banks issued paper money because the New
World lacked precious metals, essential for making coins. By the 18th
century, printing presses in Boston, Philadelphia and New York printed bills
for banks throughout the country.
My guest, John W. Jones, is an artist who's fascinated with these images of
slavery on Confederate bills and what they say about our nation's history. He
collects Confederate currency and creates large paintings in bold acrylics of
slave images from the engravings he finds on it. His paintings, which are
exhibited alongside the Confederate bills, are now on display at America's
Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee. A catalog accompanying the exhibit is
called "The Color of Money." Jones first started taking an active interest in
these bills when he was working at a blueprint company in North Charleston,
South Carolina. One day, he enlarged some Confederate bills for a customer.
Mr. JOHN W. JONES (Artist): On one of the bills, I noticed that there were
slaves on the currencies. Being from South Carolina, I, of course, had seen
Confederate money before, but I never realized what was on it, until I took a
very close look at that particular bill. It kind of blew me away really,
because it was something that I hadn't seen before. I had not seen it in any
history books; I'd never heard about it. So it certainly sparked my interest,
and I began to investigate this phenomena, and I began to find more and more
bills with African-Americans on them.
BOGAEV: Do you remember that first bill, what the image was on it?
Mr. JONES: Oh, yes, absolutely. It was a bill from Charleston. It was a
slave family in a field. It was in the lower right-hand corner of the bill.
It was very small. If you're not really looking for it, you'd miss it very
BOGAEV: What was the slave family doing in the picture?
Mr. JONES: Well, they were actually in a field picking cotton, just that
simple. They were a family basically just out in the cotton field picking
BOGAEV: Now you're a painter. Were you already then a serious painter while
you were working, I assume, a day job at the blueprint store?
Mr. JONES: Oh, absolutely. I've been painting and drawing since I was about
six years old. Back when I was in early childhood, I was drawing on the
ground because we didn't really have any paper, because my father wouldn't let
us draw on paper because we needed the paper for school purposes, so we had
nothing else to draw on, so I had to draw on the ground--sticks and, of
course, I developed that talent over the years, on through high school and
doing bulletin boards for teachers and backdrops for teacher's plays and
things like that. So that's basically how I learned to draw and paint; pretty
BOGAEV: So you saw this image on this Confederate bill, and you started
collecting Confederate money yourself. How did you track it down? Where'd
you look for it?
Mr. JONES: Well, I started out going to Confederate stores where they
generally trade old bills, and then I started to look on the Internet. I went
to eBay and I actually found a place where I could bid on Confederate bills,
so I started collecting it that way. And as I began to paint these paintings
and put it into the first exhibition that I had, people actually started
sending me bills to paint.
BOGAEV: What kind of Confederate money did you turn up? What were the images
on the bills that you found?
Mr. JONES: Oh, they varied widely, from anything that you could imagine the
slaves were doing in fields, trundling cotton, carrying cotton, loading
cotton, baling cotton, hauling cotton, carrying cotton, picking cotton. You
name it, dock work and on and on and on. There's just a wide variety of
chores that the slaves were doing on the old currencies.
BOGAEV: Do you have a star of your collection or a really significant bill in
Mr. JONES: I think the one that's really struck me most was the one that was
on a Macon, Georgia, bill, and the painting I call "Slave Profits." It was
the one of Moneta, which is apparently the Roman goddess of money. And she
had money in a bag under her arms, gold spilling out of a bag by her feet,
cotton in one hand, slaves in the background with an overseer and a train
coming to pick the cotton up from the harvest. I think that one really struck
me most as to how important cotton and slavery was to the Southern economy.
BOGAEV: I was just looking at an image on the cover of your book. There are
two slaves picking cotton there. One of them is carrying a huge basket of
cotton on her shoulder, and she's a really, really strong-looking woman out in
the fields, dressed as a man, really, wearing a fedora.
Mr. JONES: Well, I think that's how the Southerners wanted to depict this
female slave, as being strong and able to do the work of men actually. But,
of course, I see a different picture. I see the strong and indomitable
character of these slaves and how they survived through all of the horrendous
activities during the antebellum period.
BOGAEV: You said you had seen Confederate money before. Do you remember the
first time you came across it and what your thoughts were when you saw it for
the first time?
Mr. JONES: Well, I think that was a long time ago. I don't even remember who
had it, but I know I had seen it before. It wasn't in any books, either.
Someone actually had some. I think a lot of people were wallpapering their
homes with Confederate money.
BOGAEV: They wallpapered their walls with it?
Mr. JONES: Oh, yeah. It was virtually worthless after the Civil War, but
people are collecting it now, so it's becoming quite valuable now. In fact,
there's one particular bill, if you get your hands on it, it's worth about
BOGAEV: Now these images of African-Americans started appearing on bank notes
around I think 1820, before slavery was institutionalized. What did the
images look like then from those bills? Were blacks even represented on them?
Mr. JONES: Well, there was actually one bill that I know of that I've
investigated that had any images of slavery on it, and that was in 1820, and
that one apparently had no hint of subjugation to it at all, as I can see. It
was simply blacks and whites working together on some sort of a project. And
I'm looking at the bill here, as I'm talking to you, and that seems to be the
case to me.
BOGAEV: And when did that begin to change?
Mr. JONES: Well, after 1820, there were no blacks on any money until around
1850, and that's just prior to the Civil War. And, of course, the reason that
they began to appear on money was because the war was beginning to heat up the
debate over slavery, and the system in the North and the system in the South,
and the migration to the West, and that all became controversial. So the
South began to put images of African-Americans or slaves on money because this
was the whole focus of all of this activity. Slavery and cotton was the
backbone of the South, so they want to put something on the currency, because
although it was circulated from the banks locally, it was circulated around
the country nationally. So that gave the bankers a way to promote an idea.
And, of course, that idea was that cotton's king in the South and that slavery
was the instrument that they used to harvest their cotton and get the cotton
out of the fields into the market.
BOGAEV: Now I understand something really interesting happened here in the
1840s, late '40s when the Southern banks started saying to these Northern
printers, `Hey, we want some pictures on the money depicting slavery, our main
industry.' And the Northern printers just had no idea what to do. They were
kind of caught up short. What did they come up with? Did they even know how
to portray slaves in the beginning?
Mr. JONES: Well, what they had to do, because they had no ready-made images,
they had to actually recycle the images that they had; that is, they had to
take images of white farmers or the vignettes showing whites in the fields and
changed them to blacks in the fields. One particular note, I call it slave
picking corn, and that clearly illustrates how they were changing the images
from the banks up North and selling the images to the banks down South by
changing the skin color and tattering the clothes to make them appear like
BOGAEV: Another image in the book that accompanies an exhibition of your
paintings is one that I understand was very popular at the time. The bill was
popular. It's of a slave mother holding her child on her shoulder, and she
has an apron full of tobacco leaves and the child holds a tobacco vine.
Mr. JONES: Right.
BOGAEV: What do you think of that image?
Mr. JONES: Well, I think that holding the tobacco vine is part of the very
thing that had them enslaved, and you notice the mother is smiling and the
baby is smiling. Well, as we said before, this is all propaganda. In fact,
all of this was all about propaganda, about a way to promote that system and
try to convince the North that it was just wonderful, and that's why the
slaves are all smiling on a lot of the bills that you see. You'd never see
anything about the negative side of slavery on any of these currencies.
BOGAEV: There's an abiding debate about the Civil War, to what extent the
Civil War was about state's rights or was it about slavery? Do you understand
these images on these bills as adding something to that argument?
Mr. JONES: Well, I think these currencies show a clear and undeniable,
irrefutable evidence of how important slavery was to the South. I think it's
a visual smoking gun, if you will. There's no getting around it. It won't go
away. It's there on the money. It's clear to see. Anybody can see it. I
didn't put it there. This is not revisionist history. This is something
that's clearly on Confederate currency and Southern states' currencies.
BOGAEV: John W. Jones' paintings of images of slavery from Confederate
currency are now on exhibit at the Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee. We'll
be back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: My guest is artist John W. Jones. His paintings are drawn from
images of slavery found on Confederate currency. The catalog which
accompanies his work, now on display at the Black Holocaust Museum in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is called "The Color of Money."
When you started to design the paintings, did you think, `I'm just going to
reproduce these images faithfully,' or did you consider transforming them?
Mr. JONES: No. I never really considered transforming them, because I
thought that what I would do, I would paint these things exactly like I saw
them on the currencies. I didn't want to change it very much, but, of course,
some of the images were so faint and old that I had to ad-lib a little bit,
you know, because you blow something up that large, you have to put in faces
and things like that, so I had to add a lot of that sort of detail and
backgrounds and color. To bring these things back to life was basically my
aim to do, to show people and to educate people and let people see and know
and understand what was on the old currencies.
BOGAEV: What's the scale of your paintings? Can you give us a sense of how
big they are? And I'm thinking, looking at them in this catalog from an
exhibition, that making them bigger, to me as a viewer, gives the people in
these images back their humanity, in a way. They really do leap out at you
alive and strong.
Mr. JONES: Well, that was part of my intention as well, to give these slaves
a new voice, so that they could be freed from the currencies that they were
found on. And that's why I tried to liven it up and really make the colors
bright and lively, to draw people into these paintings so they could really
take a hard look at that subject matter and hopefully to help heal some of the
wounds that has been created by slavery.
BOGAEV: So when you exhibit, you always exhibit the bills, the money,
alongside the paintings and I guess...
Mr. JONES: Absolutely. I al...
BOGAEV: ...you want your audience to kind of read the story between the two?
Mr. JONES: Right. I think it was very important to put the bills beside the
painting, in juxtaposition to the painting so they could see the relationship
between the money and the painting itself. Otherwise, I think they would
probably be just another slave or cotton picking painting, so to speak.
BOGAEV: When you blow the bills up, can you see the faces clearly?
Mr. JONES: For the most part, they're just about as smudged as they are on
the original bill, so that's why I had to ad-lib quite a bit on some of them.
But you can see some of the expressions on some of them, and some of them you
can't, because like I said, they're so small that even blown up, it doesn't
help very much.
BOGAEV: So what models or what faces do you use for your paintings?
Mr. JONES: Family and friends basically, just people that I know from the
neighborhood and things like that. Sometimes I use my face.
BOGAEV: You know, I'm wondering, I'm trying to put myself in your position,
painting these paintings. It takes a while. You work on a painting for I
imagine--What?--a couple days and...
Mr. JONES: Well, generally, I have two or three going at one time actually,
because I'm trying to produce a large body of work, and I have to paint on
them as I get the inspiration to do so. And a lot of times, when I do paint,
it's basically in the middle of the night where I don't have the phones
ringing all the time and being distracted by grandchildren and so forth. So I
generally start painting around 12:30, 1:00 in the morning and paint on up
through 9 or 10:00 during the morning, sometimes later.
Mr. JONES: But that's generally the way I do it.
BOGAEV: Well, I imagine you painting a face of someone you know from modern
times into this scene of slavery, and I wonder if you make that connection, if
it really places you in a very visceral way back in those times?
Mr. JONES: Well, to, I guess, some degree, it does, because reflecting on my
past, many, many years ago, I remember my great-great-grandmother--I must have
been 12 or 13 years old at the time, and my grandmother took me up to see my
great-great-grandmother, which is I think probably the last time I saw her
alive. And from what I understand from my relatives, she was about 109 years
old, and she had some whip marks on her back, and I thought that that really
got my attention, to some degree. But being 13 years old, you don't really
think that much about those sort of things until, of course, you get older.
BOGAEV: So she showed you sh...
Mr. JONES: Oh, yes. Well, she had sort of a loose gown on and you could see
her back through the gown, and she was sitting there in the chair smoking a
BOGAEV: Your family's from South Carolina. Fairfield County where you grew
up is farming country. Did your family own a farm?
Mr. JONES: Yes. Actually, my father worked on a farm. And part of his job
was to plant vegetables and things for the state hospital, and we always had
food to eat, of course, because growing up on the state farm, we had access to
a lot of vegetables and food and stuff like that from the state hospital. So
that was a very interesting period in my life as well.
BOGAEV: He worked on the state hospital. Is that the state mental hospital?
Mr. JONES: Yes. It's the state mental hospital. We lived about a mile from
the state mental hospital.
BOGAEV: And how much contact did you have with the patients?
Mr. JONES: Well, quite a bit actually, because a lot of the patients during
the '50s and the '60s were able to come outside the compound, and the ones
that weren't really severely retarded could come outside of the compound. I
had one patient in particular. I remember his name was Isaac Wright(ph). And
he used to come to the house all the time and actually sit by the fireplace,
and he'd spend his day there until it was time for him to go back, and he was
almost like a father to me, really.
BOGAEV: Now you were drafted into the Army in 1970.
Mr. JONES: Right.
BOGAEV: Did you see combat in Vietnam?
Mr. JONES: Actually, yes, I did. I was with the Aviation Company in Vietnam,
the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion out of Bien Wa(ph), south Vietnam. And
we did rescue recon missions, but, of course, later on, I got out of the
infantry, and actually, I changed my MOS to 81 Echo, which is Army
illustrator, at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, and for the next five years, I
was an Army illustrator.
BOGAEV: When did you get out of the Army?
Mr. JONES: In 1978, in the Washington, DC, area, and from that point, I did
work for a graphics firm, and I worked there for a year. And then after that,
I decided that I wanted to work for myself so I started doing free-lance work,
until I moved back to Columbia, South Carolina, in 1989.
BOGAEV: What made you move back to South Carolina?
Mr. JONES: Well, really, I just got tired of the rat race in the Washington,
DC, area. I wanted to get back down South to a more easy way of living, I
guess, and I sort of, you know, missed home, so I decided to move back. And
when I did move back, I worked at the University of South Carolina at The
Earth Sciences and Resources Institute for about five years; got married,
moved to Charleston, South Carolina, got divorced, moved back to Columbia.
And, of course, that was when I decided that I was going to paint full-time.
BOGAEV: It sounds as if you've done a lot of traveling in your home state,
driving around South Carolina. Driving past the fields, do these paintings
that you've lived with, these images of slavery that you've lived with, as
you've painted them, do they bubble up in you in any way?
Mr. JONES: Oh, absolutely. I constantly like to travel along the back roads
through some of the cotton field country. As a matter of fact, I stopped on
occasion to actually go out in the cotton field and pick some cotton to use as
a model to paint some of this cotton on some of these paintings from the
cotton fields in South Carolina. Looking at all of the cotton and seeing how
massive these fields were and thinking about all of the slave labor that it
took to pick this cotton before the invention of the cotton gin, to clean all
of this cotton, it had to be a horrendous time, especially during the summer
and the hot temperatures that we have in Columbia, South Carolina.
BOGAEV: John W. Jones, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show
Mr. JONES: Well, thank you for having me.
BOGAEV: John W. Jones; his paintings are on display at the Black Holocaust
Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Coming up, a review of a new R&B solo album. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Raphael Saadiq's new solo CD "Instant Vintage"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
Raphael Saadiq was one of the leaders of the early '90s R&B group Tony! Toni!
Tone!, founder of the recent group Lucy Pearl and a writer-producer for
performers like Whitney Houston and D'Angelo. Saadiq characterizes the music
on his new first solo album, "Instant Vintage," as gospeldelic. Rock critic
Ken Tucker has a review.
(Soundbite from "Excuse Me")
Mr. RAPHAEL SAADIQ: (Singing) How about the possibility of you and I? Baby,
can we try? Baby, say you will. If you're not with it, then excuse me.
Ms. ANGIE STONE: (Singing) Can't make you stay, if you want to go.
Mr. SAADIQ: Uh-huh.
Ms. STONE: (Singing) Sugar, I can't make you love me...
Mr. SAADIQ and Ms. STONE: (Singing) ...if your heart says no. Baby, one
thing I'm certain of, and I know it's true, can't nobody love you like I do.
Like I do.
KEN TUCKER reporting:
That's Raphael Saadiq singing sweet harmony with Angie Stone on a song he
wrote called "Excuse Me." The song is an immediate introduction to Saadiq's
skills and charms. He has a smooth conversational vocal style which he
applies to melodies constructed around a gentle but insistent rhythm section.
He summons up echoes of Stevie Wonder, Al Green and Curtis Mayfield, but
Saadiq has worked out his own approach to romancing rhythm and blues. Take,
for example, this beautiful track called "Tick Tock."
(Soundbite from "Tick Tock")
Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) You see, baby, I ain't going nowhere, no. I'm just
gonna wait on you, girl, I swear. I'm here when you need me. You should
know. I can always listen. 'Cause, girl, you're my baby. This thing that
you're going through, just do what you got to do. And love will show you the
TUCKER: Listening to that song, you can hear the way Raphael Saadiq sets up
the tick-tock rhythm from which the song takes its title. That strict rigid
tempo could easily become constraining, but instead, Saadiq's vocal plays
against it, teasing flexibility out of it. He sings lines that flutter under
and over the pace of "Tick Tock." At the same time, his lyrics never neglect
the metaphor of the title. "Tick Tock" is a song about time a-wasting; about
how you take the regularity of a good relationship for granted at its and your
(Soundbite from "People")
Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) The streets are paved with fallen souls.
Unidentified Man: (Singing) I don't know, but I've been told.
Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) 'Cause I ain't never been down there before. The
ghetto got a dirty name.
Unidentified Man: (Singing) The media pursued that thing.
Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) But tell me, really who are they to say? It's not a
Unidentified Man: (Singing) Damn what people think of it.
Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) (Unintelligible) didn't 'cause they only hear. So
don't look down, look up high.
Unidentified Man: (Singing) Don't let these people steal your pride.
Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) Use that ghetto ...(unintelligible) as a shield.
Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) And people...
Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) People. Somebody's got to tell the truth.
Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) Ooh, ooh-hoo-hoo.
Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) I don't think they heard you.
Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) And people...
TUCKER: That song "People" sounds a little like an updating of The
Temptations' 1970 single "Ball of Confusion" with a sociopolitical lyrical
slant. But like the best soul artists, Saadiq never becomes preachy; he
preaches. There's a difference. Preachiness is off-puttingly judgmental. To
preach is to proclaim truth that the speaker holds dear.
(Soundbite from song)
Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) I won't cheat on you. I won't do it no more. I got
dissed before. I can't do it no more.
Unidentified Women: (Singing) Ooh! I'm faithful to my baby. To cheat on you
would be crazy.
Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) I won't cheat on you. I can't do it no more. I've
been a cheater ever since I was 12 years old. Baby.
Mr. SAADIQ and Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Baby.
Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) Yeah, baby. But when I first laid eyes on you I knew
it's over for the other cuties, oh, lady. I can cheat with girls from
Amsterdam but I'd never take the chance 'cause...
Mr. SAADIQ and Unidentified Woman: (Singing) I really love ya, your style.
Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) There could be buck-naked girls in a room, but I'm
coming home to you 'cause you know...
Mr. SAADIQ and Unidentified Woman: (Singing) I love ya.
Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) Girl, I love your...
Mr. SAADIQ and Unidentified Woman: (Singing) ...big eyes.
TUCKER: If Raphael Saadiq's concept of gospeldelic music doesn't have quite
the same punch and inspiration of the best music he made with Tony! Toni!
Tone!, well, that's the price you often pay for the benefits of collaboration.
But this solo moves proves that Saadiq is fully in command of R&B history and
is ready to make some of his own.
BOGAEV: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly.
BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. SAADIQ: (Singing) Being with you, baby, that's going to make my day.
That's going to make my day. Come and help me, darling. I just want to play.
Ooh, yeah. Being with you, baby, that's going to make my day. Ooh, baby, you
can make my day.
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.