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Ahmir Thompson Reflects On His 'Roots'

Drummer Ahmir Thompson, also known as "Questlove," talked with Fresh Air in 2003 about his career in the hip-hop group The Roots.

20:30

Other segments from the episode on March 13, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 13, 2009: Interview with Marianne Faithfull; Interview with Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson; Review of the film "Everlasting moments."

Transcript

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Marianne Faithfull On Music, Mick, and Survival

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting
in for Terry Gross.

Marianne Faithfull has a new CD called “Easy Come, Easy Go,” on which
she records cover versions of songs by other artists. It’s her 22nd
album, the latest in a career that began in the 1960s.

Her first record was the 1964 hit, “As Tears Go By,” written by Mick
Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.

(Soundbite of song, “As Tears Go By”)

Ms. MARIANNE FAITHFULL (Singer): (Singing) It is the evening of the day.
I sit and watch the children play. Smiling faces I can see, but not for
me. I sit and watch as tears go by. My riches can’t buy everything…

BIANCULLI: Faithfull was 17 when that record was released. At 18, she
was married and became a mother. When she was 19, she began an affair
with Mick Jagger and lived in the middle of the British invasion
celebrity party scene.

But by 1970, she and Jagger had split up. By then, she had become
addicted to heroin. At her low point, she lived on the street. She
started recording again in the late ‘70s, and her voice was no longer
the pure, innocent, uninflected voice of “As Tears Go By.”

In the past couple of decades, she’s been singing many original songs,
as well as songs by Kurt Weill and others. Her new album of covers
features her interpretations of everything from Randy Newman’s “In
Germany Before the War” to the Duke Ellington standard, “Solitude.”

Here’s the opening track from her CD, “Down from Dover,” which was
written by Dolly Parton.

(Soundbite of song, “Down from Dover”)

Ms. FAITHFULL: (Singing) I know this dress I'm wearing doesn't hide the
secret I have tried concealing. When he left he promised me that he'd be
back by the time it was revealing. The sun behind a cloud just casts the
crawling shadow o'er the fields of clover, and time is running out for
me. I wish that he would hurry back from Dover.

He's been gone so long when he left the snow was deep upon the ground,
and I have seen a spring and summer pass and now the leaves are turning
brown, and any time a tiny face will show itself because waiting's
almost over, but I won't have a name to give it if he doesn't hurry back
from Dover.

BIANCULLI: That’s music from the new Marianne Faithfull recording, “Easy
Come, Easy Go.” Terry spoke with Marianne Faithfull twice, in 1994 and
2005. We’ll start with their conversation from 2005.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Your voice is very different from the way it was at the start of your
career.

Ms. FAITHFULL: Well obviously. Mine was always, you know, I started
singing at school, when I was young, and my singing teacher used to say
to me, in hushed tones, you know, you have a soprano now, but I think if
you’re very, very lucky, it will become a contralto. And it did.

GROSS: Why did your teacher think that that would be good luck if it
did?

Ms. FAITHFULL: Well, it’s a very rare thing to have. It’s Kathleen
Ferrier. You know, there are very few real contraltos, and I’m one of
them.

GROSS: I don’t know what you’ll make of this, but I think of you as
being similar to Billie Holiday and Lotte Lenya, as great singers whose
voices were very different at the beginning and end of their careers.

Ms. FAITHFULL: Indeed, yeah, of course, but that’s partly technical,
like I told you, but it’s also experience. In my case, I mean, thank you
very much for comparing me in any way with my great heroines, Billie
Holiday and Lotte Lenya, but in my case, and I’m sure in their case, you
know, a lot of it is down to experience.

You get the voice you really want. You get what, I suppose a writer
would call it, finding my voice.

GROSS: Was there anything that you missed about that pure soprano that
you had, you know, the high notes or that…?

Ms. FAITHFULL: Sure, yeah. I mean, if I hadn’t been discovered by Andrew
Oldham and gone into the pop business, I would’ve probably either become
an actress, or I might have gone to the Royal Academy of Music in
London, and I could’ve sung Mozart. I would’ve enjoyed that.

But on the other hand, you know, I kind of – it was very exciting to be
in the beginning of a new thing, which is what was happening in London
in the early ‘60s, and I was right there.

GROSS: You know, it’s interesting. Like “As Tears Go By,” which is your
famous first hit, you’re singing in an almost uninflected voice.

Ms. FAITHFULL: That’s what Andrew wanted.

GROSS: That’s what he wanted? Why? Andrew Loog Oldham was – he was your
producer, and he was the Rolling Stones’ producer.

Ms. FAITHFULL: Yes, yes. He was my manager.

GROSS: Oh, I’m sorry. Okay.

Ms. FAITHFULL: Yeah, and I suppose he was the producer, too.

GROSS: So why did he want it uninflected?

Ms. FAITHFULL: I don’t know. I think he wanted me to sound like Mick.

GROSS: Huh.

Ms. FAITHFULL: I really don’t know. You’d have to ask Andrew.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It’s so interesting because there’s so much drama in your singing
now.

Ms. FAITHFULL: Well yeah, but that’s my natural thing. Maybe I didn’t
have that yet.

GROSS: Well, you know, you mentioned that…

Ms. FAITHFULL: I was only 17.

GROSS: Right, right.

Ms. FAITHFULL: I don’t think I had any.

GROSS: Any drama?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FAITHFULL: No, and I was terribly, terribly nervous. So probably the
natural thing I did was just sort of do what I do when I’ve very
frightened, is pretend I’m very small and stay very still and do as
little as possible.

GROSS: Now, you mentioned that Lotte Lenya is one of you music heroes.
So I thought maybe we could listen to a recording in which you sing Kurt
Weill, and you made a recording – you’ve done a lot of Kurt Weill over
the years.

Ms. FAITHFULL: I’ve done two records of the Brecht/Weill canon. The
first one was the cabaret record, which was “20th Century Blues,” which
I love. But my actual, total favorite of all time is the “Seven Deadly
Sins.”

But play something from “20th Century Blues.” Play “Pirate Jenny.” I
like “Pirate Jenny” because it’s so fierce.

GROSS: And Paul Trueblood is at the piano, and he sounds…

Ms. FAITHFULL: Paul Trueblood is such a great musician, and I was so
lucky to work with him, and I’m very fond of him.

GROSS: Well, let’s go for the drama and hear “Pirate Jenny,” and this is
from Marianne Faithfull’s album, “20th Century Blues” with Paul
Trueblood at the piano.

(Soundbite of song, “Pirate Jenny”)

Ms. FAITHFULL: (Singing) You lads see me wash the glasses, wipe the
floors, make the beds, I'm the best of servants. You can kindly throw me
pennies and I'll thank you very much, and you see me ragged and tattered
in this dirty (censored) hotel. You don't know in hell who's talking.
You still don't know in hell who's talking.

Yet one fine day there will be roars from the harbor, and you'll ask:
What is all that screeching for? And you'll see me smiling as I dunk the
glasses, and you'll say: What's she got to smile at for?

And the ship, eight sails shining, fifty-five cannons wide, Sir, waits
there at the quay.

You say: Work on, wipe the glasses, my girl. And just slip me a dirty
six-pence…

GROSS: Marianne Faithfull, how were you introduced to the music of Kurt
Weill?

Ms. FAITHFULL: Well, I sort of grew up with it, you know. Both my
parents - I don’t know how they did it, I don’t know how my mother did
this - but she brought 78s with her from Vienna. And a lot of the songs
on “20th Century Blues” are my mother’s favorite songs or my father’s
favorite songs.

Like my father’s favorite song was “Falling in Love Again,”

GROSS: Huh.

Mr. FAITHFULL: And he loved Cole Porter, and he loved all sorts of
things like that, yeah.

GROSS: So is that like the first music you heard?

Ms. FAITHFULL: I suppose it is, yes, yeah.

GROSS: Was your mother a singer? I had read that she…

Ms. FAITHFULL: No, no, no, no, no.

GROSS: No?

Ms. FAITHFULL: My mother was a dancer.

GROSS: Oh.

Ms. FAITHFULL: She was very young, of course, and she was only 24 when
Mr. Hitler marched into Vienna in the Anschluss, but she was a dancer in
Berlin. And she, as she would be coming into the theater to rehearse, in
the corps de ballet for Mr. Reinhardt, would see Kurt Weill and Bertolt
Brecht staggering out in the morning, having been up all night writing
“The Threepenny Opera.”

And they would all bob a little curtsy and say: Good morgen, Mr. Weill.
Good morgen, Mr. Brecht.

GROSS: When you were growing up, did she have, like, clothes from – her
costumes from when she danced in the closet?

Ms. FAITHFULL: Not much, no. I just have a very beautiful piece of
chiffon and some beads. I have very little. She didn’t bring any of that
much with her, no. I don’t know what happened to it. It’s as if she
wanted to leave it all behind and have a new life. She’d had quite a
hard time, I think, during the war.

My grandmother was Jewish, you know, and she met my – my father was a
spy. I mean, it’s so incredible. It’s amazing, and she was his contact
in Vienna. So it was really – I think she was really happy to marry my
father and get out.

Unfortunately, of course, the marriage was a disaster, but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, I think the separated when you were six or something,
right?

Ms. FAITHFULL: Yes.

GROSS: And then you lived with your mother.

Ms. FAITHFULL: I did, yes.

GROSS: At what point did you start getting to know the – and I assume
that you did at some point – the Andy Warhol factory crew?

Ms. FAITHFULL: I didn’t.

GROSS: You never knew them?

Ms. FAITHFULL: No, I never did.

GROSS: It just seems to me you’d have connected at some point.

Ms. FAITHFULL: Never. Never, never, never, never. I went to New York
once with Andrew, and what I did do was meet up with Al Grossman(ph) and
Bobby Nuers(ph), and it was the time when Bob Dylan had had his
motorbike accident. And I think I had my first joint with Bobby Nuers,
and I was up all night being sick.

GROSS: From the joint?

Ms. FAITHFULL: Mm hmm. I was 18.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Right.

Ms. FAITHFULL: Wasn’t able, didn’t know anything, just couldn’t deal
with it.

GROSS: So you know, I’m wondering what you thought, because you must
have been aware of this, whether you knew the Velvet Underground
personally or not.

Ms. FAITHFULL: Oh, I thought they were wonderful, but I had a sense of
self-preservation which told me do not go to New York. You will die.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Right because you’d get so deep into it with…

Ms. FAITHFULL: I would be – it would have been another Edie Sedgwick,
you know. It was quite bad enough in London, if I may say so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FAITHFULL: But I mean, it would’ve been too much for me.

GROSS: What did you make of it when the Velvet Underground recorded
“Venus in Furs”?

Ms. FAITHFULL: I didn’t really think about it.

GROSS: I ask this in case our listeners are confused. You’re…

Ms. FAITHFULL: Well no. My great-great-uncle was Baron Leopold Von
Sacher-Masoch, who gave his name to masochism and wrote a book called
“Venus in Furs.”

Yeah, I mean, I sort of noticed it but didn’t really notice it. There
were others songs on “The Velvet Underground” that I thought were
better. I didn’t think that was one of the best.

I’m a huge - and was always - a huge fan of Andy Warhol. I mean, before
I got discovered and all that stuff happened, my mother took me to see a
huge Andy Warhol retrospective at the Tate.

I went to see the Picasso retrospective. I went to see the surrealist
retrospective. It was wonderful. You know, I had a wonderful life before
all that stuff happened.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: Marianne Faithfull, speaking with Terry Gross in 2005. We’ll
hear another of Terry’s interviews with Marianne Faithfull after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Marianne Faithfull has a new CD, “Easy Come, Easy Go.” Terry
also spoke with Marianne Faithfull in 1994 after the publication of her
autobiography. It told about her music career, her affair with Mick
Jagger and the heroin addiction that nearly killed her.

During their earlier conversation, Terry asked Marianne Faithfull how
she met Mick Jagger.

GROSS: So tell us the story of how you met Mick Jagger.

Ms. FAITHFULL: Well, I went along to a party with my first boyfriend,
John Dunbar(ph), who was a friend of Peter and Gordon. And Paul
McCartney was going out with Jane Asher. It’s so hard to remember all
these things.

And somehow - John was always up for a party, and especially then when
we were very young. I mean, I was 17. He must have been 19, you know,
19, 20, no more.

But you know, it was just a party, but it was a dead-glam party, I
suppose, even for London, and it was a lot of fun, I suppose, yes.

GROSS: In your memoir, you reprint a press release that was written for
when “As Tears Go By” was released and it says: Marianne Faithfull is a
little, 17-year-old blonde who still attends a convent in Reading,
daughter of the Baroness Erisso. She is lithesome and lovely, with long,
blonde hair, a shy…

Ms. FAITHFULL: Lots of alliteration in this press release, isn’t there?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: A shy smile, and a liking for people who are long-haired and
socially conscious. Marianne digs Marlon Brando, Woodbine cigarettes,
poetry, going to the ballet and wearing long evening dresses. She is
shy, wistful, waiflike.

Now what did you think of that image of yourself?

Ms. FAITHFULL: I thought it was a hoot. I remember taking it back to my
mum and sitting in Milman Road, reading it to my mother and Chris(ph),
my brother, and we just fell about laughing, you know. I never in my
wildest dreams thought that people would think I was like that, although
I did dig Marlon Brando. That’s true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FAITHFULL: And I was a the convent, and my mother was a baroness,
but apart from that - but then again, you know, I can’t be too sort of
sticky about this because it’s quite obvious that we – none of us really
see ourselves as others see us.

GROSS: Now you ended up doing a lot of drugs, doing a lot of heroin. How
did you start doing heroin?

Ms. FAITHFULL: I used it as a coping mechanism, I think.

GROSS: For coping with what?

Ms. FAITHFULL: For coping with my life.

GROSS: Mm hmm.

Ms. FAITHFULL: And it worked for a while, but it did have a tremendous
drawback, which was that it was addictive, and it would kill you.

GROSS: How long did it take you to figure that out?

Ms. FAITHFULL: Ages.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FAITHFULL: A very long time, but I did figure it out eventually,
thank God.

GROSS: Now I want to play a song that you wrote the lyrics for, called
“Sister Morphine,” that was released in England in 1969. Tell me a
little bit about where you were in your life when you wrote this song
and what the lyrics are about.

Ms. FAITHFULL: I don’t know. It’s a very weird thing about “Sister
Morphine” because, you know, it was knocking about the house for six
months. Mick was playing it all the time.

GROSS: Playing the melody.

Ms. FAITHFULL: Playing the – yes, the basic thing: Da da da, da da da –
that thing, all the time. So it went into my sort of whole, sort of,
nervous system, blood, bones, sort of everything. I really had it in my
– I knew it by heart. Let’s say that, anyway.

And then, I mean, I remember it, and I’m sure Mick does, too. It was
very peculiar. I just sat down, picked up a legal pad and a pencil and
wrote it out. And there it was, but I do that sometimes. That’s obvious
- I work on it in my head, and then when it’s all ready, I do it.

GROSS: Why don’t we hear “Sister Morphine”? This is Marianne Faithfull,
recorded in 1969.

(Soundbite of song, “Sister Morphine”)

Ms. FAITHFULL: (Singing) The scream of the ambulance is sounding in my
ears. Tell me, sister morphine, how long have I been lying here? What am
I doing in this place? Why does the doctor have no face?

Oh, I can’t crawl across the floor. Ah, can’t you see, sister morphine,
I’m just trying to score?

GROSS: Marianne Faithfull is my guest, and she’s written an
autobiography called “Faithfull.” The record company, Decca, you say
yanked this record about two days after it was released. What…?

Ms. FAITHFULL: They took it off the shelves.

GROSS: What was their objection?

Ms. FAITHFULL: Well, there were many. The lyrics were very ahead of
their time. It’s one thing for Lou Reed to sing “Heroin.” Obviously, it
was completely – this is something I really didn’t understand, that this
thing about me being this beautiful little angel was real.

I never really believed that. I couldn’t believe it. So I suppose for
Decca, you know, the last thing by Marianne Faithful, I can’t remember
what it was, was “Summer Nights,” let’s say. I think it was. That was in
1965. And then in 1969, they’re given “Sister Morphine,” and they
couldn’t handle it.

GROSS: Marianne Faithfull, thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. FAITHFULL: Thanks, Terry. It was a pleasure.

BIANCULLI: Marianne Faithfull, speaking with Terry Gross in 1994.
Marianne Faithfull’s new CD, “Easy Come, Easy Go,” has just been
released. I’m David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
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Ahmir Thompson Reflects On His ‘Roots’

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli in for Terry Gross. The latest
entry in the late night TV talk show wars arrived on NBC with a lot of
big names, not the least of which was the exciting innovative housemate.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: In the world of hip-hop, where most music is sampled, The
Roots are exceptional. They play instruments, everything from electric
guitar to tuba. And on TV they’re lot more entertaining and more
prominent than your everyday, or every night, house band. Last night on
“Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” Jimmy gave The Roots a chance to show
off its improv skills.

(Soundbite of TV show, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”)

Mr. JIMMY FALLON: We’re fortunate to have the greatest band on late
night. Would you give it up for The Roots, everybody.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. FALLON: I love you guys (unintelligible). You can play any type of
music, right?

Unidentified Man: Yeah, you know, you name it we can do it.

Mr. FALLON: Alright, well, great. Let’s play with that a little bit. I’m
going to, what if I pick someone from the audience and we’ll see if The
Roots can make up a song about this person in the audience? It’s that
cool? Are you ready?

Unidentified Man: We’re ready.

Mr. FALLON: How about you guys, you guys ready?

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. FALLON: How about you guys? With the red hair. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Yeah, you look perfect. What’s your name?

Ms. JENNY: Jenny.

Mr. FALLON: Okay, Jenny, this is all helping our tune. What’s your
favorite color?

Ms. JENNY: Purple.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALLON: You’re not going to make it easier on them all, are you?
Rhyme with purple. Where are you from?

JENNY: Hartville, Ohio.

Mr. FALLON: Hartville, Ohio. Alright, Roots, here’s the deal. We got
Jenny, she’s from Hartville, Ohio. This is not easy. Alright. Hartville
- and she loves the color purple. Let’s see what happens.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. AHMIR THOMPSON (The Roots): (Singing) (Unintelligible)

(Soundbite of cheering)

BIANCULLI: Our next guest, Questlove, is the cofounder and drummer of
The Roots. Terry spoke with him in 2003. Questlove, also known as Ahmir
Thompson, grew up in Philadelphia around music. His father, Lee Andrews,
lead the doo-wop group Lee Andrews and The Hearts, which had the hit
single “Teardrops.” Questlove co-founded The Root in 1987, when he was a
student at the Philadelphia High School for creative and performing
arts. That was back when sampling, not live drumming, provided most of
the beats in hip-hop music.

Mr. THOMPSON: Coming up in high school, when The Roots first started,
you know, hip-hop really wasn’t that elaborate an arrangement. I’m
talking about hip-hop circa 1984,’85, ’86, when it’s pretty much just a
drumbeat, a simple drumbeat and a stab - a stab would be sort of like
the exclamation point at the end of the sentence. Bahhh. You know, it
could be scratched in or just like some sort of noise, an enforcement
noise.

And you know, so in high school pretty much (unintelligible) would, you
know, come up to me and just name any popular song at that time in point
and just say, yo, yo, play “Top billing.” You know, because it was the
drum arrangement, I’m going to play it, and that was like the most
amazing thing to him. Oh, he can play “Top billing,” he could play, you
know, “The Bridges is Over,” he could play - you know, just naming all
these songs and I could play them. I kind of thought it was natural.

GROSS: Okay, I want to stop you right there, because that’s kind of
interesting. Since you came up in the era of sampling, as an actual
musician your friends expected you to basically play the samples.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You’re still expected to play.

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah, exactly.

GROSS: You’re still expected to play like other peoples music.

Mr. THOMPSON: Right. Well, I mean that’s - hip-hop is audio pop art,
really, it’s just a collage of other ideas. And even at the time I
didn’t know that – okay, sampling’s the proper term for it. For the hip-
hop nation pretty much the first introduction to real sampling that
we’ve ever seen was this episode of “The Cosby Show,” when Stevie Wonder
runs over the Huxtable’s car with his limousine – well, not that
violent. But you know, he invites them to studio session and for the
first time America got to see the process of sampling, which you say
something and it’s repeated back to you. And after me and my friend saw
that episode, we were begging for whatever that machine was called; we
didn’t know what it was called.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THOMPSON: You know, like in our heads it was sort of like the
Flintstone episode where, you know, like the little bird is inside of
that machine and recreating the noise, and we didn’t how on the world
that happened. So just during Christmas, Casio happened to make a
product called an SK-1 machine, which allowed you about maybe three or
four seconds worth of sampling time. And you know, me and all my friends
got this little toy keyboard for Christmas, and you know, you mess
around with it a little while, you do like all the curse words you know
and all that stuff, and then you start getting serious about it, and
that’s when I would like run to the basement where my drum set was and
try and cram in eight bars worth of drum breaks within three seconds,
which, you know, you have to be pretty fast to do it.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. THOMPSON: And then I just, you know, realized the endless
possibilities of a sampler, you know.

GROSS: You started playing drums when you were in high school, yes?

Mr. THOMPSON: No, actually I started when I was two.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Oh, okay.

Mr. THOMPSON: I was two years old. I started The Roots when I was in
high school. My father is an oldies doo-wop singer from the Philadelphia
area.

GROSS: Lee Andrews of Lee Andrews and The Hearts.

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah, Lee Andrews and the Hearts. So I pretty much - my
childhood is pretty much based just backstage at doo-wop extravaganza
shows, you know, like Dick Clark presents, you know, and it would be
like 10 groups – (unintelligible) Harvey and The Moonglows, The Tokens -
you name it. If they were from the ‘50s or the ‘60s, it would just be a
big show at either like at Madison Square Guard or the Spectrum or in
the Forum in LA, so pretty much that’s - I grew up backstage, watching
all these groups.

GROSS: Now, Lee Andrews’ biggest hit, I think, was “Teardrops” in…

Mr. THOMPSON: “Teardrops,” yeah, ’57? Yeah, yeah, ’57.

GROSS: Would you mind to sing a few lines from it just to refresh
listeners’ memories?

Mr. THOMPSON: I wouldn’t want to scare your listeners.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay, how about this - how about we play a little bit of it?

Mr. THOMPSON: We can do that, yeah.

(Soundbite of song, “Teardrops”)

Mr. THOMPSON: (Singing) I sit in my room looking out at the rain, My
tears are like crystals, they cover my window pane, I'm thinking of our
lost romance and how it should have been, Oh if we only could start over

again, I know you never forgive me dear, for running out on you, I was
wrong to take a chance with somebody new I sit in my room looking out at
the rain, My tears are like crystals, they cover my window pane, I know
you never forgive me dear, for running out on you.

GROSS: Okay, so that’s Lee Andrews and the Hearts. So you grow up, you
know, backstage and watching your father perform; what sense did it give
you of what the music life was like? And then you probably watched your
father kind of drop out of sight after the doo-wop era was over. So you
also knew what it was like to no longer be in the limelight after having
being in it as a young man.

Mr. THOMPSON: I mean I was born in the ‘70s so pretty much I came along…

GROSS: Oh, you came along right in the…

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah, it really wasn’t about it…

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah, it really wasn’t about a - I mean, even though he
made it a career, if anything he taught me that there is a Plan B, you
know, and that not everyone gets the Plan A limelight.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. THOMPSON: By the time I was born, you know, he had met and married
my mother. I have a sister as well, and they had opened up a boutique
store and they were quite content, and you know, as with any music
phenomenon that occurs 20 years before, there’s an upsurgance(ph) of it
20 years later, and I guess most of that started when – Sha Na Na
appearing at Woodstock and then pretty much after that just Dick Clark
would throw a slew of shows just in the Tri-State area, the New York
area, any place that loved doo-wop, and my father just made a great
living out of it.

GROSS: Don’t you often wonder if there’s going to be like old school rap
shows? Like…

Mr. THOMPSON: Oh, there is right now.

GROSS: Is there already?

Mr. THOMPSON: Totally. And the thing with hip-hop is - the model for
hip-hop is definitely hear today and gone today, so…

GROSS: Yeah, I know what you mean…

Mr. THOMPSON: Anything under five years is pretty much considered old
school. This weekend I was listening to a popular New York radio station
and they were like: Now back in the day, Wu Tang Clan, da da da da, old
school.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THOMPSON: I was like, wait a minute, Wu Tang? That’s six years ago.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. THOMPSON: Six, seven years ago. You know, old school to me is, okay,
maybe we can say like Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” like a song
that’s definitely over 20 years old or something, you know, near 30
years old. But yeah, pretty much in the hip-hop it’s here today and it’s
gone today.

BIANCULLI: Questlove, also known as Ahmir Thompson, speaking to Terry
Gross in 2003. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let’s get back to Terry’s 2003 interview with Ahmir Thompson,
a.k.a. Questlove, co-founder of and drummer for The Roots. The Roots is
now on the view as the house band for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallen” on
NBC.

GROSS: Let’s get back to your high school years, and you went to the
High School of Creative and Performing Arts.

Mr. THOMPSON: Performing Arts, right.

GROSS: In Philadelphia. So that means that you were exposed at a young
age to artists of your age of every sort.

Mr. THOMPSON: Exactly, you know…

GROSS: You know painters and dancers and people in theater and music of
every sort.

Mr. THOMPSON: Boyz II Men rehearsing in the…

GROSS: Boyz II Men was in your school?

Mr. THOMPSON: In the bathroom, always rehearsing.

GROSS: Was it good to be exposed to so much?

Mr. THOMPSON: It was perfect, you know, like my first - I actually –
unfortunately, I came to Performing Arts High School in the eleventh
grade. I had started - Performing Arts had a private school sector that
I went to from first to eighth grade. Then my parents took me out of
that school and tried to send me to a college prep school, which was a
good academic - you know. I could wind up on “Jeopardy,” you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THOMPSON: You know, talk about “The Iliad” or something. But you

know, my heart was with music development, and so I begged them to send
me to the public school for performing arts and finally got my wish for
the eleventh and twelfth grade. And I walk in there, like I had never
been in a public school and pretty much my only exposure to that type of
a school was watching the television show “Fame.”

GROSS: Mm hmm.

Mr. THOMPSON: And you know, you kind of wonder – I’m like, is this the
type of school that’s going to be like a cliche, like are they going to
break out in dance numbers in the hallway. And you know, do all those
things that you see on television. And you know I was like real
skeptical of it, like it’s not going be like “Fame” or whatever. And
sure enough like you walk in the class and, you know, they’re singing,
you know, Boyz II Men’s practicing in the corner and you have like
Christian McBride and Joey DeFrancesco trading fours down the hallway.

GROSS: These are now well known jazz musicians.

Mr. THOMPSON: Exactly like, you know, like the who’s who of like
thespian world.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THOMPSON: Rehearsing, you know, their sonnets over and it’s just
crazy. It was really a weird experience for me.

GROSS: The Roots are from Philly and for a lot of rappers like the place
they are from becomes like mythologized through their rap.

Mr. THOMPSON: Right.

GROSS: What do you think you’ve done like to create a Philadelphia in
your music?

Mr. THOMPSON: Well, Philadelphia had sort of a bad/nondescript
reputation between…

GROSS: In hip-hop you mean, because there was the Philly Sound before
that…

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah I’m just talking in the terms of…

GROSS: …in the ‘70s, Gamble and Huff. Mm hmm, right.

Mr. THOMPSON: Even though - I’ll say two of the major important factors
of hip-hop history have originated in Philadelphia. Number one: Gangster
rap pretty much - there is debate as to whether Ice-T, who is from LA or
Schoolly D who is from 52nd And Parkside, was the first, quote unquote,
“Gangster Rapper.” And pretty much - anybody that’s familiar with
Schoolly D can give you pretty much an account of where they were the
first time they ever heard his classic “PSK What Does It Mean?” You know
because we just never heard a rap that explicit. You know pretty much
hip-hop before then was about partying. And you know there was some
reality rhymes here and there, you know, “The Message” by Grandmaster
Flash…

GROSS: Mm hmm.

Mr. THOMPSON: …and “Maybe It’s Like That” by Run DMC. But you know
pretty much, everyone’s been like politically correct. You didn’t hear
that much profanity, that much cursing and that much honesty. You know
Schoolly D talk like your older cousin on the corner, you know, or the
guys that you knew down the street on the corner. And you know, he was
very influential to a lot of people – the Beastie Boys, and the list
goes on.

GROSS: So, what’s your image of Philly in your music?

Mr. THOMPSON: Well, we had to take that and well, let me just quickly
say that the other important element was the art of deejaying.
Philadelphia has four very important pioneers in deejaying - Jazzy Jeff,
DJ Cash Money, DJ Maze, and DJ Cheese(ph) - all from the tri-state area.
And they’re pretty much the standard for which deejay’s today are basing
their skills on. When you talk about deejay’s doing the look-ma-no-hands
tricks and what not. So pretty much that’s all that Philly - those were
the two major factors that Philly offered in ‘80s. And you know living
under New York’s shadow didn’t help matters much because, you know, they
were the creme de la creme of culture.

GROSS: Right. One last thing, I’m interested in your record collection.

Mr. THOMPSON: Mm hmm. Yeah.

GROSS: I understand you have a really big one. What’s the range of
things that you listen to?

Mr. THOMPSON: Anything. I’m just into anything musical, you know. I like
the Incredible Bongo Rock group. I like David Bowie. I like you know - I
collect a lot of rare hip-hop records. And I collect just a lot of
obscure records - records that have been use in samples. I’m very
curious in the ingredients that other producers have used to make their
records, you know, sort of like someone going out and buying a cookbook
to see the ingredients that went inside a particular stew…

GROSS: Right, right.

Mr. THOMPSON: So I collect those type of things.

GROSS: You collect a lot of vinyl.

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah, I’m about 27,000 strong right now.

GROSS: Of vinyl?

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah. I know that’s not my sort of DJ Shadow’s collection.
I heard he’s up to 60,000.

GROSS: Wow, mighty impressive, though.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THOMPSON: I’ve got some ways to go. But, you know I’ll get there.

GROSS: Okay and one final question…

Mr. THOMPSON: Yes.

GROSS: How come you wear an afro?

Mr. THOMPSON: Because I’m secretly a chia pet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I won’t sing the theme.

Mr. THOMPSON: Right. Ch-ch-ch-chia.

GROSS: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THOMPSON: My hair just grows. I come from a family that - you know I
don’t have the patience - I don’t have the patience, nor the time to go
to a barbershop and get a cut every three seconds. So, my hair just
grows. It’s always been problematic for me. It’s just - thank God, it’s
in style now. Imagine me trying to get through this hairstyle in the
late ‘80s and the early ‘90s, you know? Back then, I could do a flattop
thing. But, nom I just - I just keep it. It’s my crown, you know, sort
of symbolic now. But, yeah, it was a problem back in the day. You know,
people staring at me like oh my God. You know, now it’s a no thing
because everyone has it.

GROSS: And besides, you’re you, so…

Mr. THOMPSON: Yeah, exactly.

GROSS: You can do it now.

Mr. THOMPSON: I’m an individual.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Thank you so much.

Mr. THOMPSON: Or one of the Mr. Jacksons.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. THOMPSON: Thank you. I appreciate it, Terry.

BIANCULLI: Ahmir Thompson, aka Questlove, speaking with Terry Gross in
2003. His band The Roots is now on TV every weeknight as the house band
on NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Here’s a track from the latest
CD by The Roots, “Rising Down.”

(Soundbite of song, “Criminal”)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Monday they predict the storm, Tuesday they
predict the bang, Wednesday they cover the crash, and I can see it’s all
about cash, and they got the nerve to hunt down my ass and treat me like
a criminal.

Mr. TARIK TROTTER (MC, The Roots): (Rapping) Look, it is what it is
because of what it was, I did what I did ‘cause it does what it does, I
don’t put nothin’ above what I am, what I love, my family, my blood, my
city and my hood, hater for the greater good, I’m back from Hollywood,
and I ain’t changed a lick, though I know I probably should, but, what
I’m doin’ is not a good look, I never did it by the good book as a
lifetime crook, all the petty crime took a toll on me.

I look around at my homies that’s getting’ old on me, but still somethin
gotta hold on me, maybe it’s faith, if it’s comin’, yo I’m willing to
wait, I’m not runnin’, I done ran through the muck, I done scrambled and
such, I done robbed an odd job and gambled enough, till I’m put up in
handcuffs and pissin’ in a cup, if there’s a God I don't know if he
listenin’ or what?

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Monday they predict the storm, Tuesday they
predict the bang.
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..DATE:
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..PGRM:
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..TIME:
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..SGMT:
The ‘Everlasting Moments’ Of Jan Troell

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

The 77-year-old Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell is best known in the US for
his pair of 1970s epics “The Emigrants” and “The New Land.” His latest
film is “Maria Larsson’s Everlasting Moments,” a title shortened in this
country to “Everlasting Moments.” It will open in select cities over the
next month and can also be seen on pay-per-view cable. Film critic David
Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: It’s easy to see why Ingmar Bergman and not his
countryman Jan Troell gets all the love when academics talk about late
twentieth century world cinema. Bergman, a student of nineteenth century
philosophy and theater, loads his dramas with metaphysical baggage,
whereas Troell’s characters appear to be unencumbered by anything except
daily life. But every frame of Troell’s entrancingly beautiful new movie
“Everlasting Moments” uses surfaces — light, texture, faces — to hint at
another world, a shadow realm and if that sounds fancy, the film itself
is deceptively simple, delicate, evenly paced, straight ahead.

The metaphor is right there in the story, which centers on a turn of the
century woman who finds an old camera in a cabinet and discovers that
she has, what another character calls, a gift for seeing. She’s Maria
and she’s played by Maria Heiskanen, an actress who can seem plain and
mousy in one instant and radiantly inquisitive the next. A Finnish
immigrant to Sweden, Maria marries her husband Sig, played by Mikael
Persbrandt, in 1907, and has a boatload of kids. And the film charts
their marriage in a leisurely, episodic way, through births and deaths
and tumultuous strikes and a world war.

The narrator is Maria’s eldest daughter, Maja, who watches from the
sidelines as her father comes home roaring drunk and abusive, then
swears off drink and joins the temperance society, then falls off the
wagon and takes up with a barmaid. Sig is not a bad man but a weak one,
a creature of appetite who never thinks twice about exploiting his male
authority. And Maria is trapped in his world - burdened with her
children’s care, unable to earn a living on her own. That’s when she
comes on that camera, which she’d won in a lottery before she was
married. And in the course of trying to hock it, she meets a camera shop
owner named Pedersen, who is obviously smitten. He pushes her to use the
thing.

Nowadays we hold up our phones and snap a shot and send it across the
world. But “Everlasting Moments” unfolds in an age in which the art and
science of photography is still in its infancy and carries — especially
for someone like Maria — a whiff of magic. Pedersen demonstrates how the
camera works. He catches on the photographic plate the shadow of a
fluttering bird. And there’s that other realm in which something
fleeting and specific becomes lasting and universal. Maria begins to
develop a dual self. As a photographer, she can forget for an instant
she’s tied to the role of wife and mother. Yet her powers as an artist
are tied to the generosity of her spirit.

When a young girl drowns, she asks the mother if she can photograph the
body and the image she produces seems to hold the child’s very soul. I’m
afraid that makes “Everlasting Moments” sound fuzzy and sentimental. But
it’s the simplicity and directness of the dead child’s photo that gives
the image weight. The whole movie is like that. There isn’t a shot that
looks like something you’ve seen before. Troell treats every frame as if
the medium of filmmaking was new and precious.

Period films with lots of sepia tones are usually soft in the head, but
the nostalgic glow of “Everlasting Moments” somehow underscores the
clarity of its vision. Images of the young Maja on the cobbled street as
she waits for her father, of her disheartened friend Ingeborg striding
out into the middle of a frozen lake and disappearing into the fog, of
small children gathered in a window frame trying to glimpse a dead body
- they suggest at once the ephemeral and the indelible. In Troell’s
miraculous vision, that’s not a contradiction.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
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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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