June 25, 2012
Guest: Alec Baldwin â Richard Adler
DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. Our guest, Alec Baldwin, is appearing in two movies this summer, Woody Allen's "To Rome with Love" and "Rock of Ages," adapted from the Broadway musical, two very different roles for an actor who's had a career of interesting turns.
In the '80s and '90s, he became a Hollywood star with his leading-man looks and roles in films including "Beetlejuice," "Married to the Mob," "Working Girl," "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "Hunt for Red October." But he's also found success in comedy, guest hosting "Saturday Night Live" for a record 16 times and for six seasons playing TV executive Jack Donaghy in the hit NBC series "30 Rock."
In the new movies, he plays a long-haired club owner in the musical "Rock of Ages," and in Woody Allen's film "To Rome with Love" he plays a middle-aged architect who's vacationing in Rome, where he'd lived decades before. Walking around the city, he meets a young man played by Jesse Eisenberg and goes to the apartment where the young man lives with his girlfriend, played by Greta Gerwig.
Baldwin's character becomes a muse of sorts, giving Eisenberg's character advice only he can hear, as he does in this scene, when Gerwig's character explains that an old friend is coming to visit.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TO ROME WITH LOVE")
GRETA GERWIG: (As Sally) Oh my gosh, my friend, Monica, she called. She's going to be in Rome, and I told her she could stay with us.
JESSE EISENBERG: (As Jack) Oh, so I'll finally get to meet her.
GERWIG: (As Sally) She just broke up with her boyfriend, so she's a bit at loose ends.
ALEC BALDWIN: (As John) Trouble, trouble in River City.
EISENBERG: (As Jack) What trouble? Why, why trouble?
GERWIG: (As Sally) You're just going to love her. She's smart and funny and interesting. Men just adore her. I think it's because of the sexual vibe that she gives off.
EISENBERG: (As Jack) Uh-huh. And how long is she coming for?
GERWIG: (As Sally) Oh, I don't know. Between the breakup and then her acting career isn't going that well...
BALDWIN: (As John) Jesus Christ, can't you see the situation? It's fraught with peril.
EISENBERG: (As Jack) Come on, give me a break. Her friend is coming. What do I care? I'm not looking for anything. I'm perfectly happy with Sally, and actually, judging from Sally's description, Monica's kind of like a neurotic, unpredictable type.
BALDWIN: (As John) Beautiful, funny, smart, sexual, and also neurotic - it's like filling an inside straight. Monica - even her name is hot.
DAVIES: Well, Alec Baldwin, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You know, your character, John, is an architect, and he's older now, and he used to live in Rome, and he's sort of seeing these kids go through stuff like things he may have gone through. Why don't you just tell us a little bit about your character, John, and the role he plays with these three young people that he's around.
BALDWIN: Well, my character is in Rome on vacation with my wife and two other friends, and I leave them at the onset of our segment. I leave them and I go off and take a walk, and then it winds up being a very particular walk. I'm kind of walking through time, really, and I meet someone who arguably or not is a younger me.
And I go back in time to witness these events and things like that and situations in Rome that - it may or not be me literally speaking to my younger self and trying to get that younger guy to avoid some of the mistakes he made.
DAVIES: Did you have a back story in your head about John's life?
BALDWIN: Yeah. I think that you really don't need one. You know, with Woody, you know, it's all, it's all there. You know, there's a lot of times if the film is not as well-written, you wind up hungering for things that aren't there. You get - as an actor sometimes you get very kind of proppy. I've done films where you're like, well, let's talk about my character's luggage, you know.
BALDWIN: You just - you kind of go crazy because you're thinking - you're struggling for things to kind of fill in these holes because there's just not enough on the page for you to play. And I think if it's well-written, and you have a pretty clear understanding of what everybody wants, you just say the words to the best of your ability, and it pretty much takes care of itself.
DAVIES: You know, you're here in this film playing a guy with young people who are engaged in this romantic fling that, you know, seems familiar, and making mistakes, and you're kind of giving the Jesse Eisenberg character advice from the perspective of experience.
And it occurred to me, you're an actor here, a veteran who's been around a lot, with two very young, very successful actors - well three, really - Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page and Greta Gerwig. Did you feel kind of this relationship replicated at all on the set, like you were, I don't know, knew things that they didn't and could help them?
BALDWIN: Well, I don't think I would ever try to tell people anything about the work they're doing in general, but let alone people who are at that level, because all of them are very experienced. You know, Ellen is someone who's made a lot of films, and she's very successful in the film business, and she's very talented. I mean, it's just apparent when you work with her just how gifted she is and the way she can act in front of a camera.
And Jesse too. I mean, I always remember when I saw the movie "Roger Dodger" years ago, how I feel in love with his acting, and I really liked him a lot. Greta I had not seen as much, but the - but she's wonderful too, and very - and very direct, you know, and keeps it very simple, which I like.
And I would never dream of saying anything to them. Like if someone asked me something and they said, oh, what do you think - and with Woody, most often people talk to each other like, do you think he liked it? Because Woody's so quiet.
BALDWIN: I think all of us turn to each other and say: Do you think he's liking what we're doing? Like Jesse would say: How do you think this is going? And I'd say: I don't know. How do you think it's going? So it's all - it's a little - yeah, Woody is so quiet. You know, he's so, you know, recessed. He doesn't really talk a lot. So it's - you do get a little - these little pangs of insecurity sometimes.
DAVIES: Right, so how did any of you ever know that you were getting it right? You moved on?
BALDWIN: You didn't, you didn't. If you remained in the film and weren't cut out of the film, that was a clue that he kind of liked what you did, but it's the opposite of what you get a lot in filmmaking, where people walk up to you and say everything's great. You know, you do something that's very plain or very ordinary or very simple or even banal, and people are walking up to you saying that was great.
You know, and you do get - I mean, some people I know, they don't want that either. You know, they want to be rewarded for nothing. But I think that, you know, that we really were all the same, actually. We'll all in the same boat, which was A) we were in Rome, which is just an incredible place to shoot, and we were all very happy to be in Rome, because Woody shoots very civil days.
There are some times you make films and you travel places, and the take that people in the business have is that the worst way to see a city is to shoot there because you work these long, you know, 12 and 13 and 14 hour days and you go home to the hotel, you eat, or you go to the gym, and you pass out. And you don't have a chance to explore, unless, of course, you have a lot of days off, you have a more forgiving schedule.
But Woody shoots very civil days. You know, you work 10 or 11 hours, and they're never long, long days. He likes to work at a very moderate pace. And he wants to work hard, he wants everyone to know their lines and get to the better take as soon as possible, you can't really luxuriate, but this was an opportunity to relax and to see Rome.
You know, every night we would go for nice walks. My girlfriend and I would walk around Rome, and I just love Rome. I mean Rome really does cast a spell on you.
DAVIES: Well, maybe some people were surprised to see you in "Rock of Ages." You're there, a middle-aged guy with long hair who owns a bar called, what is it, the Bourbon Club?
BALDWIN: The Bourbon Room.
DAVIES: The Bourbon Room, right. Were you a rocker back in the '70s and '80s? Did you connect with this at all?
BALDWIN: No. I mean I listened to the music I listened to growing up, but I wasn't somebody who was - got into the hair and the, you know, the clothes and jewelry and rings...
DAVIES: And going to concerts and head-banging...
BALDWIN: Yeah, I went to some concerts in the '70s. When I was a kid, I went to, you know, not a lot, but I went to a few. But I never was much of a, you know, wearing a vest and a Kiss T-shirt and a lot of beads and stuff like that. I wasn't - tattoos, I didn't do that.
But I think that, oddly enough, this period is right around the time that I turned off popular music on the radio, and I almost never listened to it again after that, about 1985 is when I kind of switched over to classical music and I discovered classical music on the radio in Los Angeles, and I've pretty much stayed with that since then.
There's almost no popular music I listen to now. I mean I'll hear it because it's everywhere, it's in the gym or it's in the coffee shop, it's playing, and it's in the shopping mall. You know, music is ubiquitous now. But music of that type tends to speak to people, you know, in their teens or their 20s, you know, when they're younger. And I was getting closer to 30 then. So I just had no desire to listen to that music - of my youth.
You know, and I still listen to music every now and then from my youth, you know, the Stones and the Beatles and the Who and Led Zeppelin and Woodstock and Crosby Stills and this and that. There's a lot music from my childhood and my youth that I still listen to.
The radio show that I do for WYNC, we just interviewed Peter Frampton for that show, and that was really a thrill because he had that great iconic album he released in '76 - '75 I believe.
DAVIES: So how did you end up in this film? It's based on the Broadway show.
BALDWIN: I have no idea.
BALDWIN: I have literally no idea. Obviously, there were six other guys they wanted, and they couldn't get them, and they came to me and asked me to do it.
DAVIES: There's a moment I wanted to play from the film. This is a scene where you get to sing with Russell Brand, who's also at the club, and you discover that your friendship is perhaps something more - a duet(ph) . It's the old REO Speedwagon song "Can't Fight This Feeling." Let's listen. We hear Russell Brand sing first.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN'T FIGHT THIS FEELING")
RUSSELL BRAND: (as Lonny) (Singing) I can't fight this feeling any longer. And yet I'm still afraid to let it flow. What started out as friendship has grown stronger, I only wish I had the strength to let it show.
BALDWIN: (as Dennis Dupree) (Singing) I tell myself that I can't hold out forever. I said there is no reason for my fear, 'cause I feel so secure when we're together, you give my life direction, you make everything so clear.
ALEC BALDWIN AND RUSSELL BRAND: (as Dennis and Lonny) (Singing) And even as I wonder, I'm keeping you in sight. You're a candle in the window on a cold, dark winter's night. And I'm getting closer than I ever thought I might. And I can't fight this feeling anymore. I've forgotten what I started fighting for...
DAVIES: And that is our guest, Alec Baldwin, with Russell Brand.
DAVIES: Singing "Can't Fight This Feeling."
BALDWIN: Doesn't Russell sound great?
DAVIES: Oh, I think you manage to pull this off pretty well. Have you done...
BALDWIN: I think a lot of that's the computer. They put you through the sweetener there, I think - I think they put professional musicians through the sweetener, so why not me. But can't you see how Russell could be a real rock star? I mean, he is such an exotic animal. When I worked with him - I love him, first of all.
I had more fun with him than probably - I mean, I had one of the best times of my life with him. He's funny and smart. I had a ball with him. I mean, I think other than seeing Tom Cruise do what Tom did, which was so overwhelming - I mean Tom really, really became the character, and unlike me, who I don't think I really can sing, even though I might have it in my head or my heart, I just don't have the vocal cords really to sing well.
But Tom went and studied with a vocal coach and a dance coach, and he had all these people he rehearsed with and worked so hard for several weeks before they rolled the camera. And Tom came in and - I mean everybody's mouth was on the floor. He just knocked everybody out. You could have just made a movie about Tom.
DAVIES: It's pretty amazing. I mean he plays this iconic rock star who performs without his shirt and just, right, well, it's...
BALDWIN: Well, Tom, you know, it's funny because everybody thinks - I mean, I used to have the same attitude. I used to look at people in the business as I came up and saw them who were pure movie actors of a certain type, where a lot of technology is at the fore, and action, and the demands for them in terms of acting were not that great.
And I - you know, Tom is one of the biggest movie stars of the last 50 years, and he's had a great career in films, but he's taken time along the way to do other things, to - you know, whether it's "Magnolia" or whether it's "Born on the Fourth of July." I mean, he still has a career he has to tend to as a great movie star in that sense, but he stops along the way.
"Tropic Thunder" was something recently, and then he did this, and I can't tell you how impressed everyone was. And I think Russell really knocked people out because he's so funny.
DAVIES: But I did want to get back to the scene where you and he discover your affection for one another. It ends with a kiss. Do you want to just talk a little bit about making that scene?
BALDWIN: I mean, I enjoyed kissing Russell more than most of the women I've had to kiss in the movies, you know, because I just really liked him so much, you know. I mean, some of the women I've worked with in film, not that I didn't like them, but they weren't - they certainly weren't anywhere near as interesting as Russell.
Some of them were, but some of them weren't, because Russell's just such a kind of a fascinating character. And you don't really think about that. I mean, I don't - in this day and age, you know, I mean I've been sent scripts, not now because I'm older, but I was sent scripts years ago, 10, 15 years ago, where they wanted you to have love scenes with another guy.
You know, before "Brokeback Mountain," there were people who were pushing that kind of an envelope, where they wanted you to have a - I'm not saying hardcore sex, but they wanted you to have intimacy with someone in a film. And that never really bothered me because I thought, well, it's not me doing that, it's the character.
Even though I might not have the predilection for that, you have to play the part. You know, it's the old line, you know, when you have to play Hitler, you're going to play Hitler.
DAVIES: Well, I'm glad that at least this kiss was with somebody that it meant something to you.
BALDWIN: It meant a great deal to me.
DAVIES: Our guest is Alec Baldwin. He stars in the new film "Rock of Ages" and also in the Woody Allen film "To Rome With Love." More after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with actor Alec Baldwin. He stars in the new Woody Allen film "To Rome with Love" and also is in the musical "Rock of Ages."
In the '80s and '90s, you did so many dramatic roles that got a lot of attention, you know, "Working Girl," "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Hunt for Red October." And I know that you started in TV - you know, you did a daytime soap and then "Knot's Landing." Did you ever imagine that you'd be working in a TV sitcom?
BALDWIN: I didn't really think about it. I had put my toe in the water to do a television show, and most of it had to do with lifestyle. I was divorced and my daughter lived in Los Angeles, and I needed to have a regular schedule. And in the film business very often you have no idea where you're going to be six months from now.
You know, you wake up one day and someone says we're going to go to Australia. And there may be a creative opportunity there or even a commercial opportunity there, but I grew very weary of that. And television to me was - although it wasn't necessarily as creatively diverse as filmmaking can be, it was the lifestyle choice that I needed to make.
And then Lorne Michaels, who's been a friend of mine for years, came to me and said do you want to do this show. And I thought, well, it shoots in New York, Tina's the writer, and Tina's obviously an incredibly talented woman. And...
DAVIES: Tina Fey, yeah.
BALDWIN: Tina Fey. And the schedule was such where it really was easy for me to have time off to go see my daughter, who lives in Los Angeles. So I was commuting there a lot. I would go there every other weekend when she was much younger. And I did that show, and then the miracle was that it was creatively as successful as it was.
I mean, the ratings for "30 Rock" have never been big, but creatively it was a big, big bonanza. You know, there was a - like, after the second year, that second, third and fourth year, we won all these prizes again and again and again. And everybody was very gratified by that. And plus, there was the thing where we were up against Sorkin's show.
Sorkin wrote "Studio 60," and we thought, you know, they're going to win and we're going to lose, they're going to get rid of one of us. And we thought it was definitely going to be us because of Sorkin and Matthew Perry and Brad Whitford, and there was all these people who had these legacy relationships with NBC.
But we survived, and we were kind of blown away by that. So we did the show, and now this coming fall we have 13 episodes in a shortened seventh season, and then we're done, we're off the air, the show is over.
DAVIES: Let's listen to a clip. Your scene is Jack Donaghy, he's a, you know, a TV executive, and of course Tina Fey plays Liz Lemon, who I guess is the head writer of a show, kind of like herself. And the relationship between the two is fascinating. This is a scene from season six, where Jack Donaghy has seen Tina Fey kissing a man on the street and tries to find out who she's seeing.
Usually she confides a lot of her life to him. She suspects he won't approve of this new guy. Anyway, let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "30 ROCK")
BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) Lemon.
TINA FEY: (As Liz Lemon) I'm on top of the Tracey thing. I just spoke to him.
BALDWIN: (As Jack) Actually, I want to talk to you about something else. Because of my unfortunate situation with Avery, I'm alone. And I know of course that you're not seeing anyone. Therefore I've decided that you and I should become friends with benefits.
FEY: (As Liz) No, thank you, please.
BALDWIN: (As Jack) A-ha, the only reason you would reject that offer is if you had a secret boyfriend.
FEY: (As Liz) Right, that's the only reason.
BALDWIN: (As Jack) I saw you, Lemon, at the movies last night with your mouth on a man. Why would you keep this from me after all of our time together? This is hurtful, Elizabeth. What's his name?
FEY: (As Liz) I don't want to tell you.
BALDWIN: (As Jack) Why? Is it a stupid name like Dakota or Barack?
FEY: (As Liz) His name is Criss, and I'm sorry, but for my own reasons...
BALDWIN: (As Jack) And Criss is spelled?
FEY: (As Liz) No H and two S's. That's - right there, that's why I didn't want to tell you, because I knew you wouldn't approve of him.
BALDWIN: (As Jack) Why? What does he do for a living?
FEY: (As Liz) Criss is trying to...
BALDWIN: (As Jack) You can stop right there.
FEY: (As Liz) He's an entrepreneur. He is currently meeting with investors in the hopes of starting an organic gourmet hotdog truck.
BALDWIN: (As Jack) Lemon, I have said good God to you before, but I don't think I've ever meant it until now. Good God. Where does this person live?
FEY: (As Liz) Don't worry about it.
BALDWIN: (As Jack) How bad can it be, Jersey City? His parents' apartment? It's not a walkup, is it?
DAVIES: That's our guest, Alec Baldwin, and Tina Fey on "30 Rock." You've known a lot of entertainment executives in your days. Did you draw on any of them in creating Jack Donaghy?
BALDWIN: When the show first started, GE owned NBC, or they had the controlling interest in NBC. And so we spent many years sending up the GE culture, but I mean in a very funny way, and the GE people would laugh. Jeff Immelt would come to the set like once or twice a year and say, you know, you guys are funny.
And the character was kind of a prototype of a GE executive, and in his personal life, in his personal ethic, he's Lorne Michaels. He's going to live a certain lifestyle in terms of comfort and creature comforts. And as I always say, Lorne is someone who has a tuxedo in the glove compartment of his car.
You know, he goes to events, and he's very much in the - he's very much a pillar of the social network and the power structure of New York media and so forth. And so - and Lorne is a friend, and I adore Lorne. But we do stick it to Lorne a lot.
DAVIES: Alec Baldwin stars in "30 Rock," and he appears in the new musical "Rock of Ages" and the new Woody Allen comedy "To Rome with Love." He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who is off this week.
We're speaking with actor Alec Baldwin. He starred in dozens of movies, including "Beetlejuice," "Married to the Mob," "Glengarry Glen Ross," and "Hunt for Red October." He's appearing in two new films, the musical "Rock of Ages," and the new Woody Allen comedy "To Rome with Love," and for six seasons, he's played TV executive Jack Donaghy in the hit NBC series "30 Rock."
Baldwin said while his character is often described as arrogant, he doesn't see the role that way.
BALDWIN: To me, I never think of it as smug or arrogant or self-important. I just think of it as a guy who's in a hurry and he has no apologies. You know, he's someone who - I mean there's a lot of people today who you go into rooms with people and you're trying to convince people to do what you want them to do, you're trying to get permission from them to do what you want to do, and this guy is much more of a, you know, from the Patton school, you know, you don't ask, you tell. You don't wait to see how people feel about it. You know, we don't sit down and hold hands in some human resources meeting to make sure everybody's OK with the orders I'm giving. This guy is very old-school in that you just tell people what to do and you're just much more direct. And I never think of it, never do I think oh, how can I make this guy more arrogant, bombastic. I think to myself, there's something he wants, there's something he wants to get done and there's a way that he does it.
DAVIES: For him life is simply more efficient if everyone recognizes that the way he sees things are the way they are.
BALDWIN: If everyone would just do what I tell them to do, when I tell them to do it, the way I tell them to do it, everything would be fine.
BALDWIN: And you would benefit too. All of you would benefit from it too if you would just listen to me, everything would be great. That's kind of, he's from that school.
DAVIES: I want to play one more clip. This is a clip from the third season of "30 Rock," in which Liz Lemon, Tina Fey's character, has been dating a guy Drew, who is played by Jon Hamm, who is very handsome, and she has come back from lunch with a doggie bag from a very exclusive restaurant called Plunder and she's just amazed at the way life is when you're with someone who is this attractive. And your character, Jack Donaghy, explains about the bubble. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "30 ROCK")
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BALDWIN: (as Jack Donaghy) You went to Plunder for lunch? How did you get a table?
FEY: (as Liz Lemon) I don't know. It was packed, but they just gave Drew a table. It is ridiculous how people treat him. The chef sent over food. Ladies sent drinks. Mayor Bloomberg asked him to dance.
BALDWIN: Well, beautiful people are treated differently, from, moderately pleasant-looking people.
FEY: (as Liz Lemon) It's true.
BALDWIN: They live in a bubble - a bubble of free drinks, kindness and outdoor sex.
FEY: How did Drew turn out as well as he did going through life like that?
BALDWIN: The bubble isn't always a bad thing. Look at me. I turned out OK, didn't I?
FEY: Jack, I want you to pay close attention to the following over-the-top eye roll. Oh brother.
BALDWIN: Lemon, I don't share this often but this is a photo of me when I was 25 years old.
FEY: What, the what? You have a Superman chest.
BALDWIN: I know.
FEY: Oh my God. The lady will have two tickets to the gun show. And your eyes were so much bluer. What happened to your eyes?
BALDWIN: My point is Lemon, the bubble doesn't last forever, so get in there with Drew and enjoy those perks while you can.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FEY: Can I keep that?
BALDWIN: No. It's my only copy.
DAVIES: Our guest, Alec Baldwin, with Tina Fey on a season three scene from "30 Rock." When you got that script, did you think about your days - I don't know - in a different kind of bubble when you were like that?
DAVIES: In your 20s and a hunk of Hollywood?
BALDWIN: When I made films, I really didn't kind of understand what I had gotten myself into. You know, and that's another thing I love about Tom, when we did "Rock of Ages," was Tom was someone who - he had a better understanding of what he had gotten himself into, you know, like and how to ride that wave and because moviemaking is a very unique thing and making movies on that level is a very unique thing. And I did that for a few years and I realized that you really do need to make it the most important thing in your life, which I guess I wasn't willing to do.
You know, starring in films for studios and, you know, those kind of big-ticket films, you get a period of time, especially when you're younger, and then when that doesn't work out your career evolves into something else. You go do independent films and there's less money at stake and it's more - I think it's less risky the investment for people, obviously. And then you turn around and you're 40 and then you turn around and you're 50.
I think the thing to try to do along the way is just to try to learn more about acting and how to do it better, you know, whatever that means, to economize and to commit and to be more honest and to try to vary it and not duplicate what you've done before. That's the one thing about the TV show that is tough is that you do play in the same key all the time. And even though the writing itself is clever, when the show ends - I guess it is ending at a good time because I do find myself very, very ready to stop playing in that key because it has been seven years.
DAVIES: You know, I read an interview with you in 2009 when you said you thought that your acting career would end with "30 Rock," and sort of imagined yourself maybe growing old with a kid who didn't even know you were in the movies.
DAVIES: Now I look and I see you've got I think five movies in production or pre-production. I guess your thinking changed on this?
BALDWIN: No, I don't. I mean I don't know where people - I think IMDb sometimes just prints, you know, your name is attached to anything if your name comes up.
BALDWIN: You know, you can...
DAVIES: That's the Internet movie database that everybody uses, including us and maybe should less, you're telling us.
BALDWIN: Right. Well, no, no. I love IMDb. I think it's a great resource but I think that sometimes they just have a tendency to say any film that you're even remotely discussed doing they put that down as pending but I - the only film I'm going to do is Woody's new film this fall.
BALDWIN: And then I'm supposed to do a play in New York. I can't say what it is yet, but I think I'm going to do a play in February. And then the - yeah, I mean I would like to do something else for a while. I'd like to stop doing this for a while because I've done it for 32 years and I'm very, very intrigued by that idea, to have a nice big piece of time off and do something completely unrelated to what I'm doing now.
DAVIES: But you have done some interesting things lately in radio. You still host the New York Philharmonic show on W, the classical music station in New York?
BALDWIN: "The New York Philharmonic This Week"...
DAVIES: Right. Yeah
BALDWIN: ...which is their program that airs on QXR in New York, it's produced by WFMT in Chicago. I've been the radio announcer for them. This is my third - the end of my third season just ended. That's one of my favorite things I've ever done because just to be a part of that, such a soothing and an elegant world of the classical repertoire is such a joy for me. And then I have my own show on WNYC, "Here's the Thing," that podcasts on the NYC website, and then we're going to go to broadcast I think this fall. And that I've really enjoyed as well because I love to talk to people and get down to a different kind of conversation about, you know, not so much the facts like well, then you did this and then you did this, and then you did this, and more talk about how they feel about what they do and what they're really - and try to ask questions that I know I don't get asked that often and I had a hunch that they didn't either.
DAVIES: You know, you've talked about running for office also at times, mayor of New York, the Senate. Is that something you still think about?
BALDWIN: Well, I think that it's tough these days, I mean I've had these difficulties lately with the press. I've had this stuff here in New York where I was - this guy almost hit me in the face with a camera here in New York the other day. And I find that it's very, very difficult now to navigate those waters. I mean everybody I've ever worked with, you know, 99.9 percent of the time I've had a successful or at least, you know, a very agreeable experience with. And there are these legit press opportunities you have that you do. And then there's what I call the illegitimate press and they, in the age of the Internet, they're very strong. They're very omnipresent. And dealing with them becomes, I think for me, what I'm learning now in this last go around is that my desire to live a normal life - like to have an apartment in New York and a home in New York and to walk out the door like any other New Yorker does and just live my life, it - sometimes it's not possible. And I know people who live this much more insulated life in Los Angeles where their feet like never touch public ground. They walk out of their bathroom, they walk out of their living room, they walk into their garage, they get into their car and the next thing you know they're at the valet parking of the restaurant or the store or the office. They're just never - they're in a bubble the whole time. It's very hermetic. And I never wanted to live that kind of life. I hated that idea. But I'm beginning to see now how it really does becomes necessary kind of. It's sad. It makes me sad but it's true.
DAVIES: Well, Alec Baldwin, it's been great. Thank you so much for joining us.
BALDWIN: Thank you.
DAVIES: Alec Baldwin appears in the new musical "Rock of Ages," and the new Woody Allen comedy "To Rome with Love." And he'll play TV executive Jack Donaghy for the seventh and final season on the NBC series "30 Rock."
Coming up, we remember composer and lyricist Richard Adler. I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVE DAVIES, HOST: In 1955, The New York Times called Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, Broadway's hottest young composers. They wrote the music and lyrics for "The Pajama Game" and quickly followed that with "Damn Yankees," shows which included the songs "Hey There," "Steam Heat," "Hernando's Hideaway" and "Whatever Lola Wants Lola Gets."
Both shows won a Tony Award for best musical, and were directed by George Abbott. But everything changed for Adler when his songwriting partner Jerry Ross died in 1955 at the age of 29, just months after "Damn Yankees" opened.
Last Thursday, Richard Adler died at his home in Southampton, New York. He was 90. Terry Gross interviewed Richard Adler in 1990, after the publication of his memoir "You've Gotta Have Heart." They started with his first Broadway hit, "The Pajama Game."
TERRY GROSS, HOST: When you wrote a song for "The Pajama Game," who would you have to play the song for before he got OK'd?
RICHARD ADLER: George Abbott, period.
GROSS: Oh, really?
GROSS: What kind of critiques would he give you?
ADLER: Critiques? None. He would say yes or no. For the Dictaphone song - he wanted a song in a, you know, that could be dictated into a Dictaphone machine. They didn't have tapes in those days, they had Dictaphone machines. So we wrote a terrible song called "Dear Babe," and he thought it was terrible. We thought it was terrible too. He said get me something a little bit more unique. And then we wrote "Hey There," and he liked that a lot and went into the show. Then when it was in the show, being a young, idiotic and compulsive man, I suddenly thought gee, this song, it's very lovely but it maybe isn't commercial enough. And I wrote six songs trying to write around "Hey There" to get it out of the show and Abbott kept saying, don't bother me. I like "Hey There," each time he would listen and he, thank God, didn't succumb to my persuasiveness.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY THERE")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes, love never made a fool of you, you used to be too wise. Hey there, you on that high flying cloud, though she won't throw a crumb to you, you think someday she'll come to you. Better forget her...
GROSS: "Hey There" was actually the big hit from the show. Rosemary Clooney recorded it and she had a top 10 hit with it.
ADLER: Top 10. She had the biggest - maybe the biggest record she's ever had, it wouldn't $3 million. It was number one for over seven months, on and off was "Hernando's Hideaway." I mean they would switch from one and two. And at the time, I don't mean to sound braggadocios, but nobody had ever had number one and two on the Hit Parade before, not Rodgers and Hammerstein or anybody else and since then nobody has either.
GROSS: You worked collaboratively with Jerry Ross and you both wrote words and music, right?
GROSS: What were the mechanics of the relationship?
ADLER: Well, there were no mechanics to the relationship. We wrote every which way imaginable. Sometimes I would come in with a lyric or a melody, and he would elaborate on it. Sometimes he would, like for instance with "Steam Heat," I went bathroom one day and when I got in there I decided, as I said before, I'm a compulsive - I was a compulsive young man, I decided I'm not leaving this room until I've written a song about something in the room. So, there were certain things you can't write about in a bathroom. Then all of a sudden the radiator started clanging and hissing and I got the idea for "Steam Heat." I wrote out a full chorus of it, got out of the bathroom, called Jerry, sang it to him over the phone, we got together the next day and elaborated on it. That's one way that we wrote.
GROSS: After the success of "Pajama Game" you very quickly got involved in writing the words and music for "Damn Yankees." How did "Damn Yankees" happen so quickly on the heels of "Pajama Game?"
ADLER: Well, "Pajama Game" was a big hit and Mr. Abbott wanted to get the same team together and write another show. And he, the boys - that is Hal Prince and Bobby Griffith, came up with a book called "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant." Now, we knew that baseball was singularly unsuccessful in the theater, motion pictures, etc. It had never been a hit. It was taboo. But we tackled it anyway. We all like the property. And we wrote "Damn Yankees" following on the heels of "Pajama Game."
GROSS: One of the best known songs from "Damn Yankees" is "You've Gotta Have Heart."
ADLER: "You Gotta Have Heart" is the best known song I think probably I've ever written. And it became this really tremendous hit in the show. It stopped the show from the first performance.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "DAMN YANKEES")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Van Buren) Now listen to me, you guys. This game of baseball is only one-half skill. The other half is something else, something bigger. (Singing) You gotta have heart. All you really need is heart. When the odds are saying you'll never win, that's when the grin should start. You've got hope...
GROSS: Your songwriting partner, Jerry Ross, died after "Damn Yankees" at the age of 29. You were devastated by that.
ADLER: I certainly was. I was devastated and that was 35 years ago and I'm still devastated by it. You know, he was like my brother. He was my beloved friend, my younger brother, my collaborator. He was everything to me at the time.
GROSS: Cole Porter gave you the advice of, you know, just write by yourself now. You know, your partner's gone. Write by yourself. Why was it so difficult for you to write by yourself?
ADLER: Well, you know, if you're married and you lose your spouse it's difficult to adjust to single life. If you're writing as a team successfully, very successfully, after a lot of hard work and suddenly half of the team is nevermore, it's difficult. It's hard to adjust. It's hard to explain. So I took Mr. Porter's advice and it took many years of struggle before I was able to succeed once again. I really literally had to start all over.
GROSS: What did the new success come with?
ADLER: Well, it came with songs like "Everybody Loves a Lover" which came about two and a half years later. It came with the writing of probably the most successful jingles. At the prices I got to be charging I call them advertising musicals.
ADLER: It came later on with the writing of - with the commissioning of classical pieces like "Wilderness Suite," the Statue of Liberty's centennial piece, "The Lady Remembers," the sesquicentennial of Chicago piece and other things like that.
GROSS: Thank you very much for talking with us.
ADLER: Thank you very much for allowing me to.
DAVIES: Broadway composer Richard Adler speaking with Terry Gross in 1990. He died last Thursday at the age of 90. Here's Richard Adler singing with his songwriting partner Jerry Ross at the piano recorded in 1954. It's a bonus track on the reissue of the original cast recording of "The Pajama Game."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERNANDO'S HIDEAWAY")
ADLER: (singing) I know a dark secluded place, a place where no one knows your face. A glass of wine, a fast embrace. It's called Hernando's Hideaway. Ole.
JERRY ROSS: (singing) All you see are silhouettes and all are you hear are castanets. And no one cares how late it gets. Not at Hernando's Hideaway. Ole.
ADLER: (singing) At the Golden Fingerbowl or any place you go...
(singing) ...you will your Uncle Max and everyone you know.
(singing) But if we go to the spot that I am thinking of you will be free to gaze at me and talk of love. Oh, just knock three times and whisper low that you and I were sent by Joe. Then strike a match and you will know you're in Hernando's Hideaway. Ole.
DAVIES: Coming up, Geoff Nunberg on what he calls a new reticence to mention anything sexual in public discourse, even in the most clinical terms. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVE DAVIES, HOST: We've gotten use to controversies over the use of vulgar words in public context, but recently there was a national uproar when a Michigan state legislator was disciplined for using a very clinical term during a debate. According to our linguist Geoff Nunberg, it was one of many such incidents that reflect a trend he's calling the new reticence. A heads-up to parents: this commentary contains a few references you may feel are inappropriate for young children.
GEOFF NUNBERG, BYLINE: It was one of those moments when anatomical correctness and cultural correctness come head-to-head. The Michigan Legislature was debating a bill that prescribes sweeping new restrictions on abortion, and the Democratic state Representative Lisa Brown was speaking in passionate opposition. In concluding, she said: I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.
In an indignant response, the leadership of the Republican majority banned her from speaking again on the floor of the House. They insisted that they weren't silencing her because of her language, but only because she had thrown an unprofessional temper tantrum. But nobody really doubts that it was the word vagina that got to them.
That's what led a Republican representative named Mike Callton to say that what Brown said was so offensive that he wouldn't say it in mixed company. I don't think he would have found it so outrageous if instead of talking about her vagina, Brown had simply said down there.
In fact, the word vagina makes a lot of people uncomfortable. On the Web, you see it written with dashes or asterisks and sometimes it's even followed with pardon my French, which is ordinarily an apology you tack onto an Anglo-Saxon word, not a Latin one.
Call it the new reticence: a distaste for explicit discussions of sexual matters in public, even in the most antiseptic terms. The aversion goes well beyond the V-word. In the Florida Legislature last year, a Democratic representative charged that the Republicans were more friendly to corporations than to ordinary people and joked that he was going to ask his wife to incorporate her uterus so Republicans would stop restricting abortions.
The Republican speaker's office reprimanded him for using what they called inappropriate language. That strikes me as something of an overreaction. I mean, it wasn't as if he had used the four-letter Anglo-Saxon word for that part of the body - you know, womb.
Men's anatomy comes in for this treatment, too. A couple of years ago, Virginia's governor, Tim Kaine, submitted a budget that eliminated state employees' health coverage for erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra. The legislature restored the cuts but rewrote the budget to refer just to ED drugs.
I'm not sure what they had in mind by that. You'd figure that anybody who knows the meaning of the words erectile dysfunction probably doesn't need to be protected from them. But in the current cultural climate, even euphemisms need euphemisms.
Nobody actually thinks of these as dirty words of course. They're not objectionable in themselves, but only when they're referring to topics that are off-limits. It's OK to use anal when you're talking about a hemorrhoid cream or Felix Unger from "The Odd Couple," but the word makes some people squirm when it's connected to sex.
You may recall the incident two years ago when some members of the Yale DKE fraternity had the wild and crazy idea of marching their pledges to the freshmen women's dorm one night and having them chant: No means yes, yes means anal. CNN ran a tape of the chant but bleeped the last word.
The anchor, Kyra Phillips, told viewers that she wasn't going to say it but that they could find it online. But actually it didn't show up there, either. CNN's Web story substituted yes means a sex act, which would leave you wondering what the women students were so upset about.
The new reticence has old roots. To the Victorians, a word could be held obscene or indecent simply because it dealt with a topic like sexual hygiene, prostitution or seduction, however decorously it described them. In 1914, Margaret Sanger was prosecuted for obscenity when she published a book advocating birth control. But the Victorian taboos were beginning to fray.
By the 1920s, sex was an acceptable dinner party topic in sophisticated circles so long as it was described in an appropriately clinical way. That was when terms like fellatio, homosexual and orgasm entered the educated vocabulary, while the category of obscenity was narrowed to the vulgar terms for sex and the body, what people started to refer to as the four-letter words.
It was the beginning of the long revolution in American mores that the historian Rochelle Gurstein calls the repeal of reticence. From Freud and Sanger to Kinsey and Masters and Johnson to Dr. Ruth and Eve Ensler, with every generation, our public discussions of sex have grown freer and more open.
But not everybody has embraced that spirit of candor. There have always been a lot of Americans who are troubled by the clinical discussions of sex in public life. They suspect, and with some cause, that tricking sexuality out in a lab coat is a way of detaching it from the moral control of the family and the community.
I don't know whether those people are more numerous now than they used to be, but they're clearly better organized and more audible. And they're increasingly wielding the conversational gavel, sometimes in a literal way.
Not that we're at the point of sweeping all those delicate topics back under a Victorian rug, but it's striking how many people in the media and public life have become more circumspect in the way they talk about sex. This isn't just about George Carlin's seven words anymore.
DAVIES: Geoffrey Nunberg is a linguist who teaches at Berkeley School of Information. His new book, "Ascent of the A-Word," will be published this summer. You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and you can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org.
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