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Allegra Goodman's 'Intuition'

Allegra Goodman's new novel is Intuition.

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Other segments from the episode on March 6, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 6, 2006:Interview with Stuart Murdoch; Review of Jerry Lewis' "Rabbit fur coat;" Review of Allegra Goodman's novel "Intuition."

Transcript

DATE March 6, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Stuart Murdoch talks about his life, music and his
band Belle & Sebastian
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Since the band Belle & Sebastian formed
10 years ago in Glasgow, Scotland, they have developed a devoted cult
following. If you haven't heard them, that might lead you to believe their
music is esoteric or obscure. It's not. A Washington Post review described
the band's new CD, "The Life Pursuit," as a terrific pop album. In
the...(unintelligible)...music magazine Pitchfork, Marc Hogan writes,
"Spanning glam, soul, country and 70s AM rock, this record is a deceptively
wry, wickedly tuneful testament to the fragile beauty of faith in deity, as
well as in pop."

My guest is the co-founder of the band, Stuart Murdoch. He sings and writes
most of the songs. When the band started out, the members declined to speak
to the press. But that changed a few years ago and Murdoch turns out to be
straightforward and open when talking about his life and music. Belle &
Sebastian are on an American tour.

Before we meet Stuart Murdoch, here's a tract from "The Life Pursuit." This is
"Another Sunny Day."

(Soundbite of "Another Sunny Day")

Mr. STUART MURDOCH: (Singing) "Another sunny day, I met you up in the
garden. You were digging plants, I dug you, beg your pardon. I took a
photograph of you in the herbaceous border. It broke the heart of men and
flowers and girls and trees. Another rainy day, we're trapped inside with a
train set. Chocolate on the boil, steamy windows when we met. You've got the
attic window looking out on the cathedral. And on a Sunday evening bells ring
out in the dusk."

GROSS: That's Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch.

Welcome to FRESH AIR. Belle & Sebastian got started, I think when you were in
college. Did you have a band when you were in high school?

Mr. MURDOCH: No, not at all. Like I said, I couldn't write a song to save
my life until much later.

GROSS: So, what got you writing songs?

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, to be quite honest, I had a busy period when I was
younger. I was at college and I was deejaying, and I was working at a club
and was working at a record shop. And then I actually got unwell, and I had
to give up all these pursuits one by one over a period of time, and then for
quite a few years, in fact, for seven years, I was pretty much out of the
game. And it was during this period that I found a lot of solace in being
able to write a song.

GROSS: So I had read a reference to CFS, chronic fatigue syndrome. Is that
what you have?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes, pretty much. It was some sort of post-viral difficulty
and it was a major drag, as you can imagine.

GROSS: Well, it must have been really awful to go from having this life
where, you know, you are a deejay in clubs and, you know, living this really
interesting life, going to all the record stores, and then you're like stuck
at home. Did you move back home with your parents?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes, I had to--I moved back home with my folks, and they put up
with me, and pretty much I shed--like you said, I shed everything. I shed all
my friends and my activities, not because I wanted to but simply because I had
to.

GROSS: Sometimes when you're sick, it's hard to listen to music, it's hard to
concentrate, and particularly if you have a headache or something like that,
music can be really hard to listen to. When you had CFS, was it a time that
you could listen to--absorb and really care about music?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes, I think I can be much fussier about the music I listened
to. It had to be able to, like you say, absorb me and take me to another
place because at that point in your life, when you're down and out, what you
want is escapism. And so, for a period of time, there was a, you know, there
was a core group in music that I listened to that took me somewhere else. And
then I got very much into filmmaking at that point as well. And--but then I
reached a point where I wanted more escapism and I wanted more fantasy. And
that's when I started to invent it for myself.

GROSS: Boy, it must be hard to start something new and difficult. Like
writing songs when you're sick.

Mr. MURDOCH: It was, but--well, it was but it felt like the one major thing
that I had when I started to do it, I realized that this could be a way out
and this almost made up for what was happening to me.

GROSS: Well, I'd like to play a song that you wrote that's on the first CD,
the first on Belle & Sebastian CD, "Tigermilk," and, of course, I don't really
know which songs you wrote because you don't include songwriter credits on the
CDs. Why not?

Mr. MURDOCH: I'm not really sure. It's just at the time, it just seemed
unimportant.

GROSS: Well, did you write "Expectations"?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes.

GROSS: Good. That's the one I was going to play. So we'll listen to that.
You want to say anything about writing a song? I mean, it's a story song, a
character song. And--I mean, I think of you in the song carrying on the
tradition of, say, Ray Davies and the Kinks and Randy Newman. You know, it's
not a confessional song.

Mr. MURDOCH: Yeah.

GROSS: It is not about you. It's about a character.

Mr. MURDOCH: That's right. I had great fun with these characters.
Especially, painting a character, someone I would have felt was pretty hip at
the time, and you sort of bring them to life in your imagination.

GROSS: So you thought they were pretty hip at the time you were writing this
song?

Mr. MURDOCH: I think so.

GROSS: So this is about somebody who makes life-size models of the Velvet
Underground in clay.

Mr. MURDOCH: I mean, wouldn't that be fantastic? Because I imagined that
when I was much younger and that time you love it when you are looking up
towards the people in your class or in your school that are obviously way
cooler than you, and you are wondering how--you are wondering what goes on in
their mind. And I just imagined this figure who was modeling, you know, the
Velvet Underground and had this project and this obsession, and I didn't even
know who the Velvet Underground were.

GROSS: OK. Well, let's hear it. This is from the first Belle & Sebastian
album, "Tigermilk." And this is "Expectations."

(Soundbite of "Expectations")

Mr. MURDOCH: (Singing) "Monday morning wake up knowing that you've got to go
to school. Tell your mum what to expect, she says it's right out of the blue.
Do you want to work in Debenham's, because that's what they expect. Start in
Lingerie, and Doris is your supervisor. And the head said that you always
were a queer one from the start. For careers you say you want to be
remembered for your art. Your obsessions get you known throughout the school
for being strange. Making life-size models of the Velvet Underground in clay.
In the queue for lunch, they take the piss, you've got no appetite. And the
rumour is you never go with boys and you are tight. So they jab you with a
fork, you drop the tray and go berserk. While you're cleaning up the mess,
the teacher's looking up your skirt. Hey, you've been used. Are you calm?
Settle down, write a song, I'll sing along. Soon you will know that you are
sane. You're on top of the world again."

GROSS: That's Belle & Sebastian. The song "Expectations" that we just heard
was on their first album, "Tigermilk." It was written and sung by my guest
Stuart Murdoch.

This seems to be really influenced by the group, Love.

Mr. MURDOCH: This is one of the groups, along with perhaps an American group
called the Left Bank and also a group called the Loving Spoonful and the
English group, the Zombies. Now these four groups that our group all revered.

GROSS: I can see why. Now, so here this is your first album and you have
like strings on it, there's a trumpet. Did you have friends who could play
those instrument in a rock setting, in a pop setting?

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, I didn't know I had friends until--well, I tell you
honestly, to know these people, they became my friends. The story of the
first LP was that I had been trying to find these people for so long...

GROSS: The kind of people you could make music with and...

Mr. MURDOCH: Absolutely. During a point in my--you know, when I wasn't
feeling too good, and then, all of a sudden, it was in this one period of
time, and I was just about to leave Scotland to move to California, to try my
lot there, but I was asked to produce the "Tigermilk" LP for a local college.
And it was at that point that I met the people that worked to make the record.

GROSS: Doesn't this record have something to do with some kind of
competition?

Mr. MURDOCH: That's right. The college in Glasgow, the Stow College, every
year, they sponsored a group or an artist to make a record. And so this year,
they somehow got a hold of a demo tape of mine, and they asked me to make a
record. I think that was the inspiration for what seemed to be the thing that
brought these conditions together rather quickly. Very fateful.

GROSS: So getting back to the idea that there are strings, trumpets on this
CD, did you hear those sounds in your head? I mean, when you wrote the song,
did you say, `This needs a violin and a trumpet. And this is what they need
to be playing.' Did you hear the song that way in your mind?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes. Absolutely. That was the--if there was one thing about
the sound of Belle & Sebastian that I wanted, it was that the trumpet should
be as important as the guitar, the cello should be as important as the piano
and etc. And that I should form a small compact Baroque unit that would be
able to play great pop lines.

GROSS: So, at what point were you in your recovery from chronic fatigue
syndrome when you recorded "Tigermilk"?

Mr. MURDOCH: I was--I was getting on better, and like you said, so many
things were fateful around this time. I suddenly had a band of seven people,
and it was a lot to handle because this other guy was the leader, and I was in
charge of what we were doing. And I used to go home at night and say, `How am
I going to---how can I handle this?' You know, these people, because it took
quite a lot. I think it was a good time. My energy was just coming together
really.

GROSS: My guest is Stuart Murdoch the lead singer and songwriter of the band
Belle & Sebastian . Their new CD is called "The Life Pursuit."

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Stuart Murdoch, the lead singer and songwriter of the
Scottish band, Belle & Sebastian. Their new CD is called "The Life Pursuit."

So when you were getting started and you are a band from Glasgow, did it help
to be--in Glasgow itself, did it help to be a local band? Or was that held
against you?

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, we didn't really care about what anybody else thought.
We definitely felt as a group that we were deeply unfashionable. That the
sort of people that came together for the group were misfits. We weren't hip
at all in my book. There were sort of people that would go into Glasgow
looking for something to do or--when Isobel was very young and she was just
out of school and just starting college, and I know for a fact, if I just
think about her first day, I think she would have found it very hard to fit
into any sort of occupation if she hadn't found the group at this point. And
Stevie had been in a group before and was fed up with all that business.
Didn't want to be in a group, and I had to twist his arm to play music at all.
It was a group of misfits, so we didn't really--but I think that helped in a
way because we banded together, and we didn't want anything to do with any of
the other groups around at that time.

GROSS: What made you feel un-hip?

Mr. MURDOCH: Probably just healthy paranoia. I can remember getting up in
parties and you know. I cringe when I think of it now, and almost forcing
people to listen to songs I had written playing acoustically. And I can
remember people probably talking up their sleeves thinking, `Oh, I wish this
guy would shut up. I wish this guy would go away.' There was a distinct
feeling in the Glasgow of this period that all the great music had been done,
so why bother. You know, all these great records from the '60s had been made,
so you know, it was impertinent even to try and write another song. This
fueled me deeply--this made me want to make the most terrific records that I
could imagine.

GROSS: Well, the same year that you released your first album, "Tigermilk,"
in 1996, you also released an album that--well, yeah. It came out the same
year. And I want to play something from that album. It's called "If You're
Feeling Sinister." And the tract I want to play--did you write "Judy and the
Dream of Horses"?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes. I wrote pretty much all the early stuff. Yes. Yes, I
wrote "Judy."

GROSS: OK. Good. Good. This is a great song, and one of the things I find
interesting about it as a record is that it starts out sounding almost like
it's almost going to be like Gilberto or Jobim, bossa nova, and then it--the
mood changes, and then, you know, the trumpet comes in, and so--I--when I
listen to your music, I just hear all these interesting, different influences
coming together to create your song. Were you interested in bossa nova?

Mr. MURDOCH: Not really, I was more interested in the--in perhaps the second
half of it when it explodes into bubble-gum pop. Perhaps it's still sounds a
bit folky, that record, I think we could have a better go of it now. I mean,
we were quite naive in our early days of production. But I always heard
"Judy" as being a bit of bubble-gum pop.

GROSS: Let's hear it. This is "Judy and the Dream of Horses" from the Belle
& Sebastian CD, "If You're Feeling Sinister."

(Soundbite of "Judy and the Dream of Horses")

Mr. MURDOCH: (Singing) "Judy, let's go for a walk. We can kiss and whatever
you want. But you will be disappointed. You will fall asleep with ants in
your pants. Judy, you're just trying to find and keep the dream of horses.
And the song she wrote was Judy and the Dream of Horses. Dream of Horses.
Dream of Horses. Dream of Horses. The best-looking boys are taken. The
best-looking girls are staying inside. So, Judy, where does that leave you?
Walking the street from morning to night. With a star upon your shoulder
lighting up the path that you walk. With a parrot on your shoulder, saying
everything when you talk. If you're ever feeling blue, then write another
song about your dream of horses. Write a song about your dream of horses.
Call it Judy and the Dream of Horses. Call it Judy and the Dream of Horses.
You dream of horses."

GROSS: That's "Judy and the Dream of Horses" from Belle & Sebastian CD, "If
You're Feeling Sinister" from 1996. My guest Stuart Murdoch sang it and wrote
the song. And--and they have a new CD which is called "The Life Pursuit."

Now before we heard this tract, you said you were really thinking of
bubble-gum pop. When you think bubble gum, who do you think of?

Mr. MURDOCH: Oh, I am just thinking of something like "Sugar, Sugar" by the
Archies.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. MURDOCH: Which is basically--I mean that's my taste. That's the kind of
song that I just love. I like to turn on the radio hearing classic hits from
the '60s and '70s.

GROSS: So, it is only recently--well, fairly recently, that you started doing
interviews. For the first few years that Belle & Sebastian recorded, you
didn't do interviews, and there was a lot of mystery surrounding the band and
the people in it. What was your reason for not doing interviews?

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, I think it was a combination of things. I don't want to
bore you, you know, with the reasoning. It just seemed at some point that it
was easier just not to do them. You know, being young and rather paranoid as
mentioned before and naive, starting this group was a--was the biggest thing
in my life. And I just thought it was terrific. And then I was somewhat
disappointed when we started speaking to the British music press right at the
start of the group. They seemed to want to control what we wear. They seemed
to have a problem with us simply doing what we did. It was like they wanted
to mold us, and I got rather paranoid about this. And so it just seemed
easier to switch off.

GROSS: Stuart Murdoch is the lead singer and songwriter of the band Belle &
Sebastian. The band's new CD is called "The Life Pursuit." Murdoch will be
back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Funny Little Frog")

Mr. MURDOCH: (Singing) "Honey, loving you is the greatest thing. I get to
be myself and I get to sing. I get to play at being irresponsible. I come
home late at night and love your soul. I never forget you in my prayers. I
never had a bad thing to report. You're my picture on the wall. You're my
vision in the hall. You're the one I'm talking to when I get in from my work.
You are my girl, and you don't even know it. I am living out the life of a
poet. I am the jester in the ancient court. And you're the funny little frog
in my throat. My eyesight's fading, my hearing's dim. I can't get insured
for the state I'm in. I'm a danger to myself I've been starting fights at the
party at the club on a Saturday night. But I don't get disapproving from my
girl. She gets all the highlights wrapped in pearls. You're my picture on
the wall..."

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews "Rabbit Fur Coat," the debut solo album
by Jenny Lewis. Maureen Corrigan reviews "Intuition," the new novel by
Allegra Goodman. And we continue our interview with Stuart Murdoch of Belle &
Sebastian.

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Stuart Murdoch, the lead
singer and songwriter of the Scottish indie-band Belle & Sebastian. The band
has a new CD called "The Life Pursuit"

You used to live above a church, and you were the church's caretaker. You did
this for how many years?

Mr. MURDOCH: Maybe about seven or eight years.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. And this was--now place this for us chronologically, this was
after you recovered from the chronic fatigue. Were you already recording?

Mr. MURDOCH: This was precisely at the time that the group came together,
and I guess I had been, you know, living from room to room in Glasgow and just
getting along with life. Gloomy existence up to a point. And then I came to
the church, and the minister knew that I didn't really have a permanent place
to stay, and he offered that I should stay in the church building, the church
hall, and look after the premise and, you know, and not pay rent. So it was a
nice arrangement where I did this job, and I lived there for three--and this
was exactly the same time as the group came together. That was January 1996,
which was a couple of months before "Tigermilk" was recorded.

GROSS: So what was it like to live above a church? I mean, did you feel the
specialness of--you know, they--some churches in particular have a
very--either spiritual or at least beautiful and in some situations, ancient
or old feeling about them. I don't know what kind of church this was, whether
this was a little corner church or, you know, a beautiful and very old church.

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, there was a mixture of that. There was the main church
building which was 100 yards up the street. And this was the smaller building
where all the clubs and societies used to meet, and they had sort of social
gatherings in the hall. So it was busy all the time with the groups. The old
ladies coming in to drink their coffee in the mornings or the mothers and
toddlers coming in in the afternoon. And there would be bridge clubs and
choirs and drama clubs and cubs and scouts. And so it was busy. It was
social. And I must admit, I liked it, and I--and there was a special
atmosphere and--from the place, and I didn't take that for granted. I used
to--you know, when I was cleaning up at night and everybody had gone and the
huge hall had a special atmosphere with the street light coming in, and I
loved that.

GROSS: What kind of church is it that you belonged to and lived above?

Mr. MURDOCH: It was the Church of Scotland, which is kind of close to the,
say, the Presbyterian Church in America...

GROSS: Hmm, mm-hmm.

Mr. MURDOCH: ...which is a Christian gathering and very friendly. It just
happened to be the closest church. I woke up one Sunday morning in the early
'90s, and for some reason, thought I would try to find a church, and it
happened to be this, the one that was closest.

GROSS: Well, I thought I'd play a song that I am assuming you wrote, and you
can tell me if you did. It's called "If You Find Yourself Caught in Love."
And you know, it's a song that certainly acknowledges religion. Did you write
this one?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes, I did. Uh-huh.

GROSS: Do you want to talk about this song a little bit?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes. It is a bit of a funny one because it does almost--it has
a certain gospel sort of hint to it. And it's something at the time when I
was writing, I thought, `Well, should I be so overt' because I've often sort
of couched any religious overtones, you know, within characters or something
like that in the past. But this is a bit more out there, and then I just
thought, `Come on. We've been doing this for years. Why not, you know, why
not just a bit more straightforward?'

GROSS: Was it hard to figure out a way to get some acknowledgment of God in a
song without it sounding like Christian rock?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes. It is a fine line, isn't it? I mean, I don't mean to be
down on Christian rock, but it is not my cup of tea. So, I guess you just got
to do what you feel, all the time be, you know, be led by taste. Just you
have to do what you like.

GROSS: OK. So this is from the Belle & Sebastian CD "Dear Catastrophe
Waitress." The song is "If You Find Yourself Caught in Love, Say a Prayer to
the Man Above."

(Soundbite of "If You Find Yourself Caught in Love")

Mr. MURDOCH: (Singing) "If you find yourself caught in love, say a prayer to
the man above. Thank Him for everything you know and you should thank Him for
every breath you blow. If you find yourself caught in love, say a prayer to
the man above, thank him for every day you pass, you should thank him for
saving your sorry ass. If you're single but looking out, you must raise your
prayer to a shout. Another partner must be found, someone to take your life
beyond, another TV I Love 1999. Just one more box of cheapo wine. If you
find yourself caught in love, say a prayer to the man above. But if you don't
listen to the voices then, my friend, you'll soon run out of choices. What a
pity it would be! You talk of freedom, don't you see. The only freedom that
you'll ever really know is written in books from long ago. Give up your will
to Him that loves you. Things will change I'm not saying overnight. You've
got to start somewhere...(unintelligible)..."

GROSS: That's "If You Find Yourself Caught in Love" from the Belle &
Sebastian CD, "Dear Catastrophe Waitress." My guest, Stuart Murdoch wrote and
sang that song, and they have a new CD now.

So let's try to bring ourselves up-to-date a little bit. You're no longer
living above the church. Do you live in Glasgow?

Mr. MURDOCH: Nope. Yes, I just moved out of the church last year.

GROSS: Last year, wow! Cool. What was it like when fans--I mean, fans must
have known you lived there. So--and it's certainly got to be an easy place to
find.

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes. It was. I think our fans have always been very
respectful of the group, so that has been nice from the start. Whenever we
have, you know, run-ins with fans or whenever the fans would come to the
church, which did happen quite regularly, they get a little bit more than they
bargained for. Because perhaps they--they want to creep in and sit quietly in
one of the pews at the back and may be spot me from a far or whatever. But
they get pounced on by--by the congregation, by the ladies in the church. And
they have to come and drink tea and sign the visitors book and explain where
they are from. So they are made welcome.

GROSS: Have you sung in the church choir there?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes, I still sing in the choir. That's right.

GROSS: What are the songs like?

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, they are terrific. I like traditional, you know,
English-Scottish church music. I mean, it's terrific. And I sing tenor. At
least I try to sing tenor, and it's actually, during the time I sang there,
it's forced me to project a lot more, and my voice has become stronger.

GROSS: My guest is Stuart Murdoch, the lead singer and songwriter of the band
Belle & Sebastian. Their new CD is called "The Life Pursuit."

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Stuart Murdoch, the lead singer and songwriter of the
Scottish band, Belle & Sebastian. Their new CD is called "The Life Pursuit."

One of the things you did when you were sick was watch a lot of movies at
home. You wrote the songs for--or at least some of the songs for the Tat
Salons movies, "Storytelling." While you were watching movies at home a lot,
when you were sick, did you think a lot about the music in the films? Whether
they were songs on the sound track or the underscoring?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes. Absolutely. I used to fantasize about scoring a film for
an American, well, a New York-based filmmaker, Hal Hartley, and because I used
to be somewhat obsessed by his films in the early '90s. But there--yes--many
others, yeah.

GROSS: Does he know that? Did you ever ask to work with him?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes. I used to write him on a regular basis. I am just
thinking back to those days when he could quite easily have thought I was some
sort of nut. But to his credit, he wrote me a nice letter back, and he sent
me a CD of the music that was on his film.

GROSS: So, does this make you--does this affect how you respond to fans who
write you since you wrote, you know, as a fan, to Hal Hartley?

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, amongst others. I was basically a fan. I loved music
and grew up in films for years and years, and I had all this spare time to
fantasize, and so I used to write to people quite regularly. And I don't
really know what I wanted of them. And it's true, there is a reciprocal
agreement here. We get many letters and e-mails from our fans. And I wish I
had time to answer them all, but at least I know what they are going through
or at least I know what their thought processes are.

GROSS: Do you listen to as much music as you used to? You know, you were a
deejay, and then you were home sick and listened to a lot of music. Now, you
are writing songs, you are on the road sometimes. How has music as a
listening experience changed in your life?

Mr. MURDOCH: It's true it's faded out. Now this might seem very conceited
to say this, but in the '80s and the early '90s, I absorbed music, I just
drank it in. And then as soon as I started to write music, I liked to listen
to the music in my head. And I still like that. I like to walk around and
listen to the music in my head because that is the way songs come, that is the
way they arrive. So I like to give myself plenty of space for that to happen.
But in-between those times, I like to go back to the records I love rather
than particularly seeking out lots of new music. I do lean on the records
that I loved for years and years, and they are still a constant inspiration to
me.

GROSS: Yeah. I am interested in how songs come to you. Again, you didn't
start writing songs until you were what, in your early 20s. Does that seem
about right?

Mr. MURDOCH: That's probably about right, 24 even.

GROSS: Which is kind of old in a way. Like a lot of people who write songs
are writing songs in their teens, and there is always original music going
through their head. When you decided you wanted to write songs, was it an act
of will that you like sat down and thought, `I am going to write a song.' And
did you just like consciously craft it or was there just like music coming to
you in your head?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes, well, I would say it certainly wasn't an act of will, and
what came to me at first was a desperation to communicate in some way or form.
And it was really through--it was really through words. And it was almost as
if by accident that I learned that instead of simply writing bad poetry, you
could write bad poetry with a melody attached and then you could get away with
it.

GROSS: Did you write poetry when you were in high school or college?

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, no. Not really. It just--the urge just came to me a few
years after I got sick. But I mean, in a sense, that's what music is: bad
poetry with a sweetener, and so this is what I found out. I sat down at the
piano, and I formed my first bad poem with a melody, and I never looked back.

GROSS: Well, Stuart Murdoch. Thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. MURDOCH: It's been a pleasure.

GROSS: Stuart Murdoch is the lead singer and songwriter of the band Belle &
Sebastian. Their new CD is called "The Life Pursuit." Tonight Belle &
Sebastian will play at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, along with the band
The New Pornographers. You can hear the show online through a live Web cast
from NPR starting around 8 PM. There's a link for more information at our Web
site, freshair.npr.org.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews Jenny Lewis' first solo
album with the Watson Twins, "Rabbit Fur Coat"
TERRY GROSS, host:

The lead singer of the indie rock band Rilo Kiley started her career as a
child actress. Jenny Lewis had small roles in TV shows like "Growing Pains"
and "Mr. Belvedere." Lewis has just released her first solo album with the LA
based sister-duo, the Watson Twins. It's called "Rabbit Fur Coat," and rock
critic Ken Tucker has a review.

(Soundbite from album "Rabbit Fur Coat")

Ms. JENNY LEWIS: (Singing) "If I run up hill, I'm out of breath. If I spend
all of my money, then I've got no money left. If I place all my chips on only
one bet, I'm all in, and it's a sure fire bet I'm going to die, so I'm taking
up praying on Sunday nights, and it's not that I believe in your alibi, but I
might as well, as insurance or so, 'cause you..."

Mr. KEN TUCKER: "Rabbit Fur Coat" is an odd, interesting thing. It is a
beautiful sounding collection of songs with knotted, clotted lyrics that
become, upon repeated listening, slightly more clear and occasionally even
better. More forceful, yet mysterious.

The key to understanding Lewis' appeal is to hear beyond her gentle voice to
the troubled soul beneath. Take the title song for example. At first, it
seems a rambling narrative about her mother's rabbit fur coat. A valuable
object that is stolen and causes much pain and prolonged suffering. But Lewis
eventually makes the coat a metaphor for ambition, lust and greed. A way to
express doubt about her own pursuit of a prominent pop music career. Or as
she sums up the superficial game in a phrase, `a mansion house and rabbit fur
coat.'

(Soundbite of "Rabbit Fur Coat")

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) "I was so poor folk, but my mother had a rabbit fur
coat. And a girl of less character pushed her down the LA River and over that
rabbit fur coat. She put a knife through her throat and over that rabbit fur
coat when my ma refused, the girl kicked dirt on her blouse, stay away from my
mansion house. My mother really suffered for that..."

Mr. TUCKER: I think it is kind of amusingly perverse that Jenny Lewis' small
record label has chosen the song, "Rise Up with Fists," as the album's first
single. It's Lewis' attempt at a Bob Dylan-esque accusatory anthem. And what
Lewis has most in common with her role model in this case is her insistence
upon vehemence about mankind's mistakes, even in the midst of images that
collide and even negate each other. It's a gospel song that questions whether
gospel truth exists.

(Soundbite of "Rise Up with Fists")

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) "What are you changing, who do you think you're
changing? You can't change things, we're all stuck in our ways. It's like
trying to clean the ocean. What do you think, you can drain it? Well, it was
poison and dry long before you came. But you can wake up younger under the
knife, and you can wake up sounder if you get analyzed. And I better wake up.
There but for the grace of God go I. It's hard to believe..."

Mr. TUCKER: When I said gospel truth before, I meant gospel in a worldly,
not a biblical sense. So does Lewis in the song, "Born Secular," a gorgeous
waltz that makes great use of the rich harmonies of the Watson Twins. In the
key verse, she says, quote, "I heard that He walked, He walked the earth. God
goes where He wants to and who knows where He is not. Not in me."

I have talked to people who hear this as Lewis' proclamation of agnosticism or
possibly atheism. But I parsed that last line literally. "Who knows where He
is not, not in me," as a double negative. That means He is in her. Of
course, whether she wants God in her is another story.

(Soundbite of "Born Secular")

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) "I was born secular and inconsolable. I heard that He
walked, He walked the earth. God goes where He wants and who knows where He
is not. Not in me. It's the way..."

Mr. TUCKER: The one non-original on "Rabbit Fur Coat" is a stunt that Lewis
very nearly pulls off. A nicely ragged cover of the Traveling Wilburys'
"Handle Me with Care." With Lewis taking the George Harrison lead vocal and a
trio of indie rock stars, Connor Oberst, Matt Ward and Death Cab for Cuties,
Ben Gibbard, filling out the Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty part. In an
insightful review of this album in "Blender" magazine, the critic Ann Powers
compared Jenny Lewis to the character of Meredith Grey on the hit TV show,
"Grey's Anatomy," essentially suggesting that Lewis presents a wistful,
vaguely defeated soulfulness that's actually a bit deeper than it seems. I
agree. For all its surface loveliness, Lewis' music is the work of someone
who's thought a lot about the price of success, the price exacted by
committing to love, and knows that saying, `I don't care,' is just another way
of saying that you care a great deal, but it hurts too much to admit.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
Jenny Lewis' CD, "Rabbit Fur Coat."

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Allegra Goodman's novel, "Intuition." This
is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Allegra Goodman's
novel "Intuition"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Allegra Goodman's short stories have appeared in the New Yorker and Slate.
And she's the author of best-selling novels and short story collections such
as "Kaaterskill Falls" and "The Family Markowitz." Her latest novel is called
"Intuition," and book critic Maureen Corrigan says it's one of those novels
that makes the reader excited about the art of fiction.

Ms. MAUREEN CORRIGAN: I've had people tell me, proudly, that they don't read
novels. `Nothing some writer makes up,' these folks say, `could be as
interesting or worthwhile to read as history or biography, or even true
crime.'

I've also had people who do read fiction tell me they don't read contemporary
novels. `Nothing written in modern times,' these purists say, `can touch the
great books of the 18th and 19th century.'

It's usually a wearying task to argue with folks who espouse such generalized
literary prejudices. I've tried rattling off recommended reading lists of
contemporary novels. But most naysayers don't bother to listen.

Now, though, I've got a new comeback to those who dismiss contemporary
fiction, I'm just going to hit them over the head with Allegra Goodman's new
novel, "Intuition," and hope it knocks some sense and humility into them.

"Intuition" is an intricate novel of ideas, ideas made flesh in characters who
labor away at a Cancer Research Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The
directors of the institute are Sandy Glass, an oncologist who is good at
raising grant money and garnering publicity, and Marion Mendelssohn, a
scientist whose dedication to slow exactitude is legendary among the
post-doctoral proteges working in the lab.

One day, one of those proteges, a brilliant rake named Cliff Bannaker, finds
out that the tumors in some of his cancer-ridden lab mice, have shrunk.
Perhaps because of the virus he has been injecting them with. The lab tries
to tamp down its excitement, to hew the scientific skepticism, but after so
many years of dogged research that has yielded zip, elation trumps caution,
and word of Cliff's success soon leaks out.

That's when Cliff's girlfriend, a shy fellow post-doc, reluctantly voices her
doubts about the rigor of his methods, maybe even his honesty. The resulting
debacle rips apart relationships inside and outside of the lab and propels the
principal players all the way to Washington to congressional hearings on
scientific integrity. By the time the dust has settled, the crucial things
the characters believed about themselves, all their fixed certainties and
their allegiances, have shifted again and again.

In "Intuition," Goodman is posing the age-old question of epistemology. How
do we ever know the truth? To tackle that question, Goodman, like her
characters, takes up a microscope. She's a literary miniaturist, who keeps
slowly rotating the focus until the seething cosmos emerges under her lens. I
can't think of any other book I've read, fiction or nonfiction, that so
vividly conveyed the charged world of research, where a tight set of
characters with advanced degrees worked together, compete for the same few
jobs and inevitably sleep together.

Cliff thinks of himself and his fellow researchers as miners or submariners
who sometimes crack in the sterile claustrophobic confines of the lab. But I
am making "Intuition" sound too high-minded and grim, when in fact, like other
great novelists in the miniaturist tradition--Jane Austen, Barbara
Pimm--Allegra Goodman not only finds wisdom in small details but also wit.
Some humor here derives from the characters' ungenerous mutterings about
others, thinking jealously about his daughter's Harvard boyfriend. The lab's
egotistical co-director, Sandy Glass, himself a Jew, gripes, `Jeff, the squash
player, Jeff Yudelstein, that ridiculous name. Not just an ordinary Jewish
name, but an overstuffed knish of an appellation. Yudelstein was halfway
between a yodel and a strudel.'

Other passages are not exactly funny but rather delightful. They make you
smile because they nail so precisely a mood or a character-type. Describing
Sandy's work with his hospital patients, Goodman observes, `Sandy's sparkling
savoir-faire made him a stellar oncologist. He radiated hope to every
patient. Instead of death, he dwelt on baseball games and the Boston
Marathon. He set himself squarely against every cancerous cell and so
inspired his patients into battle that, magically, even the most sophisticated
believed that he could never fail them. Their worry was that in dying they
might fail him.'

"Intuition" is packed with clarifying moments like that one. The novel is a
superb testament to the one mental power that Goodman's researcher characters
feel they have to rigorously rein in imagination.

GROSS: Maureen Carrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed, "Intuition," a new novel by Allegra Goodman.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sign-off: Fresh Air
(Credits)

TERRY ROSS, host:

I'm Terry Gross.

(Announcements)

GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, the history of the Israeli settlements in the
occupied territory and the controversies that have surrounded them. We talk
with Gershom Gorenberg about his new book, "The Accidental Empire." He's a
former associate editor and columnist for the Jerusalem Report.

I'm Terry Gross. Join us for the next FRESH AIR.
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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