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From the Archives: George McGovern Discusses His Daughter's Death.

Former U.S. Senator George McGovern. Last year his book "Terry: My Daughter's Life and Death Struggle with Alcoholism." was published. (Villard) After a night of drinking in December of 1994, Terry was found dead in a parking lot near her home in Madison, Wisconsin. Terry's addiction plagued her almost her entire life, despite countless efforts at rehabilitation. The book draws upon Terry's letters and journals, interviews with loved ones, and medical and police records. (Originally aired 6/11/96)


Other segments from the episode on August 22, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 22, 1997: Interview with George McGovern; Interview with George Jones; Obituary for Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn.


Date: AUGUST 22, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082201np.217
Head: George McGovern
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

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

George McGovern is tormented by questions about his daughter's death. Terry McGovern was a long-time alcoholic who had been and out of detox and treatment centers. In December of 1994, she blacked out in the snow and froze to death. She was 45 years old.

George McGovern wonders why his daughter died like some deserted outcast when she had a loving family. He wonders if he and other members of the family made mistakes in the way they handled her illness.

McGovern is a former U.S. Senator from South Dakota. In 1972, he was the Democratic presidential candidate for president. He lost to Nixon in a landslide. Now he heads the Middle East Council in Washington. His memoir, "Terry: My Daughter's Death and Life Struggle with Alcoholism" has just been published in paperback.

On this archive edition, we have an interview recorded last June when the book was first published.

Your daughter had been in and out of treatment centers for years, and every time it looked like she was making progress, she'd have a relapse. In the last few months of her life under the advice of professionals, you and your wife had distanced yourself from her -- a decision that you came to regret after her death. What was the thinking behind that advice?

GEORGE MCGOVERN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, AUTHOR, "TERRY: MY DAUGHTER'S DEATH AND LIFE STRUGGLE WITH ALCOHOLISM": Well, the counselor who told us to do that is an old friend of ours and a very good man. I don't criticize him for his judgment. It was his view that Eleanor and I had become so obsessed with Terry's illness that it was interfering with our own health and our own peace of mind.

He also questioned whether it was the right course for Terry. His view was that if she was ever going to get well, she had to confront the desperate character of her illness, and he thought possibly that Eleanor and I were carrying too much of the burden and perhaps even enabling her to continue a very dangerous lifestyle.

But acting under his advice, we did quit calling so much. We eased off on the letter writing. There were no visits during that period. I regret that now. I think any parent would. Obviously, the doctor who gave us that advice didn't know that Terry was going to die during that distancing period. Certainly, we didn't know that.

If I could just pass on a word of advice to other people who have this dilemma about what to do with an alcoholic in the family, I think if you're going to follow that course of putting some distance between you and the alcoholic, you should accompany that by frequent calls -- at least once a week, just to see how they're doing; to tell them you love them; that you're still with them; that anything you do you're doing because you think it might be helpful to them.

Alcoholics need that kind of love and support and reassurance.

GROSS: One of the things that you did to try to help her is, for instance, when she got an apartment, you told the landlord that if she couldn't pay the rent, you'd back her up and pay it yourself. I'm wondering if things like that were ever embarrassing to you to, you know, to have Senator George McGovern being on the phone to the landlord saying: "OK, if she's too drunk to pay the rent, I'll back it up."

MCGOVERN: It wasn't so much embarrassing to me as it was a case of being ambivalent about what was the right thing to do.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

MCGOVERN: Was I, as my daughters would sometimes tell me, enabling her to keep drinking by almost underwriting a middle class lifestyle, even though she wasn't taking responsibility for her own life. That's a danger you have to be careful about.

The people who with experience in the Alcoholics Anonymous program warn you against what they call "enabling" -- enabling people to keep drinking. But that's a difficult line to draw. We eventually, I think, got to the point where we made clear to Terry that we weren't going to help finance her drinking, but we did not want her out on the street either. So, I'm tormented by that decision.

I have to tell you, though, that having lost Terry I don't regret one act of kindness; one act of compassion; one gesture of generosity towards her. What I regret is that I couldn't have done more to convince her that she had the love and support of her family.

GROSS: In your memoir about your daughter called "Terry," you've published excerpts of her journals. And I'm wondering how -- how do you feel about having read them? If you felt at all like you were violating her privacy by reading them?

MCGOVERN: I struggled with that almost every day I was working on this book. I have to tell you that Eleanor, my wife, did not want me to write this book. She felt that it was an invasion of Terry's privacy; of her letters; of her journals; of her diaries. But now that she's seen the manuscript, she's glad that I wrote the book, and I am too.

I have the feeling that if we had some way to communicate with Terry, she'd be pleased with this book. I'm an old history teacher. Terry had a sense of history. I'm convinced that at some level when Terry wrote these frank confessions about what was going on in her life, she wanted them shared with other people. And I think this book can be helpful to other people.

GROSS: There's a journal excerpt I'd like for you to read. It's on page 20, and it's something that she wrote in 1993.

MCGOVERN: OK. She said: "I arrived in Norfolk for dad's Army Air Corps reunion. Our drive down from Washington was easy and enjoyable. He is much easier to be with than when he was in national politics. I was going to say he had no business being so self-centered and obsessed when he had dependent children. Then I thought: I've done the same thing with alcoholism. There is no difference. I will tell him some time.

GROSS: Did she ever tell you that?

MCGOVERN: She came pretty close to that. As you know from reading the book, I print some of the things that are critical about myself that Terry said. I think she had ambivalent feelings about my political career. She was very proud of the causes I championed in American politics, especially my efforts to end American involvement in the Vietnam War.

But at the same time, she and I had a very special, close relationship, and she resented the intrusion of public affairs and the business of the Senate on my time with her.

GROSS: There's another excerpt of your daughter's journal I'd like you to read for us. This is on page 129. This is the part that begins: "tonight was the first wounded child group..."

MCGOVERN: "Tonight was the first wounded child group. I didn't like it very much, and have some anxiety about sharing too soon who dad is. I feel ashamed that I was wanting so much to ensure that I would be noticed and taken seriously."

GROSS: That must have been interesting for you to read her ambivalence about your fame, your notoriety.

MCGOVERN: Well, there's several poignant references in this book that are similar to that, where she says to people "I want you to know who my dad is. He's George McGovern and he ran for president." She goes on about these things, and she says that it is because she wanted to feel good about her own stature.

She, in one place, says that she didn't want people to think she was a complete loser, so she told them who her father was. I find that very touching, but it's also kind of sad because Terry was a person who, in her own right, had every reason for self-respect.

She was a person of high intelligence; a person of great compassion, with just a marvelous sense of humor. And yet, this problem of declining self-esteem plagued her from the time she was a teenager.

GROSS: And her failure to, you know, achieve anything and her failure to, you know, totally give up alcohol must have seemed like an even greater failure measured up against your success.

MCGOVERN: I think that's right. I think that Terry knew that she had great opportunities in our family. She participated heavily in the 1972 presidential campaign. She was speaking on platforms all over this country, sometimes to audiences of thousands of people. And she did extremely well.

And yet, with the passage of time, alcohol robbed her of the capacity to perform in that fashion, to hold a job and to do other things that would have enhanced her self-confidence and her self-esteem.

GROSS: In another journal entry, Terry wrote: "my mother often tried to help me when I went to her, but mostly I remember her wanting to change me -- not being able to meet me where I was."

You know, when I read that, I thought: what an impossible situation it is for parents to be in a situation like this, because if you don't try to change her when she's suffering from alcoholism, then you feel really bad that you're not doing your best to help her get well. And of course, if you do try to change her, then she could have the reaction she has here -- that it's just hard to go to you for help because all you do is be critical and try to change her.

MCGOVERN: Well, it was very painful for me to include that passage in the book. It's harder for me to include criticism of Eleanor than it is criticism of myself, because I think Eleanor was almost blameless as a mother. She was so dedicated to those five children of ours.

It's one of the reasons that Eleanor decided not to work outside the home. She felt that with five children coming within a period of 10 years, she had a full-time obligation at home. And that was the attitude of most women in that post-World War II period.

So, she gave everything she had to Terry and to the other children. And I think that Terry knew that. Eleanor was her best friend -- her most dependable adviser; the person who would always listen to her patiently in the middle of the night or any other time.

GROSS: What was your wife's reaction when she read that journal excerpt?

MCGOVERN: Well, she was hurt by it. She had read the journals herself, as well as reading these passages in my book. And it does hurt her because Eleanor has lived for these children, so for a mother to read criticism of that kind from one of her children is very painful.

GROSS: Looking back now, do you think that you were too judgmental or not judgmental enough? Is there anything that you would want to change in that?

MCGOVERN: Yes, there is. I wish I had always remembered that Terry was sick; that once she became seriously addicted, she had an illness that had to be treated as such. I wish that I had been more careful about separating my resentment of that disease from my love for her. My dad was an old-fashioned Methodist minister, and I remember him saying to the congregation several times: "hate the sin, but love the sinner."

I wish I had applied that doctrine to modify it to say: "hate the alcoholism, but love the alcoholic" and make that clear to her.

GROSS: Did you often feel like there were two different Terrys -- the sober Terry and the drunk Terry?

MCGOVERN: I did feel that way, and one time I said to her shortly before she died -- she was in a period of sobriety -- and we were in Madison, Wisconsin, and having dinner. I was just struck that night by what an endearing person she was -- so perceptive and sensitive and compassionate. And as usual, so funny and humorous.

I said to her near the end of the evening: "you know Terry, I don't think there's a more lovable creature on this Earth than you when you're sober." And she said: "well, thank you, Dad." Then, just with a touch of sadness, she said: "maybe I'm a little bit lovable even when I'm not sober -- even when I'm drinking."

And I think that's true. We have to sustain that love for alcoholics even when their behavior is not very attractive.

GROSS: My guest is former Senator George McGovern. His memoir about his daughter is called Terry: My Daughter's Life and Death Struggle With Alcoholism. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with George McGovern. He's written a memoir about his late daughter Terry, who died of alcoholism at the age of 45.

When you were in politics, did you feel like you had to pretend you had a perfect family? That seems to be a game that most politicians feel that they have to play.

MCGOVERN: Well, I suppose I was guilty of that. I always did think I had a great family. I still do. I think that one of the things I did with my family that I would do less of if I had it to do over again is in a sense kind of using them politically -- asking them to get up on the back end of an open car with me or a truck or whatever was available, and ride in parades.

I think that I would be more cautious about that now. They went along with all of it, but I would spend more time also talking to my family about decisions like that and getting their input, rather than just assuming that I could always ask them to bend their will to mine when it came to politics.

GROSS: I want to get back to a question we were talking about before, which is, you know, when there is an alcoholic in your family, how do you know if what you're doing is functioning as an enabler? Or if, you know, if your criticism is sending them further into alcoholism? And there's this specific incident I'd like you to talk about.

There was one day when your daughter said that she desperately needed a drink, and you tried to prevent her from going out to get one. And then she wrote in her journal: "Dad, why don't you just" -- actually, was this in the journal that she said...

MCGOVERN: No, no. She said that to me.

GROSS: She said this to you. Tell me what she said.

MCGOVERN: She said: "Dad, I just have to have another drink. Every cell in my body is just screaming out in agony for it. You have no idea, the misery that I feel." And I could see it on her face, just genuine anguish. She said: "please, please, please, let me have a drink. Why don't you sit down here with me and have a drink?"

This is about 1:00 o'clock in the morning. There was no alcohol in the house. The bars were closed. We were living on a hill in Washington that was absolutely covered with ice. This is the middle of the winter, and that steep hill was just covered with about an inch of ice. If she had started down that hill in the car, she never would have made it. There was a big ravine at the bottom of the hill.

So after turning her down on these pleas for another glass of vodka, I heard a noise out in front of the house a few minutes later, and sure enough, it was Terry out in a car in front of the house getting ready to take off.

I raced out of the house, pulled the door open and begged her to get out of the car. When she refused to do that, I literally struggled with her physically for five or six minutes, trying to pull her out of that car. I'm a very strong person, I think. She was a small, somewhat delicate person. I eventually was able to break her grip on the steering wheel. What I didn't know is that she had moved the car out of the parking gear and had the motor running. It was a new car, and I didn't hear the motor running, so it lurched down the hill and crashed into the house next door.

But the point of that story is that it demonstrates how desperate that addiction to alcohol can become.

GROSS: But I also think it shows how topsy-turvy a family member's behavior is and how topsy-turvily it can be interpreted. I mean, in some ways, gosh, maybe you would have been better off just having a drink with her. She wouldn't have gone out of the house. She wouldn't have risked her life. The car wouldn't have crashed.

I'm not really saying, oh, don't you regret that you didn't have a drink with her, but I mean there's just -- there was no good...


GROSS: ... no good path of behavior here.

MCGOVERN: I suppose, if I had that circumstance confronting me again exactly as it was, I would have tried to get her another drink and urge her to quiet down and go to sleep. I certainly would have been troubled by it. You hate to give alcohol to somebody who's dying from alcoholism, and that was the course that Terry was flirting with at that time.

But under the circumstances, one doesn't know what to do. I've had people that know about this story advise me both ways on what would have been the proper course.

GROSS: I wonder what it's like for you now to -- when you'll be talking about your daughter and her problems and its emotional impact on you and to have written this book -- I think for most politicians, they spend so much of their lives having to not reveal things about their personal life and not reveal things about the family, 'cause it could be held against them.

MCGOVERN: Well, I had to write this book. I had to do it just to come to terms with my own anguish over Terry's death. I could not accept the fact that her story was going to end in a snow bank in Madison, Wisconsin at Christmas time, '94. I had to tell the story of this remarkable young woman, and she was remarkable -- a person who filled her life with compassionate acts and kindnesses to other people and -- very remarkable young woman.

But who also, through her own mistakes and her own addiction, has something tragic that we need to understand, too. I wanted that whole story to be told as honestly as I could tell it; to base it in every way I could on her own journals and her own history; and to share that with other people.

GROSS: I have one last question. If you were in politics today, do you think more would have been made of your daughter's bouts with alcoholism? The fact that she had had an abortion when she was 15? That she had two children with a man she lived with, but wasn't married to? --now that family values is such a big issue in campaigns and everybody's always competing with who has the more perfect family, and the public wants to know more and more about the private lives of politicians.

MCGOVERN: Well, those aspects of Terry's life were embarrassing. But I think the public is mature enough to draw a distinction between the mistakes and the weaknesses of our children and the strength of the candidates. So, I doubt if that would have spilled over in a way that would have been seriously damaging to me.

Terry was also a great asset to me politically. She went out and campaigned all over this country for me in '72, and she did the same thing in state races in South Dakota. I would put it to you this way: on balance, I would take Terry McGovern as an ally any time, despite the difficulties that she had.

GROSS: George McGovern, I really want to thank you for talking with us, and I'm really sorry about your loss.

MCGOVERN: Thank you so much for having me on.

GROSS: George McGovern's memoir about his daughter Terry has just been published in paperback. Our interview was recorded last June when the book was first published.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: George McGovern
High: Former U.S. Senator George McGovern. Last year, his book "Terry: My Daughter's Life and Death Struggle with Alcoholism" was published. After a night of drinking in December of 1994, Terry was found dead in a parking lot near her home in Madison, Wisconsin. Terry's addiction plagued her almost her entire life, despite countless efforts at rehabilitation. The book draws upon Terry's letters and journals, interviews with loved ones, and medical and police records.
Spec: Family; Health and Medicine; Alcoholism; Politics; Government
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: George McGovern
Date: AUGUST 22, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082202NP.217
Head: I Lived to Tell It All
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:35

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

On this archive edition, we have an interview with country music star George Jones. Waylon Jennings once said: "if we could all sound like we wanted to, we'd all sound like George Jones." Rock stars like Elvis Costello and Keith Richards have also paid tribute to Jones.

There's a new collection of his recordings from the '60s called "The George Jones Collection: The United Artists Years" on Razor (ph) and Tighe (ph). It includes his first big hit, "She Thinks I Still Care" recorded in 1962.


GEORGE JONES, SINGER, SINGING: She thinks I still care
Just because I asked a friend about her
Just because I spoke her name somewhere
Just because I rang her number by mistake today
She thinks I still care

GROSS: George Jones tells his personal story in his autobiography, which has just been published in paperback. He describes the many years he was addicted to alcohol and cocaine, and he gives his perspective on his celebrated, but troubled, marriage to Tammy Wynette.

Jones grew up in rural Texas during the Depression. His father made bootleg whiskey to help make ends meet. George Jones first performed at the age of nine in Pentecostal churches and revival meetings. After helping to save souls, in his early teens he played to the sinners at rough and tumble road houses. He was underage, but he worked with a married couple who served as his guardians.

Jones says fights often broke out while the band played.

JONES: Back in those late '40s, when I was appearing in these places with them, you know, we had to put chicken wire around the bandstand -- the little stage we had -- to keep bottles from flying over and busting our guitars up. It would be brawls break out every hour or so. But we got through it. It was part of the training, I guess.

GROSS: Were those bottles intended for the band? Or were they just incidentally hitting you?

JONES: Not really. Not really. There was one or two that'd get in a fight, and start something and then get knocked into another one, and he'd get mad and he'd join in fighting them. So next thing you knew, it was a dozen fighting and tables turning over and bottles are flying -- throwing them at each other, you know. And they'd -- naturally head that way, too, you know.

GROSS: So when there was fighting when you were playing, would you just keep playing?

JONES: We were told to do that, and that's what we done most of the time, unless -- until, you know, it got really too rough to continue, and then we'd quietly bow out and get out of the way.

GROSS: Let's see, you were married at age 17, divorced a little less than a year later, I think; went into the Marines for a couple of years. How soon did you start recording when you got out of the Marines in I guess it was 1954?

JONES: Right away, in -- that following February of '54. I went into the studio the first time and we didn't do all that good until '56 I think or '55, we lucked up with a tune called "Why, Baby, Why?" and then we moved onto Nashville to a, you know, a larger company that could distribute, you know, the records better.

GROSS: Well why don't we hear Why, Baby, Why? -- recorded in 1955. One of the things interesting about this is that I think really you're best known for your ballads, and this is really up-tempo.

JONES: Well, the first days were rough, you know. The early days, we recorded for Starday (ph) Records and really it was terrible sound. We recorded in a small living room of a house on the highway near Beaumont. You could hear the trucks. We had to stop a lot of times because it wasn't soundproofed. It was just egg crates on -- nailed on the wall, and the big old semi trucks would go by and make a lot of noise, and we'd have to start over again.

GROSS: So George Jones, let's hear your first hit, recorded in 1955, Why, Baby, Why?


JONES SINGING: Tell me why, baby, why baby
Why baby why you make me
Cry baby, cry, baby
Cry baby cry

I can't help but love you
'Til the day that I die
So tell me why baby why baby
My baby why?

Well now I've got a crow
I want to pick with you
Just like last time
When the feathers flew

You're running wild
Kicking up your heels
While leavin' me home
With a handful of bills

Well, I can't live without you
And you know it's true
But there's no living' with you
So what'll I do?

I'm goin' honky-tonking
Get as tight as I can
And maybe by then
You'll 'preciate a good man

Tell me why baby why baby
Why baby why you make me
Cry baby cry baby
Cry baby cry

GROSS: That's George Jones -- his first hit back in 1955. George Jones, how did this record affect your life? How did it change your life?

JONES: Well, it gave me a little more to eat and got me to traveling around driving my car to places close to east Texas -- the big cities, Houston, Dallas, and over into Louisiana; sometimes Oklahoma. And it was a local hit for me. It was a national hit for Red Savine (ph) and Webb Pierce (ph), which back at that time, Webb Pierce was about the number one big star that was recording at the time.

GROSS: Now, how did you get the reputation as "No Show Jones" -- of not showing up for dates?

JONES: Well, that was -- that was easy as time went by. No, I just -- I missed a few dates back when I was doing a little bit too much of my drinking, and later on I got into drugs and -- but I didn't really miss as many dates as it's been built up to be, but a lot of the things the fans and people didn't know that the management that I had around me at the time were also booking dates on me on the -- a lot of times, several dates on the same date, and getting advance royal -- you know, monies on -- for the dates.

And they knew I would get the blame, you know, for it, and that they would never have to refund those monies. So, I wound up with so many lawsuits that I didn't know what to do with, so that's why I had all of those problems with the lawsuits, and finally got it all straightened out, though, thank goodness, and we don't have to worry about all that anymore.

GROSS: Right. You went through many years of drinking to excess and then some years of doing cocaine as well. I imagine there was a long period during which when you performed, you were often very drunk. How did that affect your performance?

JONES: Well, it -- I thought it -- I thought it made me do a good job, but I found out later, I didn't sound as good as I thought I did, you know. No, but really, to be honest with you, I did drink performing, but I didn't usually go to excess with it until after the shows. Usually after the shows is when I stayed up picking in the rooms and stuff like that, and partying and ruining my health and all the other things that came, well you know, with it.

GROSS: Did you have blackouts?

JONES: Well, I'd -- I did a lot of passing out. I don't know if I blacked out.

GROSS: That's what I meant.

JONES: Yeah.

GROSS: Would you get worried when you'd come back to -- regain consciousness after passing out and just wonder: what did I do? That I've forgotten?

JONES: Oh, yeah, yeah. Many times. Many times. Yeah, you just -- you don't realize the things you have done and then when people start telling you some of the things you've done, you didn't want to hear it and instead of straightening up then, then you go right back do the same things again. So I don't know what makes people do that, but thank God we found out about it and got a little sense before it was too late.

GROSS: Actually, it strikes me as being particularly dangerous when you're famous because there's always people out to get you when you're famous, and they can make up things that you did while you were drinking and you wouldn't be able to -- no one would know whether you did it or not, because you'd blacked out.

JONES: Well, you know the things you actually do is bad enough. It's the things that people around you -- they build it up and make it worse. So that's one reason I wrote -- I wanted to write the book, and there's been a couple of other books out on me that's been written from just hearsay, and mountains built out of mole hills. And I just wanted to set the record straight. And that's one of the reasons that I went ahead and -- with Tom Carter -- and wrote the book.

And some of the things they claimed I done was even worse when I get through telling it, but so many of the things, though, that I didn't do, that I'd just like to let everybody know my side of it.

GROSS: Let's hear another one of your songs, and this is "These Days, I Barely Get By" which was co-written by you and Tammy Wynette. And I think you recorded this shortly before or shortly after you separated.

JONES: I think so.

GROSS: Hmm -- do you remember which it was?


GROSS: Wrote shortly after?

JONES: But I'm sure it was just before we separated and got divorced.

GROSS: Tell me what your life was like when you recorded this?

JONES: Well, it was already getting to one of the lowest points in my life, from drinking so much. And this was what led to -- a lot to the cause of the divorce. And so, you know most of the story after that.

GROSS: OK. Well, this is These Days, I Barely Get By sung my guest George Jones.


JONES SINGING: I woke up this morning
Aching with pain
Don't think I can work
But I'll try

The car's in the shop
So I thumbed all the way
Oh, these days
I barely get by

I walked home from work
And it rained all the way
My wife left
And didn't say why

She laid all our bills
On the desk in the hall
Oh, these days
I barely get by

GROSS: George Jones, recorded in the mid-'70s. I'm wondering, if you're truly living the lyric that you're singing about, do you think that that helps you make it even more expressive?

JONES: Oh, the song you mean?

GROSS: Yeah.

JONES: Well, I certainly do. I know when I'm singing a song on the stage or recording one in the studio, I have to get deeply involved in it and if not, you can't put the emotions and the feelings in. I don't think they come out if you don't.

GROSS: My guest is George Jones. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with country singer George Jones. Let me play the song that you say "turned your life around." This is "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Tell me, well, before we get to how this song changed your life, what was your life like when you recorded it?

JONES: Well, it was getting better. I had came out of rehab and I was doing a lot better and I went in and recorded the song -- that I'd carried it about a year before -- while I was all messed up, and it was -- it just turned my life around.

It was the biggest record that I'd ever recorded in all my recording years, and you know, they say good things happen when you try to do good things, you know. And maybe the good Lord, when I straightened up, it -- he was kind of thanking me for it.

GROSS: Now, you had this song for about a year before recording it, and you asked the songwriter to rewrite it several times. What was the original song like? How is it different from what you recorded? And why did you think it needed to be changed?

JONES: Well, when I first got the song and first heard it, it didn't have the last verse of -- the recitation part. It didn't have that part for the -- I kept telling him that the lady had to come back. You know, the girl had to come back one way or the other, either to see him or come to his funeral or something. And they went back and rewrote -- and wrote the last verse, then, that -- where I do the recitation, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. OK. Do you still sing this?

JONES: That was when she came to the funeral, you know.

GROSS: Do you still sing this song a lot?

JONES: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: OK. Recorded in 1980, this is George Jones, "He Stopped Loving Her Today."


JONES SINGING: He stopped loving her today
It placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today

You know, she came to see him one last time
Oh, and we all wondered if she would
And it kept runnin' through my mind
This time, he's over her for good

He stopped loving her today
It placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today

GROSS: That's my guest George Jones. He's written a new autobiography called George Jones: I Lived To Tell It All.

How did you finally give up drinking?

JONES: Well, first of all, I went in rehab, and I went back during the first couple of years, you know, four or five times, just for a couple of days at a time. You know, when these things would come back on you, you'd get your sickness, you know?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

JONES: And this was about the time that I had met Nancy, and of course, I was getting all the good help that she could offer.

GROSS: She's your wife.

JONES: Right. And all of the sudden, one day, you know, it was just over with, you know. And so that's been, I'd say -- I'm guessing around 11 years ago.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. So what was it like the first time you sang on stage without drinking?

JONES: Well, it was rough. I'd have to say that. It was rough and that -- it was rough for about the first couple, three weeks. And then each night, you know, I got more used to it and it was -- I was forgetting that I thought I might need it or something like that. And in other words, we fought it and we got through the worst part of it and then those nights were over.

GROSS: What's it like to sing drinking songs now? Do they have a different meaning to you?

JONES: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it's -- life itself is different, you know. I thought I lived in a science fiction movie or something, all of them years -- bad years, but naw, it's -- I wake up now, you know, and enjoy the farm, enjoy the horses I got, and just have a great time knowing your family and knowing things that you never did know before, you know, and realizing what you got and what you're thankful for.

GROSS: Now, have you ever -- always taken your voice for granted. I mean -- here's what I mean. It came so naturally to you. You never seem to have had to work at singing. You just had this gift, and sometimes when people just have something, they don't realize how special it is.

JONES: Well, a lot of times you can't see the forest for the trees, and we don't wake up when we ought to sometimes, if you know what I mean. And I never did take it all that serious. The only thing I took serious was I loved to do it, and the people liked to hear it, and that's -- my happiest times is when I was on the stage and they seemed to be enjoying it. That made me enjoy being there.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Did you think of your voice as a gift? I mean, do you think of it as a gift?

JONES: Oh, naturally.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

JONES: Naturally. It's -- I think there's only a few every now and then that come along that are lucky enough to have the little different sound in their voice and the drive, the heart, the soul -- whatever you want to call it. It's just a little something different that we're blessed with, you know.

GROSS: It seems to me that for a good part of your career, maybe I'm wrong here, that you didn't much like giving interviews or really, you know, thinking out loud about yourself and your life.

JONES: Yeah, I was awful shy when I was growing up and I didn't like interviews and I didn't like to be in crowds unless I was on stage, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

JONES: And I was sort of a loner or shy, whatever you want to say, back in those days. And I just really didn't like giving interviews 'cause I didn't think I could talk, you know, right. And I still think I don't today.

But I don't know, back in those days, I was shy and I didn't know what to say, you know. I was afraid someone -- they would ask me things that I wouldn't know how to answer it.

So I was really scared more than anything.

GROSS: And you're comfortable with yourself now.

JONES: Yeah, right.

GROSS: OK. Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

JONES: Well, I've enjoyed it.

GROSS: George Jones' autobiography has just been published in paperback. Our interview was recorded last year when the book was first published, and Razor and Tighe Records has just released a re-issue of his recordings from the '60s called She Thinks I Still Care: The George Jones Collection. Here's another song from it.


JONES SINGING: I feel tears welling up
Calling deep inside
Like my heart's sprung a big break
And the stab of loneliness
Sharp and painful
That I may never shake

Now, you might say
That I was takin' it hard
Since you wrote me off
With a call
But don't you wager that
I'll hide the sorrow
When I may break right down and bawl

Now the race is on
And here comes pride up the backstretch
Heartaches are going to the inside
Hot tears are holding back
They're trying not to fall

My heart's out of the running
True love's stretched for another save
The race is on and it looks like heartaches
And the winner loses all

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: George Jones
High: Country music star George Jones. He's widely acclaimed as one of the greatest country singers, but his 40-year career has also been marked by alcohol and drug abuse. When this interview first aired, he had recently published his autobiography, "I Lived to Tell it All."
Spec: Music Industry; George Jones; Health and Medicine; Alcoholism
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: I Lived to Tell It All
Date: AUGUST 22, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082203NP.217
Head: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Remembered
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: One of the world's most famous religious singers, Pakistan's Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, died in London last Saturday at the age of 48. He was a Sufi Muslim who performed Qawwali, a type of devotional song intended to induce ecstasy.

In the mid-'80s, Khan became an unlikely world music star in the West after Peter Gabriel brought him to England to perform. He sang with Gabriel on the soundtrack to "The Last Temptation of Christ." Last year, he collaborated with Pearl Jam's Eddie Vetter (ph) on the soundtrack for "Dead Man Walking" and sold out Radio City Music Hall.

Music critic Milo Miles has this remembrance.


MILO MILES, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: When I saw Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for the first time about seven years ago, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I could tell, however, that a good portion of the audience knew exactly what to expect, and they were pumped. There was excitement you could shovel.

But could such a relatively humble ensemble as Khan's deliver much power? There was only about four guys who would clap rhythm and should choral responses. There were two fellows beating little tabla (ph) and dolac (ph) drums and a couple of spare solo singers, including Nusrat's harmonium-playing brother Thorac (ph).

The long, winding introductions to Khan's songs seemed to go nowhere. To us outsiders, it didn't matter if the text was based on medieval religious poetry or love stories and verse. But after the drum beats abruptly went into overdrive and Khan started vocal improvising, everything changed.

He would repeat and stretch a little phrase until it became pure sound. He rattled off staccato consonants and held notes until they spiraled up to the ceiling. The vocal leads would hop all over the group, but it always came back to Khan, and he had new amazing gyrations. He could provoke happy frenzy over and over.

As he was possessed by the music, he would possess the crowd and they would dance in the aisles, shriek and fall down, wave scarves and twirl like tops. At the end of three hours, I was pumped.

Khan made all sorts of recordings, more than 100 total. Some were beat-crazy, anything goes soundtracks for Indian films, and he could have a lot of fun with those. Some, like the "Live in London" series are well-recorded concerts that deliver at least a hint of his tidal wave charisma. An inexpensive introductory collection called "Rapture" on the Music Club label, presents Khan doing relatively short tunes with strong hooks and clear variety.

Start there, and you'll soon be into his epic meditations, the disco remixes, the dubbed treatments. Whatever style he chose, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's voice split the air.

GROSS: Milo Miles is a music writer living in Cambridge. He remembered Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who died last week at the age of 48.

Dateline: Milo Miles, Cambridge; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Music Commentator Milo Miles looks back on the life of Pakistani musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who died this month at the age of 48. He was one of the worlds most famous religious singers. He was a Sufi Muslim who performed Qawwali, a type of devotional song intended to induce ecstasy.
Spec: Music Industry; Deaths; Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Remembered
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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