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From the Archives: New York Yankees Manager Joe Torre.

The Manager of the New York Yankees, Joe Torre. We revisit our conversation with Torre as the Yankees enter the third game of the American League Championship Series, in their pursuit of the 2000 World Series title. TORRE is the author of the book, "Joe Torre's Ground Rules for Winners: 12 Keys to managing Team Players, Tough Bosses, Setbacks, and Success" (Hyperion). (Original broadcast: November 30, 1999)

15:10

Other segments from the episode on October 13, 2000

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 13, 2000: Interview with Joe Torre; Review of the film "Dr. T and the Women"; Interview with Jim DeRogatis; Review of Radiohead's album "Kid A."

Transcript

"Fresh Air" 10/13/00 DATE October 13, 2000 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Review: Movie "Dr. T and the Women"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Robert Altman's new film, "Dr. T and the Women," stars Richard Gere as Dr.
T, a Dallas gynecologist, and Helen Hunt, Farrah Fawcett, Laura Dern,
Shelley
Long and Kate Hudson as some of the women. Film critic Henry Sheehan has a
review.

HENRY SHEEHAN:

Robert Altman's misanthrope has been so pervasive for so long that it is
sometimes difficult to pick out the mean, broad streak of misogyny that runs
through it. But the filmmaker has always reserved his harshest contempt for
women, particularly for women who don't get with the program of taking care
of
their men. "M*A*S*H", for example, contains one of the single most
horrifying
moments of sexual humiliation ever committed to celluloid, the scene where
nurse "Hot Lips" Houlihan is exposed, naked, hysterical and ashamed before
laughing doctors and their staffs.

In "Dr. T and the Women," Altman turns the rheumy eye of his camera on a
group
of well-to-do Dallas women. He has dressed the actresses who play them in
comically exaggerated costumes and hairstyles, giving each of them an
extravagant weakness, goaded them all into overacting and--surprise,
surprise--found them guilty of malignant silliness. They're malignant
because
they harm the suffering male at the film's center, gynecologist Sully
Travis.
Sully, who is played in a complacently laid-back style by Richard Gere, is
the
type of man who constantly goes around saying how much he loves women, how
different he finds each and every one of them, even while he is peering up
through a speculum. Even an amateur psychologist would have no trouble
copping to the fact that Sully's protestations of love are too frequent and
unprovoked than to be anything but the opposite: a declaration of hate.

Let's look at the reasons Altman gives Sully for his hate. The doctor's
wife,
played by Farrah Fawcett, has regressed into a childlike state because, her
psychologist says, she has been loved too much and too well by her husband.
One of the doctor's daughters, played by Kate Hudson, is planning an
elaborate
wedding, though she knows of a circumstance which will make the ceremony a
farce. Another daughter, played by Tara Reid, is a conspiracy nut who likes
to manipulate her father by giving him little snippets of, but never the
whole
truth of, what's going on. Then there's golf pro Bree, played by Helen Hunt
who, because she appears too good to be true, must naturally be the worst of
all.

Then there are the doctor's patients, a screeching tribe of bacchantes who
infest his waiting room. Altman opens his movie in that quarter and loves
to
return there whenever he needs a quick reinjection of bile.

(Soundbite from "Dr. T and the Women")

Unidentified Woman #1: Come in and have a seat. Has any of your
information
changed?

Unidentified Woman #2: Ye--no. No.

Unidentified Woman #1: OK. Terrific. We'll be right with you.

Unidentified Woman #3: Hi, Mrs. Shambless, how are you?

Ms. JANINE TURNER (As Dorothy): Not well, actually, and I need to see the
doctor.

Unidentified Woman #3: I don't have an appointment for you and we're really
crazy.

Ms. TURNER: I know you don't have an appointment for me, but oh...

Unidentified Woman #1: Dorothy, I'm so happy to see you.

Ms. TURNER: You are?

Unidentified Woman #1: If you don't mind, darling, we need another
specimen.

Ms. TURNER: Is something wrong?

Unidentified Woman #1: No, no, no. No, no, no, no. Just spilled it.

Ms. TURNER: You spilled it? Well, hope it didn't ruin your shoes.

SHEEHAN: In contrast, Altman's mockery of the men in the movie is gentle
and
largely based on how they let their women run amok. Of all the women, only
the doctor's office manager, played by Shelley Long, emerges with any
integrity intact, largely thanks to Long's practiced comedic skills.

Years ago, Altman picked up a reputation as a radical individualist thanks
to
what looked like an innovative shooting style and an instinctive
anti-authoritarianism. But that vaunted style was never much more than an
overreliance on repetitious zooms and a lazy reliance on master shots. It
is
a style of disengagement and indifference. He was always a prematurely
cranky
old man, railing against the passage of an old world where doctors and
directors ran the roost.

Both of these shortcomings are nicely captured in a single shot. Janine
Turner plays one of Sully's patients, the wife of one of his friends. She
keeps inventing illnesses in order to get into Sully's office, where she
makes
open passes at him. In one scene where she's been particularly bold and
shameless, despite the presence of nurses and Sully's gentle refusals, she
huffs out of the examination room, a draped blanket sliding off her butt.
Altman closes the sequence with a zoom onto her bare behind, a shot that
doesn't reflect any of the character's point of view, but the great
director's
own. He as much as says out loud, `There goes a stupid woman who doesn't
realize she's just a piece of ass.'

GROSS: Henry Sheehan is film critic for the Orange County Register. I'm
Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Credits)

GROSS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

(Soundbite of music)

The current film "Almost Famous" features a character based on the late rock
critic Lester Bangs. Coming up, we talk with Bangs' biographer. Also,
Henry
Sheehan reviews "Dr. T and the Women" and Ken Tucker reviews the new CD by
Radiohead, which we're listening to now.

(Soundbite of music)

RADIOHEAD: (Singing) Everything, everything, everything, everything in its
right place, in its right place, in its right place, in its right place.
Yesterday I woke up thinking, yesterday I woke up thinking, yesterday I woke
up thinking...

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

Interview: Jim DeRogatis discusses his new book "Let It Blurt:
The Life & Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The current film "Almost Famous" is about a 15-year-old rock critic who gets
an assignment from Rolling Stone to follow an up-and-coming band on its
concert tour. The movie is based on the early career of the film's
writer-director, Cameron Crowe. The young critic's mentor in the film is
rock
critic Lester Bangs. Bangs was actually one of the most influential critics
in the history of rock 'n' roll. In the film he's played by Philip Seymour
Hoffman. In this scene, he's giving some advice to the young critic.

(Soundbite of "Almost Famous")

Mr. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (As "Lester Bangs"): But you cannot make friends
with the rock stars.

PATRICK FUGIT (As "William Miller"): OK.

Mr. HOFFMAN: If you're going to be a true journalist, you know, a rock
journalist--at first you never get paid much, but you will get free records
from the record company. Nothin' about you that is controversial, man.
God,
it's gonna get ugly, man. They're gonna buy you drinks. You're gonna meet
girls. They're gonna try to fly you places for free, offer you drugs--I
know,
it sounds great. These people are not your friends, you know? These are
people who want you to write sanctimonious stories about the genius of rock
stars, and they will ruin rock 'n' roll and strangle everything we love
about
it. Right?

FUGIT: Right.

Mr. HOFFMAN: And then it just becomes an industry of cool. I mean, I'm
telling you, you're coming along at a very dangerous time for rock 'n' roll.
You know, that's why I think you should just turn around and go back, you
know, and be a lawyer or something.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: A recent biography of Lester Bangs, called "Let It Blurt," was
written
by Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. He describes
Bangs as `having reveled in the excesses of rock 'n' roll, matching its
passion in prose that erupted from the pages of Rolling Stone, Cream and The
Village Voice. In the process, he became a peer of the artists he
celebrated,
brash visionaries and dedicated individualists such as Iggy Pop, Patti
Smith, Richard Hell and Lou Reed.'

Bangs started publishing in the late '60s. He died in 1982 at the age of 33
of what is believed to have been a drug overdose. Last spring I asked
DeRogatis to sum up Bangs' importance.

Mr. JIM DEROGATIS (Author, "Let It Blurt: The Life & Times of Lester Bangs,
America's Greatest Rock Critic"): He was sort of the Jack Kerouac and the
Charles Bukowski and the Hunter S. Thompson of rock criticism, all rolled
into one, a character who in many regards was larger than any of the people
he
wrote about, or at least as large--as much of a rock star as many of the
rock
stars he wrote about.

GROSS: Can you read a paragraph from one of Lester Bangs' pieces that will
help show why you think he was so special?

Mr. DEROGATIS: Absolutely. This is from the piece Psychotic Reactions and
Carburetor Dung, which gives his anthology its name, 1987 anthology that
Greil Marcus edited.

`Perhaps the truest autobiography I could ever write--and I know this holds
as
well for many other people--would take place largely at record counters,
jukeboxes, pushing forward in the driver's seat while AM walloped you on,
alone under headphones with vast scenic bridges and angelic choirs in the
brain through insomniac post-midnights, or just to sit at leisure, stoned or
not, in the vast, benign lap of America, slapping on sides and feeling
good.'

GROSS: And what do you like about that?

Mr. DEROGATIS: That's Lester on being a fan, on loving music, on being
driven
to preach about the music he loved.

GROSS: Yeah. He once described shopping for records as being a major form
of
self-expression for him when he was young.

Mr. DEROGATIS: Yeah. And in another passage described it as therapy, as
something that saved his sanity. You know, he grew up in what he called
this
ice-cream-and-television suburban world of El Cajon, California, a suburb of
San Diego. And he grew up a Jehovah's Witness. His mom was a fanatic
religious person. There are pictures of him marching in front of San Diego
Kingdom Hall with a sign that says `What is your destiny?' And, you know,
he
had to go door to door and proselytize, and music was forbidden in the home,
and it's still to this day not a big part of Jehovah's Witnesses' services.
So when he broke out via the manic jazz of Mingus and Coltrane and beat
poetry, he went in a big way. And then rock 'n' roll was even more of a
salvation. It was his way out of this entire upbringing.

GROSS: You met Lester Bangs when you were a senior in high school. You
were
given the assignment of interviewing a hero, so you chose Bangs. You went
to
his apartment in Manhattan and did an interview with him, and, in fact,
you've
brought some excerpts of that interview with you now. What were you
expecting
him to be like?

Mr. DEROGATIS: I think I had the cliched notion that a lot of his readers
had, that he was this manic guy bouncing off the walls, some unholy
combination of Hunter Thompson and Charles Bukowski and every rock star I'd
ever seen--you know, Johnny Rotten and Jack Kerouac at the same time. And,
you know, he wasn't like that at all. He was like my buddy. He was very
solicitous of my opinions. He wanted to know what I was thinking, what I
was
reading, you know, what I was excited about. And that kind of blew me away.
I wasn't prepared for that. You know, it's like, `I'm a 17-year-old putz
from
New Jersey. What do you mean? You're Lester Bangs.' But he was like that
with everyone. He was very--he always sought to communicate and find out
what
was getting people excited, and I think, to him, rock 'n' roll criticism was
at its best when it was a discourse between people who were passionate about
the subject, as passionate as he was.

GROSS: You were talking to him a bit in your interview about his bad-boy
image and his image of, like, insulting people all the time, and this was
his
response.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. LESTER BANGS: You know, I mean, there was a time in my life when you
would have come up here and I would have got all drunk and everything and
really, you know, just might have preferred it that way and been real
exhibitionistic, you know, and all that. But if I act like that, I get a--I
mean, I might live a long time but I won't live very long as a good writer,
you know? It's just--that's just the way it goes, the way it works--you
know,
like, you know, Charles Bukowski--I mean, he's reached a point now he's a
poet
out in LA, you know, and he, like, gets his picture taken with him wearing a
T-shirt with his face on it and it says `Bukowski' on it, and he writes
his--I
found a little poem out in his latest book that says, `I can't write,' you
know? That's what he--he's writing a poem about how he can't write, you
know?

GROSS: That was Lester Bangs recorded in a 1982 interview with my guest,
Jim
DeRogatis. And now DeRogatis has written a new biography of the late Lester
Bangs.

Jim, it's really ironic that Bangs was talking about how, you know, he
thought
he'd live longer by not being that combative personality in real life. He
actually died just a couple of weeks after this interview that he recorded
with you. What did he die of?

Mr. DEROGATIS: It was two weeks later when the news broke of his death, and
I think for a very long time it's lingered out there and nobody in the rock
world was really certain. It's sort of obfuscated in the introduction to
"Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung," the anthology of his work that
was
edited by Greil Marcus. I did the reporting years later and the autopsy
report reveals Darvon in his bloodstream, which is an analgesic painkiller
that was known for its propensity for overdose--it was a dangerous drug and
it's no longer prescribed--and Valium as well.

You know, all of his life he'd been an addict to various pills. Romilar,
cough medicine, was a favorite. Dextromethorphan, the key ingredient in
Romilar, which is no longer manufactured, is still in every cough medicine
on
the shelves today. It's the key ingredient that makes you stop coughing.
And
kids would abuse this through the '70s and into the early '80s. If you
drink
it in enough quantity, you trip like a wildebeest, as much as PCP. It's got
psychedelic propensity. And now they put a chemical in cough medicine
that's
designed only to make you vomit if you drink enough of it to trip.

But of all the things, at a time when cocaine and, you know, heroin and all
the drugs that rock stars typically abuse were flowing, you know, rampantly,
Lester was addicted to, you know, cough medicine and, you know, cheap pills
and alcohol.

GROSS: Let's talk a little bit more about Lester Bangs as a critic. How
did
his taste in music compare to what we think of as, like, the rock 'n' roll
canon?

Mr. DEROGATIS: I think Lester was very much a proto-gen Xer. Much of his
career was in firm opposition to the baby boom critics. He was a baby
boomer
himself, but the baby boom pantheon that was being erected--you know, he did
not hold that the Jefferson Airplane and all the San Francisco bands of 1967
were the high point of psychedelic rock or of rock 'n' roll in the '60s. He
preferred, you know, the grungy, what he called the zit farmers from San
Jose,
the Count Five who recorded "Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung." And
he lauded The Troggs, you know, the garage band from England, in the
30,000-word epic where he fantasized getting on a bus and driving to James
Taylor and killing James Taylor in a brutal, violent assault, because he
hated
that sort of singer-songwriter music and celebrated this loud and aggressive
proto-punk rock. He championed heavy metal and loved--called Black Sabbath
the John Miltons of rock 'n' roll.

I can't emphasize enough that he had these great philosophical insights and
heavy intellectual ideas, even when it was this, you know, rapid spew of
colorful prose. There was real substantive ideas in there about the music
he
loved.

GROSS: My guest is Jim DeRogatis, author of a biography of the late rock
critic Lester Bangs. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: The current film "Almost Famous" features a character based on the
late rock critic Lester Bangs. Let's get back to our interview with Jim
DeRogatis about his biography of Lester Bangs.

You know, although he loved music so passionately and felt so strongly about
the musicians whose music he loved, he often got into these very combative
relationships with musicians and, I think, started to think of a lot of rock
stars as being incredibly spoiled and obnoxious. You actually asked him, I
think, about his interviewing style, about that combative style. Would you
introduce this excerpt of the interview for us?

Mr. DEROGATIS: Exactly that. I mean, he was famous for his combative
interviews with Lou Reed and for other rock stars, where he just refused to
admit that they were the geniuses they were trying to portray themselves as,
and would try to get at the real human being behind this image. And I asked
him just that: How did you develop your interview style?

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. BANGS: Well, basically, I just try to start out to lead with the most
insulting question I can possibly think of, you know? Because it seemed to
me
that the whole thing about interviewing as far as, you know, rock stars and
that was just such a suck-up job. You know, I mean, it's like groveling,
you
know, just groveling obeisance to people that weren't that special, really,
you know?

Mr. DEROGATIS: Yeah.

Mr. BANGS: It's just a guy. It's just another person.

Mr. DEROGATIS: Right.

Mr. BANGS: So what, you know?

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That was Lester Bangs, recorded in a 1982 interview with my guest
Jim
DeRogatis, who's the author of a new biography of Lester Bangs.

Do you know what led Lester Bangs to want to start writing about rock?

Mr. DEROGATIS: Yeah. I asked him that. I asked him exactly that, and this
is what he said.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. BANGS: When I look back on it, it was obvious that I was going to end
up
doing this because, you know, the two big obsessions were always music and
writing, you know? It's like, you know, yeah, I mean, it's an outgrowth of
being a fanatical record collector or, you know, a fanatical listener, and
you
have fanatical opinions that you want to inflict on people.

GROSS: I think that soundbite gets to how extreme he felt about things and
how deeply things registered on Lester Bangs. How did he start to write for
Rolling Stone magazine?

Mr. DEROGATIS: In 1967, '68, Rolling Stone was desperate for anybody who
would send anything in over the transom. And I talked to almost all of the
early editors at the magazine, and Lester was sending this stuff in, these
long screeds, saying `Look, you jerks, this is better than anything you're
publishing, and you better run this or give me a reason why.' And they were
ignoring him, because he was a shoe salesman who was tripping on Romilar,
living in El Cajon, and they were, of course, in San Francisco, the center
of
the cultural universe in the summer of love.

Finally, they ran a cover story on the MC5, and it was this fawning, glowing
profile about how not only was the MC5 in Detroit a great rock 'n' roll
band,
but they were going to be the leaders of the new revolution. And the White
Panther Party--their manager, John Sinclair, was the leader of the White
Panther Party. You know, they were going to result in rioting in the
streets
and the new world order and so on and so forth. And Lester rushed out and
bought the album and thought that it was the biggest hype he had ever been
sold, so he wrote this venomous response, record review, in response, and it
was so good that Rolling Stone finally published it.

And from that point on, he was sending four or five reviews a week, one or
two
of which might get published, and he was a big presence in Rolling Stone
through its early golden days. When Greil Marcus became its first record
review editor, he thought Lester was extraordinary, published him regularly.
Those golden days only lasted, mind you, about a year, and Lester never
really
found his home at Rolling Stone. That was not where he did his best work.
That would come later when he moved to Detroit and Cream magazine.

And when he got there, he met the members of the MC5, became best friends
with
them and reversed his opinion. He came to think that the MC5 were a great
band, and it was a shame that this political agenda had been superimposed on
them. He did that a lot. A lot of times--with Patti Smith or with The
Rolling Stones' "Exile On Main Street," he would reverse his opinion, which
I
actually think is a sign of intellectual security, that he was strong enough
in his own opinions that he could say, `I've changed. I've grown. My
opinion
has been developed, and I've gained new insights.' I don't think enough
critics do that today.

GROSS: Lester Bangs was banned from Rolling Stone in 1973. What kind of
trouble did he run into at the magazine?

Mr. DeROGATIS: He had--he'd gotten in trouble several times. He had panned
Buddy Miles, who was, you know, this soul, schlocky drummer. And Miles
stormed into the offices of Rolling Stone at one point looking for Jann
Wenner, who was going to throw him out the window. And Wenner ran down the
fire escape while the secretaries called the police and Miles roughed up
another editor. That was one strike against Lester.

Another was that he panned Canned Heat, you know, in a very funny and
sarcastic review, saying, you know, `Why do we love this endless boogie?
Let
us count the ways.' And Wenner, apparently, was close to the manager of
Canned Heat, and blew a gasket and said, you know, `This guy is just not
respectful enough to musicians.'

GROSS: Lester Bangs wrote a lot for Cream magazine. What was Cream's
importance in the development of rock criticism?

Mr. DeROGATIS: Cream was an exceedingly irreverent publication that--I
compare it to what was happening in new journalism. They were breaking the
rules of criticism in journalism, not that there were any rules. I mean,
the
whole form was developing and it was this playground that just let the
writers
and the artists run free. And there was some great writing, people like
Nick
Tosh(ph) and Richard Meltzer and Dave Marsh and Lester Bangs. They were
kind
of making up the rules as they went along, writing these long, passionate
screeds that sometimes were directly about the music and sometimes had
nothing
to do with the music at all, but were trying to show that the writing itself
could be rock 'n' roll and that, you know, that they could create art that
in
some cases was better art than the music they were allegedly supposed to be
covering.

Meltzer prided himself on reviewing some albums by never opening the
shrink-wrap and just writing about the cover, which on one level shows a
certain disrespect to the album, but on another there was a deeper, more
fundamental respect to the reader. They were having fun with the words.
They
were trying to create something that was very exciting. And they never
underestimated the smarts of their readers, which is in stark contrast to
the
sort of criticism that exists today, where everything's a 100-word record
review and two thumbs up and these smiley, happy blurbs.

GROSS: The people who worked for Cream lived together and worked together
in
a small farmhouse. And from your book, that sounds like it was a pretty
claustrophobic experience without any privacy.

Mr. DeROGATIS: It really was like a commune. They made $30 a month for
spending on incidentals, and the publisher, Barry Kramer's(ph), staff--you
know, stocked the refrigerator with bratwurst and beer, and they lived and
worked in the same space. And it was even less privacy than they knew. I
did
a Freedom of Information Act request, figuring that the FBI was probably
aware
of these crazy, hippy publishers because they were monitoring, of course,
the
White Panthers very, very closely from the '68 riots and before. And the
feds
were literally camped out in the woods like they did with the Unabomber, and
occasionally spying on these people doing this magazine through binoculars
and
listening to Black Sabbath blaring from the woods, which is pretty funny.
It's hard to imagine anybody, like, camping out and worrying about the
reviewers at Entertainment Weekly today.

GROSS: What would you say Lester Bangs' legacy is now in rock criticism?

Mr. DeROGATIS: That's a tough one, Terry. I think that a lot of people
imitate the first person style and the gush of prose--not even a lot of
people. Some people imitate that. I think very few people go for the real
legacy, which was that fundamental respect of the reader, that willingness
to
challenge the reader and to try to share deep, philosophical insights and
serious intellectual ideas with the reader and not just this schilling of
product, you know, `Here's a hip new album. Go buy it.' And next week,
there's another one. I think that that's what's been lost in rock criticism
today, that there are very people writing with that honesty or that
commitment, and certainly not that insight.

GROSS: You're a rock critic yourself. But I'm wondering if you think that
rock critics now are faced with a lot of pressures to be positive about the
records they review, particularly when those records are on labels
represented
by heavy advertisers.

Mr. DeROGATIS: Oh, absolutely. I think that--the thing to remember, that
in
Bangs' day and Richard Meltzer and Nick Tosh's, when these guys were writing
in the mid-70s, that there was no career as a rock critic. These guys were
making $15 for these incredible, poetic, 15,000-word record reviews. And it
was something you did because you believed in it passionately. And now it
is
possible to have a career as a rock critic and do very well in the same way
that a lot of celebrity-oriented profilers write these obsequious, you know,
fawning profiles of Hollywood stars. That's the sort of journalism that's
infected the rock world.

And the people who are writing, you know, because they feel compelled to do
so
in the same way that Bangs did are pretty much marginalized. They're on the
Web. They're doing fanzines. Or, you know, if they're lucky, they're able
to
write for newspapers or editors that give them the freedom to do that. But
I
think that they're the exception rather than the rule.

GROSS: Jim DeRogatis, I want to thank you very much for talking with us
about
your biography of Lester Bangs.

Mr. DeROGATIS: It was my pleasure, Terry.

GROSS: Jim DeRogatis is the author of a biography of Lester Bangs called
"Let
It Blurt." DeRogatis is pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Lester Bangs occasionally performed, although the consensus was he was a
much
better critic than singer. Here's how he sounded.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. BANGS: Had a quaalude romance, real ...(unintelligible) affair. She
loved me but I was too ...(unintelligible) last time we shared. She was my
teen-age dream when I was 25...

GROSS: Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews the new CD by Radiohead, which debuted
at number one on Billboard's pop album chart. This is Fresh Air.

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

Review: New CD by Radiohead a testament to musical innovation
TERRY GROSS, host:

The English quintet Radiohead is one of the most highly praised of all
contemporary rock bands. The current issue of Spin magazine refers to them
as
the most revered rock band around. And The New York Times Magazine, in a
lengthy profile of the band a few weeks ago, dubbed Radiohead the post-rock
band. Their new CD "Kid A" debuted at number one on the Billboard pop album
chart. Rock critic Ken Tucker thinks Radiohead's "Kid A" is actually
anti-rock, but that makes it even more interesting.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

RADIOHEAD: Ice age coming, ice age coming. Let me in ...(unintelligible).
Ice age coming, ice age coming. Throw it in the fire, throw it in the fire,
throw it in. We don't scare. Thunder air. This is really happening,
happening. We're not scared, among the rain. This is really happening,
happening. More ice working, more ...(unintelligible). Take the money and
run. Take the money and run. Take the money. Yeah...

KEN TUCKER (Rock Critic): First, a warning: It's very difficult to give
you
a feeling for what the total experience of Radiohead's new CD, "Kid A," is
like from the snippets that I'll play here. That's because every one of its
10 compositions is a languid, evolving piece of music, rejecting rock's
standard verse-chorus-verse structure, there are no refrains and few hooks.
No song on "Kid A" concludes the same way it begins. The compositions
themselves distort the lovely boy's tenor voice of 31-year-old group leader
Thom Yorke, burying it or chopping it up into little bits along with the
band's guitars, and often drowning all of it in a wash of swirling
keyboards.
You can hear what I'm talking about in this piece called "Everything In Its
Right Place."

(Soundbite of song)

RADIOHEAD: Everything, everything, everything, everything in its right
place,
in its right place, in its right place, in its right place.

TUCKER: To fully appreciate what Radiohead is doing on "Kid A," you have to
realize what the group did on its previous CD, 1997's "O.K. Computer," which
was to revive the notion of guitar-based rock 'n' roll and make it seem
relevant in a commercial landscape dominated by hip-hop and the reedy voices
of teen pop acts. In these terms, the great success of "Kid A" is that it
doesn't for one second seem like a rejection of "O.K. Computer," and
therefore
a rejection of its fans, but rather an invitation to listen to something
new,
to an experiment that has been enabled by "O.K. Computer's" big sales.

One of the band's managers recently remarked that he wasn't sure if, quote,
"Thom and the boys think they're in a rock band or in an art project." This
is the kind of uncertainty that gives managers and record company executives
ulcers, but for the rest of us, it's exhilarating to hear what a big-name
band
can do with a big budget and the notion of making an experimental recording.

(Soundbite of music)

RADIOHEAD: ...(Unintelligible).

TUCKER: I think of "Kid A" as an anti-rock album, by which I don't mean
that
the band is announcing itself as being against rock 'n' roll. Rather, I
hear
"Kid A" as an attempt to work against the common strictures of rock,
accommodating dance music and electronica, and as a way of approaching the
eternal rock bugaboo of having rock lyrics mean something by deciding to
make
words simply pieces of sound that run alongside the instruments. The
results
could have been horribly pretentious. Instead, "Kid A" is the kind of music
that clears your mind and makes you listen to everything around it in a
different, refreshed way.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

Fresh Air" 10/13/00
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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