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'The Art of Joseph Szigeti'

Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz reviews The Art of Joseph Szigeti (pronounced sa-GEH-tee) on DVD. Hungarian-American violinist Szigeti (1892-1973) made more than 100 recordings before retiring in 1960.



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Other segments from the episode on July 13, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 13, 2004: Interview with Daniel Pinkwater; Review of the new DVD, "The art of Joseph Szigeti;" Review of Gretchen Wilson's new album, "Here for the party."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Daniel Pinkwater discusses his life and writing
children's books

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Daniel Pinkwater is a prolific writer of children's books. His voice
may be familiar to you from his commentaries on NPR's "All Things Considered"
and "Weekend Edition" with Scott Simon. He also wrote and narrated a very
funny satire of NPR called "A Scroogiazi Christmas(ph)," which was loosely
based on the story of "Christmas Carol" and starred Car Talk's Magliozzi
brothers. Tom and Ray Magliozzi have described Pinkwater by saying Pinkwater
is nuts. In People magazine, Pinkwater was described as one part Marx Brother
and one part cracked social satirist with a particle of werewolf thrown in.

Pinkwater has a new book called "Looking for Bobowicz," which like many of his
books is illustrated by his wife, Jill Pinkwater. Here's how the book starts.

DANIEL PINKWATER (Author, "Looking for Bobowicz"): (Reading) On Friday, I had
my last day at Happy Valley Elementary School. On Saturday, the moving truck
came and took all our stuff to Hoboken, New Jersey, and we left our house in
Happy Valley forever. On Sunday, our first day in the new house, the
temperature was 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the beginning of the hottest heat wave
ever recorded in Hoboken in the month of June for 120 years. One hundred
twenty years ago is when our Hoboken house had been built.

This is what my parents did. They gave up a modern house in Happy Valley, New
Jersey, a house with a front yard, a back yard and trees on a street with
similar houses and similar trees to move to a brick house with no front yard,
practically no back yard and no trees on a street with guys sitting on the
steps drinking cans of beer and spitting on the sidewalk and cars and buses
running right past our door. And the Hoboken house was in rotten condition
and cost three times as much as we got for our Happy Valley house. My parents
said we were going to fix up the house and have an urban lifestyle.

This is what an urban lifestyle is. My bike was stolen the first hour we were
in town, and it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit. My mother said she didn't want me
growing up in a suburb. She said life was real in cities. I went upstairs to
sit in my crummy 120-year-old room.

GROSS: A lot of us are familiar with that particular brand of urban


GROSS: But what are some of the cool things your character ends up finding in
the city?

PINKWATER: Well, first of all, he finds friends, which is actually what the
book is about. He finds friends--it happens this kid, whose nickname is Nick,
has a collection of old--does anyone remember Classics Comics Do you remember

GROSS: Oh, yeah. Oh, sure.

PINKWATER: Great things to learn to read with, you know, and it's basically
for those who don't know regular comic books looking like comic--which they
cost a dime--color comics, 52 pages, two staples. But the stories were
"Treasure Island" and "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" and the
"Hunchback of Notre Dame," etc., etc. So he's got a stash--they're out of
print now. You can't get 'em. Or maybe you can get 'em. He's got his
father's old Classics Comics, and they're his pride and joy. And it turns out
the two kids who live in the apartment house next door also are into Classics
Comics, and that's the beginning of the friendship.

GROSS: And he finds a pirate radio station also.

PINKWATER: There's a pirate radio station in Hoboken, and it's a guy who
plays old cowboy songs and blues and hillbilly music--all 78s--and he's
operating from--here's where I mix historic fact and fiction--he's operating
from the house in which Guillermo Marconi lived, which really exists. He
really lived there in Hoboken--the guy who invented radio. So the kids are
into literature via the Classics Comics and learning about American music via
the pirate radio station. And that's as much as I care to tell you about

GROSS: Yeah, OK.

PINKWATER: Read the book.

GROSS: And you've written over a hundred books, right?

PINKWATER: I read somewhere it was around a hundred. I never counted them.

GROSS: Right. OK.

PINKWATER: But that's a shame and a scandal, don't you think?

GROSS: Well, let's trust the press here and say approximately a hundred since

PINKWATER: More than 10.

GROSS: Would you describe yourself as a compulsive writer, or do you think it
takes less time to write a children's book 'cause it's shorter?

PINKWATER: No, I'm more of a compulsive eater. But it doesn't necessarily
take less time 'cause it's shorter. Interestingly--I do them all. I do
picture books, which my wife brilliantly illustrates, and I do middle-grade
books and novels like this one that we have here, and even more bigger novels.
The picture books are harder, take longer, although a lot of the process can
be sort of internal. And it's more of a trick to do a good picture book. You
know, when you write a novel--I'll level with you. I was told that you can
see through any kind of deception or dissembling, so I'll just tell you the
truth. Writing novels is as easy as taking a breath because people who read
are habitual readers. Well, of course, kids aren't, which is why I like them
as an audience. But adults who read are habitual readers, and so in general
the form for writing a novel is throw in everything including the kitchen
sink twice, they'll thank you for the extra descriptions. So basically you
write a novel, you just sort of drool on the page and if you have an editor
they'll take some of it out, and it's really--anybody can write a novel and
anybody does. Writing a good picture book is like, you know, a fencing match
or a fast ballet turn or something where--or tightrope walking. You've got to
get it right. You're working alone and it's just gotta be there, and if you
mess it up, if you hit a sour note, it all collapses.

GROSS: Well, you know what? If you want to believe what you just said about
novels, I think you should go on believing it.

PINKWATER: I continue to believe it.

GROSS: Since you've been writing books since 1970, you must have met a lot of
now adults who grew up reading your books.


GROSS: And what surprises you about what they remember or what really made an
impression on them from your books?

PINKWATER: What surprises me is how intelligent and interesting they all are,
and also when they're younger how quickly I bore them when they meet me in
person. They ask me a couple of questions, I give unsatisfactory answers
because I've written it. OK, that took a certain amount of attention, but as
you've already gathered, not complete. I've gone over it a couple of times in
the process of getting it ready for press, and then it's done. They may have
read the book 17 times and know every word, and so they'll say, `On page 143
what does so-and-so have for lunch?' And when I don't know, they look at each
other like--it's like either he's an imposter or an idiot savant, and then
they'll try me with a couple of more, and then they'll just sort of shrug
their shoulders and say, `He's an adult. What do you want?' And they wander

GROSS: Does it make you feel bad, like you've disappointed your audience?

PINKWATER: No, it makes me feel good that I helped them learn a great lesson,
which is never meet writers you like.

GROSS: Oh, have you been burned that way yourself?

PINKWATER: I'm not going to mention any names.


PINKWATER: Kurt Vonnegut.

GROSS: Well, let's hope he's not listening right now.

PINKWATER: Let's hope he is.

GROSS: Now you write commentaries for adults on "All Things Considered," on
Scott Simon's...

PINKWATER: Or whatever they are.

GROSS: ...weekend show.


GROSS: And but your books are largely or mostly for young readers.


GROSS: I guess it's good for you to have--you know, a clearly adult voice as

PINKWATER: I don't know that I care and I don't know that I do. I mean, when
I write for adults, the only thing that I have in mind is slow it down a
little bit, dumb it down a little bit because adults are people who, by and
large, read as a means of getting off to sleep. And they're distracted, as
they need to be, because they have all the adult concerns. A kid reading has
recently or just learned to read, depending on what level we're talking about.
The experience is still novel. It's very exciting. And in fact, they do read
the book 17 times. If you are a novelist for adults and you get a letter
saying, `I read your book 17 times,' you should be scared. You know? You're
going to be stalked. But kids really do. They suck the ink off the pages.
It's why I like to write for kids. And so when I write for adults, I confess
I may not bring the same attention to it because they're easier. They--what I
was talking about how, you know, you can throw the kitchen sink into the
novel, I really can't when I write a novel for younger readers because they
won't stand for it.

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.

PINKWATER: There's no description in my books that runs more than a sentence
because they'll skip it anyway and they're not--they're going to get
impatient. They want action. They want characters. They want to know where
the story's going. They want everything to really click and be tight.

GROSS: Is childhood a place you'd like to return to? Like, when you look
back on childhood, was that a good time or a bad time?

PINKWATER: It was good and bad; it was like life. You know, people ask me if
I like children, and I say, you know, it's a case by case basis. What I do is
I like to revisit my childhood; it seems to have a healing effect on me. And
I like to write books that I would have loved to have at various ages, and my
oversimplified way of describing this that I describe from time to time is
you're seven and then you're eight. The seven-year-old isn't gone; the
seven-year-old is still there intact. The eight-year-old is there when you're
nine ad infinitum until you croak. So all of us carry within us our
different-aged selves, so it's not like I go back and write about my life, but
I will start to get a clear sense of a moment. You know, I'll even--it'll be
tactile, it'll be sensory. You know, I'll smell things. I'll see dust motes
in a sunbeam--it'll take me back to the back room in my parents' apartment in
Chicago when I was, you know, three or something like that. And I'll get very
in touch and I get better and better at it through the years of going back to
that kid who's still there who was me. And then, you know, in some way the
book is created for that kid and my theory being that there'll be other kids
who have similar enough tastes that they'll get it too.

GROSS: Why do you think you get better at returning to memories from your

PINKWATER: Practice. Practice. You know, it's like I guess if you're--I
haven't been psychoanalyzed because, one, I couldn't afford it and other
reasons too. But I imagine after a while you...

GROSS: You don't want to know, do you?

PINKWATER: sort of--I don't want anyone else to have anything to say
about it. I know plenty good because of my profession. I'm back there a lot,
you know, and there's no end to the intercourse between your child self and
your adult self; it never stops. And it motivates and conditions so many
things we think and do as adults.

GROSS: My guest is children's book author and NPR commentator Daniel
Pinkwater. His new book is called "Looking for Bobowicz." We'll talk more
after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is children's book author and NPR commentator Daniel
Pinkwater. His new novel for young people is called "Looking for Bobowicz."
When we left off, we were talking about his childhood.

In speaking of your childhood, I was wondering were you close with your

PINKWATER: Well, they were my parents. I was close to them. Close and

GROSS: Frightened.

PINKWATER: (Mimics guttural voice) Listen, when you've got a father who talks
like this, doesn't matter what he's saying and pointing with the finger, comes
from Europe, you should be frightened.

GROSS: Was he...

PINKWATER: He was a gangster.

GROSS: He was a gangster?

PINKWATER: Well, he was a tough guy.

GROSS: What did he do?

PINKWATER: I don't know what he did. He wouldn't tell us, but I'll tell you
this. In his office, in his dirty, messy office, he had a desk and sometimes
he'd let me come down. I'd sit while he made phone calls and hollered at
people, I'd play with the things in his desk, which included two black jacks.
You know what is it a black jack, Terry?

GROSS: Oh, yeah.

PINKWATER: A sap? It's leather. It's plated leather. It's got a lead
weight at one end and it's sort of flexible. And there was a black one and a
brown one. And I said, `Daddy, what are these?' `Those is black jacks, son.'
I said, `How come you got two, one black, one brown?' He said, `The black
one's with the gray suit and the brown one's with the blue suit.'

So he did give me a sense of style, I feel.

GROSS: Oh, that's really funny. I guess you never met any of the people he
used it for--used it on.

PINKWATER: I met his friends and colleagues. He might have used the black
jacks on them as well; they were like that. His own brother used to hire a
truck periodically at night and back it up to my father's store and take
everything out and sell it.

GROSS: Wow. Huh. So what'd that...

PINKWATER: They did that in the old country. It was a traditional
occupation. I should say--there's great stories by Isaac Babel. Do you know
those? Benya Kriks, "The Gangster in Odessa(ph)"?

GROSS: I don't.

PINKWATER: Wonderful, wonderful--one of the great stylists, one of the great
short story writers of the 20th century was this guy Isaac Babel. And the
collections are called "Red Cavalry" I think. But he has a character called
Benya Kriks, and this is precisely how it was 'cause I heard the same stories
from relatives. Insufficient employment in the ghetto, OK? Young Jewish men
with nothing else to do would abstract things from delivery carts. Then they
would write a formal business letter to the consignee saying, `Reb so-and-so
by a series of circumstances not worth going into--into our hands has come a
parcel belonging to you, we believe, which you may redeem at a set rate or
expect a disappointment in your family life.' And it was all done like that.

GROSS: So what...

PINKWATER: And, in fact, the name of the story is how it was done in Odessa,
and I'm sitting in the funeral cortege in my father's funeral, and a wild
cousin is telling me the same story in terms of my father's occupation on the
other side.

GROSS: So what did your father tell you about the business he was in?

PINKWATER: Nothing. Now he was--he had a business and in fact he was
scrupulously honest according to his lights. He was the kind of guy who'd
come back a year later to give you the quarter that he owed you. And it may
be because--and there's a story that upon arriving in this country--and I
remember him saying to us--I asked him, `What was your first impression of New
York when you finally hit land?' And he said, `The size of the policemen.'
The average size of the New York City cop impressed him.

GROSS: Was he mean to you?

PINKWATER: He was not mean. He was cruel. There's a difference. And...

GROSS: Yeah, right. Fair enough. In what ways was he cruel to you?

PINKWATER: He was basically--it's an old European father. So there was a lot
of roaring and striking.

GROSS: And did he think that that was good for you in the long run or was he
just sadistic?

PINKWATER: Oh, he wasn't sadistic. He was more psychotic. I don't--we had a
good relationship, I have to say. I enjoyed him; he enjoyed me. But he was
nobody to mess with either.

GROSS: Now tell us something about your mother.

PINKWATER: She was an awful person in her way, but she was pretty much quiet.

GROSS: `An awful person in her way.'

PINKWATER: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: What was so awful?

PINKWATER: She's not worth talking about. She--I...

GROSS: She really was awful.

PINKWATER: ...can't say I liked her at all.

GROSS: Was she mean to you?

PINKWATER: She was mean in her way. I would much rather have a bombastic,
fisticuffs, yelling father than--I don't want to talk about my mother. She
was a just--awful. I have a hard time writing sympathetic mothers, but I
force myself.

GROSS: Does that stand in the way?

PINKWATER: Yeah, sometimes it does. You know, I mean, you know, you're in a
position to get a couple of licks in, but then she's so pathetic that it's not
that hard to forget about her.

GROSS: Now does that make it harder for you to make these kind of memory
trips back to childhood or...

PINKWATER: No, the thing is, you know, it was a very chaotic childhood. My
parents would disappear and go to nightclubs almost every night during the
war, and they would always have a picture taken, and I would be awakened from
sleep by my mother smelling of cigarettes and wearing a mink coat, cigarettes
and perfume giving me a hug at 3 in the morning. And they would bring me as a
souvenir a photo taken in the restaurant of all these people--the men with
broken noses, you know, and the women, you know, dripping with pearls and
furs. And they were out, you know--they were--I think heavily influenced by
Nick and Nora Charles and there was all manner of strange things going on.

There was a couple who lived in the back room of one of these long, enormous
Chicago apartments that goes on forever. In the back room lived a Polish
anthropologist and her husband, who was a political radical, and the Polish
anthropologist was under contract to the War Department to research
psychological warfare vs. Japan. So to sort of get into the Japanese ethos,
she was cooking her--a Polish person's idea of Japanese food; she did all the
cooking. So I was raised on a bizarre kind of Japanese Polish cuisine, all
manner of stuff. And I had a much older brother and sister who my mother had
thrown in an orphanage at one point before she married my father. They'd been
pulled out. They were living there. They kind of raised me.

It was quite an interesting setup. I had a terribly good time. The fact that
my parents were not necessarily good parents--in, you know, other
circumstances I would have been taken away from them probably--didn't really
signify too much. My half-brother and half-sister--as my sister puts it--had
learned human values in the orphanage and they were raising me, and it was
such an interesting world. It was such an interesting neighborhood. The kids
in the back yards--Classics Comics--were playing games based on "Twenty
Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" and mysterious island and so forth. I was--I
had a rich childhood and I was discovering cultural treasures all the time.

GROSS: OK. Rich and very unconventional--a lot of kids yearn to be
conventional, and so if their parents are unusual or a sibling is unusual, it
makes them uncomfortable. I guess you were OK with unconventional.

PINKWATER: I didn't see it as unconventional, and also I'm not sure it was.
You know, when I started writing for children, I had a chance to write a book,
and I thought, `I'll do this one, maybe I'll do another one and then I'm
done,' because I will have addressed the concerns of all kids who have
anything in common with me, meaning very smart, strange, you know,
unconventional, overeducated, whatever. And instead, I got all this mail from
kids who identified strongly with my characters and including their picture,
you see somebody who's going to grow up to look like Van Johnson, who's the
captain of the soccer team and he relates. And I began to get it, that
everybody feels isolated, everybody feels that their parents are in some way
not a good match. Everybody wants to explore and discover and find out who
they are and what they like.

GROSS: Daniel Pinkwater's new book is called "Looking for Bobowicz." He'll
be back in the second half of the show.

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


GROSS: Coming up, classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz tells us why seeing a
performance can be as important as hearing it. Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews
the debut album from country singer Gretchen Wilson, which is now topping the
country music chart, and we continue our conversation with children's book
author Daniel Pinkwater.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Daniel Pinkwater. He's
the author of many children's books. His new novel for young people is called
"Looking for Bobowicz." You probably know his voice from his commentaries on
NPR's "All Things Considered" and "Weekend Edition" with Scott Simon.

Some of the characters in your book are fat. You...

PINKWATER: Most of them are fat. Most of the good ones are fat.

GROSS: And you've had a weight issue through your life.

PINKWATER: I haven't had a weight issue. I've had weight.

GROSS: Weight (laughs). And a couple of your books are about kids who are
basically forced to go to fat camp.


GROSS: When you were a kid, what was some of the best and worst advice you
got about being heavy?

PINKWATER: The best advice I got I only took about six months ago. And I got
it from my father when I was, like, eight. He said, `Son, if you want to lose
weight, don't eat white bread, don't eat no potatoes, don't eat no spaghetti,
don't eat no rice, don't eat no desserts, and you will lose weight.'

GROSS: (Laughs)

PINKWATER: There's a guy who made a fortune with this South Beach Diet, which
works, by the way. I've lost about 50 pounds. And, you know, my wife went on
the diet, and I'm keeping her company. I've lost about 50 pounds, and there's
more to go. And it's doing quite well, and I'm eating very well. And I said,
`Wait a minute. My father told me this 50-some years ago.'

GROSS: That's really funny. So what made you decide to recently actually go
on a diet?

PINKWATER: I didn't. My wife went on a diet, so I'm eating what she eats.
I'm not on a diet. I don't believe in diets.

GROSS: Oh, it's like passive dieting.

PINKWATER: I don't believe in...

GROSS: `I'm not dieting. She is.'

PINKWATER: That's right. That's right. And I'm sticking to that story.

GROSS: (Laughs)

PINKWATER: If I wanted to go out right now and eat a black forest cake, I
could, and I would not be breaking any vow. I don't much feel like it, but if
I did, I would.

GROSS: Oh, OK. That's a good way of doing it. I guess it's working for you.

PINKWATER: It's working for me.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. So when you were young...


GROSS: ..and--oh, so what's the worst advice you got? That was the best
advice. What was the worst advice?

PINKWATER: The worst advice I ever got was, `Go to this doctor. He's the
only one who can help you.' Anytime you hear that, run away.

GROSS: What did he do?

PINKWATER: He gave me rice.

GROSS: And only rice?

PINKWATER: And only rice.

GROSS: Was this some kind of special--was it, like, the brown rice
macrobiotic diet?



PINKWATER: It was the white rice diet.

GROSS: Oh, that's healthy.

PINKWATER: I got sick.

GROSS: Oh, that's real healthy.


GROSS: It's like the no-nutrient diet.

PINKWATER: But he was the only one who could help me, you see. But anytime
anyone says to you, `There's only one person who can help you,' you're being
had. If it's any good, everybody soon knows about it.

GROSS: Now I want to ask you a question about the name of a character in your
new book, "Looking for Bobowicz."


GROSS: And his name is Shawn(ph). And depending on how you want to read the
last name, it's either Fergessin (pronounced as FERgessin) or Fergessin
(pronounced as ferGESSin). It's F-E-R-G...


GROSS: ...E-S-S-I-N.

PINKWATER: Yes. He's a recurring character...

GROSS: Yeah.

PINKWATER: other books.

GROSS: Now that's--do you mean that as the Yiddish word `forgotten' or
`forgetting,' fergessin?

PINKWATER: There's an earlier book--and it pains me to say my first novel,
"Lizard Music," is the best book I ever wrote. Imagine my chagrin, 99 books
later, still trying to match it. But that can happen, and it happened to me,
and as you see, I'm taking it with good grace. And in it, there's a
character named Shawn Fergessin. And that, of course, is the classic joke,
which is on the golf course or in the clubhouse, someone is paged. Shawn
Fergessin, this very Yiddish man, old man, goes to take the call. And when he
comes back, his golfing partner says, `Your name is Shawn Fergessin? We
weren't introduced.' `Yes, that's my name, is Shawn Fergessin.' And he says,
`You seem like an Eastern European Jewish person.' He says, `That's right, I
am.' `So, Shawn, how do you'--he said, `Well, when they ask me my name on
Ellis Island, I was so confused I said, "Shawn Fergessin,"' which means `I
have already forgotten. So this is an internal in-joke.

There's all kinds of stuff, like raisins in the rice pudding, in all my books
referring to things which are real, things which are not real but might be and
things which readers will recognize from other books. I can't help it. It's
extra kicks. I just put them in. It doesn't hurt if you don't get them, but
if you do get them, it just makes the rice pudding that much more enjoyable.

GROSS: Well, that was, like, exactly the philosophy of the classic Warner
Brothers cartoons.


GROSS: The "Looney Tunes."

PINKWATER: Yeah, sure.

GROSS: There were all kinds of jokes that only an adult would get, but you
didn't know that as a kid. You loved them as a kid.

PINKWATER: When I was a little kid, I used to listen to the great comedians
on the radio, you know, Bob Hope and Milton Berle and Red Skelton and Henry
Morgan and so forth. And most of it went over my head, but that's fine. That
didn't turn me off. And I really resent the idea that everything in a book
should be age appropriate. I don't listen too much to the experts because
they're boring. If the kid isn't getting it, he'll come back again. And I'll
get a letter from somebody 10 years later saying, `I was in an old store
looking at old, you know, LPs, and it turns out that there really was somebody
called Lord Buckley, like the guy you wrote about in your book. And I bought
the record, and it's great.'

GROSS: My guest is children's book author and NPR commentator Daniel
Pinkwater. His new book is called "Looking for Bobowicz." We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Daniel Pinkwater. And you
probably know him as a commentator on National Public Radio and the author of
many books for children, the newest of which is called "Looking for Bobowicz."

Now you say that your first book was your best book.

PINKWATER: Yeah, I'm afraid so.

GROSS: What was it about?

PINKWATER: "Lizard Music" is about a kid whose parents take off on a trip and
leave him in the care of his older sister, who takes off on a trip of her own,
which leaves him all by himself and free to begin exploring. And it's the
first book in which the suburban kid is magnetically drawn into the old city
to look around and find things. And he's on a particular quest because he's
discovered that at night, after the TV station goes off the air, it comes back
on the air, and there are actual lizards playing jazz.

GROSS: (Laughs)

PINKWATER: And he wants to find out more about it, and that leads him into
the city. And he meets various people, and he has quite an adventure. And
it's just such a perfect book. I didn't know that I'd ever be allowed to
write another one, and I just hit the note perfectly.

GROSS: What a great fantasy.

PINKWATER: It's a great book. It's a great book. It's considered a classic.
It'll probably live after I do, and it should. And all my other stuff, I'm
getting better, I'm making progress--I have that to try and match. I don't
think I've matched it yet. This one doesn't, "Looking for Bobowicz."

GROSS: You used to illustrate your books, so I assume you illustrated the
first one.

PINKWATER: I started out to be an artist. I went to New York to crack the
art world. And it took years for me to realize this wasn't a good idea. And
I started as an illustrated. I started wanting to be an illustrator and wound
up illustrating my own texts because I didn't have a text to illustrate--got
more interested in writing. I went to art school; I have a degree. I don't
like to draw. It makes me nervous. I like to write. It's completely
pleasurable. Some people think that that's one of the many reasons why I
shouldn't be taken seriously, because you're supposed to suffer. I don't.
But I suffered plenty doing illustrations.

My wife is the daughter of a painter, my wife Jill. And her mother is on the
order of mind(ph) and said to her two talented daughters, `You may not be
artists.' One day she walked into my office, and I was sitting doing what I
do, which is to say staring off into the middle distance. And it's impossible
to tell if I'm working or thinking or have died.

GROSS: (Laughs)

PINKWATER: So to see what was the case, she picked up a folder and said,
`What's this?' you see? And I said, `The story. It's supposed to be
illustrated.' And she said, `Hows about I do it?' I said, `Fine. Take a
sketch book. Go illustrate. Make drawings.' And she came back in an hour
with sketches, and they were just so wonderful that I called up the editor and
said, `Look, this may seem off the wall to you, but instead of me illustrating
the book, would you consider letting my wife try to?' And she said,
`Wonderful idea. Yes, we'll have Jill do--we'll write up a different contract
for her.' Never having seen any of her work, it could only tell me how they
felt about mine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PINKWATER: And the fact is she draws the way I would draw if I could really
draw. I love her stuff. I just love it. And so I stopped illustrating
because hers is so interesting and exciting, and it's such fun to see what she
comes up with. She was writing some pretty good novels, but I'm not sure
she'll be writing any more because I won't give her the time. I keep giving
her projects of mine to do.

GROSS: How long have you been married?

PINKWATER: Thirty-odd years or forever, whichever comes first.

GROSS: That's a good track record (laughs).

PINKWATER: Yes, especially since we got married six weeks after the day we


PINKWATER: ...and decided to get married two days after the day we met. And
it's been clicking along ever since in its way.

GROSS: Huh. Now you don't have children.


GROSS: Too personal to ask whether that's intentional?

PINKWATER: Who knows if it's intentional or ordained, but it works out that
we don't have children, which gives us many kinds of freedoms to do some
things that we are able to do, not better than but different than, if you had
children to worry about.

GROSS: Did you want to be a father?

PINKWATER: I have never felt a strong desire to be a father.

GROSS: Some people might be surprised to hear that. Since you write for
children, they might assume that, you know, it would be like your big goal in
life to be a father.

PINKWATER: No. It's my big goal in life to write for children.

GROSS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And do you think that your not liking your mother and having your
father be kind of cruel...

PINKWATER: Well, obviously, sure.

GROSS: ...contributed to that? Yeah.

PINKWATER: Yeah. And my wife had a rough parent also, and that tends to make
you think twice. Family life isn't as golden for us maybe as some people,
although we appreciate it when we see it. But it's always like, `Gee, so it
exists, huh? That's nice.'

GROSS: Not to compare, you know, children with animals, but your family has a
lot of, it sounds like, wonderful animals in it: cats, dogs. A horse maybe,

PINKWATER: We've had horses. They've all died off since.


PINKWATER: They're planted around this place in--oh, I shouldn't say that.
It's against the law to bury them on your property, but what are you going to
do? The kindly old knacker lives in England. So, anyway, we have a real
affinity and interest in dogs, and we've been professionals with dogs
training. We wrote a wonderful book, which I can praise without reserve
because my wife did all the thinking involved, called "Super Puppy," which is
in its billionth printing. It's been going on for practically as long as we
have as a couple. And it is the best book there is about getting started with
dogs. Don't be mistaken and get the pamphlet of the same name; we didn't
write that. It's a book. It's a nice thick book. And so we live with them,
we interact with them, we study them. I have a strange Arctic sled dog, who I
taught to read off flash cards. She can read, but she won't heel. It's quite
a story.

GROSS: (Laughs)

PINKWATER: She thinks she's a wolf, and for all intents and purposes she is.
And there are things she will not do because those are things that dogs do.
But there isn't any rule against reading, so I taught her--she could read her
commands off of 3-by-5's. I caused the vet to almost faint.

GROSS: So what do you love about having a lot of animals?

PINKWATER: They're creatures of another species, and you can communicate with
them. They see things in a way that's different than the way we see things.
And seeing things through their eyes is charming and interesting and exciting.

GROSS: Well, Daniel Pinkwater, it was really great to talk with you. Thank
you so much.

PINKWATER: It was really great to talk with you.

GROSS: Daniel Pinkwater's new novel for young people is called "Looking for

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

Review: New DVD titled "The Art of Joseph Szigeti"

Listening to music, especially classical music, is not necessarily a visual
experience. But for classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz, the visual part of
the experience can still be important.


A recent scandal in the classical music world involved soprano Debra Voight,
who was fired from London's Royal Opera because she was too big to fit into
her skimpy costume. Voight is an impressive singer. People want to hear her,
not just look at her. But what performers look like is part of what they do.
Voight might be a more interesting artist if she were more interesting to look
at, not thinner but more expressive, like Pavarotti, who is also not small,
but you can read every flicker of feeling on his mobile face.

Of course, some performers overdue it. I used to have a hard time with
Leonard Bernstein because all his reeling, writhing and fainting and coils
distracted me from the music. Sometimes I wish I were home listening to
recordings than at a live concert. Yet I still want to see a performance.

With the great musicians of the past, artists whose recordings affect me
deeply but whom I was born too late to experience in person, I long to see how
they played, to see the move. I love the great pianist Artur Schnabel, but
I've never seen an image of him in motion.

The most profound and searching violinist I've ever heard is Joseph Szigeti.
He appeared briefly in the 1944 film "Hollywood Canteen" playing a short,
encore piece, then doing a comedy bit with fellow violinist Jack Benny. But
where was any filmed record of Szigeti performing the kind of substantial
music he's most admired for? Now, bless their hearts, Video Artists
International has discovered 50-year-old kinescopes of Szigeti performing on
Canadian television. And these have just been released on DVD. Here's
Szigeti in 1954 with Wilfred Pelletier conducting the Orchestra of Radio
Canada in an 18th century violin concerto by Giuseppe Tartini. Suddenly the
great dignity and inwardness I hear on Szigeti's recording of this I can also
see in his body language and his expression of a rapt concentration.

(Soundbite of music)

SCHWARTZ: The other pieces of music on the Szigeti DVD are the first movement
of Beethoven's Violin Concerto; "Achartis"(ph) by the Hungarian violinist Jeno
Hubay, one of Szigeti's teachers. And since Szigeti was a great champion of
contemporary music, it's especially poignant to see him with pianist Arthur
Balsam in 1960 playing Prokofiev's Second Violin Sonata, a piece Szigeti first
performed in 1944 when it was still in manuscript.

(Soundbite of music)

SCHWARTZ: The camera work may be primitive, the picture quality may be
grainy, and by 1960 the perfection of Szigeti's technique was beginning to be
affected by chronic arthritis, but these films are a rare and moving image of
a beloved figure, literally moving. Seeing films of this musician who's meant
so much to me is almost like watching someone in my own family coming back to

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor at The Boston Phoenix. He
reviewed the new DVD, "The Art of Joseph Szigeti."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews Gretchen Wilson's debut album, which is
currently topping the country music charts. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Review: Gretchen Wilson's new CD, "Here For The Party"

Gretchen Wilson's debut album, "Here For The Party," is the first album by a
woman to reach the top of the country music charts in more than two years,
since more seasoned acts like Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks. Like the
Dixie Chicks, Wilson has attracted a lot of press attention for projecting a
rebellious image. But rock critic Ken Tucker says her notoriety is due more
to her class-conscious message than world politics.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. GRETCHEN WILSON: (Singing) Well, I've been waiting for a shooting,
double-fisted, drinking son of a gun.

KEN TUCKER reporting:

Women in country music tend to present themselves as hardscrabble survivors;
think early Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, stalwart stoics from Patsy Cline to
Tammy Wynette to the Dixie Chicks and pert perfectionists, like the Canadian
contingent that started with Anne Murray and peaked with Shania Twain. Twain,
I'm guessing, is the, quote, "Barbie doll" that Gretchen Wilson is sneering at
in the song that leads off her album, "Here For The Party." There have been
rowdy women in country music before, of course, going at least as far back to
Wanda Jackson and Brenda Lee in the '50s and '60s and Tanya Tucker in the

Wilson's stance is, by no means, unique. Three decades ago Barbara Mandrell
scored one of her biggest hits by proclaiming, `I was country when country
wasn't cool.' But Gretchen Wilson is really pushing the image, as she does on
her raucous manifesto, "Redneck Woman."

(Soundbite of "Redneck Woman")

Ms. WILSON: (Singing) Well, I ain't never been the Barbie doll type. No, I
can't swig that sweet champagne. I'd rather drink beer all night in a tavern
or in a real honky-tonk or on a four-wheel-drive tailgate. I've got posters
on my wall of Skynyrd, Kid and Strait. Some people look down on me, but I
don't give a rip. I'll stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on
my hip 'cause I'm a redneck woman, and I ain't no high-class broad. I'm just
a product of my raisin'. I say, `Hey, y'all' and `Yee haw.' And I keep my
Christmas lights on, on my front porch, all year long. And I know all the
words to every Charlie Daniels song. So here's to all my sisters out there
keepin' it country. Let me get a big `hell yeah' from the redneck girls like
me. Hell yeah.

Chorus: Hell yeah!

TUCKER: Her publicity team plays up Wilson's trailer park roots, the fact
that this 31-year-old was a teen-age mother and grew up in a small town east
of Illinois called Pocahontas, which she immortalizes in a song here. It's
become unusual for a country singer, always considered the working-class
division of music, to actually come from the working class. Interviewers
mention with a kind of awe that Wilson was tending bar at the age of 15. It's
a measure of how pathetic the Nashville music industry is that no one was
interested in Wilson's strong voice and fondness for blending rock 'n' roll
with honky-tonk, that is until "Redneck Woman" became a novelty hit with legs,
which is to say there was a melody and a vocal performance that backed up its

Now millions of record buyers can notice the way a song she's co-written,
"Homewrecker," works in the guitar hook from Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home
Alabama" as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

(Soundbite of "Homewrecker")

Ms. WILSON: (Singing) Well, you're a real hot cookie with your new hairdo,
your high-heel boots and your credit card, long legs and a miniskirt. Yeah,
you know what works, and you work it hard. You smile like such a lady,
innocent and sweet. You drive the men folk crazy, but any girl can see you're
just a homewrecker. I know what you're doin'. You think you're going to
ruin what I got, but you're not. Yeah, you little go-getter...

TUCKER: Gretchen Wilson's album is no out-of-the-box, great chunk of country
music. Her hard-boiled bragging can become as annoying as it did in male
braggarts like Hank Williams Jr. and Waylon Jennings. Another annoying thing
is that she aligns herself with the corny sounding, back-to-the-roots movement
called the Muzik Mafia, a group of Nashville outcasts that includes a duo
called Big & Rich. Half of that twosome, John Rich, co-wrote a number of
songs on Wilson's album, but Big & Rich's own recent debut has been
ridiculously overpraised. Only in a town whose business model is as cautious
as Nashville's would the mildly rough stuff of the Muzik Mafia be hailed as
though it was revolutionary.

Nonetheless, Gretchen Wilson regularly tears off some good music here.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. WILSON: (Singing) When it rains, I pour a couple more rounds till the
hurtin' and the heartaches start to drown. I turn out the lights, I turn up
the wine and I lock my door. When it rains, when it rains, I pour. When life
ain't a-goin' my way and I can't take it one more day, I drink. Hey, hey,
it's OK. I don't need those doctor bills, I don't need your `make it all
better' pill when I'm low. Don't you know, don't you know when it rains, I
pour a couple more...

TUCKER: I could listen to that pretty much all night. Here's hoping that
she's more than just a one-album wonder and that she burns her membership card
to that Muzik Mafia thing. After all, they spell music M-U-Z-I-K, one letter
away from Muzak. And that's not country or cool; that's just dumb. And
Gretchen Wilson isn't making dumb music.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Here For The Party" by Gretchen Wilson.

I'm Terry Gross.
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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