Author Michael Klare on U.S. Oil Dependence
In his new book, Blood and Oil, Klare argues that the United States and other world powers are jockeying to control diminishing global oil supplies. Klare is director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst.
Other segments from the episode on September 9, 2004
DATE September 9, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Author Michael Klare discusses his book "Blood and Oil"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
In the new book "Blood and Oil," my guest Michael Klare warns that US foreign
policy increasingly revolves around access to oil, and our military is being
converted into a global oil protection service. It's not just our
relationship with countries in the Middle East that is focused on oil, Klare
says, oil is also the focus of our relations with countries in Africa, Central
Asia and South America. Klare is a professor of peace and world security
studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and is the defense
correspondent for The Nation. He says that 60 percent of our oil is imported,
and that figure is likely to keep rising, which will make us even more reliant
on the Persian Gulf producers, so the US has a vested interest in getting Iraq
production to where it was before the war. I asked him if he thinks the war
in Iraq was predominantly about oil.
Mr. MICHAEL KLARE (Author): Oil has many guises to it. It's a source of fuel,
it's a source of wealth and it's also a source of power, political power,
immense power because whoever controls the flow of oil from the Middle East
controls the heartbeat of the world's economy. If that heartbeat is damaged,
the whole world economy suffers. So controlling that is crucial. And I think
from the minds of people in Washington from the Bush administration, it was
that aspect of oil that drove the war in Iraq, to ensure that the United
States and nobody else, no hostile power, would ever control the heartbeat of
the world's economy as represented by Persian Gulf oil.
And if you read the statements of people in the administration, they talk that
way, especially Vice President Dick Cheney who said that we can't allow anyone
else to have the ability to strangle our economy by threatening the flow of
oil. So it was to protect the flow, I believe, that the war was really all
GROSS: Let's look at America's relationship with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis,
in some ways, stand for the things that we oppose. It's an authoritarian
government, it's a fundamentalist Islamic government. The women in Saudi
Arabia have very little in the way of rights. I mean, they're not even
allowed to drive. And yet, the American and Saudi governments have a very
close relationship. What are some of the ways that the Saudis and the
Americans have helped each other over the years?
Mr. KLARE: Now this is an arrangement that goes back more than 50 years to
the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. It was FDR who first determined
that the United States had to have a close relationship with the Saudi royal
family, and he met personally with the founder of the dynasty, Abd el-Asis Ibn
Saud, in February 1945. And the two leaders, the president of the United
States and the king of Saudi Arabia, worked out an arrangement whereby the
United States would protect the royal family against all of its enemies in
return for privileged American access to Saudi oil.
And this arrangement has been the driving force behind American foreign policy
in the Persian Gulf ever since. And it means that we as Americans bear
responsibility for defending the regime, not only against foreign enemies like
Iraq or Iran, but also from internal enemies. So the United States is
implicated then with the repression in Saudi Arabia, with the ever-present
security forces that supress dissent, which makes us a target for those who
seek to overthrow the regime, like Osama bin Laden. We are directly
implicated in the survival of the royal family.
GROSS: How vulnerable do you think the royal family is now?
Mr. KLARE: Bear in mind that we're talking about a group of 5,000 people, the
princes and princesses of the House of Saud who control all of the country's
wealth and who make all the fundamental decisions about what goes on in the
kingdom. And there are 15 million other people in Saudi Arabia who have no
political rights, no political representation, no right to dissent. And I
personally believe this is an arrangement that cannot stand for very much
longer. In the 21st century with satellite TV and travel and communications,
sooner or later, the people of Saudi Arabia are going to demand the same
rights that people have in other parts of the world. And the royal family has
shown no willingness whatsoever to compromise with those calls. And so I
think this is a very volatile, dangerous situation.
In addition, the royal family is well aware that there are strong currents of
dissent within their society, and because they don't allow any public
expression of dissent--there's no freedom of speech or assembly or of the
press--that dissent takes underground forms. It's hidden in often dangerous
forms, violent forms. And in the hope of trying to take that violence and
direct it not at the royal family but outside, elsewhere, they finance these
fundamentalist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan and elsewhere and encourage
young Saudis to go to those areas for education and so forth. And it's a way
to deflect that hostility away from the royal family and towards the outside
world. And, unfortunately, the United States became a target of that
hostility and violence. That wasn't the intent. The intent was to protect
the royal family, but that was the consequence of it.
GROSS: Well, let's move away from the Gulf for the moment and look at some of
the other parts of the world. There's something called the Alternate 8. So
these are like eight countries that aren't part of the Middle East or the Gulf
but are rich in oil. What are those countries?
Mr. KLARE: What I call the Alternate 8 are the countries cited in the
Bush-Cheney energy policy of May 2001 as alternatives to reliance on Middle
Eastern oil. And the eight are Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Angola, Nigeria
and Kazakhstan, Russia and Azerbaijan. So they're concentrated in the Western
Hemisphere, in Africa and in the Caspian Sea, former Soviet Union.
GROSS: Well, let's look at the former Soviet Union and that Central Asian
area which is rich in oil. Who is competing for the oil in that part of the
Mr. KLARE: Everybody is competing for that oil because we're at a time in the
evolution of the world's economy where the older industrial countries need
more oil, but we're seeing the emergence of new industrial powers, especially
China, but followed by India and South Korea and Taiwan that also need large
supplies of new oil. And they're looking very closely at the Caspian Sea
region as a possible source of additional oil and natural gas.
On top of that, this used to be in the sphere of influence of the czarist
empire and then the Soviet empire. And today's leaders in Russia are
unwilling to give up control over what they see as their traditional sphere of
influence. So you have the Western countries, the rising Asian industrial
powers and Russia all competing to control this one area. And I see it as the
pivot of international conflict for the coming decades.
GROSS: Because we're all competing for access to that oil?
Mr. KLARE: Because we're all competing for access or control over that oil,
and all of these powers are meddling in local affairs. The United States is
forming military ties with countries in the region, Russia is doing everything
it can to hold onto its control of the region, and China is now acting in a
similar manner, forming ties with some of the Central Asian countries,
providing them with military aid, sending in troops and advisers. So you have
one region in the world that has the three great powers of the 21st
century--the US, Russia and China--all competing for influence at the same
And we know that right now there's a lot of violence in Chechnya. Well,
Chechnya is right in the corner of this region, and I'm convinced that the
Russian authorities have been so adamant in their determination to control
Chechnya by whatever means necessary because they view it as crucial to their
part of this competition. And I think that's why the Chechnya violence is so
intense and brutal and violent.
GROSS: Let's look at Africa for a moment, another area rich in oil. What are
some of the foreign policy decisions that have been made in the past few years
that you see as being connected to protecting our oil interests there?
Mr. KLARE: Well, the largest producer in Africa is Nigeria, and Nigeria
could be an even bigger supplier to the United States in the years ahead, so
it doesn't surprise me that that's the country that has received the most
attention from the Bush administration over the past few years, other than
South Africa, which is an industrial power. But Nigeria has had a lot of
attention. Senior Bush administration officials have been over there, we're
sending a lot of military assistance, we're increasing our military aid to the
Nigerian military. And I think that this is connected to the perception that
the oil flow from Nigeria's very vulnerable to instability in the country.
There are a lot of ethnic disputes, there are a lot of animosities to the
government for syphoning off all of the oil wealth. And I think that the
administration in Washington is very worried about instability in Nigeria, and
so is stepping up its military assistance to that country.
GROSS: My guest is Michael Klare, defense correspondent for The Nation and
author of the new book "Blood and Oil." We'll talk more after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Michael Klare is my guest. His new book is called "Blood and Oil:
The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported
Let's move toward South America and look at the US relationship with Colombia.
I think most Americans, when they think of Colombia, they think of drug
trafficking and all of the political and economic problems revolving around
that. But Colombia's also a potentially big source of oil for us, so how do
you think oil is affecting the US relationship with Colombia?
Mr. KLARE: Oil in Colombia could be an important source of petroleum for the
United States in the future, but most of Colombia's oil is in very remote
areas in the northeast, on the border of Venezuela, far from ports in the
Caribbean where it could be exported to the United States. And the only way
to get that oil from those remote areas to those ports is by pipelines. And
the major pipelines go right through the heart of guerilla-infested areas, so
they're very vulnerable to attack. And, in fact, the guerillas have attacked
the pipelines hundreds of times over the past few years, making it very
difficult to deliver that oil.
So to protect the pipelines, the United States has now deployed a team of
Special Forces instructors to train and equip whole new brigades of the
Colombian army whose sole job, sole mission will be to protect these vital
pipelines against attack. And it's likely that Americans are playing a very
critical role in these pipeline-protection operations.
GROSS: You basically say in your book that you think the US military has a
new role now and it's basically to protect oil resources.
Mr. KLARE: That's right. I think as this country becomes more and more
dependent on oil from very unstable parts of the world, and so long as we
retain our addiction to oil as the main source of energy, American leaders
seem determined to use military force whenever necessary to protect those
overseas sources of oil.
And let me say this is not just a Republican policy. It is a policy that both
parties and leaders of both parties have pursued over the past few decades.
So it's not a new policy, but it's being globalized. And that's why we now
have American troops in the former Soviet republic of Georgia protecting
pipelines, in Colombia protecting pipelines, in Iraq protecting refineries and
pipelines. This is what I think more and more the American military is going
to be consigned to do.
GROSS: What are some of your biggest long-term concerns about American
foreign policy being so involved with our oil concerns and the American
military being so concerned with protecting our oil supplies?
Mr. KLARE: What worries me, first of all, is that there's no end in sight.
We're becoming increasingly dependent on imported oil. And, as I say, more
and more of it is coming from some of the most dangerous areas of the world.
So as long as we view oil as a national security matter, that means that
American military involvement in these areas is destined to grow. And the
risk to American soldiers who are sent over to these places to protect the
pipelines and the refineries, they're going to face greater and greater risk.
And so, simply on a moral level, there's, in my mind, a question whether this
is a legitimate risk to ask our men and women in uniform to take, to protect
pipelines simply to support our addiction to cheap petroleum. It seems to me
that it would be far more morally appropriate to invest not in more military
forces but in alternative sources of energy so that we don't have to send
young men and women over to risk their lives to protect the flow of petroleum.
GROSS: OK, you've addressed what you see as moral issues. What about just
like hard-core political issues? Do you think that there's any problems we
might run into in the long run from forming so much of our policy around oil
Mr. KLARE: Yes. My big worry is that this can become the new driving force
in international conflict among the great powers. And here we come back to
Central Asia and the Caspian region as a pivot of world affairs. As China
becomes more and more like us in being dependent on imported oil, and as
Russia tries more and more to control the flow of oil from the region, you
have the risk of great powers colliding with one another through their
involvement in local affairs, colliding with each other directly in a way that
we haven't seen for a very long time. There hasn't been a period where
Americans have faced Russians and Chinese head on in an area of conflict, and
that's what we're facing in the Middle East and the Caspian area. And this is
what worries me more than anything else.
GROSS: So how do we solve the problem? I mean, do you see any way of
detaching foreign policy from our need for oil?
Mr. KLARE: I think the problem is that we have securitized oil in this
country, by which I mean we've said it's a matter of national security. And
when you say something's a matter of national security, as President Carter
did in 1980 in the "Carter Doctrine" speech, it means you're prepared to send
troops overseas to protect it. And that has been the instinct of American
leaders ever since.
I think we have to say that oil is not a matter of national security and that
we no longer are going to tie our military strategy to the protection of
overseas oil regimes, like Saudi Arabia or Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan; that
that's not the function of the military. And to do that, to be honest, we're
going to have to reduce our dependence on petroleum, and that means developing
alternatives. And that's going to require leadership at the top.
GROSS: What would you like to hear the president say about oil dependence?
Mr. KLARE: This is what I'd like the president to say. The president has to
say, `Listen, my fellow Americans, we've become addicted to a substance,
petroleum, that is vital to our economy and has contributed to our prosperity.
But we no longer produce this substance. It comes from elsewhere, and more
and more of it is going to come from elsewhere. And if we continue down this
path, we're going to pay a very high price in human lives to keep on in this
direction. And, therefore, we have to change our ways to accommodate the
reality that we are no longer supplying ourselves with this substance. And
that means we all have to take steps to move away from petroleum addiction and
move in new directions, particularly in the development of alternative means
of transportation, like hybrid vehicles and hydrogen-powered fuel cells.' I
don't think that's such a hard thing for the president to say.
GROSS: The Bush administration is connected to the oil industry. The Bush
family has been in the oil industry. Vice President Cheney had been the head
of Halliburton. So I'm wondering how you think their connections to the oil
industry has affected policy.
Mr. KLARE: What worries me about the Bush administration's ties to the energy
industry is the particular nature of those ties. They're very closely aligned
with big oil and big coal and the nuclear power industry, especially those
parts of the energy industry that want to perpetuate the current energy
paradigm in this country of a lot of oil consumption, a lot of coal
consumption, even more nuclear power. And it's very clear that this society
has to move in new directions towards alternatives to those fuels.
And the fact that they're so closely tied with these old industry models means
they are freezing us in a dysfunctional energy system. And we're going to pay
a very high price for this down the road when oil becomes more scarce and the
environmental effects of using coal become even more hazardous than they are
today. I think they did us a terrible disservice in their energy report in
2001 of not moving much more rapidly and aggressively towards a
post-petroleum, post-coal economy energy system that would give us the
paradigm we will need in another 20 or 50 years.
GROSS: Well, Michael Klare, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. KLARE: Gee, Terry, it's been a great pleasure for me.
GROSS: Michael Klare is defense correspondent for The Nation. He teaches at
Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. His new book is called "Blood
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, actress Laura Dern talks about her new film "We Don't Live
Her Anymore," and her breakthrough film, "Blue Velvet." And rock critic Ken
Tucker reviews "Blueberry Boat," the new album by the band Fiery Furnaces.
(Soundbite of music)
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Interview: Laura Dern discusses her acting career
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Laura Dern, has starred in such films as "Blue Velvet," "Rambling
Rose," "Citizen Ruth" and "Jurassic Park." Dern wanted to be an actress even
when she was a child. She knew what she was getting herself into from
observing her parents, Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd. Now Laura Dern is starring
in the movie "We Don't Live Here Anymore," which is based on two short stories
by the late Andre Dubus.
"We Don't Live Here Anymore" is about marriage and infidelity. It focuses on
two couples whose marriages seem to be falling apart. Dern plays a wife and
mother whose husband, played by Mark Ruffalo, teaches at a small college. She
sees he's losing interest in her and becoming impatient with her. But she
doesn't know that he's having an affair with her best friend whose husband
also teaches at the college. Film critic David Denby wrote in The New Yorker,
`The movie is so beautifully made and so strongly emotional that the
potentially dreary material is actually thrilling.' In this scene, Dern and
Ruffalo are having a fight in the kitchen.
(Soundbite of "We Don't Live Here Anymore")
Ms. LAURA DERN: (As Terry Linden) We've been married so long that you're
bored? Is that it?
Mr. MARK RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Terry.
Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) No, is that what it is? `Cause you can leave
Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Terry.
Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) I mean, maybe you and I should sit down and talk
about how long this...
Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Terry!
Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) ...thing is going to last between you and me.
Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) I am not going anywhere.
Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) No, it's fine, Jack.
Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) I have never wanted to go anywhere.
Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) I mean, the kids will be fine. You know, if
Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) I am not suffering, and I am not...
Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) ...if this is such a disappointment...
Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) What are you really worried about, Terry?
Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) Other husbands touch their wives.
Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Do you see Hank fondling Edith every second?
Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) Hank doesn't love her. He told me while you were
Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) He said that to you?
Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) Yeah.
Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Oh, yeah?
Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) Oh, yes.
Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Why? Why did he tell you that?
Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) He to--I don't know. He just said it.
Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Well, what were you guys doing? He just
blurted that out? It seems odd.
Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) We were talking. How else do people tell each
Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Well, usually, when people say things like
that, they're doing other things.
GROSS: That's a scene from the new movie "We Don't Live Here Anymore."
Laura Dern, welcome to FRESH AIR. I know a lot of actors often draw on their
own experiences and feelings for a role. Is it hard when you're doing a role
like this to have to immerse yourself in all the bad breakups of your life?
Ms. DERN: Right. It's interesting. I mean, often, for whatever reason,
hopefully not just being overdramatic in my life, I've picked characters who
are in some form of anguish, even when it's, you know, a comedy. But in this
story, it was the first time in my life as an actor--and I started acting
professionally when I was 11--that I had taken purposely a concentrated amount
of time off. I had a child and took about a year and a half off to be with
him and my partner. And it was an incredible period of time. And when I
decided to go back to work and had the good fortune of getting this part, I
had such a voracious appetite to get back to my work that it was the first
time that I had experienced as much anguish as my character was in. I was
just thrilled to have this kind of dialogue and this kind of character to play
and to be back doing what I loved that I think I was just--had a, you know,
endless smile on my face when I wasn't in front of the camera.
GROSS: Laura, your parents are both actors, Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd. They
separated when you were two. Was that separation hard on you?
Ms. DERN: It's interesting. I mean, it's an interesting question, because I
know we can all only speak from our own experience, and I want to answer this,
withholding that I know divorce, for so many, is incredibly painful. I think
I may have been one of the lucky ones. My parents are very full, big,
remarkable personalities and artists. And I think it may have been best for
everyone that they weren't together. So sometimes, you know, I can find
myself being a proponent for divorce. I think it was easier communication
than perhaps trying to stay in a marriage that, for them, clearly wasn't
working anymore. And they had done a decade together. And at the point that
I was two, they just couldn't communicate anymore. It was just too hard for
GROSS: Do you think their differences as people--and these are differences
that they had in their relationship--reflected in differences in their
approach to acting?
Ms. DERN: Definitely, there are approaches to the business. My mother is a
very passionate, very strong-willed individual in all of her life. As an
actor, she's a social and political activist her whole life. She's extremely
impassioned about all things. My father comes with much more irreverence.
And if you could put those two people together--and certainly it's an
aspiration of mine to try to find balance between the two--I think it's a
great combination if we can acquire it. And so I see the obvious difference
in their careers. My dad can sort of laugh off the difficulties of the film
business when my mother may feel something and take it to heart much more
harshly even at times.
GROSS: You knew you wanted to act by the time you were about nine. You had
your first role in a movie, I think, when you were 11. How did you know that
you wanted to act, and how did your mother try to discourage you from doing
Ms. DERN: Well, how I knew I wanted to act, as I mentioned before, spending
time on film sets with my parents around filmmakers like Scorsese and
Hitchcock, where you saw an incredible collaboration between filmmaker and
everyone else on the movie, and that was the energy of it. But that the job
of acting was really about trying to acquire a skill at being as pure and
honest as possible seemed just like a fantastic job and seemed inventive and
so fun and exciting.
In terms of how my mother discouraged it, you know, it's funny. When you
think you're giving your child a sacrifice, if they really love something,
it's never experienced as that for the kid. You know, I wanted to be an
actress, so my mother thought she was being very hard by saying, `You have to
study for the next three years. No outside hobbies of school. No other
activities. No horseback riding anymore. It's got to just be acting class,
studying, taking your weekends. You don't go to this party or that, because
you've got class,' which was where I wanted to be. That was more fun to me,
so I was very committed to it, and at the end of three years, much to her
extreme frustration, I continued the pursuit, and she sort of said, `Hey, do
whatever you want, but we're not going to help you.'
And so then I, you know, tried to find an agent and audition for some agents
to have them send me out on auditions and get friends of my mom's that drove
to drive me to an audition and things like that.
GROSS: So you got a part in a movie that she was in, "Alice Doesn't Live Here
Anymore," which was directed by Martin Scorsese. You were 11, I think? Is
Ms. DERN: Actually, that movie, I was seven, and...
Ms. DERN: ...the truth is, people say I acted in it, but, I mean, I was
sitting at a counter, having an ice cream. But it was still getting to be
part of the experience of filmmaking, I'm sure, just encouraged the desire, as
my mom and Scorsese laugh about. The story supposedly went that he had me
sitting at the counter, eating a banana-flavored ice cream cone through this
big scene, a dramatic climax of the movie between Ellen Burstyn and Kris
Kristofferson, and I was right behind them, so I had to be in every take. And
they had to do 26 takes. So I had to eat 26 ice creams. And in
front--unfortunately, because maybe something would have--different, right in
front of me, Scorsese said to my mom, `Oh, my gosh. She ate 26 ice creams.
This girl's going to be an actress.' And so I used that with my mother for
years after. `Well, Scorsese said, you know, I was going to be an actress.'
But, in fact, my first professional job was when I was 11, and it was a film
called "Foxes" that Adrian Lyne directed...
GROSS: It's funny.
Ms. DERN: ...with Jodie Foster.
GROSS: I figure Scorsese could have said, `She ate 26 ice cream cones. She's
going to be an actress,' or `She's going to be real sick.'
Ms. DERN: Yeah, exactly. Well, I think he was so impressed that I didn't
throw up, frankly, that he considered me a true professional. So that might
have inspired the comment.
GROSS: You went to Catholic school. Was there a list of movies that you were
not supposed to see?
Ms. DERN: Well, I was not the favorite student. Let's put it that way. My
Catholic school life didn't have a terribly long life, because I found myself
in the monsignor's office. I'd seen a movie called "The Reincarnation of
Audrey Rose," and I'd come back to explain to the rest of the class how, you
know, we come again and again. And I was showing them meditation. And I'm
told that that was a sin, and we weren't allowed to believe in reincarnation.
Then I saw--I went to an ERA rally and, at, like, 10, was talking to them
about pro-choice, and that was the end of my Catholic school career.
GROSS: Now you're very tall. How did that affect you as a girl in school?
How did it affect, you know, like, the friends you had or the boyfriends? And
how did it affect you as a very young actress?
Ms. DERN: Well, they say it can be genetic, but I'm sure I gave myself
scoliosis, which I did get riddled with for a time, because I just put myself
into a pretzel to try to be 5'2", which was the size of all the boys. So I'd
stick one hip out and kind of move my shoulders down and just stand as though
I were about seven inches shorter than I was, 'cause I was, I think, 5'9".
I'm 5'10 1/2". But when I was 12, I reached 5'9".
Ms. DERN: And it wasn't easy. I was definitely always the tallest one, so,
GROSS: Do you still have the scoliosis?
Ms. DERN: Actually, I've somewhat outgrown it, too, so that's really great
news. My mother is luckily--as I mentioned, she's passionate about
everything. She's also passionate about alternative medicines, so I saw
osteopaths and chiropractors a great deal in my childhood, and it seemed to
help a lot, and so I didn't have to have a surgery. And I was doing yoga as a
kid and a lot of things that really helped me a great deal.
GROSS: My guest is Laura Dern. She's starring in "We Don't Live Here
Anymore." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Laura Dern is my guest, and she's starring in the new movie "We Don't
Live Here Anymore."
The first film that I really noticed you in--and I think I speak for a lot of
people when I say this--was "Blue Velvet." And I'm wondering how you got the
part in it and how old you were when you got it.
Ms. DERN: Well, it was an amazing thing. I was 18. I had--at 16, 17, I was
getting out of high school and really focusing on my career as truly the thing
I wanted to do with my life as an adult. And I had been cast in "Mask" for
Peter Bogdanovich. And in the same year, an independent film called "Smooth
Talk," which was based on a Joyce Carol Oates short story actually, and was a
really interesting film and a really interesting role for someone my age.
And so I think the support and critical support of those movies, particularly
"Smooth Talk," may have been the thing that luckily made David Lynch aware of
me and ask to meet me. And one of the most interesting things about David
Lynch is whether you've done very little work or a great deal of work, he's
really not an auditioner, if that's a word. He doesn't--he really meets
actors and has a feeling if they're right or not. So the process was odd in
that I went and met with him and spoke to him for about an hour about the
movie, and then he ended up asking me to play the part, just felt I was what
he wanted for that role.
But what's really interesting about it, Terry, is I always talk about how, you
know, in the trajectory of our careers, how things find you, and good fortune
is certainly a part of--it comes into play, even as much as we want it to be
about skill and innate gifts and all of that. And so, you know, I screen
test. At the same time I met David Lynch, I screen test for John Hughes'
movie and a very popular TV series. But I didn't get those. I got the David
Lynch movie. And people are always saying, you know, `My God, you know, how
you chose this career, working with people like David Lynch.' When you're 18,
it sort of chooses you, you know.
GROSS: Why don't we hear a scene from "Blue Velvet"? This is a scene between
you and Kyle MacLachlan. And this is the scene shortly after he found the
severed ear in the field. And a detective, who's actually your father, is
following the case. Kyle MacLachlan has just finished talking to your father,
the detective. And as Kyle MacLachlan leaves the house, he meets you. And
you have some information on the case.
(Soundbite of "Blue Velvet")
Mr. KYLE MacLACHLAN: (As Jeffrey Beaumont) So what do you know about the ear?
Ms. DERN: (As Sandy Williams) Didn't my father tell you not to talk about it?
Mr. MacLACHLAN: (As Jeffrey Beaumont) Yeah, but you brought it up. You know
Ms. DERN: (As Sandy Williams) I don't know much but bits and pieces. I hear
Mr. MacLACHLAN: (As Jeffrey Beaumont) Yeah?
Ms. DERN: (As Sandy Williams) My room is right above my father's office,
Mr. MacLACHLAN: (As Jeffrey Beaumont) Above your father's office?
Ms. DERN: (As Sandy Williams) So I heard a few things about the ear.
Mr. MacLACHLAN: (As Jeffrey Beaumont) Uh-huh, and?
Ms. DERN: (As Sandy Williams) Well, there are a couple of cases I get mixed
Mr. MacLACHLAN: (As Jeffrey Beaumont) Mm-hmm.
Ms. DERN: (As Sandy Williams) But one name that keeps coming up, it's this
woman singer. She lives in an apartment building that is real close to your
house. It's also close to the field where you found the ear.
Mr. MacLACHLAN: (As Jeffrey Beaumont) It's a strange world, isn't it?
Ms. DERN: (As Sandy Williams) Yeah.
Mr. MacLACHLAN: (As Jeffrey Beaumont) Do you know where this woman's
apartment building is?
Ms. DERN: (As Sandy Williams) Yeah, it's really close by. That's what's so
creepy. They had her under surveillance for a couple months, except I don't
know that they found out, 'cause she's not my dad's case, so...
Mr. MacLACHLAN: (As Jeffrey Beaumont) I guess you've got to get back home
pretty soon, huh?
Ms. DERN: (As Sandy Williams) Not really, why?
Mr. MacLACHLAN: (As Jeffrey Beaumont) Well...
Ms. DERN: (As Sandy Williams) You want to see the building.
Mr. MacLACHLAN: (As Jeffrey Beaumont) Yeah.
Ms. DERN: (As Sandy Williams) Come on. I'll show you.
GROSS: That's Laura Dern and Kyle MacLachlan in a scene from "Blue Velvet,"
directed by David Lynch in 1986. And Laura Dern is now starring in the new
movie "We Don't Live Here Anymore."
Let's move up to 1991, when you starred in "Rambling Rose" with your mother,
Diane Ladd. What was it like acting with your mother? Did she seem like your
mother, or did she seem transformed into a different character?
Ms. DERN: You know, it's interesting. I feel like my mom and I were given
something that all mothers and daughters should be given, which is the
opportunity to play out the complete extreme opposites of a mother-daughter
relationship. We did "Wild at Heart" with David Lynch together, where she not
only was a horror and truly evil and just terrifying, but there's even a scene
where I look out my car window and see her riding a broom as the Wicked Witch
of the East. So that saved years of therapy. And then cut to "Rambling
Rose," she's playing a character called Mother in which she's the only one
that understands me and is so embracing of my greatest qualities and
understanding of my challenges. So it was just a beautiful way to play out
the opposites in our relationship and, I think, really did help us grow even
On the professional side of things, it's just fascinating to sort of be a
professional at work next to a parent. It's so odd. You know, you want to be
a real pro, and you're incredibly relaxed and anxious. It's like a lot of
GROSS: Did you find yourself slipping into real mother-daughter stuff as you
were playing these roles?
Ms. DERN: Oh, yeah. I mean, it was inevitable. And at times, I know there's
one scene in "Wild at Heart," actually, there's a moment towards the end of
the movie where I'm going through a great deal of grief. I believe it's when
Sailor, Nicolas Cage, my boyfriend in the film, gets sent to prison, and she
finds me in the courthouse. And it's just a moment where she comes and holds
me as I'm crying on this bench. And, you know, as she pulled away from the
hug, she looked in my eyes, and I just started weeping. And I remember David
after sort of saying, `Oh, God, that was so powerful. What were you working
on, or what was going on?' I'm like, `I just looked in my mom's eyes, and it
was my mom, you know. You don't need to act, just she knows my story, and I
know hers.' And it's just something so deeply intimate. It's an amazing
experience as an actor.
GROSS: You're a mother now. You have...
Ms. DERN: Yeah.
GROSS: Your child's--What?--a year and a half or something.
Ms. DERN: No, he's actually two and a half, almost three.
GROSS: Now when your son is about nine, if he says what you said when you
were about nine to your mother, `Mom...'
Ms. DERN: Oh, God.
GROSS: `...I really want to act'...
Ms. DERN: How could you do this to me, Terry?
GROSS: ...what would you say?
Ms. DERN: Well, it'll be interesting to see, you know, what's innate and what
is acquired, because as someone just about to turn three, he's so drawn to
music, and he loves it, and instruments, and...
GROSS: What's your partner say?
Ms. DERN: Yeah, so it'll be interesting to see what develops in him, because
that's something that seems to be something he was born with. But, you know,
of course, I'll give you the line that, you know, we just want our children to
be happy, which is true. He's a boy. With a girl, I probably would be as
defensive as my mother was about the business, because, you know, now that we
turn around, and there are, like, women in their early 30s getting Botox and
Ms. DERN: ...something's terribly wrong. But you know what my little--I'll
leave you with my little secret, what my secret is, Terry, as an actress...
Ms. DERN: ...in my mid-30s.
Ms. DERN: While I watch all these people around me at a very young age
redoing their face and none of us are being educated in sort of being
comfortable with self. That doesn't seem to be part of the work of becoming a
grown-up. If I stick with that and do nothing, I'm going to corner the market
on all the 60-year-old parts, 'cause nobody's going to look 60 when I get
GROSS: I love it.
Ms. DERN: So I'll be talking to you, looking, you know, like an aged version
of myself in 30 years and, hopefully, get some really interesting characters
GROSS: It's really been great to talk with you. Thank you so much.
Ms. DERN: Oh, so great to talk to you. Thank you.
GROSS: Laura Dern is starring in the new movie "We Don't Live Here Anymore."
Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews a new CD by the band Fiery Furnaces. This is
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: New album from the Fiery Furnaces, "Blueberry Boat"
TERRY GROSS, host:
The brother and sister duo of Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger make up the band
Fiery Furnaces. They've just released their second album called "Blueberry
Boat." Rock critic Ken Tucker says the Furnace's long, complex songs may not
be for everyone but that this is intentionally difficult music that yields
equally intentional, great pleasure.
(Soundbite of "Quay Cur")
Ms. ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: (Singing) I had a locket, a little silver charm,
given to me so to keep me out of harm. Canvassing the quayside trying to earn
my keep, a killick tore it off my neck and threw it in the deep. And now I'll
never, never, never feel like I am safe again. And now I'll never, never,
never feel like I am safe again. And now I'll never, never, never...
KEN TUCKER reporting:
First of all, most of what you're going to hear in this review are snippets,
sections often carved out of the middle of the Fiery Furnaces' long eight-,
nine- and 10-minute songs. They commence their new second album "Blueberry
Boat" with their most convoluted, nearly abstract composition "Quay Cur."
That's `quay' spelled Q-U-A-Y, as in a place for boats to dock. Some minutes
later, Matthew Friedberger picks up the vocal.
(Soundbite of "Quay Cur")
Mr. MATTHEW FRIEDBERGER: (Singing) Down came our trestle-trees, no pitch,
tar or nails; fore shrouds break no rope we trust; only one shift of sales.
Drink my Rosa Solis; struck suddenly ahull, yield ourselves we spumed, my
sinews stiff, my eyes were dull.
And as we pass the equinoctial only five of us could stand, and while the
capstan without sheets or tacks by all of us manned, and on the 11th day of
June ran in at Barehaven to land.
Ms. FRIEDBERGER: (Singing) And now I'll never, never, never feel like I am
safe again. And now I'll never, never, never feel like I am safe again. And
now I'll never, never, never feel like I am safe again.
TUCKER: The Fiery Furnaces are engaged in creating a new kind of art song,
pop music that seems as interested in a certain kind of poetry as it is in
music. I read one review of this album that mentioned the poet John Ashbery,
the assiduously oblique master of quietly witty elusiveness, and that's a
pretty good comparison.
But I think the Friedbergers, who are from Oak Park, Illinois, are even closer
to another member of the so-called New York School of poetry, the late Kenneth
Koch. Koch delighted in long lines of playful absurdism that frequently
suggested narrative without actually engaging in it. Similarly, if there's
one theme that can be clearly followed throughout the album, it's its watery
subject matter. Take this scoop of the title song, "Blueberry Boat," as
Eleanor assumes the role of captain of a ship.
(Soundbite of "Blueberry Boat")
Ms. FRIEDBERGER: (Singing) Past Taipei, through the Taiwan Straits, we sailed
on in, me and my mates. It was my first time running my own ship, but my
buddies didn't care, they didn't give me no lip. So many times, we'd been
side by side, but I never carried a load with so much pride. You see I'm from
Grand Rapids and up my way, we grow the best blueberries in the US of A. And
when we pull into old H.K., the little markets'll have something special next
day. And then at dawn, I had a scotch and made them switch off the po...
TUCKER: Later in that song, Eleanor will sing, `It's sad and it's cold at the
bottom of the sea, but at least I got my blueberries with me.' Things often
sound rather bleak on Fiery Furnaces' albums. A reviewer of "Blueberry Boat"
in The New York Times complained that the album was, quote, "too much after a
while, too many ideas, too many proper nouns." Great, just what we need,
advice to dumb down pop music. For that reviewer, the Fiery Furnaces seem to
have thrown a bone, a song called "I Lost My Dog." It's single-minded, and
it doesn't have many proper nouns, beyond a visit to a Dairy Queen.
(Soundbite of "My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found")
Ms. FRIEDBERGER: (Singing) I kicked my dog. I was mean to him before. I
guess that's why he walked out my door. I really wish I could see him some
more. I looked under the mats and I asked all the cats. I went to the vet,
have you heard anything yet. My dog was lost, but now he's found. My dog was
lost, but now he's found. I went to the bar and they said not so far. I went
to the gym, have you taken a walk with him? My dog was lost, but now he's
found. My dog was lost, but now he's found.
TUCKER: I don't usually like the kind of music the Fiery Furnaces make. I
find most art song concepts self-satisfied or just plain pretentious, and
Eleanor's voice is so calm and serene, it can, when combined with lyrics that
sound on the first few listens like non sequiturs, sound quite lost and
despairing. But actually, she and her brother, who produces the albums and
plays many of the instruments, are very brisk and clever. This brother and
sister seem glad to come through each song with each other, and a few other
dazed but happy passengers who are up for the ride.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Blueberry Boat" from the Fiery Furnaces.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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