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Author Phil Patton

Phil Patton, author of Bug: The Strange Mutations of the World's Most Famous Automobile. It's a cultural history of the Volkswagen Beetle, the most produced and best-known car of all time. Patton writes for The New York Times, Esquire, Wired and ID. He also wrote Dreamland: Travels inside the Secret World of Roswell and Area 51.


Other segments from the episode on September 23, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 23, 2002: Interview with Phil Patton; Review of the new Television season; Interview with Linda Thompson.


DATE September 23, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Phil Patton discusses his new book "Bug: The Strange
Mutations of the World's Most Famous Automobile" and the history
of the Volkswagen Beetle

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The Volkswagen Beetle may have the strangest history of any car. It was
designed in response to Adolf Hitler's demand for an affordable car for the
German people. Thirty years later, after it caught on in the US, the Beetle
became the affordable car of the hippie counterculture. By the '80s the VW
Bug had been overtaken by compact Japanese cars, but the Beetle's design was
so popular, it was revived in the '90s with a new retro model that came in
candy-colored designs.

My guest, Phil Patton, is the author of the new book "Bug: The Strange
Mutations of the World's Most Famous Automobile." He writes regularly for The
New York Times' Design Notebook, Public Eye and automotive columns. He was a
consulting curator for the Museum of Modern Art's 1999 exhibition on
automobiles for the new century. I asked Patton about Hitler's connection to
the Beetle.

Mr. PHIL PATTON (Author, "Bug: The Strange Mutations of the World's Most
Famous Automobile"): Hitler really was the man who made the Volkswagen
happen. The idea of a people's car had been around in Germany for many years,
and they were advocates for it. But the very first thing Hitler did after
coming to power as chancellor in January of 1933 was to declare he was going
to help the automobile industry, build highways and build a car for the
masses. This, of course, was quite popular, and the vision of American
prosperity danced in the minds of Germans. It was something he wanted to

GROSS: Does Volkswagen translate from people's car?

Mr. PATTON: Volkswagen literally means people's car, and it was really a
generic name before it became a trademark. There had been talk of a people's
car in Germany back in the '20s, and there were even models of cars from other
manufacturers called people's cars or Volkswagen well before the actual Nazi
model appeared.

GROSS: Why was building cars and building roads so important for Hitler's

Mr. PATTON: It's important to remember that Hitler's grasp on power was a bit
tenuous when he first became chancellor. And with unemployment high, building
highways was an excellent way to create jobs, and helping the automobile
industry was, in a modern industrial economy, a way to pump up the economy.
In fact, a lot of economists believe that it did more to restore the German
economy than rearmament actually did. So he was fairly shrewd in both
creating economic stimulus and propaganda appeal.

GROSS: Now was the development of cars and highways linked in Hitler's mind
to militarization?

Mr. PATTON: William Shirer and other historians have depicted the Volkswagen
as pretty much just a propaganda ploy, but it really was quite closely woven
into Hitler's own vision. He saw the Autobahns extending into the conquered
territories in the east, and he even measured out the map of these conquered
territories according to how far a Volkswagen could go in a day. He ordered
that villages be built for the new German farmers he was going to install
there, and there would be a town with an inn a Volkswagen's drive apart from
the other towns.

GROSS: Now Hitler asked Porsche to design this car. I always thought that
Porsche was the founder of the Porsche and never associated him with designing
the humble VW Bug.

Mr. PATTON: Well, it's funny. Ferdinand Porsche was a major public figure in
Europe. He was a hero engineer who had even worked for the kaiser in the
First World War, and he was well-known, having worked designing racing cars
and other cars for Mercedes and other companies. And he had been pushing a
people's car, too. Like Hitler, he was a guy from the provinces, and he had a
notion of bringing a fairly inexpensive good car back to the sort of rural
folk from whom he sprang. So they had an interesting relationship. Porsche
didn't have much interest in ideology, but he had a kind of almost avuncular
relationship with Hitler, and the two of them got along in a very strange and
weird way.

GROSS: How did the Bug get its shape?

Mr. PATTON: The Bug got its shape from some of the ideas about streamlining
of the period. The airflow in other cars had been appearing. As speeds got
higher, the engineers were looking to reduce drag. But Hitler was very
interested in specifically getting involved. He fancied himself an automotive
expert, and he instructed Porsche to look to nature for the shapes of
streamlining and specifically told him, `Look to the beetle,' lending this
nickname almost immediately. And Hitler made also, it appears, a number of
drawings suggesting the shape, and you can be sure that Dr. Porsche hastened
to round the front in just the manner that Hitler had suggested.

GROSS: While the VW Bug was being built, Hitler gave it a different name. He
called it the KdF Wagon. What does that name mean? What was the significance
of that name?

Mr. PATTON: Hitler wanted the car called the Strength through Joy Wagon.
That was the organization, Strength through Joy, a propaganda organization
that organized recreational activities for workers to boost their morale. And
one of the things that they had were savings plans. You could save for a ski
vacation or a cruise. Finally, it was hit upon that workers could save a few
marks each week and buy the car in this manner.

GROSS: But you say even when it was officially being called the KdF Wagon,
the logo that was coming off of the assembly line and being put on the car was
the VW logo. How did that happen?

Mr. PATTON: There was a KdF logo, which was partly derived from the swastika,
but there was a lot of public skepticism toward all the Nazi propaganda, and
most people really referred to it still as the Volkswagen. The name had
simply been established for so long.

GROSS: Toward the end of World War II, slave labor was used at the VW
production plant, and you say that people from occupied countries and Eastern
Europe and in Europe were kind of enslaved to work in this plant. People were
taken out of Auschwitz to work in the plant. Describe what you know of what
working conditions were like at that point in time at the VW plant in Germany.

Mr. PATTON: Slave labor of all types was used, including, first of all,
Soviet prisoners of war. Prisoners of war, of course, are not supposed to be
impressed into labor under the Geneva Convention, but they were. People who
were pulled out of occupied France as political opponents, people who were
brought from Poland and other conquered territories in the east, including
women, and at one point, skilled Jewish metal workers brought from
concentration camps. And absurdly, each of these different types of laborer
was given a different food ration, different uniform, different privileges
within the plant where a variety of wartime activities were going on, in
addition to simply building military vehicles. Bombs, artillery shells, all
sorts of things were built in this vast factory that had been planned to turn
out millions of cars.

GROSS: Did VW ever offer any public apology for using slave labor and people
from the concentration camps?

Mr. PATTON: VW was, in the 1990s, one of the most forward of German
companies--and most major German companies had used the slave labor--in trying
to come to terms with this under their CEO, Carl Hahn. Hahn commissioned what
turned out to be an 800-page book by the eminent German historian Hans Mommsen
and a team of historians working for him to come to a full accounting of those
years, and what is amazing is how much documentation there was in both just
office papers, photographs, things that survived. Volkswagen also established
a fund to compensate surviving slave laborers well before there was a national
fund established by the German government. And then they began to turn their
back a little bit when Ferdinand Piech became CEO. Piech's father had been
the head of the factory during the war. Piech's grandfather was Ferdinand
Porsche, and he felt that, in many ways, the accounting of the slave labor
years, the whole Nazi experience had been aimed at embarrassing him, and he
refused to have the book translated into other languages.

GROSS: My guest is Phil Patton, author of the new book "Bug: The Strange
Mutations of the World's Most Famous Automobile." We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're talking about the history of the Volkswagen Beetle. My guest,
Phil Patton, is the author of the new book "Bug: The Strange Mutations of the
World's Most Famous Automobile."

When the Volkswagen was exported to the United States, the image of the car, I
think, really started to change. For a lot of Jewish people in the United
States, it was a car associated with the Nazis, and they didn't want to go
near it. And I'm sure a lot of other Americans had similar misgivings about
this car. What was done to change the image of the Volkswagen Beetle from
Hitler's car to a fun, cheap, small car that Americans would enjoy?

Mr. PATTON: Well, a few GIs had brought Volkswagens back from Europe, and
there were a few imported, but it really took a growing sense of the Beetle as
a product of West Germany, not of greater Hitler Germany, and also an ad
campaign by the late 1950s, ironically, as with so many things in the Beetle
story, by a Jewish ad agency. These were probably the most famous ads of the
century, and the campaign was voted the best ad campaign in a number of
century-end surveys. The `Think Small' ads, the `Lemon' ads, which talked
about the single strip of chrome disqualifying a Volkswagen from being shipped
over. All these turned on the German image for high technology, because
frightening as they were in a military way, we knew their technology was good.
We knew their rocket scientists were helping us put satellites in orbit in the
late '50s.

And also, there was a sense that the ad agency moved to Americanize the car.
That was their initial goal. And they did that by latching on to an existing
set of American values. Detroit was advertising its cars on the basis of such
American values as flash and size and power and speed, but the ad agency for
Volkswagen went back to American virtues such as frugality, economy, the
characteristics of the Model T or the covered wagon. And probably the best
advertisement that summed this up was the one they did around the time of the
moon landing that showed the Lunar Lander, which was itself called Bug, with
the line, `It's ugly, but it gets you there.' And all those American virtues
of can-do, do-it-yourself, plainness were soon to be reflected in the Beetle.

GROSS: The Beetle caught on for a lot of young college people, and then it
became a really big car in the hippie counterculture of the '60s. What do you
think accounts for that? Do you think it's because it was cheap or do you
think that there was something else at work there?

Mr. PATTON: Part of the Beetle's appeal was first in academic towns. And I
grew up in a college town where I remember seeing Beetles along with, you
know, the odd Italian and British sports car. But it was not the people who
bought the people's car in the United States, not the workers and farmers, but
intellectuals and people who appreciated it by contrast with the big chrome,
tail-fin Detroit vehicles. And it was very much a kind of reverse snobbism to
make a statement with that kind of vehicle. Later, as the '60s went on, there
was a baby boom in progress; a lot of teen-agers had a Beetle as their first
car because it was an economical vehicle to add to the family garage.

GROSS: I remember in the '60s, there were a lot of Jewish families in which
buying a Volkswagen was a very controversial act. You know, the newly adult
kid wanted a Volkswagen because it was a cheap car and it was, you know, a
kind of hip car to have. And the parents often felt like you shouldn't give
them your money because this was a car associated with Hitler and the Nazis,
`How could you buy it?' Do you remember those debates?

Mr. PATTON: I remember those debates not only about Volkswagen--and they're
completely understandable--but about Mercedes. And that was the feeling of
people like George Lois who worked at the ad agency producing the Volkswagen
ads; there was a great deal of ambivalence on the part of the ad agency about
working with a car that he said still reminded you of the ovens. You know,
how would they deal with that issue?

GROSS: Do you think that link between Volkswagen and Hitler still exists in
the minds of many American consumers? Do you think that there are many people
now who would not buy that car because of its roots in the Reich?

Mr. PATTON: What surprises me, particularly with the new Beetle, and
particularly with people in their '20s and younger, is in many cases an
absence of awareness even of the old Beetle. It's something they see in
movies, and it's a distant memory, but they don't associate it--they don't
even associate the new Beetle so much with the old Beetle, and they have very
little awareness of the whole history of the car and its birth in the Third
Reich. And really the whole story of the Beetle has been this twist of
ironies, a tragicomic moving in and out of the dark sides into the bright
sides of culture, how you go from Himmler to Herbie, how you end up being a
plush toy sold in the Disney mall store after starting out as a detailed model
given to Adolf Hitler on his birthday. It's just one of those very strange
crystals that takes all of our history of the last century and throws it into
many fascinating lights.

GROSS: Well, Phil Patton, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. PATTON: Thanks, Terry. This was fun.

GROSS: Phil Patton is the author of the new book "Bug: The Strange Mutations
of the World's Most Famous Automobile."

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

Profile: Fall TV season

After a slow summer, it's a busy time for TV. The Emmy Awards were held last
night. The fall TV season begins officially today. And TV critic David
Bianculli says they both have to do with the same thing, broadcast vs. cable


At the Emmys last night, the final two awards made it sound like business as
usual for the big broadcast networks. NBC won best drama for "The West Wing"
and best comedy for "Friends." And earlier in the night, CBS won three major
acting awards for "Everybody Loves Raymond," and Fox picked up the major
writing awards for "24" in drama and "The Bernie Mac Show" in comedy.

But you take those few shows out of the equation for a second, and what are
the broadcast networks left with? Almost nothing. Cable went home with
almost every award for telemovies and miniseries, with HBO's "Band of
Brothers" and "The Gathering Storm" winning particularly big. And the biggest
win of all, a stunning upset, came when Michael Chiklis won the best dramatic
series actor Emmy for his work as a rogue cop on "The Shield." That's a
series on FX, a cable network about as low on the radar as you can go.

And speaking of taking something out of the equation, one of the reasons
Chiklis may have won is that another cable series, HBO's "The Sopranos,"
wasn't eligible this year. Last year James Gandolfini won the best actor
category, just as Edie Falco won best actress. Next year, they'll be back and
it'll be a tougher contest, especially for broadcast TV.

This season broadcast TV isn't doing much to call attention to itself. The
2002 fall TV season starts today, yet all the thunder, good and bad, seems to
be taken already. The one TV show everyone is talking about right now is "The
Sopranos" which returned, finally, two weeks ago. It's on cable. The best
new show of the season started this summer, "Monk," starring Tony Shalhoub as
a brilliant detective with obsessive-compulsive disorder. It's on cable, too,
on USA Network. Both of these shows were developed for, then rejected by,
broadcast networks, "The Sopranos" by Fox and "Monk" by ABC.

For Fox, it was the one that got away, but that show would have been a
completely different animal on broadcast TV. But "Monk" is a classic
detective series, and ABC has admitted its mistake. It picked up reruns of
"Monk," showing episodes after USA Network did, and they ended up landing in
the top 20. Starting this Thursday, "Monk" reruns will be part of ABC's fall
lineup, and this series, which came from cable, is better than any of the more
than 30 new shows this fall.

Here's a taste of "Monk," with Tony Shalhoub as the unusually impaired
detective, and Bitty Schram as his very patient assistant. They've been
called in to advise at a crime scene.

(Soundbite of "Monk")

Mr. TONY SHALHOUB: The stove.

Unidentified Actor: Over here. It's in the kitchen.

Mr. SHALHOUB: No, I mean my stove. I think I left it on.

Ms. BITTY SCHRAM: It's OK. I checked it as we were leaving.

Mr. SHALHOUB: Are you sure? Did you turn the knob?

Ms. SCHRAM: Yeah.

Mr. SHALHOUB: The little knob, though?

Ms. SCHRAM: I turned all the knobs. The stove is off, Adrian.

Unidentified Actor: Excuse me, sir, we believe it was a burglary gone sour.
She walked in, she surprised him, he panicked...


Unidentified Actor: ...he walked back from the kitchen, he...

Mr. SHALHOUB: No. No, no. No, no. This was no burglary.

Unidentified Actor: It wasn't?

Mr. SHALHOUB: He tried to make it look like one, but this guy was cold as
ice. He wore his slippers to avoid leaving shoeprints. Not something your
neighborhood crackhead is prone to do.

Ms. SCHRAM: Adrian.

Mr. SHALHOUB: He was in here. He was waiting.

Unidentified Actor: Waiting for what?

Mr. SHALHOUB: You know, for her. He was here at least an hour. He was
smoking. You can still smell it on the curtains. Menthols, Salems.

BIANCULLI: As for the other new shows this season, there are a few worth
sampling at least once. There's "Firefly" on Fox, the new series from "Buffy
the Vampire Slayer's" Joss Whedon, and two ABC shows, "Push, Nevada," a kind
of warmed-over "Twin Peaks," and "Life with Bonnie," a new sitcom starring
Bonnie Hunt, and "The Twilight Zone," a solid UPN remake of the classic Rod
Serling series. And finally there's "Boomtown" on NBC, a new cop drama told
from many different points of view. But there's not one new show, except for
"Monk," that I truly love. On broadcast TV this season, the real excitement
isn't coming from the new shows popping up, but from the great ones coming
back: "Alias" on ABC, "24" on Fox, "Buffy" on UPN.

Give me those three shows every week, and I'm not complaining. Well, not

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

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


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Singer-songwriter Linda Thompson is making a comeback after years of
being unable to sing because of a vocal problem. Coming up, we'll meet her
and her son, Teddy Thompson, who performs with Linda on her new CD and
co-wrote many of the songs.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Interview: Linda and Teddy Thompson discuss Linda's new CD,
"Fashionably Late," and her recording career with her ex-husband,
Richard Thompson

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, singer and songwriter Linda Thompson, made a series of recordings
that are now considered classics; albums like "Pour Down Like Silver" and
"Shoot Out the Lights." They were collaborations with her then husband,
singer, songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson. Her dark voice seemed to
perfectly suit his brooding songs. The Thompsons married in 1972, the year he
left the British folk rock group Fairport Convention, which he had co-founded.
Their marriage fell apart 10 years later.

Linda recorded a solo album in 1985, but then gave up performing because of a
vocal problem that made it impossible for her to sing. Now able to perform
again, she's making a comeback with a new CD called "Fashionably Late." Also
with us is her son Teddy Thompson. He collaborated on the new CD, playing the
guitar, singing and co-writing many of the songs, including the opening track,
"Dear Mary." That track is a family, or an ex-family affair, with Richard
Thompson adding his guitar and backup vocals. Let's hear it.

(Soundbite of "Dear Mary")

Oh, Mary, you may have to run. You may have to be on your way. Consider the
things that you've done. Oh, Mary, you may have to run.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. THOMPSON, Mr. R. THOMPSON and Mr. T. THOMPSON: (Singing) Remember your
tales and your lies. They'll come back to haunt you one day. And all of the
boys you made cry all remember your tales and your lies.

Ah, ah, ah. Ah, ah, ah.

Your false heart can never be true. I know it as well as the rest. You'll
pay dear for the things that you do. Your false heart can never be true. And
one day the tables will turn.

GROSS: Linda Thompson, Teddy Thompson, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Linda, you basically stopped singing in--What?--around 1988?

Ms. THOMPSON: About then, yeah.

GROSS: And you were diagnosed with something that you've called hysteria
dysphonia. What was the diagnosis they gave you?

Ms. THOMPSON: Well, I mean, it was a diagnosis actually from a shrink, you
know, rather than a medical man, and that was his diagnosis. You know, I've
always thought it was more physical or neurological than psychological because
I don't have to be nervous or unhappy or anything for it to happen. I mean, I
can be talking to the greengrocer, you know, and it's so--but I don't know. I
mean, I'd be overjoyed if it was--you know, they could take a bit of your
brain out that didn't work or something. But...

GROSS: I don't think they can do that.

Ms. THOMPSON: No. That's unfortunate. But, you know, maybe they could do
something. Who knows? You know, it would be...

GROSS: You expected to never perform again, but you're performing now. You
have a new record out. What changed?

Ms. THOMPSON: A guy--an American guy called David Thomas from Cleveland, who
works with a group called Pere Ubu, asked me to do some gigs with him. And I
said no, but he insisted, so I sort of did it. And he's a very avant garde
musician, you know, very eternal stuff, which is much easier for me to do, in
fact. And, you know, it seemed to work right. And then we--Teddy and I wrote
some songs together, and we decided to make a record.

GROSS: Teddy, I want to ask you, you've recorded and performed with your
father. You have your own record, as well--your father Richard Thompson. Now
you're performing and recording with your mother, as well. How'd you feel
about being on your mother's CD and working with her?

Mr. T. THOMPSON: On it? I was that CD.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I should mention you co-wrote a lot of those songs on it.

Mr. T. THOMPSON: Yeah, it was--I mean, it wasn't as if I came in and, you
know, for a day and did something on my mom's record. It was long, you know,
process that we did together--you know, a lot of writing together and stuff.
And so it was very collaborative. It wasn't like a guest spot. You know, it
was years of my life.

GROSS: Well, during most of your life, your mother wasn't performing. So do
you feel like you've seen a different side of her now?

Ms. THOMPSON: The ugly side.

Mr. T. THOMPSON: Yeah. Yeah. You know, it's like--you know, parents have to
to become people, I suppose, at some point. You know, you have to see them as
something else other than your parents and see them doing a job. And you
haven't had a job for about 25 years.

Ms. THOMPSON: Been lying in a darkened room for 17 years.

Mr. T. THOMPSON: So perhaps it's a sort of belated version of that.

GROSS: Linda, why did you want Teddy to work with you on the CD?

Ms. THOMPSON: He was cheap, basically. And he's very, very good. And I
just like working with family. You know, there's a wonderful dynamic between
voices, you know, when you're related. Yeah, I think. And I just like
working--and I like being with my kids more than I like being with anybody
else. So I--it was a pleasure for me to work with Teddy, and with Kammie, my
youngest daughter.

GROSS: What's the process when you're writing together?

Ms. THOMPSON: It varies. I mean...

Mr. T. THOMPSON: It involves a lot of faxing.


GROSS: That's right, because, Teddy, you're in New York and, Linda, you're in

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah. But the first one, I think, Teddy gave me the tune and
then I did some lyrics, and sometimes we'd do it the other way around. I'll
give him some lyrics and do a tune, you know. So we'd been played them down
the phone. Or--I mean, I'm in New York a lot, so, you know, we get to
collaborate in person, as well.

GROSS: My guests are singer-songwriter Linda Thompson and her son, singer,
songwriter and guitarist Teddy Thompson. Let's hear a track from Linda's new
CD "Fashionably Late." This is "Evona Darling."

(Soundbite of "Evona Darling")

Mr. T. THOMPSON: (Singing) Do you remember?

Ms. THOMPSON and Mr. T. THOMPSON: (Singing) He can remember you. Evona
darling, doesn't that make you blue? Living here like you do, doesn't that
make him love a little, too, girl? He's in love with you, Evona. So in love
with you, Evona.

Mr. T. THOMPSON: (Singing) Time has come for him to belong to someone. Time
will come when you will, too.

Ms. THOMPSON: (Singing) Evona.

GROSS: That's Linda Thompson and Teddy Thompson's from Linda's new CD
"Fashionably Late." It's her first new recording since 1985. She's making a
comeback after a long period during which vocal problems prevented her from

Linda, I'd like to hear a little about your life. You were born in London,
grew up also in Glasgow.


GROSS: Your mother was a vaudevillian?

Ms. THOMPSON: Yes, she was for a very brief, brief period of time. She was
Vera Love, speciality dancer.

GROSS: What kind of--does that mean--speciality, does that mean striptease?

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah, it does sound like that, doesn't it? No, but actually
it wasn't. It wasn't striptease. She just had an act with a friend of hers
called Gay Belaird, and they just sort of sang and danced and wore--I've got
these pictures of them wearing these funny little costumes. I don't think it
lasted for very long, but, you know, it's a nice story. I love vaudeville and
musicals. So it's sort of in my blood.

GROSS: So did your mother encourage you to sing and dance when you were a

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah. A little too much I think, yes. Yes.

GROSS: What would she want you to do?

Ms. THOMPSON: Well, you know, we lived in a counselor state, what would be
projects, I guess, here.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. THOMPSON: And, you know, to be a singer or a dancer or a boxer or
something, that was a way out. So, yeah, I think they were very keen for my
brother and I to, you know, have a better life than they did and stuff, you

GROSS: So what were your speciality numbers as a child?

Ms. THOMPSON: Oh, what were my speciality numbers as a child? "Tammy"--I
used to sing "Tammy," the Debbie Reynolds song. A perfectly execrable song,
but I liked it at the time. And I can't remember what else. My father used
to sing "Jealousy," which was a very ambitious tune, "Jealousy," so that was
very clever of him. My mother didn't sing anything because she couldn't sing.

GROSS: Now I understand you also recorded commercial jingles for awhile.

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah, I did with Manfred Mann. I did a lot of those in the--I
can't remember if it was the '60s or '70s--you know, some time when I was
young. And that was very lucrative. I think that was the most lucrative
thing I ever did.

GROSS: Now Manfred Mann had the hit "Do Wah Diddy."

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah. He had a lot of hits, but, yeah, that was one of them.

GROSS: So you and he did commercial jingles. Do you remember what they were

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah. You know, for yogurt and for--yogurt and for flour and
things. And in those days--now you can use snippets of existing songs, but in
those days, PR-ists didn't let you do that, so you actually had to write the
jingle, which was incredibly lucrative.

GROSS: So did you write the jingles yourself?

Ms. THOMPSON: Well, you know, I co-wrote some of them, you know, with him.
I don't remember them--I don't actually remember getting much money for that,
but, yes--but you could make a lot of money doing jingles.

GROSS: What do I need to do to get you to sing one of those jingles?

Ms. THOMPSON: Oh, I'll sing you one. OK. And (singing) `Ski, the fuller
fitness food. It's good for everyone. Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.' See
what absolute crap that was?

GROSS: And what was that for, Ski?

Ms. THOMPSON: Ski was a yogurt. Yogurt.

GROSS: Oh. Uh-huh.

Ms. THOMPSON: And the other one was, (singing) `Flour so fine, it flows and
it flows.'

GROSS: What did you folk music friends think of you recording commercial

Ms. THOMPSON: Oh, I used to watch the television with them and say, `Can you
imagine anybody stooping that low as to sing that stuff?' I just pretended it
wasn't me.

GROSS: But they knew it was you.


GROSS: They didn't know it was you?


GROSS: You hid it from them.

Ms. THOMPSON: No. Yes. Well, actually, his dad stopped me doing it. He
said, `You can't do things like that. It's disgusting.' And like a fool, I
did--I stopped.

GROSS: My guests are Linda Thompson and her son, Teddy Thompson, who
collaborated on her new CD. It's called "Fashionably Late." We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Linda Thompson. After being unable to perform for over a
decade because of a vocal problem, she's now making a comeback with her new CD
"Fashionably Late." Also with us is her son Teddy Thompson, who collaborated
on Linda's new CD, playing guitar, singing harmony and co-writing many of the

You sang for several years with Richard Thompson...

Ms. THOMPSON: I did.

GROSS: ...who you were married to for most of the time or all of the time
that you performed together.

Ms. THOMPSON: Yes. Almost all of the time.

GROSS: How did you change your sense of yourself as a singer and what
direction you wanted to head in when you teamed up with him?

Ms. THOMPSON: I really don't--you know, I don't know. I mean, the material
got better. That's about--you know, immediately the material got better...

GROSS: Well, Richard writes great songs, yeah.

Ms. THOMPSON: ...because he writes great songs. So, you know, I stopped
doing tried stuff and do--although we did do some traditional stuff. The
material got better and I think at first, I was quite insouciant about it.

GROSS: Did the darkness of the songs that he was writing and you were singing
speak to you?

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah. Yes. Yeah, indeed. Yeah, and like--sad songs make me
happy. I like sad songs. That's what you said, isn't it, darkness?

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah. Dark songs. Yeah.

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah, no. I've always liked dark songs, yeah.

GROSS: I'm speaking with Linda Thompson. Let's listen to a recording from
the '70s featuring Linda and Richard Thompson. This is "Dimming of the

(Soundbite of "Dimming of the Day")

Ms. THOMPSON: (Singing) This old house is falling down around my ears. I'm
drowning in the river of my tears. When all my willies come, you hold me
sway. I need you at the dimming of the day.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. THOMPSON and Mr. R. THOMPSON: (Singing) In the morning light, the moon
calls all the time. And you're just where I keep my bad aside.

GROSS: That's Richard and Linda Thompson. My guest is Linda Thompson, and
she has a new CD, which is called "Fashionably Late."

You know, we were talking a little bit about what it's like to be married to
the person who you're performing with. You were recording and performing
together as the marriage was breaking up, and even, I think, shortly after
your marriage broke up.


GROSS: And that sounds like it must have been quite a trying...

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah, I know.

GROSS: ...quite a trying period, but with great music.

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah. I mean, it was trying. I mean, when we did "Shoot Out
the Lights," the marriage was breaking up, but, you know, I didn't know, which
sounds silly, but the wife is always the last to know. And, also, I was
pregnant, you know. And when you're pregnant, I think your intellect kind of
descends into your womb. You know, you sort of think about the baby. And so
I didn't know anything was going on except--you know, maybe subliminally I
did, but I didn't. You know, nothing was a voiced.

But after the record came out and we toured, then, you know, I certainly did
know then. And that tour was, you know, the old `best of times, worst of
times,' because I was, you know, singing very well, but, you know, it was
difficult to be touring with somebody, you know, that I wasn't going to be
married to anymore.

GROSS: I want to play a song that you were doing then. It's on the "Shoot
Out the Lights" album, but this is a version of it that wasn't on that album,
however, it was on an album of yours that came out a few years ago during a
period when you weren't singing. And this album collected previously
collected takes as well as outtakes and unreleased recordings. So this is an
outtake of "Walking on a Wire." This is from the early 1980s. Can you tell
us what was going through your mind? What your life was like when you
recorded this?

Ms. THOMPSON: Well, as I say, at that time, I didn't really know anything was
wrong. And Richard--even when we were married, you know, he wrote very bleak
songs--you know, bleak lullabies and stuff for the kids, and just things that,
you know, kind of, I guess, normal songwriters wouldn't do. So the fact that
they were, you know, strange songs about life disintegrating, I just--it
sounds ridiculous, but I just don't think--although I took on board the, you
know, emotion of the song and loved to sing it, I didn't really connect it,
you know, with myself. As I say, I was expecting a baby and I--you know,
everybody that's been pregnant out there all know about pregnancy amnesia,
which incidentally never went away for me. But, you know, I just think you're
kind of--you're indifferent, you know, hormone heaven, or hormone hell maybe,
when you're pregnant. And I didn't connect it.

GROSS: This is Linda Thompson singing the Richard Thompson song "Walking on a

(Soundbite of "Walking on a Wire")

Ms. THOMPSON: (Singing) I wish I could please you tonight. But my medicine
just won't go right.

Ms. THOMPSON and Mr. R. THOMPSON: (Singing) I'm walking on a wire. I'm
walking on a wire. And I'm falling.

Ms. THOMPSON: (Singing) Too many steps to take, too many spells to break, too
many nights awake and no one else. This grindstone's wearing me, the floors
are tearing me, don't use me endlessly. It's too long. It's too long to
myself. Where's the justice, where's the...

GROSS: That's Linda Thompson, an outtake of the song "Walking on a Wire."
Richard Thompson on guitar there. It was recorded for an album they did
together called "Shoot Out the Lights," but this was an outtake that was
issued on Linda Thompson's previous CD called "Dreams Fly Away: A History of
Linda Thompson." She has a new CD now called "Fashionably Late."

Now was it on this tour, this "Shoot Out the Lights" tour, when the marriage
was falling apart and you were pregnant, that you--I've read these stories,
that you kicked Richard in the shins during a performance and smashed all the
mirrors in a dressing room backstage.

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah, I did. I did. I did.

GROSS: Was this after you knew the marriage was falling apart or...

Ms. THOMPSON: No. It was because I didn't like the mirrors in the dressing
room. Yes. No, no, it was after--yes, after I knew the marriage was falling
apart, yes. As has oft been documented, I was on the antidepressants washed
down with vodka. So, you know, it was a bit of a wild time for me. I was
sort of 33 and having a second childhood--you know, sort of scary and
liberating at the same time, because I had been very buttoned up.

GROSS: Had you been inhibited and buttoned up as a kid, or was that...


GROSS: a different way to live for you?

Ms. THOMPSON: No, no. I was very, you know--I'm not--you know, like a lot of
musicians and actors, I veer between grand--you know, feelings of grandiosity
and feelings of worthlessness. And I think I had that even from a child. You
know, I d--but I was always very loud and wild, and, you know, and happy. I
had that--sort of good parents and all that sort of stuff. I think I got
more, you know, closed down in a way when I was with Richard.

GROSS: My guests are Linda Thompson and her son, Teddy Thompson, who
collaborated on her new CD. It's called "Fashionably Late." We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: With me is Linda Thompson. After being unable to perform for over a
decade because of a vocal problem, she's now making a comeback with her new CD
"Fashionably Late." Also with us is her son Teddy Thompson, who collaborated
on Linda's new CD. In the '70s and early '80s, Linda performed with her
then-husband singer, songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson. Their
marriage broke up in 1982.

There's actually a song that you wrote about Richard Thompson that's on your
new CD called "Dear Old Man of Mine." I'd like to play the song. Would you
say a little bit about it?

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah. Teddy and I went--no, we didn't go. I went to see Teddy
and Richard play--Teddy was in Richard's band for a little while. And I just
thought he was--Richard was singing particularly well that night. You know,
like I say in the song, singing like he had a gun to his head, you know,
really sort of with a sense of great sort of urgency. And Teddy said to me,
`You know, that's a good line. You should work on that.' So I did, and then
he came up with this wonderful tune.

GROSS: With the melody? Teddy wrote the melody.

Ms. THOMPSON: Teddy did. Yeah.

GROSS: Well, let's hear it. This is "Dear Old Man of Mine." And Linda
Thompson is singing lead, Teddy Thompson is on guitar and Linda's daughter
Kamila Thompson is singing backup vocals.

(Soundbite of "Dear Old Man of Mine")

Ms. THOMPSON: (Singing) Here's to the man that we thought was dead singing
like he's got a gun to his head. Hanging on sweet notes and the thread. Dear
old man of mine. Here's to a father of times blessed. Here's to the child
that he loved best. Does anybody care what happened to the rest? Dear old
man of mine.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: That's Linda Thompson singing "Dear Old Man of Mine" from her new CD
"Fashionably Late," with her son Teddy Thompson on guitar and daughter Kamila
Thompson doing harmony vocals. Teddy Thompson is with us as well as Linda

Teddy, I'm just thinking is this awkward for you to be writing the melody to a
song that your mother is writing about your father?

Mr. T. THOMPSON: I was really sitting here listening to the...

GROSS: Yes. Exactly. I'm wondering...

Mr. T. THOMPSON: ...listening to the rehashing of, you know...


Mr. T. THOMPSON: ...of my horrendous childhood.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. T. THOMPSON: That's awkward, yeah. What was the question?

GROSS: Oh, if it was as awkward or more awkward co-writing the song?

Mr. T. THOMPSON: Oh, nah. It's just a job. Most of it came in the toilets
in McDonald's writing a tune. It's all the same.

GROSS: Well, you...

Mr. T. THOMPSON: It wasn't particularly awkward, no. I don't think so.

GROSS: I feel funny even talking about this with you here. Like, we're
talking about your family history.

Mr. T. THOMPSON: Yeah, I know.

Ms. THOMPSON: Yeah. We're leaving the studio and chucking ourselves under
the nearest bus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But it sounds like everybody's life is in really good shape now. I
mean, Richard's been married since the divorce. You've been married since the

Ms. THOMPSON: He has. Yeah, that's right.

GROSS: And...

Mr. T. THOMPSON: And I'm still lonely. It has a deep effect on my

GROSS: Yes, but you're--but musically you're in good shape. You've got your
own CD. You're on your mother's CD. You're on your father's CDs.

Mr. T. THOMPSON: Yeah, but am I happy?

GROSS: Are you happy?


Ms. THOMPSON: Teddy will never give you a straight answer to anything.

Mr. T. THOMPSON: Hmm. No.

GROSS: Teddy, did you know along that you would be playing music?

Mr. T. THOMPSON: Quite early on. Well, I always thought I'd rather like to,
but I wasn't--I didn't quite--I mean, until somebody gave me a record deal
the first time, I didn't think anybody would, you know, be interested.

GROSS: Were there like family sing-a-longs that you...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. T. THOMPSON: No. No, there was none of that.

Ms. THOMPSON: Family fencing matches.

Mr. T. THOMPSON: Family shouting matches. No, actually there wasn't any of
that, really.


Mr. T. THOMPSON: You know, I mean, there weren't mar--I was seven when they
were divorced. It was a very short period time when we would have done. And
then after that, you know, my mom wasn't singing that much, so it
wasn't--music was a big part of our lives. We were all very into music. We
listened to music, but we didn't play it a lot.

GROSS: Now that you have a new CD and are singing again, what kind of
response are you hearing from old fans who thought they might not ever hear
anything new from you again?

Ms. THOMPSON: Well, the ones I've spoken to, it's been very positive, you
know. Very positive indeed.

Mr. T. THOMPSON: Both of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. THOMPSON: Yes. Sid and Doris Bonkers. Yeah, it's been--you know,
everybody's been fantastic, you know, especially in America. I think people
have long memories in America 'cause, you know, the reaction's been fantastic.

GROSS: Great. Great. Well, congratulations on the new CD. It's...

Ms. THOMPSON: Thank you so much.

GROSS: It's really great to hear you sing again.


GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. THOMPSON: Thank you very much.

Mr. T. THOMPSON: Thank you.

GROSS: Thanks. Thanks to both of you.

Ms. THOMPSON: Thank you.

GROSS: Linda Thompson has a new CD called "Fashionably Late." Teddy Thompson
is featured on guitar and harmony vocals, and co-wrote many of the songs.
Linda Thompson will tour the States through the month of October. The tour
begins on the West Coast with stops in Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, San
Francisco and Los Angeles.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song; music)

Ms. THOMPSON: (Singing) Leaning in the doorway, she looks like an angel,
sending you love with a crimson smile. You're drowning in kisses and feeding
on danger. Not forever, it's just for awhile. She'll take you and hold you
as long as you want her. She seems like a woman...
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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