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A Long View Of The Wall Street 'Dream'
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross. The Senate is scheduled to vote tonight on the $700 billion dollar package to bail out Wall Street. To help understand the financial crisis, we're going to take a step back and look at the history of Wall Street, including how the Great Depression led to an era of regulation, and how the Reagan Administration led a movement to deregulate the financial system, a movement that may now be coming to an end. My guest, Steve Fraser, is the author of the new book, "Wall Street: America's Dream Palace," and the earlier book, "Every Man A Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life." He's currently writing a book on America's two gilded ages and has been writing for the Nation.
Steve Fraser, welcome to Fresh Air. You've written about the different financial eras in American history. So what do you think? Are we witnessing the end of one era now and the start of another?
Mr. STEVE FRASER (Author, "Wall Street: America's Dream Palace"): Yes, I do think we are at the end of one era and about to confront a new one. That is to say, the severity of the financial crisis that we face today and the underlying economic crisis, I think, will change fundamentally the rules of the game that have prevailed for the last quarter century. And not only will the financial sector look quite different in the years ahead, but so, too, will the rest of America, certainly the American economy.
GROSS: What are some of the rules of the game that are being changed?
Mr. FRASER: Well, the rules of the game up til now have - inaugurated back in the early 1980s - have been a kind of systematic deregulation of all marketplaces, including the financial marketplace. And under the banner of the free market as the best way to produce economic growth for the country and material well being for everybody, that essential rule that the free market should prevail under all circumstances, I think, has produced the crisis we're confronting today.
And I think there's a general recognition on the part of many people from many parts of the political spectrum and out there in the middle America that that systematic deregulation that we are now reaping the whirlwind from that lack of supervision over a financial marketplace that has become so arcane and complex and out of control that it has produced the rolling disasters that we're looking at today. So I think that basic rule is going to change.
GROSS: You know, in watching the interactions between Democrats and Republicans over the bailout bill, I feel like it's like a battle between the regulators and the deregulators being played out, like some conservative Republicans would like to see capital gains taxes eliminated as part of the rescue plan. And at the same time, other people are saying, no, what you really have to do is just, you know, regulate more, not regulate less. So what are some of the conflicts you're seeing play out in Congress now between the impulse to regulate and deregulate?
Mr. FRASER: Well, I think you're right, that there is a faction within the Republican Party particularly that, faced with this crisis (unintelligible) to the old orthodoxy, that even more deregulation and more license to the free market and more encouragement of business is the way out of this crisis. But I think their vote, if we're talking particularly about the Republican conservative wing that voted against the bailout, I think their vote is motivated by other things as well, mainly the outpouring of rage and outrage from their constituents , which I really heavily doubt had anything to do with providing business even greater freedoms to do what it pleases.
I think what you're looking at here is another basic change in the rules of the game that have prevailed for a while now. And that is, there's real anger directed at Wall Street for having engaged in reckless, wasteful, unproductive forms of investment and placed the economy of the nation and all of us at peril. And I think those constituents want retribution, which is a perfectly understandable emotion under these circumstances. That is to say, they want the people and institutions responsible for what's happened to pay a price. And I think they really want a much closer public supervision of what's going on. Republican conservatives are running with that sentiment and using it to further a kind of free market ideology.
But I really think in the weeks and months ahead, that's going to be a dead end and that the rage that all these people are feeling from their constituents are going to push things in a very different direction, not only in the direction of regulation, but also in the direction of more public authority and power to compel investment capital that Wall Street controls, to compel it to flow into productive, tangible channels. I hear all the time people saying, you know, America doesn't make anything anymore. These people in Wall Street aren't doing anything useful. And I think it's going to be, as it was back in the 1930s, an urged pressure for public institutions to compel more productive use of our capital resources.
GROSS: What do you mean by that? Do you mean as opposed to - like investing in businesses as opposed to investing in these arcane financial instruments...
Mr. FRASER: Yes. I mean investing...
GROSS: Like credit default swaps?
Mr. FRASER: Exactly right. I think it's a matter of let's invest in, oh, for example, the conversion of the energy base of the economy to various forms of green alternative energies. It may be investment in the infrastructure of this country. I mean, everybody is now aware, I mean, this is appalling that the infrastructure of America is rotting in plain sight. Our railroads are antediluvian compared to what goes on in Europe. Our bridges are collapsing. Our basic sewage systems are completely outdated. Our road network, everything about our basic infrastructure upon which the economy rests has been allowed to waste away. And so I think people are aware of that and want money spent that way.
And they want money spent reindustrializing the country. See, one of the rules in the game of the last quarter century has been the growth of the financial sector as the engine of the economy paralleled by the deindustrialization of the economy. And, in fact, those two processes were quite closely linked. And as a result, people have suffered enormously. We saw it played out in the primaries in Ohio and Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where people have been living with the toll of deindustrialization for almost a generation.
And I think one thing that people are going to want is a serious reindustrialization on the basis of high technology industry of the country. And the only way you can do that is by moving moneys out of credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations, exotic, highly speculative, highly risky, highly reckless forms of investment that don't seem to produce anything except bubbles followed by burst bubbles.
GROSS: Because basically, what those instruments out there are, either bets against something succeeding or failing or their insurance on something...
Mr. FRASER: Yes.
GROSS: Succeeding or failing. That's not investing in a product or a company. But what can a government possibly do to say, you know, we want to move money away from that shadow economy into, you know, more productive channels, into more tangible channels like rebuilding the infrastructure and the railroads?
Mr. FRASER: Anything we, the people, want to do. One of the rules of the game that I think is going to change is that the depoliticalization of people, their passivity, is already changing. We can make up any rules we want. For example, I'll give you a very practical example. Let's say you want to compel banks, investment banks and other banks, to invest their resources productively in the ways we just were talking about. Let's say you change the asset reserve requirement that a bank had to meet in order to be licensed by and receive coverage by - insurance coverage by the federal government. You would say, let's make this up, five percent of your assets, your asset base, which is what you have to have as a reserve against your various outstanding obligations, loans and so on, has to be invested in, let's just say, green energy. You make that rule, and you provide an enormous incentive for those who have mobilizing these capital resources to move them in that direction.
Or we could talk about a disincentive. Let's say you said there's going to be a tax on various kinds of speculative paper transactions. Whether that's an investment in commodity futures or various kinds of stock transaction, we'll levee a tax on those kinds of paper transactions as a disincentive to move money in that direction and by implication and incentive to look for other kinds of ways of investing the money.
The rules of this kind of game are constantly being changed, revised, eliminated. After all, there were all kinds of rules during the long period of the New Deal which prevented banks from engaging in certain kinds of activities. Then those rules were changed. We were deregulated. The Glass-Steagall Act, which was passed in 1933 to separate investment from commercial banking, was eliminated in 1998. We, the people, so to speak, can do what we want within, obviously, the constitutional framework of the country, to make the rules we think meet the general welfare.
GROSS: The so-called toxic assets that the government is likely to buy back in this bailout plan, these are the credit default swaps and derivatives that you've been describing, the highly speculative instruments that don't really invest in products or infrastructure. They're bets, basically, or they're insurance. Is there any attempt that you know of in the legislation, as it's been proposed so far, to regulate those derivatives?
Mr. FRASER: Not that I know of, and things are changing every day, so who knows? But I feel very confident that there will be, and that's a strange thing I know to say. But look how fast things are changing. Just two weeks ago or, say, a month ago, the notion that there should be more government regulation was anathema in American public life, and it had been since the rise - the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. But now, we're all regulators now to one degree or another. Not all of us, of course, but the proportion of the population and of the political establishment that's in favor of regulation has changed dramatically.
So although today, there's no actual piece of specific legislation talking about regulating credit default swaps or collateralized debt obligations, I feel very confident that in a really short term future there will be because the will is there, and the fear is there, and the sense of rage and anger is there that will motivate that kind of thing.
You know, in 1932, just before Roosevelt was elected, the very notion of unbalancing the budget, the very notion of challenging the wisdom of the free market to govern the economy was, like today, unthinkable. And yet, within a year or two or three of the New Deal regime, all the unthinkable things were not only thinkable, they inform mainstream public policy.
Within days of Roosevelt's taking office, there was a banking act, the Glass-Steagall Act. Within a year of his taking office, it was the first securities act. Within two years, there were, a second securities act and the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission. In moments like these, that is, in moments where one era is ending and another is beginning, remarkable things, unthinkable things can happen and happen very quickly.
GROSS: Let's look a little bit about the regulation that happened after the Great Depression and compare that to the deregulation that really got going in the Ronald Reagan era. When the stock market crashed in 1929, who was invested then? I mean now, like, so many people have their 401Ks, their pensions invested in the stock market, even if they don't have other savings invested in it. Was there anything comparable in 1929?
Mr. FRASER: No. You put your finger on a very good point. The market in the 1920s prior to the crash was a market more widely participated in than ever before in Wall Street's history. This is the jazz age, and there's a kind of fascination with the stock market, and the legendary stories of shoe shine boys and bellhops and doormen who were swapping hot stock tips and, you know, there is stock market tickers set up on ocean liners and in beauty parlors. And it's when Merrill Lynch first becomes very popular as a kind of place for people to invest.
But actually, if you look back, the proportion of the population invested in the market in the 20s was miniscule compared to what we have become used to in the last 20, 25 years. You're quite right that - well, half of all American families, half are in some way or another engaged in the market. Now, they're usually pretty passive investors, but through their mutual funds, their pension funds, and their 401Ks and so on, they are invested in the market, which means two things, two opposite things. One, they're more comfortable or have been until maybe right now being there. They're more familiar with the market. Wall Street was always held in previous eras of American history with great suspicion and fear, even while it fascinated people. But in the last period in our lifetime, the market has become a more familiar place to millions of Americans.
On the other hand, the other side of that story is that the material well being of millions of more Americans now do depend on the market. That is to say, not only are there pensions in jeopardy, but they have come to rely on the market as a back stop to their day-by-day participation as consumers. Their homes, their vacations, their kids' college educations, their sort of big ticket consumer purchase items have been back stopped by - to some considerable degree by their holdings in the marketplace, which has provided them leverage. But leverage is now killing us. That is to say, average Americans, not just Wall Street, has leveraged up to its eyeballs. The rest of us are leveraged way beyond our capacity to sustain it, and the market has helped encouraged that. So the stock market has done two things, made people feel both more comfortable but more dependent.
And when you have a crisis like we have today, the immediate impact to the market on lots of people is much greater than it was in 29. When the 29 crash happens, it's not the crash itself which produces depravation on a mass scale, it's the subsequent decline of the underlying economy. It really doesn't begin until well in the 1930 that punishes people and turns the Great Crash into the Great Depression. And people, rightly and wrongly, blamed Wall Street then for that disaster. And it provided enormous impedes to the Roosevelt administration, to the New Deal, which took over in 1933, to pass a series of regulations that would bring Wall Street under some serious degree of public supervision. And so you get the Glass-Steagall Banking Act in 1933, which separates commercial from investment banking. And then there was the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation...
GROSS: Wait, I'm going to stop you for a second. What's the difference between a commercial and an investment bank?
Mr. FRASER: Well, an investment bank does what it sounds like it should do, and that is to say, it mobilizes capital resources in various ways and directs them into various kinds of investments. That is to say, it may invest in a new stock offering, say there's an IPO and a number of investment - that is an initial public offering for a new company - a series of investment banks or maybe just one investment bank underwrites that offering by buying up a certain amount of the stock it has stipulated, agree upon prices, and choose the marketplace. An investment bank may encourage various - by investing in mergers and acquisitions of other companies that may provide the capital resources to that.
A commercial bank relies on its depositor's resources, yours and mine, to issue loans to all kinds of ordinary people, homeowners, businesses who may need a short term or even longer term loans to conduct their business, but it has no equity stake, no investments stake in the - in those businesses or in those loans.
GROSS: So those savings banks can't do anything really risky with our money?
Mr. FRASER: Yeah. Savings and commercial banks, however - that's a very interesting point. Savings banks, which are even used to be - used to be even more scrupulously regulated and restrained by various rules about who they could lend to, the rate of interest they could pay, those savings banks were deregulated by the Reagan administration in the 1980s. And that deregulation lead to, well, I think most of us can remember the great savings and loan massive default, the first, maybe not the first, but the major bailout of the savings and loan industry by the Resolution Trust Corporation.
And it should have been an object lesson about where deregulation leads if things are left to proceed on their own. But it didn't, you know. One is reminded today of the old adage about those who don't learn the lessons of history are compelled to repeat them. And that's a classic case of that. Back in the New Deal, the opposite was happening. You had all these regulations. The Security and Exchange Commission is created in 1934 to provide some public supervision of the stock market.
GROSS: What - was there no public supervision before the Security and Exchange Commission was created?
Mr. FRASER: Yeah, there was none, basically none. The only, the only and only mildly applied regulation was the Federal Reserve System, and that was only created in 1913. It's only with the creation of Federal Reserve that Wall Street is subjected to, any of the financial system is subjected to any kind of regulation. And there, the Fed could establish margin requirement, so that you could get into control a bit of speculation. That is, you know, margin requirements means that you have to put up a certain amount of your own money to buy up some security in the marketplace. It tries to control the degree to which people are way out on a limb borrowing most of the money they're using to buy up- to buy a security betting that security will rise in price, and that the loan that they've taken to buy it, they'll be able to make good.
The Fed had the power to regulate those margin requirements, but it didn't do very much to control them, especially as the jazz age heated up in the 1920s. It allowed for a very uncontrolled speculation with very minimum margin requirements. But, yes, the New Deal is really a huge turning point in our country's history in many, many ways. And one is that it does systematically introduce into American life regulation of the marketplace and in a particular of the financial market place.
GROSS: This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross. We're talking about Wall Street history that can help explain the current financial crisis and the debate in Congress about the bailout. My guest is Steve Fraser, the author of the new book, "Wall Street: America's Dream Palace" and the earlier book, "Every Man A Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life."
When we left off, we were talking about the Great Depression and the regulatory institutions created by the Roosevelt administration that helped America recover. Let's look ahead to the Reagan administration and how it deregulated some of things that were put into effect during the New Deal. What was deregulated during the Reagan administration?
Mr. FRASER: Well, what you have during the Reagan administration is deregulation from diverse directions. One is the deregulation of the savings and loan industry, that is to say, all the constraints that had applied to savings and loan institutions, particularly about the rate of interest they were allowed to pay on their deposits, and more particularly what they were allowed to invest in. Saving and loan institutions are really creatures, to some degree, of the New Deal and designed to insure affordable housing mortgage loans for people.
And they were pretty much restricted to those kinds of loans until the Reagan era. The Reagan era relaxes those rules and allows savings and loan institutions to invest in all kinds of much riskier, much more speculative investments, and they become inveigled with the whole junk bond industry that Michael Milken becomes famous for during the Reagan years. And they become involved in various highly risky merger and acquisition undertakings, and we know, of course, what the end of that story was, the collapse of the savings and loan industry at the end of the 80s.
But the Reagan deregulation also happens in other ways. It happens by not enforcing rules. The rules are still on the books, but you don't enforce them or you destaff the regulatory agencies that are there to watch the markets. And so they don't have the actual manpower on the ground to enforce these regulations, or you appoint people to run these agencies who come from the industries that they're supposed to be regulating.
There's a man named John Shad in the Reagan era who ran the SEC. Shad was a longtime member of the Wall Street fraternity, and for a reason that may have been even idealistic, he didn't believe in the need to rigorously regulate. And so he's rather relaxed about that, and that processed of understaffing, turning of a blind eye, staffing with business-friendly people in the regulatory agencies together with actual deregulation continues through Reagan years and into the Clinton years, as well. Clinton is also an advocate of the free market, and it's really during the Clinton years that not only do you get the elimination of Glass-Steagall, but license for the investment banking community to invent all kinds of new financial instruments outside the constrains of any regulation by the SEC or any other institution.
GROSS: You know, talking about the Reagan era deregulation of Wall Street, what preceded that in the 1970s that made the Reagan deregulation approach so popular at that time?
Mr. FRASER: Reagan's deregulatory policies had widespread support, and one reason they did is because the 1970s was a period of economic stagnation and decline in many ways that, particularly President Carter presided over. There was the great stagflation of the last half of the 70s, where you had both economic slowing down of the economy accompanied by extraordinary rates of inflation. And it hurt a lot of people.
And it seemed to suggest that the old order, the New Deal order, was no longer effective and therefore was the background that allowed people like Reagan to say, look, the problem here is that the government has been too intrusive. That's what accounts for this kind of economic malaise of the late 70s. We need to liberate business, and the way to liberate it, among other things, is to deregulate it. So it was that stagnation of the late 70s that helps propelled the Reagan revolution, the deregulatory revolution of the 80s.
GROSS: You said there was really something of a paradox under the Reagan administration, and that this was something new that a government sworn to laissez faire also rushed in to bailout the financial institutions like the savings and loans, who had made all these bad investments.
Mr. FRASER: Yes.
GROSS: Was that like a brand new phenomenon in the Reagan administration?
Mr. FRASER: There is, Terry, you're right, a kind of paradox, that is to say those who are the most avid ardent proponents of the free market don't quite live up to that credo when the financial system or other major corporate entities are in serious trouble. And that is something that begins to happen in the Reagan era, where we get what some people have called the socialization of risk and the privatization of reward, meaning that these regimes which purport to be for the free market, in a pinch, will use taxpayer money to rescue endangered financial institutions that they consider too big to be allowed to fail.
And this kind of socialization of risk that is to - that is shifting the burden of risk to us, to the taxpayers, that is something that continues beyond the Reagan years. It happens during Clinton's watch as well. We have the government-arranged bailout of Long Term Capital Management, a major hedge fund of that period. And now, of course, we see that kind of financialization of risk with a vengeance in the bailing out of various key financial institutions.
GROSS: You know, in reading your histories of Wall Street, you point out that earlier in Wall Street's history, it was seen as basically a place for gamblers, and a lot of Christians were opposed to Wall Street because it was about gambling. But, particularly in the Reagan era and afterwards, you see this alliance between conservative Republicans and Christian Evangelicals. And I'm wondering what you make of that in terms of Wall Street and the regulation of Wall Street?
Mr. FRASER: People assume, I think, today that the religious community is naturally an ally of the conservative right. But, as you note, that was by no means always the case. Particularly in 19th century America, there was heavy religious criticism directed at Mammon worship, as I think is the appropriate metaphor here. And Wall Street was seen as a place where people were gambling, and gambling is a sin.
It's not just a bad thing to do. In the eyes of a Protestant theologian, gambling is form of divination. That is to say, it's hubris. It says that humans can divine the future, but, of course, we know only God can. And Wall Streeters were engaged in that kind of divination by gambling. They were also seen as parasites. Look, Roosevelt talks about, we are going to chase the money changers from the temple of our civilization when he takes his office in 1933.
That notion that there are parasites out there who were leeching off of the real tangible wealth that ordinary people are producing, that's a religious notion. And then, in the 19th century, people again and again talk about Wall Street in those terms as parasitical, parasitical in a moral sense, not just in an economic sense.
All of that changes and vanishes - largely vanishes from our public life beginning in the Reagan era. And instead, the religious communities are most absorbed in questions of moral values that bracket out questions of economic inequality, parasitism, gambling and instead offer up their congratulations to the amassing of great wealth. And, of course, we're all familiar with the televangelists and the building of their economic empires, and so much of conservative politics is informed by a kind of Christian applause for activities that their Christian ancestors might have condemned.
GROSS: One of the things we're not hearing now, thank goodness, that you heard back during the Great Depression was that the Jews were to blame. What were some of the anti-Semitic rants from the Crash and the Great Depression?
Mr. FRASER: Right. Anti-Semitism was very much a part of the anti-Wall Street persuasion. It had been in the 19th century, and it continued to be so into the Great Depression. And here, there's a kinship between the condemnation of the street as parasitical and those old anti-Semitic canards about shylocks, you know, demanding their pound of flesh, and that Wall Street was a Jewish-run institution.
One of our great Americans, Henry Ford, issued a series of newspaper articles in the early 1920s called "The International Jew," and the idea behind those articles was that the Jewish financiers were behind a global conspiracy to undo America and to destroy its industrial base and to corrupt the country's morals, to even conspire with Jewish Bolsheviks to overthrow the west, and that this was a kind of native tendency of Jews. They owed no allegiance to any country, only to money.
And so the anti-Wall Street persuasion was turned into a kind of anti-Semitic one, and this continued into the 30s. And it's only with the ending of that era that Wall Street's association with the Jewish shylock dies away in American life. I don't think it's likely to surface again, but those may be famous last words.
GROSS: You are now working on a book on America's two gilded ages. What are the years that you're talking about here?
Mr. FRASER: I'm talking about the first gilded age, which ran roughly from through the late 19th century, say from 1870 to 1900 or there abouts, and our own gilded age, the second, what everybody now calls the second gilded age, which, I think, can roughly be dated to Reagan's election victory in '80, and that continues through to last week.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FRASER: That is to say it may have ended. And I'm going to compare those two periods to see what they share and what they don't share.
GROSS: What are some of the things they don't share?
Mr. FRASER: I think one thing they don't share, you put your finger on earlier, and that is the degree to which people are involved in the stock market and people's attitude about the stock market. And that leads to a second great difference. If you look at the gilded age, the first gilded age, the extent and variety of opposition to the rule of big business and big finance was extraordinary. This is the era of the populist movement, of labor insurgencies all over the country, a period of a tremendously violent confrontations, say at the Homestead strike in 1892 against Carnegie, the Pullman strike in 1894 against Pullman, the emergence of independent farmer labor parties, all of which were engaged in one way or another in opposing the reign of big finance and big business. Wall Street was often at the central target they aimed that. The religious community in part was angry. Our greatest novelists wrote about the transgressions of the Street. You know, I'm talking about William Dean Howells and Edith Wharton and Theodore Dreiser and Jack London.
If you compare that to our last 25 years, the level of opposition to the dominance of our heroes on Wall Street and our heroes in the business community is minuscule. And it's extraordinary. Think about it for a moment. You have the dot com bubble burst, and it's followed by the Enronization of the economy, one scandal after another, extraordinary. You would think that began an extraordinary outpouring of political anger and a series of steps taken to remedy this. Instead you get the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which is a very tepid piece of legislation calling for some more transparency in the way that investment banks and financial institutions conduct their affairs, but that's the end of it, and we resume our love affair with Wall Street until now. Now, I think the love affair is over for good.
GROSS: Well, Steve Fraser, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. FRASER: Thank so much for having me.
GROSS: Steve Fraser is the author of "Wall Street: America's Dream Palace" and "Every Man A Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life."
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Bluesman Elvin Bishop, Rolling Stylishly On
TERRY GROSS, host:
Our rock critic, Ken Tucker, has a review of Elvin Bishop's new album of collaborations, "The Blues Rolls On." In the liner notes, Bishop describes the CD as about, quote, "what a beautiful thing it is, how the blues continues to flow from one generation to the next," unquote. Over the course of a recording career that began in the mid 60s, the guitarist and singer has mixed blues with southern rock in a way that Ken says few white performers have managed with such artistic vitality.
(Soundbite of song "The Blues Rolls On")
Mr. ELVIN BISHOP: (Singing) Blues is just a blessing from a long time ago,
A thing people could feel deep down in their soul.
It was here before we were born.,
It'll be here when we're gone.
It's real life in a song,
The blues rolls on.
KEN TUCKER: On paper, "The Blues Rolls On" is everything I have no use for in a blues album. Fronted by a white man extending extravagant fealty to his black vetters, a record dominated by covers of familiar compositions, interrupted by much shouted self-congratulation by the host and his guests. Yet despite all this, "The Blues Rolls On" turns out like so much of what Elvin Bishop has recorded over a four decade career, to be loose and funky, full of not just skill and passion, but also hooks and humor.
(Soundbite of song "Night Time Is the Right Time")
Mr. BISHOP, Mr. JOHN NEMETH and Ms. ANGELA STREHLI: (Singing) You know the night time,
Night and day,
Is the right time,
Night and day,
Night and day,
With the one you love,
Night and day.
Say, oh, baby,
Night and day,
When I come home baby,
Night and day,
I wanna be with the one I love,
Night and day.
You know the one I'm thinking of,
Night and day.
I know the night time,
Night and day,
Whoa, is the right time,
Night and day,
Oh to be with the one you love,
Night and day.
I said to be with the one you love,
Night and day.
You know, my mother, now...
TUCKER: That's John Nemeth, Angela Strehli, and Elvin Bishop rocking and rolling through the Ray Charles's hit "Night Time Is the Right Time." It's a song who the older bluesphobic among you may remember best as the music Bill Cosby and his sitcom family once lip-synced to so delightfully in primetime. What Bishop brings to the song is some lead and rhythm guitar playing that gives the song a whiplash sting. One prominent guest here is B.B. King, who, at age 83, himself has a fine new album out called "One Kind Favor." He helps Bishop to make the song "Keep a Dollar in Your Pocket" a tidy bit of jazz-inflected blues.
(Soundbite of song "Keep a Dollar in Your Pocket")
Mr. BISHOP and Mr. B.B. KING: (Singing) Hey, here is something you ought to know,
You ain't nowhere unless you got some dough.
Keep a dollar in your pocket.
Keep a dollar in your pocket.
You will find in the end,
A dollar is your very best friend.
Now, when you ask somebody to let you...
TUCKER: In the liner notes of this album, Elvin Bishop says he's known B.B.
King since the mid 60s when they played the Fillmore West together. This is
an important point because one source of Bishop's musical energy derives
from that period when the rock audience was interested in hearing blues,
both authentic and electrified, in a white rock context. Add a dash of
country music, and you get Bishop's 1976 hit "Struttin' My Stuff," rerecorded
here with great vigor along with Derek Trucks, nephew of Butch Trucks of the
Allman Brothers Band, Bishop's fellow blues rockers from the
(Soundbite of song "Struttin' My Stuff")
Mr. BISHOP and Mr. DEREK TRUCKS: (Singing) I'm struttin' my stuff, y'all.
I'm struttin' my stuff, y'all.
I'm struttin' my stuff, y'all.
I'm struttin' my stuff, y'all.
Now, hip-hop's hip and country's cool and rock is tough enough.
But all I really wanna do is just strut my stuff.
Got a pretty mama in Atlanta, nothin' but a Georgia peach,
Strutting her stuff all the way down to West Palm Beach.
I'm struttin' my stuff, y'all...
TUCKER: Elvin Bishop has reached the age where he's earned a little
nostalgia-free reminiscing. He pounds out some pungent autobiography on
"Oklahoma," a squall of noise he served up solo. You may not quite believe
that this is just Bishop and his guitar.
(Soundbite of song "Oklahoma")
Mr. BISHOP: (Singing) Way back in 1960, Muddy Waters was young and strong.
And Mighty Wolf was howling and carrying on.
But a hundred other bad ass dudes,
Tearing up the south side and west side, too.
I got this...
TUCKER: After 40 plus years in the biz, Elvin Bishop still looks like Harpo
Marx as a farm boy, wide-eyed, eager, harmlessly lewd, and skilled at
devilishness. And if he has never sold his soul to the devil at the
crossroads, he sure as heck has never sold out either.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor at large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
Elvin Bishop's new CD "The Blues Rolls On."
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'Friday Night Lights': The Glow Is Limited
TERRY GROSS, host:
"Friday Night Lights," the NBC drama series about a small Texas town and its
high school football team, returns for its third season tonight. But our TV
critic David Bianculli says you won't find the show quite how you left it
last season or even where you left it. But, he says, it's definitely worth
finding just the same.
(Soundbite of TV Show "Friday Night Lights")
Mr. KYLE CHANDLER: (As Eric Taylor) I want to ask one question. I want to
ask all of you only one question. Are you ready for Friday night?
(Soundbite of crowd cheering, screaming and applauding)
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. CHANDLER: (As Coach Eric Taylor) Here are your 2008 Dillon Panthers.
DAVID BIANCULLI: That's Kyle Chandler as Coach Taylor using a question to
introduce his new football squad at his high school pep rally. If you're not a
fan of "Friday Night Lights," and you should be, since it's one of the best
drama series on television. You may have some other questions, questions
like, how did the Dillon Panthers do in the playoffs last season? Why didn't
we get to see those episodes? When does the show pick up its storyline this
season? And where can I see the show anyway? Those are all very good
questions. So since "Friday Night Lights" is a show built around football
as a metaphor, let's tackle them.
Why did "Friday Night Lights" stop in the midst of its own season, when Coach
Taylor's team had just made the playoffs, and not come back? It stopped
because of the writers' strike. It didn't come back because NBC almost
canceled the show and didn't consider it a priority, not when NBC could
spend the money on a new "Knight Rider" telemovie and episodes of the show
The show survived only because NBC cut a risky deal with the satellite provider DirecTV. DirecTV agreed to co-finance 13 new episodes with exclusive rights to televise them first on a weekly basis beginning tonight. NBC will show them too, eventually, but not until the
first quarter of 2009. So, if you want to watch "Friday Night Lights" now, you have to have DirecTV or find someone who does and tune in Wednesdays on its 101 network.
The new season of "Friday Night Lights" picks up the action at the start of
a new school year. It's established immediately, so I don't consider any sort
of a spoiler that the playoffs we never got to see didn't end triumphantly.
So the Panthers this year are a little disheartened and have much to prove
but are blessed with a lot of talent and some very motivated leaders. The
team, like the series, didn't finish the season the way it wanted to. The
school, like the series, is hit by a hefty budget crunch and has to try to
make due and move forward with a lot less.
In the many months since we've
seen the residents of Dillon, their lives have kept moving and changing. The former star of the team, Smash Williams, is working at a local ice cream
shop, his college scholarship hopes dashed by injury. The senior
quarterback, Matt Saracen, is threatened by a new freshman hotshot. Two of
the teen characters have rekindled their relationship.
And Tammy Taylor, the
coach's wife, starts the year with a sizable promotion. Instead of guidance
councilor, she's now the school principal and therefore, her husband's boss.
This last change is an especially inspired one because Kyle Chandler and
Connie Britton as Eric and Tammy Taylor are the heart and soul of "Friday
Night Lights." Giving them an extra element to play with and play against
will only add to an already delicious dynamic. They're not only the most
realistic and inspiring married couple in prime time, but Chandler and
Britton provide TV with some of its smartest, funniest, most unmannered
performances. How both of them were ignored by the Emmy's this year and not
even nominated is absolutely inexplicable. Every scene they're in, whether
they're together or apart, is impressive.
Here's Chandler on the practice field running the squad through its paces
on a hot Texas afternoon. The father of the freshman quarterback tries to
win favor for his son by hiring an ice cream truck to drive up with free
treats. But coach Taylor is no Mr. Softy.
(Soundbite of TV Show "Friday Night Lights")
Mr. KYLE CHANDLER: (As Eric Taylor) What the hell is that? What the hell is
Mr. JESSE PLEMONS: (As Landry Clarke) A smoothie.
Mr. ZACH GILFORD: (As Matt Saracen) JD's daddy bought us all smoothies.
Mr. TAYLOR KITSCH: (As Tim Riggins) Not for now, for after practice when
Mr. CHANDLER: (As Eric Taylor) Smoothies.
Mr. KITSCH: (As Tim Riggins) Yeah, those frosty tangy things with nonfat
Mr. CHANDLER: (As Eric Taylor) I know what the hell a smoothie is. Tell him
to get the hell off the field.
Mr. KITSCH: (As Tim Riggins) You mean for good or to come back later or
Mr. CHANDLER: (As Eric Taylor) I mean tell him we don't need any damn
smoothies. Tell him that.
Mr. KITSCH: (As Tim Riggins) All right. All right. All right.
Mr. CHANDLER: (As Eric Taylor) Get that pink ass truck off the field. Just get them out of here. Just move
it off the premises. Let's go.
Mr. GAIUS CHARLES: (As Brian 'Smash' Williams) Damn, I want a smoothie, man.
Mr. CHANDLER: (As Eric Taylor) What was that, Charles? What did you say, you
want a smoothie? Do you want a smoothie?
Mr. CHARLES: (As Brian 'Smash' Williams) Of course, man. It's like 120
degrees out here, man.
Mr. CHANDLER: (As Eric Taylor) It's hot our here, isn't it?
Mr. CHARLES: (As Brian 'Smash' Williams) Yes.
Mr. CHANDLER: (As Eric Taylor) You know what? I'd like a smoothie, too,
Charles. It'd be good, wouldn't it? You know why I'm not going to have a
smoothie, Charles? Because I don't feel like I deserve a smoothie. Does
anybody else out here feel like you deserve a smoothie? I'll tell you what.
We win Friday night, and you can have all the damn smoothies you want,
gentlemen. But until then, get your minds back in the game, and let's finish
up this practice. Let's go.
BIANCULLI: The young actors in "Friday Night Lights" are a joy to watch,
too. And after suffering through all the posing and posturing on "90210,"
"Gossip Girl," and the rest, it's a relief to see teens on TV who actually
look and act their age. "Friday Night Lights," as TV goes, is a championship
team all the way. If it doesn't get to go all the way this season, it won't
be for a lack of talent or effort. The show deserves to be on broadcast TV
and will be eventually. But why wait?
GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for tvworthwatching.com and teaches TV
and film studies at Rowan University. The new season of "Friday Night
Lights" begins tonight on DirecTV's 101 Network.
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.