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Brooklyn Philharmonic Director Lukas Foss

Composer, conductor and pianist Lukas Foss led several orchestras in his career, and took the Brooklyn Philharmonic from a community orchestra to a vital part of New York City's music scene. Foss died Feb. 1. He was 86.

09:19

Other segments from the episode on February 6, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 6, 2009: Interview with Demitri Martin; Obituary for Martin Delaney; Obituary for Lucas Foss; Review of the film "Coraline."

Transcript

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Demetri Martin On Puzzles And “Important Things”

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is Fresh Air. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, in for Terry Gross. Our guest, Demetri Martin, is a stand-up comic who may be best known for his features on "The Daily Show," called "Trendspotting with Demetri Martin." Martin was a staff writer for "The Late Show" with Conan O'Brien. And in 2004, "Entertainment Weekly" named him one of the 25 funniest people in America. When Terry spoke with Martin in 2007, his Comedy Central special, "Demetri Martin. Person.," had just been released on DVD. We'll hear an excerpt a little later. But let's start with a clip from Martin's new show for Comedy Central. It's called "Important Things with Demetri Martin." Each episode takes on a theme and tackles that theme in stand-up routines, sketches, animation and Martin's own music. This is from an episode called "Timing".

(Soundbite of TV show "Important Things with Demetri Martin")

Mr. DEMETRI MARTIN (Comedian): I think the worst time to get amnesia would be like Halloween.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: What is your name?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: I don't know. But I'm pretty sure I'm a hobo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Who's got a sweet tooth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: I wonder if there were any Goths in Gothic times. You're like, you look completely appropriate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: You don't look stupid or lonely at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: I was in this building and there's a door, and on the door it said, this door must remain closed at all times. I was like, dude, you're thinking of a wall.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of NPR's Fresh Air, September 24, 2007)

TERRY GROSS, host:

Demetri Martin, welcome to Fresh Air. In your stand-up comedy, you do a lot of, like, observational one-liners, you know…

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah.

GROSS: …one or two lines about something that you find, like, a little ridiculous or absurd, then you move on to another observation. And these are about absurdities in life or in language. Why do you gravitate to that kind of humor as long - as opposed to like the long story?

Mr. MARTIN: Well, when I was younger, a lot of my friends were comedians. It seems that when they were young, when they were kids, they were comedy nerds. They had a lot of comedy albums, and they knew a lot about comedy, say "2000-year-old Man" or something like that.

I don't know how much I was a comedy nerd. I think I was just a standard nerd. I think I was just a kind of straight up nerd. For me, my interests were more like brainteasers, which, you know, I don't if it's the coolest thing to admit, but I liked, you know, those puzzle books and that kind of stuff and just taking a pen and, you know, trying to figure out some weird MENSA things or something like that.

So, I was aware of comedy. I like comedy. I like joking around, all that kind of stuff as a kid, but I never thought of that as an end point or a place to spend my time. That seemed like just a side thing or a way to relate to people. My focus, aside from say break dancing, was puzzles, trying to solve puzzles.

GROSS: That's what all the hip-hop guys say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That, in addition to break dancing…

Mr. MARTIN: (Laughing) Yeah, it's very similar.

GROSS: …they like puzzles.

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, my comedy's very similar to gangster rap.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: There's a lack of helping verbs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Some awareness of jewelry, whether in public or private, and toughness. I mean, you got to be tough to be a comedian.

GROSS: Let's hear an excerpt of your DVD of your stand up show that was on Comedy Central. So, as we're about to hear, Demetri Martin often performs comedy, backing it up with a guitar or piano or guitar and harmonica, you know, as if he was singing, but what he's really doing is stand-up. So, let's hear a part of that, like, instrumental with comedy part of his show.

Mr. MARTIN: Uh-oh.

(Soundbite of TV show clip "Demetri Martin. Person.")

(Soundbite of guitar music)

Mr. MARTIN: There's a store in my neighborhood called Futon World. I love that name, Futon World. It makes me think of a magical place that becomes less comfortable over time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Whenever I use my computer, I don't type LOL. I type LQTM - Laugh Quietly To Myself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: It's more honest. By the way, if you want to sound like a creep, stare at the word ladies at the end of things that you say. You sound like a creep. It could be harmless, too, like - thanks for coming to my show, ladies.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Help! I've fallen into a well and I'm trapped, ladies.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: It's like a Jacuzzi with really high walls. You know you want it. I went to this clothing store. The lady working there, she got mad at me. She said what size are you? I said actual.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: This ain't a trick, baby. She was amazing. I never met a women like her before. She showed me to the dressing room. She said if you need anything, I'm Jill. I was like, oh, my God. I never met a woman before with a conditional identity.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: What if I don't need anything? Who are you? If you don't need anything, I'm Mike.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's Demetri Martin from his DVD of his Comedy Central show. I really like that ladies bit. How did you realize that (Laughing) - that anything you say is going to sound particularly smarmy if you end it with ladies?

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, I don't know. I know - I just know the tone of that word. It's just funny, just ladies. It just seems - that just popped to me. And it's funny, because a lot of my jokes - I don't think I often come from hearing something, and then it becomes a joke. It's usually just looking at an object, and then it's just some turning it around in my head, and then like, oh, there's the joke. But that one, it just - yeah, it just lent itself to that nice structure, too, of you could do endless examples, and just by saying ladies, it just kind of gives you - it's a shortcut.

GROSS: There's one on your CD where you wonder, what if you said "sort of" after every sentence - how that after some things that's OK, but after other things, it's really horrible. Can you give us some examples of that and tell us how you thought of it?

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, that one - the original version of that joke was sort of is just a harmless thing to say. It's just a filler. And that must've been from a substitute teacher, somebody who'd always just say, it's sort of, you know, this that sort of, you know, if we could sort of. And I just thought, you don't need sort of. man. That doesn't - it's not doing anything in there.

But then I thought wait a minute, if it's at the end, you know, then it can mean everything, like, I love you, sort of. Yeah, that's different. Or you're going to live, or it's a boy. That's where sort of, yeah - that's going to be more of an impact. And I just - and I also have that other joke about if you start a sentence with the word dude. I wondered what the most intelligent thing ever said was that started with the word, dude, you know? And I think that joke was something like, you know, dude, these are isotopes.

(Soundbite of Laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Or dude, you're going to live. We - good news - we removed your kidney. You're going to be (Laughing) fine.

(Soundbite of Laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: And the ending of that one was, dude, I am so stoked to accept this Nobel prize.

(Soundbite of Laughter)

GROSS: So, you…

Mr. MARTIN: I want to thank all my homies.

GROSS: So, you really do work these out as puzzles. You kind of think of, like, what would make this ridiculous?

Mr. MARTIN: I think so, yeah. Sometimes there's more intention, and I'm working on it. I remember, I tried to write a joke about revolving doors for, like, two years or something. I just - sometimes I see something and I go, I know that's funny. To me, there's something funny about revolving doors, I just don't know - I don't know what the words are for it, but it feels funny to me. And then I'll work on it, and then eventually it might emerge as a joke. I have a list of things that just - I am convinced they're funny, but I haven't figured out how. Then of course, other things just improv, or it just floats into your head, and it's funny immediately.

GROSS: Do you have lists of things in your pockets now?

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, I have - like, sometimes on a receipt there'll be a joke or - I woke up the other - I was cleaning my apartment, and I find little slips of paper that just have jokes on them that I wrote in the moment. I was somewhere, and I thought oh, that's funny. And then I find them later. And it's just like this weird, unfunny fairy is leaving me messages around the apartment or something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: I was looking in my room the other day - I was cleaning - and it said, a stalker is like a private investigator who no one has hired (Laughing) or something like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: It was just next to my - it was like between my bed and, like, this bureau. And I was cleaning, and I found this piece of paper…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: …(Laughing) and it was like a weird message to myself. It was like an unwise wise man leaving me notes. A failed fortune cookie writer is leaving things around my (Laughing) apartment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: But it is funny. It's entertaining.

GROSS: So, did you put it in the trash or put it in your act?

Mr. MARTIN: No, it's in - I have these folders. I have these weird manila folders that are - that are just - you know, if I'm really blocked, I can just go dig through it and say, oh, you know what? That's not funny, but I think I know what I was trying to do. That could be funny. And then I go try it - you know, I'll put it on my list and try it that night. And then it's not funny. I'll say, OK, yeah, it's not funny.

GROSS: Now, you'd been a law student before becoming a comic. Yale law school, was it?

Mr. MARTIN: No, I went to Yale for college, and then I went to NYU law school for law school.

GROSS: And it was toward the end of law school that you realized, oh, I don't want to do this. (Laughing) I think I'll try comedy.

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, I dropped - I did two years out of the three, and then I left because there's a better story.

GROSS: Why did it take you that long to realize? And did you feel so invested already, both financially and just in terms of, like, your whole mental state and your time - was it really hard after making that investment to say, mistake, I'm leaving?

Mr. MARTIN: The interesting thing was I had a full scholarship. I turned down a couple of other schools because I got money at NYU and at the time - my girlfriend at that time was going to medical school in New York. So then, the chance was we could be together, and I wouldn't have to pay for law school. So, I went for it.

When I got there - like, a month in, I realized, uh-oh, this is boring. I don't like this. I'm talking about one month in the first year, I kind of had that revelation. But I think I was so entrenched in my life plan, in my idea, hey, I'm going to be a lawyer. I'm talking from like seventh grade. Just after break dancing, I decided I was going to be a lawyer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Like, it was in that spot in my timeline - literally, I'm telling you, I just realized, oh, you know what? It was like a to-do list. Oh, yeah, career? Ah, corporate lawyer. Sounds great. Done. Never worried about it again - went straight - you know, high school, college, LSATs, got in there, got the scholarship.

And then, when I finally realized I don't like what I'm doing each day, I had no other plan or I guess, like, version of myself that wasn't a lawyer. So, it took me that long. I was a White House intern after that first year. So, I thought, oh, maybe politics or government or something, but that wasn't for me either.

GROSS: So, when you realized that a legal career was going to be boring for you, that after all this, finding it wasn't right for you after all - what made you think you could be a comic?

Mr. MARTIN: Well, I remember doing some very specific soul-searching and thinking, OK, I don't like - I'm dreading each day when I go to school, not because it's too hard or - it's just no passion. I'm just not excited about what I'm doing. I just feel like - I think I'm too young to be feeling this way already. Something's wrong.

So, I just did like little thought experiments, and I thought, OK, forget about money, status or what anybody thinks about me. When I wake up in the morning, what activities would I look forward to doing? Do you know what I mean? Just what physically could I spend my time on that I get excited about? Second part of that, how do I get money for that? If I could figure out those two things, then I'm set, because then I'll just do the activities that I like, and then I have money, so I could have a house and food and stuff, you know?

And then I thought, well, what do I like doing? I like joking around with my friends. OK, I guess, comedian. (Laughing) And then that's - that was the beginning of that, and I just thought, OK, I guess I can't be in law school anymore because then I won't be able - I can't do both. So, I dropped out. Also, NYU law school is adjacent to one comedy club and across the street basically from another.

GROSS: Did you play there?

Mr. MARTIN: So, I was walking by comedy clubs every day.

GROSS: Did you play those clubs?

Mr. MARTIN: My first set I ever did was across the street from the law school. The summer - I dropped out in the spring, and then that summer I got on stage for the first time.

GROSS: What did you do?

Mr. MARTIN: I did 12 jokes. And I…

GROSS: Tell us one or two of them.

Mr. MARTIN: OK, I think I can remember some of these. This is 10 years ago. I started on Bastille Day of '97. OK, 12 jokes my first night. My goal was to get a laugh, one real laugh on one of my jokes. That would be the sign - yes, you can be a comedian. By the way, I booked two nights in a row. Monday was my first night, and Tuesday was going to be in another room.

Monday, I go up. Twelve jokes. I had jokes like - one of them was - they were pretty complicated. I think one of them was this - I made a deodorant that smells like my friend, Jim. It's called Jim. Sometimes I wear it, and I hang out with his blind friend, Jerry. Then Jerry thinks he's with Jim. Sometimes I wear my Jerry deodorant, then Jerry thinks he's alone. (Laughing) That's my first night.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Did that get a laugh?

Mr. MARTIN: I think that one got a laugh. Then I had a joke about - because this is a while ago - I had a joke about I don't prank call people anymore. That's too old school. What I do now is I prank people on their beepers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: But then it's difficult, because then they call me and I have to answer the phone in a threatening way. You know, it was (Laughing) this whole thing that's really complicated, but I got - what happened was I got laugh - I got laughs on half the jokes.

GROSS: Uh huh.

Mr. MARTIN: I wish I could remember more of them. I lost the tape. I taped it, but I can't - I don't know where those jokes are anymore. I think the first night I might've done the joke about - I was riding an escalator and I tripped. I fell down the stairs for an hour and a half.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: That joke held. I did that in the first special. That was one of those that kind of lived on, you know. A couple were good enough, most of them weren't. There was a joke about being bad at lying, but it wasn't that I was bad at telling the lies. I was bad at picking the topics that I lied about. So, somebody'd say, you know, what time is it? Four thirty. OK. (Laughing) You know, I don't know why I'm - I have this cool interview with you here, and I'm just doing the worst jokes I ever wrote. You guys could really make me look way less funny than I might be.

DAVIS: Demetri Martin speaking with Terry Gross. We'll hear more after a break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIS: Now back to Terry's interview with comic Demetri Martin.

(Soundbite of NPR's Fresh Air, September 24, 2007)

GROSS: Let's talk about your past a little bit. Your father was a Greek Orthodox priest?

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah.

GROSS: So, you went to church a lot?

Mr. MARTIN: I went to church a lot, every Sunday, and I was an altar boy from very young until I went to college. I was actually head altar boy. And I - that might have been because my dad was the priest, but I think I had pretty good skills as well and probably earned it. But I was - yeah, I was the top altar boy, I'd say, probably in my county.

GROSS: What were your father's sermons like?

Mr. MARTIN: My father was funny. He was really funny. He loved Bill Cosby. He loved "Saturday Night Live," Peter Sellers. "Pink Panther" was a big part of my childhood. We used to watch the Pink Panther movies. His sermons, in retrospect I realize, they were like 20-minute sets. It was like him doing 20 minutes for an audience - anecdotal, very personal and just really funny.

And it was never doctrinal. And he spoke extemporaneously. There were no notes. He didn't read his sermon or have this big prepared thing. He'd have a couple of ideas jotted down on an envelope or something I'd see up there on the pulpit. And then he would just go. He would just kind of talk, and he would just - he would just find these jokes, you know.

GROSS: Do you still go to church? Do you still practice?

Mr. MARTIN: I haven't been to church in a while. I'm not such a good Greek Orthodox churchgoer anymore, maybe because a lot of times, I'm traveling. I don't know - I don't know why. I guess I just kind of drifted. I don't know how much I've questioned my faith or any of that kind of stuff. I just - I feel like I got busy, and fart jokes take a lot of time, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: And working around the clock. But I liked growing up in the church. I think it was a good place. And my dad just had a really good style. He was - it's just something about putting your heart out there. People just - if you can be authentic, I think it just goes a long way with people, whether it's in a church or on a stage or anywhere.

GROSS: So, do you think of yourself, as a comic, as trying to be authentic in the way that your father was as a priest?

Mr. MARTIN: I think it took me a long time to realize that, but yes, definitely. That's what I liked about his comedy as a person.

GROSS: Mm hmm.

Mr. MARTIN: He didn't - it wasn't very derisive. He wasn't - just not a lot of venom in him. He just - there's a sweetness to the way he approached things, that's just who he was.

GROSS: So, your father was a priest, but your family also had a restaurant - a diner?

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, we had - we started with a Greek food stand called Shorty's Shish Kabob at the Jersey Shore, because my grandfather is just about five feet - or was just about five feet tall. And that was a seasonal business where we sold shish kabob and gyro at the boardwalk. We had that for a bunch of years. And then my parents took all their life savings, and they got a diner. And so, then we had a Greek diner that we still have with my uncles and - well, my uncle and my grandparents and stuff.

GROSS: Was this by the shore?

Mr. MARTIN: The stand - Shorty's Shish Kabob was on the boardwalk, right next to the beach. And then The Sandcastle is the name of the diner, and that's, like, six miles from the beach.

GROSS: So, it must have been great as a kid to have, you know, a family-run food store on the beach. What a great excuse to be on the beach a lot.

Mr. MARTIN: Huh - in theory, except they made me work there from age 11. I had to work at Shorty's in a windowless basement. I'm right next to the beach, and I'm in a basement with my grandfather. My job was to skewer shish kabob, 50 cents an hour.

GROSS: Wow.

Mr. MARTIN: They paid me 50 cents an hour, and I had to - you have to take the meat out of this like lemony - your hands get all, you know, corroded or whatever. And then, you have to - I had to put meat on metal sticks for 50 cents an hour. And I was a bad worker. Every hour - I asked for my 50 cents at the end of hour, and I'd go try to win a watch. You know those things that like - the thing turns around, (Laughing) and you try to get a watch?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: So, (Laughing) I would want immediate, like, gratification. I was like, I want my 50 cents to work for me.

GROSS: So, every hour, you'd earn 50 cents the hard way and then lose it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, I'd go run and try to win a watch.

GROSS: So, you'd never have any money at the end?

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, I'd never have any money, but that - it was fun being at the boardwalk because I love - that was the skateboarding, surfing - all that kind of stuff. So, I had my surfboard in the basement. I'm skewering shish kabob, and my surfboard's right next to me. And I was thinking, as soon as I'm done, I can go surf. I'm at the beach. So, that was pretty cool.

Then working at the diner - it's the same thing - bus boy against my will, waiter, host. But that's where the puzzle books came in. I used to just bring puzzle books to work and just walk around thinking about puzzles and stuff. And eventually, that became jokes, I think.

GROSS: And how many pieces of meat can fit on a skewer?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: I think it was five with vegetables in between.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So, one more thing, since you're a former law student - an almost lawyer - can you actually understand your own contracts?

Mr. MARTIN: Pretty much - two-thirds of them because I only went law school for two years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, Demetri Martin, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. MARTIN: Thanks for having me.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. MARTIN: This song is for my enemies.

(Soundbite of song "Me Versus You")

Mr. MARTIN: It's called "Me Versus You."

Mr. MARTIN: (Singing) Me hillbilly, you my teeth and I like sweets
Me Mexican sprinting champion
With cousin in North Texas who has job opportunity for me
You border

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIS: Comic Demetri Martin. His new show on Comedy Central, called "Important Things with Demetri Martin," premiers next week. I'm Dave Davies, and this is Fresh Air.
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Remembering AIDS Activist Martin Delaney

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is Fresh Air. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. Martin Delaney, a well-known AIDS advocate who pushed for quicker access to experimental drugs, died of liver cancer two weeks ago at his home in California. He was 63. Delaney wasn't from an activist background. He was working as a consultant to the Bank of America in the early 1980s when his partner and several friends got AIDS. Delaney had heard of drug treatments not then approved fro use in America and began smuggling drugs for his partner and others from Tijuana, Mexico.

In 1985, he founded Project Inform to disseminate the latest information on AIDS drugs and to find ways to speed up the clinical testing process. The organization was successful in getting the FDA to permit the use of experimental drugs by seriously ill patients. Terry spoke to Martin Delaney in 1992, when Jonathan Kwitny's book about him, called "Acceptable Risks," was published.

Delaney was never infected with HIV. His first experience with clinical drug testing came before the AIDS epidemic, when he had hepatitis and was administered an experimental drug. He told Terry he learned several lessons from the experience.

(Soundbite of NPR's Fresh Air, October 16, 1992)

Mr. MARTIN DELANEY (Activist; Founder, Project Inform): One of the first lessons was the one of recognizing risks versus benefits, that there are tradeoffs, that there's no magic solutions which give only benefit and no downside. But I think it's important to understand that and go in and choose the risk, if you choose to do so, rather than blindly assume that the drug you're going to take is going to be wonderful.

So, that was the first one, but I think the bigger lesson to me was more in what happened afterward, when I saw the treatments really have a potentially very good effect for me and then because of the side effects, see the system, as I saw it, bring that study essentially to a conclusion and no longer pursue that avenue of research. And watching that happen immediately struck me there was something wrong here, that why were bureaucrats in Washington making this decision about whether people like me could or couldn't have access to that therapy?

TERRY GROSS, host:

When your lover got AIDS in 1984, you went to Tijuana to smuggle out an experimental drug. What led you to do that?

Mr. DELANEY: Well, it really wasn't as crazy as it might have sounded. It was partly my own experience of knowing that fighting back helped, whether it was a drug or the spirit of it, I didn't have much of a concern. But I knew that sitting back and passively accepting what was coming was not going to work, you know. What doctors told people in those days was there are no treatments; let's just wait and see. Well, you know, wait and see in this disease always meant one thing - it meant death.

So, we went down there, not just out of craziness. You know, it's not like running to a Tijuana cancer clinic. What we went down there for were drugs that the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health had already stated in many public forums might have real potential for the disease, and that they were anxiously trying to move forward with studies for those drugs.

Well, to me it was a no-brainer at that point for anyone who was sick to say, you know, at least there's a reasonable chance here that these are going to be useful. They have the attention of the scientists and the researchers. They show activity in the laboratory, and you, in fact, can get them. You just had to go to a little trouble to do it.

GROSS: Were you and your lover a little nervous about taking an experimental drug in an unsupervised setting?

Mr. DELANEY: I'd have to say no. That may sound a little arrogant, but, you know, as adults, I think the public is a lot more capable than it may give itself credit for to make choices about things like and to take things. This was not an unknown drug. It was on sale - one of them was sold in 20 countries, the other in more than 100 countries - and were in wide, relatively common use. And, you know, the human testing had been done. The dosages were known, the safety and toxicities were well-described. So, it really wasn't a stab in the dark in that sense.

GROSS: Let's talk about the two aspects of the work that you've been doing - the bringing in of experimental drugs from other countries and your attempts to change the way experimental drugs are tested in a clinical setting. Why don't we start with the smuggling. When you started smuggling drugs, did you - was it hard to think of yourself as a smuggler?

Mr. DELANEY: Well, I must say, I don't even to this day ever think of it as having been smuggling. You know, smuggling has all these connotations of profit-making, illegal activity. I never felt that that's what we were doing. I felt that we were, perhaps in some cases, stretching the definition of the law, but it was so clear to us that people needed and wanted access to these things that we had to do it.

So, I did feel funny though. I mean, you may see in some of the scenes in the book where I'm down in Tijuana tearing my car apart and stuffing things in, where I began to feel a little bit like a criminal, in the sense this is the kind of stuff you hear of cocaine smugglers and other folks doing. But this wasn't, you know, illicit pleasure drugs I was dealing with here. These were, you know, lifesaving medications, and it made me angry to think that I was going through that. And one particular incident in the book was so very striking in that where I had to make a very rapid trip down there. I had to tear the car apart and stuff thousands and thousands of pills into the car, put it back together, you know, and in the process really tore my hands up physically, which is why I remember it so distinctly.

And then, you know, driving back nine hours nonstop through the middle of the night and getting home at, you know, five o'clock in the morning. And I - as I came pulling over the bridge into San Francisco as the sun was coming up, I thought, my God, what the hell am I doing here? This is what I'm doing with my weekends. I realized that we were into something a little more dramatic than I had intended. You know, and it was a sort of a mental crossover point for me that said, we were really on a campaign at that point.

GROSS: When you were buying drugs that were not yet approved in the United States, and you were buying them in large quantities from foreign sources, did they know what you were up to?

Mr. DELANEY: Well, sure, they knew that we were buying them for other people. You know, and I was hardly the only one doing this at this point. There were literally thousands of people coming down to Tijuana, Mexico on weekends for a long period back in that era. Most of them would go just to bring it for themselves or one or two friends, but there were so many people who were incapable of traveling, whether for economic reasons or for health reasons. Sure, and I think the stores understood that we were supplying them on to other people. There was never any question about that.

GROSS: Let's talk about the other aspect of the work that you've done, which is working on clinic testing and trying to reform the ways that drugs are clinically tested and approved in the United States. You've been trying to streamline and speed up the process and make experimental drugs that might be useful more available. What were your problems early on when you got involved in this with the clinical testing as it was being done?

Mr. DELANEY: Well, in those days, clinical research existed really in a vacuum. It was a - in many ways, a theoretical science - very academic and intended to be very precise and in ways that sort of objectified the patient, that the patient was a research subject rather than a person. And that was true both on the research end and on the regulatory side, insofar as the regulatory agencies - the FDA and that - in the early days didn't want contact with people with AIDS. They felt that they had to be the objective gatekeeper and didn't want to be swayed by these emotional factors that come - you know, that come in your face literally when a patient is there.

So, one of the first things I think that we had to accomplish was to humanize the research, to make sure the researchers saw their patients as human beings, made sure the regulatory agencies saw that and began to act accordingly. And I think that was truly the first hurdle that we had to conquer and did so just by bringing patients to them and by bringing them to the patients, one-on-one and then groups upon groups.

We pressed intensively with them to imagine that this wasn't a bunch of undesirable homosexuals or drug users, put them in our shoes and say, you know, what if this were you wife or your daughter or your son or your mother or your father - would you act the same way, would you believe the same thing? Because in fact, the same problems do affect the wives and the mothers and the sons and the husbands and the daughters. The same problems affect people of cancer, with Alzheimer's disease, with any kind of life-threatening illness. These are the same issues.

GROSS: Has your work as an AIDS activist politicized you in a broader way, too?

Mr. DELANEY: Well, certainly, in the sense of government policies and practices, it has. I remain appalled and angry at the lack of attention to this problem. It bothers me that - why should I - as is clear in the book - why should I, a businessperson with no particular investment in this - why did I end up in this situation? Why did I end up in Mexico scraping my knuckles apart, sticking drugs into cars? And you know, I'm one of many people who's had to do this kind of stuff. Why? Because we didn't have an administration in Washington who took this problem seriously, because these issues could have been driven directly from Washington if we had some real leadership.

GROSS: Martin Delaney, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. DELANEY: You're very welcome.

DAVIES: AIDS activist Martin Delaney speaking with Terry Gross in 1992. Delaney died last month of liver cancer. He was 63. Coming up, we remember composer Lukas Foss, who died on Sunday. This is Fresh Air.
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Brooklyn Philharmonic Director Lukas Foss

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Composer, conductor and pianist Lukas Foss was one of America's most committed champions of new music. He died at his home in New York Sunday at the age of 86. Though he was born in Germany, Foss spent most of his career in the United States and was a major force in American composition. He was known for exploring a wide variety of styles and techniques, often combining different approaches in the same composition. At various times, he focused on surrealism, electronic music, minimalism and improvisation. British musicologist Wilford Millers once described Foss's body of work as a pocket history of American music during the 20th century. Foss conducted orchestras in Buffalo, Brooklyn, Jerusalem and Milwaukee. Terry spoke to Lukas Foss in 1987. Let's begin with an excerpt of his composition "Three American Pieces: Composer's Holiday" from "Foss Plays Foss."

(Soundbite of "Three American Pieces" by Lukas Foss)

TERRY GROSS, host:

When you started as a conductor bringing new music to American audiences, did you ever want to shock those audiences to get a kind of right of spring response?

MR. LUKAS FOSS (Director, Brooklyn Philharmonic Symphony; Composer): No, I don't believe that it's my business to shock an audience. I think that I like to surprise them, which means open a door for them, but shock I think not. Unless you - maybe shock is one of those surprises. If it's in the music, yes. But I don't remember composing anything specially in order to shock people nor do I remember conducting anything in a special way to shock people.

GROSS: Do you think that's a kind of immature response to want to shock people?

Mr. FOSS: Yes, I think that there may be fringe benefits in that, or cringe benefits, maybe I should say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FOSS: But (Laughing) I don't think it's a very musical attitude.

GROSS: In the Village Voice, music critic Tom Johnson once described you as - this is what he wrote. He wrote, the young Foss was about the closest thing contemporary music ever had to a real Mozart-caliber child prodigy. Now, you started composing, I think, when you were about seven years old?

Mr. FOSS: That's true.

GROSS: What got you started?

Mr. FOSS: We had a harmonium, and I tried to play some hymn tunes on it and then try to find my own harmony, and then, was decided that Lukas was ready to have some piano lessons. So, they got a piano, and I began to compose music along with the first piano piece. You see, when I was just able to play a little two-part invention, I immediately wanted to write one. In other words, I wanted to do myself what I loved, and that's been that way for a long time. I wrote the music I loved.

Then one day, much later, a door opened, and I thought to myself, well, but one could do this instead. And so, I became suddenly - not - maybe not that sudden, but wildly, avant-garde and experimental. And now, I am in a period where I'm actually reconciling my earlier traditional music with these experimental things. In other words, I'm trying to be just as crazy and adventurous while at the same time, being romantic and close to the music I always loved that made me become a composer in the first place - Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and so forth.

GROSS: Were you exposed to a different kind of teaching style in Paris than you got when you came to America?

Mr. FOSS: Yes, but not because of the style of the country but because of the particular people. I mean, you know, every teacher has such a different approach. The French approach is - was at that time, very quite academic. And as a matter of fact, when I began studying at the Curtis with the old teacher of Menotti and Barber, who was then very old by the time I got hold of him, he was extremely academic, and I couldn't stand it. I couldn't graduate fast enough to get out of that. And then I studied with Hindemith later on at Yale University.

GROSS: You had a very, you know, formal, pretty traditional music training in your early years. What led you into the experimentation, the avant-garde radicalism that you started writing and conducting?

Mr. FOSS: That was probably my project in chamber improvisation, which I started as a professor at UCLA around 1956, trying to invent out of envy of jazz, a kind of non-jazz improvisation. And so, we started to improvise, but one day, my friend Pierre de Gasquet said, you know, it sounds like music badly remembered. But we improvised, and he was so right.

So, I asked myself, what would be the kind of music, it would thrive on the improvisational process? And with that question, I let in the whole Pandora's box of troubles namely, aleatoric music. Aleas means chance, dice. In other words, three years before the word got coined, we were already working with these concepts of chance music in improvisation. And then finally, I turned my back to improvisation, but meanwhile, it hadn't changed my students at UCLA nearly as much as it has changed me.

GROSS: You know, one of the interesting things about chance processes is that, I think, for a composer, it could free you from your own limitations and free you from your own personal taste.

Mr. FOSS: You're right. It gives you something - very often, something to start with, whether you do what John Cage does, which is throw a dice, or whether you do what Shcoenbeck(ph) did, which is start with the 12-tone row, you get something that helps you put notes on the empty piece of paper, either because you have a row to start with. In other words, it gives you something to do when - instead of sitting there, staring into a vacant space.

GROSS: Is that why you started doing it, to try to break out of what you perceived to be your own taste or personal limitations?

Mr. FOSS: That wasn't in my case, no. I think it was that chamber improvisation ensemble that did it to me. It was - to use that metaphor again, it was that door that opened when I suddenly saw all these unexplored territories, and I got interested. See, young people are not very dangerous, they're usually traditionalists. They want to do what they love, and they love what's old, what they're used to. Young and old people are the same in that respect. But when you reach maturity, suddenly, there's something in you that wants to venture out. And you get very excited about that possibility. So, when that opened up to me, I went all the way.

GROSS: Could I ask you what got you back into classical music after all of your experimentation with atonality and surrealism and chance processes, improvisation? Because you're conducting a lot of classics now, as well as new music.

Mr. FOSS: Yes, of course, but that's an easy question because I never left home. In other words, since home was Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Wagner - since that was my home, I never left it. I was always close to that music. As a matter of fact, in my most avant-garde days, I needed it. I needed that - you see, the best thing is to have one big foot in the past and a big foot in the future. I'll confess to you that I'm happiest when I conduct the old masters.

GROSS: Why?

Mr. FOSS: Because that's where I come from and because that is the music I've known all my life. That I do for memory. Whereas, when I conduct my latest work from - if in front of an orchestra, my eyes are pinned to the music, lest I get lost in the score. I mean, that is - it's a matter of what you've known and loved all your life and to make that fresh again, make that as if the ink were not yet dry, that is part of the fun of conducting for me. That's why I conduct.

And I think I have a sort of a direct line to the classics, as a composer, that many conductors might not have. And that makes conducting the classics so interesting. I mean, I can take a Beethoven symphony and literally bring out the humor, bring out everything that would make it fresh, instead of standing there polishing it like an old shoe.

DAVIES: Composer Lukas Foss speaking with Terry Gross in 1987. He died Sunday at the age of 86. Coming up, David Edelstein on the new stop animation film, "Coraline." This is Fresh Air.
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A Better Home and Garden, But For Those Buttons

DAVE DAVIES, host:

The British-born author Neil Gaiman has won a large following in three different genres - adult fantasy fiction, graphic novels and books for young readers, among them "The Graveyard Book," which won this year's Newberry Medal. His 2002 novel "Coraline" is now a movie, written and directed by Henry Selick, who directed Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," as well as "James and the Giant Peach." Film critic David Edelstein has this review of "Coraline."

DAVID EDELSTEIN: Frame by frame, Henry Selick's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's "Coraline" is entrancing. It's among the most exquisite animated feature films ever made in this country. The book is a nightmare variation on the old somewhere-over-the-rainbow fantasy. A little girl named Coraline moves to a rambling country house where she has no friends, and her busy parents brush her off. She longs for someplace better.

Then she finds a tunnel in a wall that leads to a parallel universe, where she has a nearly identical mother and father, except they dote on her. Goodies appear at her command, mice serenade her, flower gardens rearrange themselves in the shape of her face. But there are hints of darker forces. Her other parents have black buttons in place of eyes, and when Coraline begins to chafe under their attention, her other mother's so-called love becomes possessive, even demonic.

Gradually, we discern the warning at the heart of this great fairytale: Sometimes, the people who love us with the most intensity do so for reasons that have nothing to do with us, but out of their own twisted needs. "Coraline" is a be-careful-what-you-wish-for story and a testimonial to self-reliance.

To tell this tale on film, Selick employs old-fashioned stop-motion animation. That's where you have puppets on miniature sets and move them a teeny bit and shoot a few frames and move them again. The puppets have wide, smooth faces on stick legs and necks. Their jerkiness is barely perceptible, but enough to make the movie feel lovingly handmade. Selick worked with the Japanese illustrator Tadahiro Uesugi, and they've come up with a look that's part Tim Burton, part Pinocchio, part Japanese wood block. But that doesn't do the film justice. It has a palette all its own.

The movie is in 3D at about half the theaters, and you should see it at one of those. You'll feel as if you're floating through this dollhouse world along with the wide-eyed heroine. The ravishing score by Bruno Coulais moves almost imperceptibly from childlike enchantment to "Night on Bald Mountain," thunderstormy dread.

I wish I could leave it at that, but unlike Gaiman, Selick isn't a brilliant storyteller. For reasons I can't figure out, he gums up a lot of what the book got right, among them, the laws of the universe. Coraline can now go to sleep in one world and wake up in another, which makes the tunnel seem less vital. He creates a male peer for Coraline - a nerd called Wybie - who undercuts the bell-jar isolation she has in the book and plays way too big a role in the climax, which ought to be Coraline's triumph.

The real mom and dad, voiced by Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman, aren't just quietly neglectful here. They're appallingly mean and insensitive. Here's Dakota Fanning's Coraline pleading for attention. At the end of the scene, her mom tosses her a package, which contains a doll Wybie left for her. It looks like Coraline, only with black button eyes.

(Soundbite of movie "Coraline")

Ms. DAKOTA FANNING: (As the Voice of Coraline Jones) So, can I go out? I think it's perfect weather for gardening.

Ms. TERI HATCHER: (As the Voice of Mother) No, Coraline. Rain makes mud. Mud makes a mess.

Ms. FANNING: (As the Voice of Coraline Jones) Mom, I want stuff growing when my friends come to visit. Isn't that why we moved here?

Ms. HATCHER: (As the Voice of Mother) Something like that.

Ms. FANNING: (As the Voice of Coraline Jones) You and dad get paid to write about plants, and you hate dirt.

Ms. HATCHER: (As the Voice of Mother) Coraline, I don't have time for you right now. And you still have unpacking to do - lots of unpacking.

Ms. FANNING: (As the Voice of Coraline Jones) That sounds exciting.

Ms. HATCHER: (As the Voice of Mother) Oh, some kid left this on the front porch.

Mr. ROBERT BAILEY, JR.: (As the Voice of Wybie) Hey, Jonesie. Look what I found in grandma's trunk. Look familiar? Wybie.

Ms. FANNING: (As the Voice of Coraline Jones) Huh. A little me? That's weird.

Ms. HATCHER: (As the Voice of Mother) What's his name anyway?

Ms. FANNING: (As the Voice of Coraline Jones) Wybie. And I'm way too old for dolls.

EDELSTEIN: The problem with a real mom who's that unpleasant is that Coraline's goal to get back to her real home when she's trapped in the other world doesn't have the emotional oomph of Gaiman's book. But the movie's visuals are so rich that in the end, the flaws don't matter. The visuals have the emotional oomph.

In the alternate world, nothing is what it appears to be - facades pixelate and dissolve, and figures don't move of their own accord. They're animated and controlled by the monstrous other mother. Director Selick might be more invested in creating phantasmagorical set pieces than in spinning a coherent yarn, but in a strange way, that works for the movie. Coraline, after all, is fighting within the film to hold her own against an animator. That she holds her own against her virtuoso director is icing on the cake.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
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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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